Common Ground by Danielle Kong

by tuftsigl
Sep 08

“I brought shrimp!” Cora excitedly told me. She whipped out a food container and opened the lid to show me her cooked shrimp. She graciously offered some to me – actually, she insisted that I eat some. When I politely declined, she smiled. “Ah, you American – hamburgers and pizza, right?”


As soon as I mentioned to Cora that my father was born in Manila, a conversation about Filipino food ensued. (Cora is a domestic worker from the Philippines and has been working in Hong Kong for years.) I told her that my favorite Filipino dishes include pancit malabon (noodles) and adobo (meat seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce). Upon hearing this, she looked over to her nearby friend to ask her if she brought some pancit that day, ready to share her friend’s food with me. It was uplifting to see how generous and friendly Cora was to me, a stranger she had just met forty-five minutes ago. Despite coming from a background of economic hardship, Cora was intent on sharing what she could.


Beginning my fieldwork in Hong Kong was intimidating. The thought of the differences in circumstances between the people I would speak to and me made me feel uncomfortable. I recognized that as a university student from the US, I was an outsider trying to enter a different community. While it has not been easy to gain trust and openness from a large number of domestic workers, it also has not been extremely difficult to develop rapport with a handful of individuals. The key to entering a community that you feel distanced from is working towards finding common ground. After that, it is about being an attentive listener and realizing that people are open to sharing their experiences (and quite often, they find it liberating to communicate their stories and emotions). It is incredible how welcoming some women have been, allowing me to enter their friend group and join them on a humid Sunday. As this trip is drawing to a close, I realize that I have learned so much in the process of trying to enter a community of foreign domestic workers to understand different personal journeys.


Food has definitely been one source of common ground between the domestic workers I have spoken with and me. Although I pride myself on having tried many different foods (and being a total foodie), Cora tells it like it is – my father has many more Filipino foods to show me. We end our conversation on this note: “You have to try fresh lumpia.”


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