A friend leaves

Filed in Hong Kong, Life

One of our friends left us today. We took her to the airport and watched her leave after being a part of our lives for the last two years.

Asih; that's her name; was originally hired to look after my mother-in-law who with serious symptoms of diabetes and heart disease needed 24-hour care. Shortly after hiring Asih, my mother-in-law passed away.

Our own maid's contract was almost up for renewal and for various reasons including the fact that Asih could speak Cantonese, we decided to let the other maid go and stick with Asih.

Most Hong Kong people would already realise that Asih was Indonesian. Many Indonesian maids speak Cantonese while most Philippino maids has no knowledge of the language.

I've always considered Asih to be my mother-in-law's parting gift. From the first day, Asih almost never frowned, was almost always happy and generally was great to have around the house.

When she first began working for us, we moved my mother-in-law and Asih into our flat so that my wife could keep close to my mother-in-law. At the time, we already had eight dogs and Asih was pretty scared of them. Over time though, that changed and she became the dogs' best friend. Over the last two years, most of their walks have been with Asih with me only taking them out at night time. Almost all of their baths were done by Asih and almost all of their meals were organised by Asih. In addition to the usual dog food, Asih prepared beef heart rice once or twice a week for them using beef hearts that my wife took the time to buy each week from the local markets; the hearts by the way are very heavy.

Shortly after moving to our current address; two days before Christmas actually; Asih had an accident while taking the dogs out for their walk. While holding their leashes in her right hand and using her left hand to close the gate behind her, one of the dogs stood up and lunged forwards away from her. The unexpected and sudden jolt pulled Asih full force into a concrete pillar and she snapped one of her front teeth.

Asih was a happy girl and the last thing we wanted to take away from her was her smile, so we decided to take her to our regular dentist and fix her up as best as we could. Our dentist was amazing. He was able to use a new solution to extend and remould the broken front tooth so that it was almost impossible to tell that it had been broken. An xray showed that the root of the tooth had also broken straight across but the dentist was able to re-glue the root by carefully injecting a special solution into the root of the tooth at the break. The result was a tooth that even today is strong and always ready to smile. Consequently, Asih remained a happy person, always ready to show that great smile of hers.

It's unfortunate that in Hong Kong, many people mistreat their maids. The maids are forced to work from early morning to late night, sometimes without a break. Some maids are not allowed to take off the mandatory one-day-a-week holiday, and some; most notably Indonesian maids; are only paid half the legal minimum wage by their employers who conspire with the domestic helper agency to defraud the maid for their own financial benefits. Many people believe that there is little to no racial discrimination in Hong Kong but at the same time consider the Philippino and Indonesian maids to be far beneath them. In many cases, the only difference between the maids and would-be-slaves is their salaries. It's cases like these that we see otherwise civilised people behaving more like animals than people. It's unfortunate and depressing.

Asih left us today to go back home and care for her own sick mother. We will miss her but we'll see her again soon. In September, she will be getting married, and I'll be there in her home town to see the wedding and share the occasion with her. It'll be great fun.

Like my father, I like to go to non-modern places, walk around, watch the people, and observe the architecture and environment. I don't mind sleeping on the floor. I don't mind not being able to stand in a shower to bathe. I don't mind that there isn't any air conditioning, and I don't mind eating different food. I love the experience.

It's rather disappointing that most tours from Hong Kong to any other place in the world try to organise Chinese food for the tour group. If you're travelling to another place, why aren't you trying the local food? In addition, the Chinese food that is arranged for the tour group is usually sub-standard to keep costs down. On the few tours that I've taken with my wife to various places in Asia, we've often chosen to leave the group during meals and find our own food. On at least one occasion, it saved us from indigestion. While we were eating authentic Indonesian Indian food, the tour group was eating bad seafood at a Chinese restaurant and they all came down with diarrhoea.

I leave for Indonesia in the middle of September. I'll be met at the Bali airport by Asih and her family and we'll then take a privately booked minibus for a seven-hour road trip to her home town. I'll be there for four days, just enough time to see the wedding and enjoy the scenery, after which I'll return to Bali to join my wife for another four days before coming back to Hong Kong. I'll be taking my camera so I'll have plenty of photos to show everyone when I get back.

We will miss her here though. Her energy and her happy personality lifted spirits in our home and that will be greatly missed. But I'm happy for her.

Take care Asih, and have a great life.

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26 Responses to “A friend leaves”
  1. sapphire says:

    I’m so glad to read your new article again. Have a nice and safe trip in September!
    Did you still remember your promise in July about your interview in Jessica Magazine?
    >>> Sapphire, remind me. I'll post a scan of the article *one month after* the release date of the magazine so that it doesn't interfere with the sales of the magazine.

