This is one of many stories that illustrate the Dickensian side of Hong Kong. Apologies to my Chinese readers who might take affront, but this is the kind of thing that, coming from a western culture, I find surprising and so heartbreaking.
The whole domestic worker scene here is so bizarre. (See my earlier post about this here.) I know it works really well for many, many workers and the families that employ them. Indeed, the entire Hong Kong social system is built around the expectation that families will have a live-in helper, hence there are no daycares, dishwashing machines, or cleaning-ladies to come to your house once a week legally. The domestic helpers must live with their employer; they work long days, mind the children, walk the dogs, go to market, cook, serve, clean and then some, six days a week with unregulated hours, all for a government-regulated salary of HKD $4,210 (CAD$725). If they lose their job, they have two weeks to find another job or are deported. They pay extortionist fees to the placement agencies (which are not monitored), have no legal protections whatsoever and are entirely at the mercy of their employer.
The article above is a heart-breaking example of this system at its worst. A domestic helper ate HKD$100 (CAD$17) worth of meatballs she wasn’t given permission to eat. Her employer reports it to the police. The police charge the helper and the case goes to court. The helper is fined HKD$800 but the judge mercifully suspends the usual imprisonment.
Are you kidding me??!!
How many things are wrong with this story? That the employer would consider herself so hard done by that she would report it to the police knowing full well what the consequences would be for her servant. That the police would actually get involved, let alone arrest, the helper for a $100 theft—don’t they have better things to do? That the case would actually go to court—don’t they have better things to do? That the usual punishment would be imprisonment—for $100 worth of meatballs—what kind of society in the modern world would entrench, endorse and enforce a system like this?
The answers that come to my mind are limitless and not flattering, so I will not articulate them and will let you answer the question yourself. Obviously I was naïve when I came to Hong Kong, but this type of attitude towards those less fortunate, and the fact that dignity, charity and egalitarianism are simply not core values of this society, are not what I expected to find here.