Domestic workers Nina and Rosie: what their story says about Hong Kong 連娜與露詩:有關外籍傭工與香港的故事

Through his childhood relationship with his amahs, Nina and Rosie, Evan reflects on the relationship between a country and its people. Given what some Hong Kong people are today prepared to do to leave, he asks us to consider what type of home and relationship Hong Kong has become for some of her people. The Chinese translation is provided by Sally.

從童年時代照顧他的菲律賓家傭出發,方禮倫反思了一個國家和她的人民之間的關係。今天,不少香港人正打算離開家園,令他不禁思索這些年來,香港和她的人民之間的關係已起了微妙變化。譯文由 Sally 提供。

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For the first nine years of my life I was cared for by amahs. Nina and Rosie would tell me about their home in the Philippines. Their words and stories painted a picture in my mind of a beautiful, ramshackle place of extended families and closely-knit communities where everyone was related. It was colourful, full of life and sound, and children. Everyone was family.

The Philippines may not be as I imagined, but this misses the point. What matters was that this was a picture of the Philippines guided by Nina and Rosie’s feelings. It was a reflection of their relationship with the home they had left behind.

Much of what I imagined was also shaped by my own deep sense of need and attachment towards family. For much of my younger years I only saw my family every other weekend. Seeing and being with family was what I lived for, and it was the love that I felt during these moments that sustained me. We would gather at the home of my grandmother, my “pau pau”, where she would preside over her children and grandchildren. We were a large family in a small apartment. It was always crowded and full of noise, yet I never felt so comfortable. Dinner would inevitably take the whole day to prepare. Every evening an argument developed, often leading to shouting and in some cases tears – and yet, my quiet and withdrawn younger self would be unperturbed; something in me knew that such spite arose from the far deeper well of love that bound us all. This was not filial piety, but something far more noble and real: familial love.

I loved Nina and Rosie too, as I know they cared deeply for me. But this love, directed and between individuals, was different to the feeling of love that I felt for family. I loved my father as well. But he had left his family when he came to Hong Kong, and the bonds had diminished. As such, my love for the paternal side of my family, I’m sad to say, always felt comparatively shallow and incomplete.

domestic worker

As a child I may not have been capable of analysing or understanding the relationships that underpin migration, and why a person would leave their family for a new life abroad. But I was acutely sensitive to the human effects of such distance.

I was sensitive to the love Nina and Rosie had for their own families and for their own home. In the Philippines they had been school teachers and nurses. They had a home, roots within a community, and the love of family. Here, in a foreign land, in the midst of a society that looked down on their race, culture and the colour of their skin, they were “mere” amahs and maids. They lived unloved and alone beyond the kitchen, by the laundry room, beside the washing machine in the smallest, saddest room in the house.

Nina and Rosie chose to come to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers. Like my father, they accepted a mercenary position, following the money away from home. But unlike my father, they came very much as second-class citizens; to live, work and be treated as second-class people.

As I grew older I began to learn about the country that was the Philippines. I learned about Ferdinand Marcos and his family, and the network of elites that ran the country. I was appalled by these families, and the system and values by which they allowed greed to blind them. New terms entered my expanding vocabulary, among them “developing world”, “basket case” and “banana republic”.

The Philippines became a place I learned to look down upon. It was not because I thought Hong Kong was richer, more developed or had a stronger economy, but because it was, in my young eyes, a place that offered no future for its people. This is why it was a basket case. Herein lay its shame.

Hong Kong too had its fair share of poverty and social injustice. From a young age I was told about the work of Elsie Tu, a lady I came to respect and, in more recent times, have come to know. But it was through my own family, in particular through one of my aunts, that the shameful conditions that existed here were felt.

