Catching A Glimpse Of The Human Spirit In Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a city that needs no introduction. Its attractions and its culinary and cultural traditions are known round the world.
Two and half days is way too short a time to really get out and explore it so it was disappointing to wake up this morning, our last day here, and find out that that a Level 8 cyclone warning has been issued for the city. At that level, the city virtually shuts down. The busses and light rail stop running, the taxis no longer pick up passengers, businesses do not open and the streets empty out. What is one to do but stay in the hotel and spend the time the best way one can.
Except that John, an old friend who works and lives in Hong Kong, sends a message asking if I want to go for a walk. The rain has not arrived yet, the wind is still light and, after all, John is a local, so I say – of course! When John arrives it turns out he didn’t realize that there is a Level 8 warning but he is not worried and we create an itinerary to see more of Hong Kong. At this point the streets are deserted but John has some ideas on what we should go to see.
Walking the empty streets, which less than 12 hours ago were packed with pedestrians and traffic, creates a feeling of passing through a ghost city as well as a sensation of pleasure – it is as if the city was now laid out just for us to enjoy. Everyone in Hong Kong is now in their homes, hopefully protected from the incoming storm. Well, maybe not everyone. Turning a corner we see hundreds of people on the streets in front of a building that is teeming with activity. I look at John, awaiting an explanation.
The answer is interesting. In front of us are thousands of people who choose to be here in spite of the potential danger of the typhoon. They are the foreign domestic workers (over 350,000 in this city of 7.5 million people). Sunday is their only day off – the only day to see friends, shop, send money home and escape their employers. ‘Escape’ is the word John uses because if they had stayed home their employers would have inevitably asked them to help with the kids, the dishes, the clean up and so on. So they figured it was better to face nature’s elements.
The walk among them is both sad and exhilarating. Sad to see that in this city of plenty there really is no place for these workers, despite their hidden and undervalued contribution to the economy. Exhilarating because even with the rain and the wind raging around them, they have spread their blankets on the floor, set up their food and drinks and are enjoying their off day – storm or no storm.
Last night, at dinner with John, I mentioned that one of the reasons I travel to foreign lands is to come face to face with my ignorance. And here was my moment. Who knew that prosperous Hong Kong had such a large population of domestics and foreign workers, a population that faces a completely different set of rules than the other residents of Hong Kong? The law here states that if you live in Hong Kong for seven years you receive resident status – unless, of course, you are a domestic from Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh or other such countries.
Walking here among them, being ignored while pushing through the crowd and yet catching a glimpse of a woman having a pedicure on the cement floor with another woman pouring a glass of wine, I once again realize that the most enjoyable part of cycling the world is coming across such incredible examples of the invincible human spirit.