Sunday in Central, Hong Kong by Danielle Kong

by tuftsigl
Aug 31

Richelle wipes the beads of sweat off of her forehead with a tissue. It’s a humid Sunday morning near Central, the business district of Hong Kong. The dark gray sky foreshadows the intermittent rain showers that will span the day. Luckily, Richelle and I are sitting on a footbridge that is covered by an awning. Some other women are sitting near us on cardboard boxes spread flat, lining the edges of the footbridge. Richelle tells me that in the afternoon the entire area will be filled. Women will be talking with their friends, eating, singing, dancing – trying to get some rest from a hard week they just finished and another busy week that will soon begin. As their only day of rest, this is a regular happening on Sundays in Hong Kong.


Richelle and the other women spending their Sunday on the footbridge near Central are domestic workers. Most, if not all, of the women around us are from the Philippines. There are domestic workers from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and other countries, but those domestic workers usually spend their Sundays in other parts of Hong Kong. Richelle tells me that the Filipinos are in Central and the Indonesians are in Causeway Bay. Why the division among domestic workers of different ethnicities? Richelle thinks that it’s cultural; she says that their cultures are different. Thus, Filipinos become friends with other Filipinos, especially when they come from the same province. Even within the Filipino community, people group on Sundays according to provinces.


I first became interested in researching the experiences of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong when I had visited the city on a previous occasion. I was amazed at the sight of so many women gathered together on Sundays, sitting on cardboard sheets and benches in public spaces. On the other days of the week, these public spaces are not as energetic. Usually business people walk through the open spaces of Central, moving from the public transportation stations to their offices. Also, many tourists wander around these areas. The level of activity on any day other than Sunday pales in comparison to the Sunday action.


Acclimating to the tropical weather and time zone has been an adjustment, but it’s all part of the adventure. With a rush of adrenaline, I began the fieldwork shortly after arriving in Hong Kong. Already through my first Sunday experience and first few interviews, I have learned so much. I have realized that it is sometimes the little details that are the most telling signs. For instance, when talking to friendly women who have warmly welcomed an outsider, I often receive stares of vigilance and curiosity from the surrounding women. This pushes me to consider if past outsiders who have tried to enter the circle are usually individuals with malicious intents or if the gatherings on Sundays are considered private functions within the domestic worker population. Little details are rich with information and spur other questions.


I am excited to delve deeper into understanding the experiences of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. I am very appreciative of the connections I have begun to form, of the women who have welcomed me, and of the support I’ve received from the Institute of Global Leadership at Tufts.


Add new comment