The Help…er

In the last fortnight I have read ‘The Help’ by Katherine Stockett and viewed the movie adaptation that has an amazing cast including Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. Both were excellent.

I haven’t been able to put either out of my mind, and I couldn’t help but draw similarities between the African-American maids of 1964 Alabama, with the Filipino maids of Hong Kong in the early 2000’s that I grew up with.

My the time we moved back to Hong Kong when I was 14, the term “Maid” wasn’t very widely used, and instead the more “Politically Correct” term for these women, was “Helper” (are you starting to see the similarities? No? Ok, just go along with it.)

Hong Kong, and other major expatriate cities like Kuala Lumper, Singapore, Dubai, Shanghai and Bang Kok are teeming not only with Foreign expatriates working the high-powered corporate gigs, but also a plethora of people (mainly women) from Sri Lanka and the Philippines. It seems to be a cultural expectation of women, particularly from the Philippines, that they will go to these far away cities, often with no job lined up, to find a family, to work for them, and send pretty much all of the money home.

Filipino maids get paid very little per month. I think that in 2002 when we moved back to Hong Kong, the minimum wage for a full-time, live in “Helper” was somewhere around $3200HKD per month. I’m going to assume that it was 5 to 1 in those days and that the Australian dollar and Canadian dollar were fairly evenly matched (probably all wrong information, don’t listen to me, I’m an English and Film major) and that works out to be roughly a salary of $640AUD a month.

Keep in mind if you will, that these helpers work 6 days a week, cook every meal, clean the house, do the laundry, walk the dogs, pick up the children, entertain the children and basically follow out every instruction given to them. It is not a 9-5 day. It is a day with no real set hours. And in the tiny apartment (of massive mansion depending on your Corporate peg on the ladder) they have a tiny room to themselves with a bed, usually a tv, and not much else. Or sometimes if that is not possible, the “Helper” would live in a room with a child or infant. I have heard horror stories of Maid’s sleeping in the kitchen. Some will have their own Bathroom (is this starting to sound like the Bathroom initiative in ‘The Help’?)

When we moved back to Hong Kong (after being maid-less for a number of years in Australia) we hired a lady called Lolita to be our Helper. Lolita was literraly 4″zilch and the shortest person I had ever seen outside of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. Not a dwarf, just, a tiny person…which worked out well considering the room we had in our first ground floor apartment was the size of a broom closet and she could have a custom made childs bed.

Lolita was there for the good times and the bad. With my mum suffering from depression, and my dad working in China 5/7 days, Lolita was really the one keeping us alive and not looking grubby. She packed our lunches, cleaned our uniforms, made sure we had money to get to and from school, took my youngest brother to school, and saw myself and Kip, my middle brother off on the ferry or bus. She took us to play at the members only pool (of course she didn’t swim – but hung out with the other maids in a kind of segregation… sound familiar?)

She also celebrated with us when we had triumphs, awards, achievements, birthdays. She was a seen, and yet unseen part of our family unit. She could NOT say the letter P, so when she called me, it would be “Faris” and she was forever cleaning up our golden cocker spaniels “Foo Foo’s” and she called the Philippines the “Pil-ipines” which made no sense to me because it was already a word with the “Fff” sound. She had been an accountant in the “Pil-ipines” and she used to help me with my Maths (because I was awful at it). She made more money being our maid, than she did as an accountant in the Philippines. True story. I also knew that she was married, and that she had been a world vision sponsor kid, that that is how she had been able to go through University. Somebody sponsored her all the way through. I think Lolita said she was an older British lady.

And that is really all I know about Lolita. My last year of high school was kind of blur because of all the traumatic shit that went down. I can’t remember if Lolita left before I did for University or before. I’m sure my mum will be able to shed some light on the subject (sadly it is 12 hours ahead in Hong Kong, and therefore she is in bed). I never sought to keep in touch with her, and I don’t really know what happened to her. I didn’t really know that much about her to begin with… so…

I asked my brothers what they remember about Lolita (we had plenty of maids before that when we were little, but she is the one we all most remember. She was also our most recent one).

This is what my brothers had to say:

R: (Who was pretty much raised by her between the ages of 9-11) I don’t really remember much about her. 😦

K: All I remember is helping her set up her computer so she could use Skype, and that she had a husband and house in the Philipines.

Me: (In response to Kip) Doesn’t it strike you as kinda weird that we didn’t really know that much about her… and yet she knew very intimate details about us?

K: I guess, at the time I never really thought about it.

And there you have it in a nutshell. We didn’t really think about it. Lolita was literally our helper in every way. She helped us with our homework, helped us when we were sad or sick or angry, she cleaned up after us, fed us, she did everything a parent does, but she was not a parent. We didn’t love her… we didn’t know her.




Fly the Rainbow

I have a wonderful, insane, loud, colourful, supportive family. Mum, Dad, two younger brothers and one HUGELY OBESE black and white cat called Guinness.

Currently we are flung far and wide.

Sydney - The littlest One

Perth - Papa and the Middle Child

Hong Kong - Mama + Guinness

Toronto - Yours Truly

I love them, and respect them so much, even though they are so far away. I would adore it if we could all live in the same place, but knowing us as I do, I think that is probably unlikely… maybe one day in the future when we’ve tamed the itch in our wandering feet. We are all adventurers, and we all struggle to stay still for long periods of time. Sometimes it is hard, and I have written about that before. It is confusing to live in my own timezone, but also two others (luckily Perth and Hong Kong are on the same lateral) and weird that when I speak to my parents in the morning, they have already had their day, and my brothers are waking up for work and Uni when I am out having dinner.