Before marrying my uncle and immigrating to the United States, my aunt had come from a squatter family. She would tell me, her curious young nephew, of how hard life could be in colonial Hong Kong. I think it was because she saw me as being part-British that she felt I needed to know. She did not hate the British, but the unequal society they had allowed to develop. And yet for all that she told me, colonial Hong Kong was not the Philippines. Neither was Hong Kong the Chinese mainland. We were a city that people fled to, not escaped from. The system may have been imperfect and the administration illegitimate in the eyes of the governed, but it had not been corrupted by an ideology nor was it beholden to the whim of a dictator, as was sadly the case in much of Asia. Our nurses and teachers were not leaving to go into domestic servitude. Most of all, Hong Kong represented for its people a hope for a better future. We were still, in her eyes as well as mine, better.

Two years ago a friend of mine left Hong Kong. She was a school teacher. She had met a man online many years older than her who was prepared to marry her and sponsor her green card. The life for which she would be leaving would be hard. She would have to do manual work in cold and difficult conditions, for an income a fraction of what she had and could hope to earn here. But still she went. And today, I am glad to say, she is happy.

But her happiness is not that born of what she found, but from release from that which is left behind. When I asked her recently why she left her home, her roots and her family, she replied she did so for the sake of her future and that of her future family. To remain was to watch the soil that had once sustained her roots in this city be slowly eroded, and to see those roots, that have made Hong Kong her home, wither and die.

Her story is also, within my small circle of acquaintances, not unique. Her sense of hopelessness is almost universal. That Hong Kong no longer inspires hope in her people is indicative of the change that that this city has seen. My home is better than this.

Nina went on to marry an RAF serviceman stationed in Hong Kong, and migrate to the United Kingdom. She returns to the Philippines each year, now with her daughter and granddaughter, where they have a second home. Rosie returned to the Philippines when her contract ended.

我九歲之前一直被兩位家傭——連娜和露詩照顧。她們告訴我菲律賓家鄉的種種。她們的故事在我的腦海裏建構起一幅美麗的圖畫。那是一個破舊不堪,但親戚間、甚至是所有人都緊密地聯繫在一起的地方。那裏充滿色彩、生命力、各種聲音和孩子的地方。每個人都是家人。

菲律賓或許跟我的想像不一樣,但這並不重要。重要的是,這是由連娜與露詩的感情勾畫出來的菲國,映照她們離鄉別井的情懷。

我的想象中也投影了自己對家庭的需求和依戀。在我更小的時候,我只能隔個週末才能見到家人,每天的盼望就是能和家人一起。那些相聚的時刻支撐著我,讓我感受到愛。我們會在婆婆家聚集,而她就會負責照顧兒孫。小小的公寓裏擠進整個大家族,它總是逼夾、嘈吵的,但我從來不覺世上有哪比這個地方更舒服。晚餐通常要用一整天的時間準備。有些晚上,家裏會起一些爭執,甚至會有人會因此弄得落淚而不歡而散。然而,當年那個安靜和孤獨的我,在這些情況下卻能泰然自若。 因爲我知道,儘管表面如何,這裡更深層處有的是把我們所有人緊緊捆綁在一起的愛。這不是不孝,而是更高貴、更純真的親情。

我亦愛連娜與露詩,因為她們深深地關切我。不過,這種愛,是人與人之間的感情,跟家人的愛不同;我也愛我的父親。可是,他來香港時離棄了家人,跟那邊家庭的關係也自然地疏遠了。因此很遺憾地,我對我父親一家的愛,也總是比較淺薄和不完整。

作為一個小孩,我沒有能力分析移民這個複雜的問題,也不可能理解為什麼一個人會離開自己的家園和親人,去陌生的地方展開新的生活。但這種分離對人造成的影響,我是極度敏感的。

我能感受到連娜與露詩對自己的家人與家鄉濃濃的愛。在菲國,他們分別是教師和護士。她們在社區內有自己的家和家人的愛。人在異鄉,社會上的人都看不起她們的種族、文化和膚色。她們只是女傭,住在廚房後面、洗衣房旁的空間——那是整個單位裏最小、最缺愛、也是最悲哀的角落。