  2. Jess says:

    Enjoy your trip to Indonesia! I'm looking forward to seeing your photos!

    P.S. You did a really good job in 情迷黑森林!

  3. Jo ^c^ says:

    have a great trip Greg!

    I agree about the discrmination thing on maids, is really bad, once i went to this apartment on open inspection, and while we were looking at the Master Bedroom, we saw the Ensuite Toilet had matresses and various clothing item in it, and on curiosity, we ask the Real Estate agent what was the mattress doing in the toilet, and his answer was " well.. their maid sleeps in the toilet, cos there is no other place for her...".........i was lIKE WTF????? tats way LOW>>>> can never do that to another human being! Is no wonder there are stories about how maids tortured the boss's babies or pets, i mean look hoe the bosses are treating them....

  4. Arthur Heng says:

    Long time no blog, Mr Rivers!

    Sorry to hear about your Mother-In-Law, I hope your wife'll feel better soon.

    My family's not... enough to hire a maid. I bet with the help of a maid, life'll be easier, we do our own chores, but I hope someday I'll be... enough to hire a maid to help my mom. Its lucky for you to be able to hire such a good helper.

    About the Chinese Food offered by tour, I guess they're just trying to make you feel comfortable, coz most of the people prefer to eat food they're most familiar with. I used to work as a waiter in a restaurant that serves mediterranean food, but most of the customers (from all kind of countries) still prefer to order foods from their country instead of trying our special mediterranean food. Its quite weird I tell ya.

  5. Sufui says:

    People mistreat their maids is not only the case in Hong Kong, there are also many Indonesians work as maid in Malaysia and Singapore. Sometimes you can see them either carrying heavy bags follow their madam or on coverage of maltreatment. People usually don't pay respect to those who come from so-called lower status. If we put ourselves in their shoes, probably we could understand how hard is being a 'maid' , and laying down the dignity to serve someone who is irrelative, is something needs courage to do so.

    By the way, I like to read your articles and always enjoy being enlightened! Just want to give you a BIG HAND and look forward to see the Bali’s pictures!!! :D

  6. Alison says:

    Well, glad to see ur new posting! At one point, I thought there's sth wrong with my computer/email system.

    It's sad to hear those stories about people mis-treating their maids. But, I guess I am one of the unfortunate ones who had been taken advantages by my live-in maid. I was overly nice to my maid (there is only myself, my maid & my doggie at home). She ended up being the queen at my place and bossing me around; demanding this and that from me. Knowing my soft character too well, she knew I wld for sure give in. Since I work very long hours and have to go on biz trips frequently, I had been relying on her to take care of my dog. To my disappointment, my dog was always messy and dirty. There were at least three times (w/in her 5-month tenure)that I realized my dog had gone w/out water for days (judging from the completely dried out water bottle)while I was travelling. Let alone there was mold founded in my dog's water bottle. Without boring you all with the details, I finally went through a very painful and costly exercise a few weeks ago and terminated her contract. I had just hired a new Indonesian maid. She seems to be quite OK so far. But as my friends said, due to the low comparison base from my previous maid, this new one got to be GOOD!

    BTW, Greg, I was thrilled to have met u, Bonnie, Beethoven and Charlie yesterday at the Uptown Plaza. I had enjoyed the brief chat with u and Bonnie. I would very much like to stay behind and talk a bit longer, but I didn't want to hold up my friend. Hope I will be able to see u and ur "family" again in the future.

    Also, I have to say Taipo is quite far. Despite my friend and I had planned this "trip" weeks ahead with presumably very clear instructions, we still manage to get lost on the way to the plaza. We managed to find our way out of Taipo without problems though. Anyways, I had enjoyed the roadshow and most of all, had met and talked to you and your super friendly wife.

    Pls. post more articles about raising dogs as promised in the past.

    P.S. What do u mean by u have to wait before u can visit Jason? Is he OK?

  7. alex says:

    It is always hard to say goodbye, I have to deal with that every year when I come to Hong Kong for vacation.

  8. Jasmine says:

    Hi Greg, it's my 1st time to write sth here. I like yr story of your dogs very very much. Being a dog lover, it really amazed me with yr in-depth knowledge towards dogs (esp observing fur to check if infection occur)Keep on writing more stuff and look forward to yr pics from Indonesia!CHeers,mate!

  9. Vanesse says:

    Dear Greg,

    Have just read your post about Asih leaving HK and how you feel about HK employers treating their maids.

    If you don't mind, just want to share my personal experience with you.

