Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Their Heart Will Go On:Filipinas in Hong Kong

By Carmina Osuna

                        There aren’t enough words to describe the feeling of listening and experiencing first hand what I had previously only read and seen on television.  Although we had talked about what we would most likely experience while in port, I never thought it would hit me so soon after I embarked in Hong Kong.  That first day my friends and I traveled by ferry to Hong Kong Island and had some lunch before going on a trip to the Stanley Market.  There were many Caucasian and Chinese families in the area and it didn’t take me long to remember how our discussions and readings in class depicted the Filipinas in that area, primarily the domestic workers.  Nicole Constable’s Maid to Order in Hong Kong, about Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong, describes both the Filipinas who just complain about their situation and the others who are actively devoted to making a difference.  On their way to Hong Kong Island, Su-lin, Constable’s friend, reveals the predominant negative Chinese view of the Filipina domestic worker when she refers to them as “very stupid” (preface).  So after observing many families in the hopes of finding a Filipina domestic worker in the midst of them, I realized that maybe that day was a family day or maybe they just all happened to be out of towners just like myself.  Little did I know that on my way back home I would come across a Human Rights rally organized by Filipinos. Photo

          It just so happened that my first day in Hong Kong, September 11, was the same day in which the “world commemorated the dark years of Martial Law” in the Philippines (hand out).  On my way to the ship that night I witnessed a Human Rights protest and even managed to get a flier describing efforts to fight for the Filipino people’s justice.  The passion with which the man holding the microphone was speaking was enough to have everyone around, including myself, standing and watching him.  Although I couldn’t understand what he or the other Filipino people around him were saying it felt pretty powerful. 

                        On Sunday of that week that I experienced even more than what I had envisioned to experience while on Semester At Sea.  Upon exiting the Star Ferry, after traveling from Kowloon Island to Hong Kong Island, I came across many women sitting in the parts of the terminal sheltered from the rain.  They seemed extremely out of place and I wondered if a bomb would drop down any second and I’d find myself witnessing a battle between the Filipino women and the police officers.  I hoped for the best and quickly began to ask where Statue Square was located and followed the women’s instructions.  On my way there I couldn’t help but notice the rows and rows of women sitting on bed sheet-like pieces of cloth taped onto the floor.  Each cloth contained anywhere from 1 to 10 people, each group engaged in a different activity. The first few groups were eating what looked like rice and chicken.  Others under the tunnel and around the area were playing cards, doing their nails, playing with their children, reading or just enjoying each other’s time. Photo

                        When I made it to the Statue Square I noticed a Karaoke taking place.  After being in Japan and experiencing karaoke I was interested to observe them and hear what they sang and see how they managed to do it in the rain.  The first Filipino woman I heard cried after singing “Hopelessly devoted to you”.  The second was a woman by the name of Ms. Berna who sang “All my love for you”.  I heard a couple more love songs including “Leaving on a jet plain.”  Thinking back on the songs chosen by myself and other SAS students I began to wonder if these love songs could be chosen for a very specific reason.  After hearing a couple more love songs including “Leaving on a jet plane”, these women were expressing their feelings and singing not for themselves but for the loved ones. 

                        During a brief intermission a man by the name of Mr. Garcia spoke on their “8 years of longevity”.  He also promoted the support for the companies that “will provide [Filipino people] with what they needed,” and those who basically wouldn’t rip them off.  I noticed of the promotional company’s stand.  I wanted to see the advertisement that they were handing out to the Filipino women and decided to go ask what their company was all about.  One of the women, Wang, began to speak to me, in English, about the company called Kcel.  Wang spoke about the company’s existence in Japan and Korea.  In Hong Kong Kcel had only been active for 5 months so they “are working hard to promote this company.”  Wang further explained to me that the company was a type of storage and delivery service in which the Filipino women, who are primarily domestic workers (in Hong Kong), could either store or ship things to the Philippines.  She also went on to show me the different sizes of boxes and the benefits of purchasing a jumbo or a mega box.

                        I then began to ask Wang personal questions about herself. She said that she was a domestic worker and that Sunday was the only day off for her and the rest of the domestic workers.  She went on to say that they were allowed out from about 7 or 8 in the morning until 9pm.  Wang added that her second job was working with Kcel on her only day off.  I asked her if she minded or felt overwhelmed by having two jobs, she replied, “It’s better this way because it’s not good to go out.”  She told me this while gesturing and pointing to the mall that was only a few feet away.  I then clearly understood that it was better to keep busy than to have time to Photowaste the money she could otherwise send to her family back home in the Philippines.  She asked if there were any other questions since she had to go back to work, so I thanked her for her time.  Before leaving I met her co-workers and they gave me a visor and some fliers to take to class.  We all departed with a smile and I felt a deep sense of appreciation for my own immigrant parents and all of their hard work and sacrifice so that I can be what I am today.

               I had previously not been aware of the Human Rights protest and much less that there would be a division between the complainers and the activists among the Filipino immigrant workers.  After reading Constable’s article however I began to wonder if the women sitting farthest away from the Statue Square were those who only complained about their situation or if it was just the shelter from the rain that chose their locations for them.  The image I had created in my head before I had arrived in Hong Kong was that just like the domestic Worker in the documentary “The Amahs of Hong Kong” (1995), every Filipina was an activist in some way shape or form. Photo

                        Now I understand that, whether or not the women are active in migrant advocacy through organizations in Hong Kong, the fact that they chose to migrant countries away from home in order to work hard to be able to remit half or more of their earnings to support their loved ones, makes them all in a sense committed actors engaged in the global economy, trying to improve lives in their homeland.  Through my own interactions with them I too, like Constable, was impressed by “the strength, friendliness and warmth” of the Filipinas.

Return to course home page