Attitudes / Culture / Hong Kong / Lifestyle

The Help … In Hong Kong

I was going to write this whole post on helpers in Hong Kong and the complexities of it all. Hong Kong is one of the few countries in the world who allow foreign workers in under a special visa purely to work as domestic helpers – live in help. There is a fine line between a helper being “help” and “servant”.

The problem is as I wrote the 10th paragraph I realised the topic is so loaded and there are so many things I COULD write on so many different aspects of helpers that I should just focus on the questions at hand.

I define a domestic helper as someone who HELPS me. That help comes in various forms, but I try not to take it for granted or abuse the privilege of having her in our home.

I’ve been asked a few times “Where did we find our helper?” and “What’s it like to have a helper?”

So perhaps it is best I stick to answering the specific questions for now and leave the philosophicals of the helper world to be broken up into posts for another time.

Let’s start with “Where did we find our helper?”

Word of mouth. Simple as that. A close friend of ours at the time recommended her. She worked in our friend’s building (which we ironically moved into not long after).

We had interviewed other helpers. We hadn’t found the right match.

What do I mean by right match?

The lady you choose has to live in your home. They have to work with your family. They have to share some of your ideals and expectations. You have to be able to tolerate their presence, their quirks, and they yours. You need to trust them and they in kind need to trust you.

Our number one requirement was a love for kids. Genuine love. The helper recommended to us was the first helper we interviewed who got down to our kids level and asked them what they liked to do and played with them at their level. They ended up reading a book together. It’s a silly little thing, but love is important.

To me love for a child is something you either have or you don’t. It can’t be taught. It has to be genuine. Our helper loves our children as her own. Cooking and cleaning can be taught, improved on, habits changed … love … can not.

If you’re looking for a helper, definitely reach out to friends with helpers who may know of someone who is a good fit to your family.

“What’s it like to have a helper?”

It’s strange. At first it was a huge adjustment. There was a learning curve on both sides. As an Aussie/Chinese family we do things a little differently and that took some adjustment for our helper in the beginning. We needed to learn how to deal with having another person living in the apartment. It was quirky little things mostly – often cultural.

Emotionally for me it was a challenge as well. I felt like a failure because I hadn’t been able to cope on my own, but I also felt ‘free’ from the burden of having to do everything for myself. I didn’t stop being a mum or doing bits and pieces around the apartment. In fact I got more time to be a mum and dedicate my focus to my family and more time to actually take time out when I needed it too.

It took a month or so for things to settle down before we got into a rhythm of understanding and got to know each other. It isn’t perfect, but it works. That’s one thing I think people forget – having help isn’t always going to be perfect and you have to work out what you are willing to accept and what you’re not and make sure you have open communication on both sides. Honesty and trust are key.

The irony is while I do enjoy and appreciate having the extra help I look forward to the day when I no longer need it (and I’ve told my helper this on many occasions). I’m capable of keeping home in a normal situation back in Oz and unlike a number of mums here I cope just fine when my helper is away on her holidays.

While we need her I do appreciate having the extra set of hands and support. We try not to abuse the privilege of having her help in our family.

Back to the title of this post, I have to admit after watching the movie “The Help” I was surprised by the similarities characters in the movie share with some of their modern day counterparts in Hong Kong. Helpers are not servants … but it would seem perhaps some people here have forgotten or don’t understand that … but those stories are for another post another time.



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