Thursday, March 04, 2010

Cheap Maids

One of the great things about Hong Kong if you're lazy is that nobody will make you feel guilty.

Outside of work, that is.  All committed employees should be working twelve hour days as a matter of course, and coming in on Saturdays too.  (Not entirely sure that this has led to massive productivity improvements in this part of the world, because that 'twelve hour day' seems to often include a two hour pause for dim sum, like some strange, passive-aggressive employee relationship, and it's not entirely clear that you'll be any better at your work for working the weekend.  If you couldn't get it done in five days, I'm not sure that a sixth will really help that much.  Unless you're God, I suppose.)

But perhaps as a consequence of everyone living at the office, everything else seems arranged to make the rest of your life easier. 

Don't want to bother recycling waste?  Never mind!  There's hardly anywhere to recycle plastic or glass, and even when you do find a bin, there's a handy article in the paper every so often about how it all gets chucked in the landfill with the other rubbish anyway, so you don't have to feel any guilt about not recycling.

Don't want to cook?  Well, as most kitchens are only equipped with a couple of stoves, you can feel quite justified in going out to eat every night.

Don't want to pay tax?  You can skip town with $160,000 owing to the Revenue Service, and they'll be polite enough to only write you a letter asking you to pop into the office with it after you've been back three or four times.

Actually, that last example wasn't such a good one, as you'd have to leave Hong Kong to avail yourself of the laziness-aid.  And if you did leave, you'd be sacrificing one of the principal labour-saving devices of Hong Kong: the maid.  Or is it the domestic helper this week? 

(I'm really ignorant of the connotations of these two terms, and I'd happily correct myself if somebody would point out essential differences between them, but most people here use the terms pretty interchangeably, so I'll hope I'm not being offensive.  The last thing I've ever wanted to do is be offensive.)

Maids are brilliant.  For an almost derisory amount of money*, they'll tidy, clean, cook, walk your dog, clear up after your dog, tidy your children, take them to school, fetch them again, tidy up again, perform all the child-rearing functions that you would do if you had any desire to bond with your spawn, and still have time to go to the park on Sunday and annoy you.

If you weren't annoyed by the air quality or the architecture in Hong Kong, you might think there was nothing else to get in a bubble about.  But this is the final, labour-saving gift the maids provide.  They give you something to get annoyed about.  As a consequence of all the maids getting cell-like rooms to sleep in and having nowhere else for them to go, they all congregate in the parks or in the central streets of Hong Kong on Sundays, their mandated day off.  This seems to either bemuse or enrage their employers (most of whom seem to act as though they think they're actually owners); what could the maids do, that didn't fall under the category of work, after all?  If the non-maid population aren't confused to see large groups of Filipinas or Indonesians being happy to meet other people that they can talk to and not have to tidy up after, then they're actually quite angry at the noise that they're making.

After all, how dare they clutter the place up?  And they make so much noise talking to one another.  And they get in the way!  They're not being productive!  They're not being productive!

Personally I don't get annoyed by this, but don't take that to mean I think I'm some kind of saint.  I'm never in Central or Victoria Park on a Sunday, so I don't get the chance to encounter maids-at-rest.  I'll be conked out asleep at home, with vague feelings of guilt that somebody else has taken much more care and attention than I could ever muster, to arrange all my cds in alphabetical order, fold my underpants and tackle the washing up.**

Like to see her figure out how to syndicate a blog update onto Facebook via a twitter feed though.  That's life skills for you.

*Don't forget, that's for an almost derisory amount of money. (Maybe the same as you'd pay for a couple of hours of half-arsed ironing in the UK.  In 1998.) Occasionally somebody gives a maid a raise, and pays her a fully derisory amount, but there's really no need for that. You're distorting the local economic conditions, you insensitive clod!

** I did wonder if this was a subtle revenge: in the distant past of last year, I wondered that if I ever got a girl back to my place, she'd take one look at this well-over-the-borderline-OCD anal-retentiveness, and scarper double quick.  Lucky I managed to snare somebody while my place was in between tidyings, and as a single male I'd put it into an attractive sort of squalor.  In about ten minutes.


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