In Hong Kong, foreign domestic helpers account for approximately 5% of the total population. Like many people in Hong Kong, I was raised by a foreign domestic helper from Indonesia. She worked in my family for 20 years. She witnessed my first steps, my first school day, and my first time leaving home. I used to call her ‘Jeh Jeh’, which means aunt in Cantonese, but she is as important as my mum. She accompanied me in the first quarter of my life and taught me the core lessons of love and sacrifice.
My mum always reminded my brother and I to respect and love her as one of our family members
Jeh Jeh woke up earlier than all of us, and started doing housework at six o’clock in the morning every day. We could not live comfortably without her, so my mum always reminded my brother and I to respect and love her as one of our family members.
However, I had once forgotten the words that my mum spoke. When I was twelve, nearly all my classmates went to school on their own. However, my mum did not allow me to do so, as my neighbour was unpredictable at times. For safety, Jeh Jeh took me to school and back home everyday. Stepping into the early stages of adolescence, I felt extremely embarrassed when Jeh Jeh walked with me. Therefore, I told her to wait for me at a particular point, so I could walk with my classmates without any adult’s company for a while.
One day, Jeh Jeh waved to me as usual when I walked past the meeting point on the way back home. I saw her, but I was talking with my friends. I felt ashamed if she suddenly interrupted, so I ignored her and kept walking. I thought that she would just follow and walk behind me. Surprisingly, she ran towards me and held my hand, saying loudly, ‘You should not go if you can’t see me! Do you know how dangerous it is to walk alone?’
She shouted at me and all passerbys looked at us. At that moment, I felt a shiver of embarrassment creep up my neck. I was very angry at her. I knew I would be safe even if I did not wave back to her. I questioned in that moment why did she react so furiously, and why did she make such a scene and publicly shame me?
She just prioritised my safety over her personal feelings
The sense of guilt made this seemingly trivial incident one of the most memorable moments in my life. After a few years, I realised how rude and arrogant I was. She never intended to shame me. She was just afraid that I would accidentally go back home alone one day and face any danger. Besides, she actually suffered from greater embarrassment than me when we were scrutinised by others, because foreign domestic helpers are not respected in Hong Kong. For most people, Jeh Jeh had no right to scold me as cheap labour. She just prioritised my safety over her personal feelings.
Although I went to school by myself later, she reminded me to carry my school bag with correct posture, and asked if I had brought my mobile phone and wallet every morning. She fully closed the door of my home only after I entered the lift safely. Hong Kong is actually a secure city, but for Jeh Jeh, I will always be a little girl who never grows up.
She just tried her best to serve everyone.
I was not the only one Jeh Jeh cared about. As an outstanding cook, she often expressed her love and care by making mouth-watering food. She remembered everyone’s favourite food. She empathetically spotted our anxiety and stress, thus cooking our favourite food to cheer us up. She never forgot to make the fried vegetables more tender for my grandparents, and make our friends’ favourite pandan coconut cake when they visited us. We never demanded her to do so, and she could not receive extra pay by pleasing us due to government regulations. She just tried her best to serve everyone.
In September, Jeh Jeh could not see me off at the airport as she needed to take care of my grandma. While my parents and brother stayed quite calm, she was the only person crying at home.
Her selfless love and care made her more respected than famous influential female figures with higher educational levels and greater wealth.
It was not her first time crying at home. Twenty years ago, she cried while cleaning the windows of my home. Coming from a small village, she had never stayed in an apartment on the 25th floor. They were tears of fear. After twenty years, she could speak like a local, and differentiate dark and light soy sauce without reading the product label. Her daughter also became a professional nurse. In these two decades, she expressed her love to her daughter by remittance instead of company. She transferred her love from her own family to her employer’s family. As a coloured foreign domestic helper, she was underprivileged in society. However, her selfless love and care made her more respected than famous influential female figures with higher educational levels and greater wealth.
Now, she has retired and gone back to her home country, enjoying a peaceful life with her family. She most probably will not be able to read or understand this article, but I will try my best to be a kind, selfless and loving person so as to show my appreciation to her.