連娜與露詩選擇來港工作當家庭傭工,像我父親一樣,他們因為金錢接受了一個雇傭職位,而離鄉別井。但跟我父親不同的是,他們在香港無論於生活、工作還是待遇上,都只能是個二等公民。

當我逐漸長大後,我開始了解到菲律賓是怎樣的一個國家。我認識到馬科斯和他的家族,以及他們那些遍佈全國的群黨。這些因爲貪婪而蒙蔽了的家庭、系統和價值觀令我感到十分震驚。在我人生中,我第一次接觸了「發展中國家」、「廢柴」和「香蕉共和國」等這類詞彙。

菲律賓成為了我瞧不起的地方。不是因為它不比香港富有發達,或是經濟體制不振,而是在我幼嫩的眼中,這個國家不能給自己的子民一個未來。這就是為什麼她被人羞辱、被蔑視為「廢柴」。

杜葉錫恩 (Elsie Tu) 是一位我最近才認識的,且我很尊重的女士。香港的貧困和社會不公也曾相當普及,但我從小就知道杜葉錫恩在這方面做了大量的改善工作。我還透過自己家庭成員,尤其是其中一位舅母身上,親身了解到這種社會歧視。

在跟我舅舅結婚和移民美國之前,我的舅母來自香港的一個貧民區。她會告訴我這個好奇的小外甥,在殖民的香港生活是如何地艱辛。或許是因爲我擁有一半的英國血統, 她覺得我有需要知道事實。她不討厭英國人,但討厭他們任由社會不公的發酵。然而,她告訴我,殖民地香港不是菲律賓,也不是中國內地。我們是一個人民選擇逃往,而非逃離的城市。這地的系統可能並不完美,甚至在被統治者的眼裡,這個政府是非法的,但她並沒有像其它亞洲大部分地區般,可悲地被獨裁者或旁觀者的意識形態肆意破壞。這裡的護士和教師並沒有離開家園去他處做傭工。最重要的是,香港曾給了這裡的人民「未來會更美好」的希望。在她或是我的眼中,香港仍比其他地方優勝。

但香港已經跟以前不—樣。跟世界上其他地方一樣,香港比以前富有多了,生活水平也大大地提高了。但香港在很多人眼中,卻變得更貧困了。水平確實提高了,但生活質素卻降低了。在跨國地產大享主導的經濟下,社區更顯分離。生活遇到的困境和歷史發展的價值,在「我們的」政府眼中卻視若無睹,而我們作為香港人及中國人這種獨特的身份及文化,則每天都受到挑戰。

連娜和露詩在菲律賓並非處於最底層,也不是因為她們在當地缺乏機會——她們放棄的是好的、有尊嚴的工作——而是因為菲國無法給她們機會去過有尊嚴的生活。

兩年前,我的一個朋友離開了香港。她原本是一位老師,她在網上遇到一個年紀比她大得多的男人。這個男人願意與她結婚,並給她綠卡。為此,她離開這裡,準備過一些很艱難的生活。她要在寒冷和困難的生活條件下做體力勞動,收入也只會是之前的一小部分。但她還是選擇離開了。今天我很高興地說,她認爲自己做對了決定。

但她的開心並非來自發現了什麽新天地,而是從所拋棄的地方之中得到解放。最近,我問她為什麼要離開她的家鄉、她的根與家人。她說這是為了她的未來與將來的家庭。如果留下,她就要眼睜睜地看著這個曾是家的城市之根,慢慢被侵蝕、枯萎和死亡。

她的故事在我的生活圈子裏並不陌生。那種對香港的絕望感,幾乎普遍地存在著。香港不再有希望,而她的人民也已看到了這個改變。她說,我現在的家,比香港更好。

連娜後來和一個進駐香港的英國皇家空軍軍人結了婚,移居到了英國。她現在每年都和女兒和孫女回去菲律賓,即她們的第二個家那邊。露詩合約完結後,就回去了菲律賓,不曾與我再會了。

Respond to Domestic workers Nina and Rosie: what their story says about Hong Kong 連娜與露詩:有關外籍傭工與香港的故事

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