The Least of These
I start with this short clip because the fast-paced, city look and feel with its 8,000+ skyscrapers made the biggest impression on me more than anything else. There were plenty of times during my stay in Hong Kong when I felt the need to retreat and collect my thoughts and process the experiences of the days gone by and the days ahead. Ironically enough the place I sought sanctuary was at the local McDonalds which was a few blocks away from Panda Hotel, the hotel where our cohort stayed. Back home, a McDonalds would be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind to find peace and quiet. But in Hong Kong, where everyone is constantly on the move, McDonalds was the closest any place I could find in Hong Kong where some respite was found. Surprisingly, Starbucks was not even an option since the interior design was meant for people on the go. The tables and chairs, sans walls were empty; meant for passersby.
Being in Hong Kong was part of our learning and so I was keen on absorbing as much culture as I possibly could. I walked the streets to blend in the crowd. It was easy for me since I am Filipino. So there were no awkward stares but every now and then folks would strike up conversations in Cantonese. Each time I’d politely gesture that I did not speak their language.
I had expectations that Hong Kong would still have remnants of her British past, i.e., lingua franca being English, etc.. Having been acquainted with the Modern History of Hong Kong, and the disappointments surrounding the hand over 21 years ago, I had assumed her citizens did everything they could to hold on to the glorious past.1 Reading signs at the airport in English was comforting even though having the Cantonese translations under it seemed superfluous, at least in my uncouth ethnocentrism. “Please mind the step” brought good memories of my visit to London a few years ago when traveling via the “Tube” was satisfyingly efficient.
The moment I stepped into a taxi cab I knew Hong Kong had totally transformed and adopted her new Chinese identity. The cab driver did not speak even basic English and went on like it was business as usual. He had his mobile office configured in such a way that ruled out conversation. I learned many things about Hong Kong just by observing all the objects, stickers and paperwork attached to the vehicle’s dashboard. Look closely and you’ll see that he has 4 operating mobile phones. I’m assuming one is at least for navigation; one was for watching the latest talk show and the other two? I couldn’t tell. I was busy nosing around the rest of the stuff. Again, a closer look and you’ll see the myriad of restrictions required for operating a taxi in Hong Kong. Was this a British thing; or a Chinese thing; perhaps a little bit of both? I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought that had they left it to the Brits Hong Kongers would have “black cabs” not red ones.
Perhaps the most memorable photo is this one (left) of the local bakery. When I was growing up as a boy in the Philippines part of my daily chores was each morning my grandma would give me enough change to pick up fresh bread from the local bakery across the street. Walking to this local bakery transported me back to that time; a time when things were much simpler. I sampled their bread, made my selections and moved about the place like I was one of them. Nothing felt strange. From across the street at dawn, the light signaled to the people passing by that life in Hong Kong still very much included community.
Amidst all the thrills, joys and newly acquired friendships usually associated with trips, one sobering realization set it. Hong Kong is a rich county. Supporting its high standard of living sometimes requires help. That help comes in the form of Filipino domestic workers–a euphemism for maids. Hong Kongers import nearly 380,000 of them2, 99% of whom are women. They work 18-hr. days, doing everything from laundry to preparing meals, raising kids to taking them to school. What little they earn they send to their loved ones in the Philippines. Their only day off is Sunday. And since much of everything is unaffordable to them, they decide to get together en masse. Hong Kong is so crowded, lacking in green spaces that the only place for them to gather to support and encourage each other is on the streets, in front of high rise offices and posh shops. Stu Cocanougher (LGP7) told me that there are tens of thousands of these women who are out from Sunday morning until the very last moment their masters allow them. That ending time is late at night. Sometimes one wonders what kinds of conditions these domestic helpers endure just to make ends meet.
Stu added that for the Christians among them they stay at church the whole day and fellowship until they have to go back home, also known as their place of work. I have been praying for these women. When I got back home one of the first things I did was show our church’s mission board photos and videos showing the great need to minister to these women. They are a fun-loving bunch; they care for one another’s needs and encourage each other. I was listening and I could understand their pain, sorrow and how much they miss home. Perhaps God might send me and a team one day.
Hong Kong is living on borrowed time. Talking with some of the ministry leaders there, one can sense a foreboding, a furtive look to the future as if to avoid mentioning the inevitable. Hong Kong is doing well under SAR, but in 29 years China will take full control. Will China look to the ideas that made the West great, or will it continue to consolidate power under the Communist party? It’s hard to tell at this point but I’m looking forward to visiting again. This time for missions.
1Sue Lannin, “Hong Kong Residents Wary of Future, 20 Years after Handover,” ABC News, June 30, 2017, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-30/20-years-of-chinese-rule-in-hong-kong/8665542.
2“Filipino Workers in Hong Kong Facing Extra Financial Burden by Law,” South China Morning Post, October 21, 2018, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/2169478/filipino-domestic-workers-hong-kong-facing-more-expenses-new.
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