It has made for some pretty funny drink-dialling incidents.

So what flag do we fly under, this far-flung family of mine? Four of us have Australian passports, Mum being a New Zealander. The littlest one was born in Malaysia, and the Middle one was born in Hong Kong. The  Rainbow flag?

Five years ago, my youngest brother came out, and two years later, my Middle Brother came out.

I have always considered myself to be a liberal-minded person, but I struggled at first with the fact that my baby brothers were gay. With the littlest one, it was less of a shock, he has always proudly worn his heart on his sleeve, but when my middle brother came out, I suddenly felt very left out. Is that weird? Growing up, it had always been the boys VS the girls. They shared a room, I got my own. I was older (and moodier), they were gross boys in torn, muddy shirts. I had socks with frills.

Even though I always considered myself unflappable, level-headed, accepting of one and all, I cried when I realized that my brothers had had these secrets. I felt that I had been a bad big sister for not knowing. In hindsight, I should have rejoiced that we live in a time and are citizens of a country where being Gay is not a crime, and people are (more) accepting. Instead, I beat myself up for all the gay jokes I had ever made in their presence, or the use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term throughout High School. I’m still not perfect, I have indulged people who have laughed when they have learned about my family, and those who have exclaimed,

“WOW! That’s pretty unusual! Does that make you a lesbian?! HAHA derp HA”

I am so happy that my brothers are who they are, strong, outspoken, proud members of the LGBT community. I look to them to better myself in area’s of tolerance and understanding. They have faced inner struggles and hardships that I have not. I have never had to justify my heterosexuality, or who I love and why. I have never felt uncomfortably stared at for kissing my significant other in public, nor walking hand in hand with him down the street. I am proud of them for all that they have achieved at their young ages, raising awareness, and just being who they with courage and integrity.

It still boggles my mind that people could have so much hate inside them directed towards guys as cool as my Brothers simply because they love people with the same junk in their underpants as them. We’re all young now, 18-23, but it stops me short to think that if my brothers wanted to marry their partners, they wouldn’t be allowed to. That adopting kids would be insanely hard for them. My middle brother loves kids and is going to be the nicest uncle of all time (if I can hog tie a guy long enough to walk him down the aisle and then convince him to reproduce with me) and my youngest brother is so tattooed and pierced and generally awesome, that my kids will never want to listen to me and will only want to hang out with him (nah who am I kidding… I’m going to be the coolest mum on the block.)

I look to actress Anne Hathaway for inspiration. Okay yes, she played a wannabe Genovian princess in the Princess Diaries and sure, her boyfriend of three years is in prison for fraud now, but she is extremely vocal about rights for the LGBT community – her brother is gay and she has always spoken publicly about her support of him.

I hope that the world can grow more tolerant. It starts with the individual and the dissipation of ignorance. I hope that Australia throws out it’s backward policies and legalizes Gay marriage in my life time.

Until then, I know people will keep writing about their experiences, lending their voices to the cause of equal rights. Mine is just a small voice, but it is one that will be raised in support of my brothers and their rights to have the same things that I do. We are blood, they share my DNA. They have been raised with equality in every other way, why should they not share the same rights that I have?

Maybe they’ll both just have to move to Canada with me where it is legal.
Maybe we’ll all live in the same place sooner than I think.

4 Reasons I wish I had a Sister

I grew up in a household with three kids, Girl, Boy Boy.
There are some great things about having brothers, and I love mine very much. But there were many times I wished for a sister.

And here are some of the reasons.

4. I could steal all of her clothes and shoes
I never wanted to steal my brothers clothes, because A) Most of them had pictures of Thomas the Tank engine or Power Rangers and B) Obviously they were too small and ripped/torn. I was with a friend on Sunday who was in Toronto for the weekend. Before we left her house so she could get back to her Uni town, she went into her sisters room and borrow/stole a cardigan. Imagine twice the wardrobe!

3. My Barbies would have been safe from harm.
My brothers took perverse pleasure in torturing my toys. I once came home to a pile of decapitated and de-limbed barbie dolls. I cried hysterically. My parents laughed, then scolded. Great parenting guys.

2. No one ever taught me how to do my makeup.
I did a lot of community theater when I was in Middle School and High School. My mum wore a lot of lipstick, but didn’t really throw on that much face slap (being youngish), these two factors led to me experimenting with makeup, copying off the Pantomime makeup that was done to my face. Think BIG eyes, OVERTHETOP lips. HUGE blush spots on my cheek bones. I am embarrassed to say that it was only in June last year, at the age of 22, that my stylish and makeup loving friend dragged me to a cosmetics store to stock up on things before summer camp. She did my makeup before a few nights out and taught me how it was done. Thank god those drag-queen days are over. For one member of my sibling group at least.

1. There would have been someone to fight with.
Fights with my brothers during childhood ended one of two ways. Before they were taller than me, they would cry. After they got taller than me, they ended with punches and objects being thrown. I never had the verbal wordplay kind of fights between my siblings (and when I had them with my parents I would always lose), which are a necessary part of sibling-in-fighting and teach one about comebacks and bitch attacks.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my brothers for any one else (most days), but when I see my friends that have sisters, and the bond between them, sometimes I am a little jealous. That’s okay. I now have two roomies to steal clothes off, no barbies to protect, kind stylish friends to teach me how to not look like shit, and my brothers have developed a huge amount of sass between them. I guess rolled into one, it’s like I have a sister after all!