I stumbled upon my first steps on the footbridge to the Lab Concept, a department store in Admiralty, Hong Kong Island. I have been here several times due to missed appointments with the Taiwan Consulate Office, as well as my wandering adventure to explore another side of Hong Kong faraway from my institution.
Lab Concept. Photo Credit: sassyhongkong.com
On normal weekdays, I would be surrounded by uptight businesspeople, hurried pedestrians, and busy shoppers. All of the people and the things belong to a fanciful world in which people know for sure what they are supposed to do and have all of the resources necessary to do so. However, it was Sunday, a beautiful Sunday that awed me with a super long parade that I secretly publicly followed from near Causeway Bay MTR Station, after deciding that I should stop looking for another currency exchange stall. It was crazy. And it somewhat tired me out.
The long walk that took me back to Admiralty was eventful. But I will save it for another occasion.
Although I have seen several groups along my walk, I was still shocked to see many of them here: Groups of foreign women, possibly domestic workers, sitting, chatting, sleeping, laughing… Some of them were selling small souvenirs. The other ones were focusing on their knitting or crocheting.
I thought I would be afraid of them.
But I wasn’t.
But why should I be afraid of them anyway? To be honest, coming from a hub like Ho Chi Minh City, I should’ve been all aware of and already have gotten used to that – even though the HCMC version is with migrant women workers. At the same time, the otherness that these women represent and that’s supposedly feared is also what I learned. And until now I have been trying to unlearn – even though I admit that there was discomfort at first sight.
The disbelief of their appearance stole my flow of thoughts from the parade that was still going on. Where were they on the weekdays? Where are they on the weekdays? I didn’t recall any traces of their existence, whether it’s in the morning or in the afternoon or even at late night. Why were they there then?Why are they here now? Does it happen every weekend? Perhaps, yes. They seemed comfortable with the space they (re)claimed from the people who spend most of their days in an air-conditioned environment, and so always rush through this footbridge to get to their office or to grasp their lunch or to head to another store.
These women speak neither Cantonese nor Mandarin Chinese. I concentrated to listen if I could catch a Vietnamese phrase. I couldn’t. Perhaps I would, if I had walked a bit slower. But I walked fast, somehow feeling embarrassed to turn back even if it could be like acting as if I got lost.
I actually got lost.
Alternative Public Space. Photo Credit: Asian Urban Epicenters
Space is always a contest between ideas, values, and identities. Space evolves through time (as time also evolves through space). I did not expect that under these skyscrapers in one of the international financial and cultural hubs of the world, I would meet these women. But why didn’t I? I should have known by now that there are always different sides of a story. The story that I often hear as a tourist is that Hong Kong is a ‘giant shopping mall’ – to borrow a friend’s words – in which people continuously either cash or credit themselves away not knowing when, where, and how (perhaps even why) materialism has already captivated them. That if anything happens, Hong Kong people would shop away. That they don’t care about anything.
But the Umbrella Movement showed otherwise.
But these women again demonstrate that they could have cared further.
Why did they come to Hong Kong? What did they leave at home?
Are they getting the futures they expected?
Why are they not more visible?
Around the area are several financial properties that do not only facilitates currency exchange but also remittance services. These women exist. Probably, it’s not so ironic that a financial institution is a representation of the women who leave a part of themselves across one or more boundaries to go find alternative ways to make ends meet. Maybe they would return home someday. Maybe they would settle down in this new place when it eventually recognizes their existence after all of their contributions. Or maybe they would continuously find themselves trapped between home and this new place. Isn’t it part of this risk they have taken?
Updated with pictures. As I started to write more, I realized I need to take more pictures and upgrade my photography skills. Thanks the Internet for now first!
I was in Hong Kong two summers ago. It was a wonderful and essentially formative experience for me. I wrote this piece one evening when I was hiding inside a study room at Chung Chi Library. Almost forgot about it… Feeling like I’m back…