    I employed my first maid about two and a half years ago. She was a Filippino. I employed her to stay in my mother-in-law's house to take care of my new born baby and to do some housework.

    For my first time being an employer, I decide to be linient. However, I got many complaints from my mother-in-law about her poor performance. Besides, she would talk on the phone and stopped feeding my baby when her mobile phone rang. I did not believe in my mother-in-law too much as I thought old people might be prejudiced with non-Chinese. I kept a good relationship with the maid and we always talked like friends.
    Two years went by very quickly. When my maid's contract nearly ended, she insisted to go back to Philippines to stay with her husband, so I wrote her a very good reference letter for future use (if nescessary). However, her attitude suddenly changed since she knew she would not stay with us for too long. I was really really upset because I treated her as a friend. She disobeyed my instructions and was very impolite to us. Before she left, I paid her all salary and other expenses. I prepared a breakdown of the payment and asked her to sign as receipt. I kept one copy and gave her another copy, and I was shocked that she ripped it up in front of me and threw it into garbage. I said goodbye to her before she left, but she did not even look at me.
    That's how I was totally disappointed by my first maid.

    My second maid was an Indonesian. Shortly after she worked for us, she went to Watson's department store to steal some beauty products and was caught by staff. The staff called the police. The maid went to police station and later on returned to agency. I was waiting for her there. The agency asked her what happened, she refused to speak at first and then she suddenly accused my father-in-law for indecent assaulting her, that's why she tried to steal things, hoping that she could be caught and be sent back to Indonesia. I could not believe it. My parents-in-law were very kind people and had been treating her nicely. I felt very very upset and worried at that time. If she really went to police and accused my father-in-law for indecent assaulting her, I was afraid that there would be a chance to put my father-in-law in prison. You know for this type of criminal cases, it really depends on how the judge view. If my father-in-law was found guilty, I did not know how to face my husband's family since the maid was employed by me. Luckily the maid did not further accuse my father-in-law. She admitted guilty in her hearing and was penalized. I sent her back to Indonesia immediately after the hearing.

    After I had bad experiences of hiring maid, I really cannot treat them like my friends anymore.

    Just like my third maid, she always pretends to love my daughter very much in front of us, however, my daughter is old enough to let me know that the maid never speaks to her when no one is around (i.e. on the way home from school). I ask my daugther from time-to-time that how the maid treats her. My 3 years old daughter is still very naive and she does not know why the maid ignores her when we are not around.

    I disagree with employers to underpay their maids although I do not trust maids very well. $3270 is already a very low salary and I cannot imagine why some employers can only offer one thousand something. It is totally unacceptable.

    On the other hand I agree with the concept that it would be better to make the relationship clear - employer and employee. Just like every other HK people, we go to office to work and we maintain polite and friendly relationship with our bosses, but we do not anticipate to go too far. I would not treat my maid badly. I am a reasonable employer but will not give my heart away. It's too painful and scary.

  10. sapphire says:

    河生:

    相比較之下你僱用 domestic helper 的經驗好像愉快得多。
    你的愉快遭遇純粹是個人運氣?還是你凡事都能把自己的腳放進別人的鞋裡面?
    如果是前者,我要羡慕你,因為好的運氣不是每個人都會有;
    如果是後者,我要佩服你,因為要做到心中常有恕,一定要 “EQ道行” 很高;
    如果是兩者兼備,我實在要講一句:” 河生,你好野!”

  11. Jess says:

    Everything has two sides. While I agree that some hong kong people mistreat their maids, I've also heard many stories of the maids not doing their work well, eg., they would just talk on the phone or watch TV when their employer is not home, and stealing stuff from the house. The worst case has to be the maids torturing their employer's babies or children. How they behave really scares me.

  12. Emily says:

    Hi Mr. Ho,

    Saw you at the last Episode of the Barbarian 99, laugh die... the happiest thing is that my whole family guess you will be the man that 巧巧 will marry in France... so when you come out, we scream and laugh... including my mom...

  13. puiyee says:

    hey Mr.Ho
    i'm sorry to hear abt ur mother-in-law, hope ur wife stay strong! btw,i just realized that u have a website after reading the magazine about how u went through ur life in hk. i saw couple of tvb series with u in it, and i'm very impressed that u can speak cantonese very good, i think ur cantonese is better than me.. maybe becuz i came to canada for so many years, so i never get a chance to write chinese, although i speak so good but i think my writing is not as good as u. after reading the magazine, and realized how many efforts u've made as an actor, i felt the bitterness from what you did, but i think u did better than many many actors!!! keep up the good work, i know u will achieve ur goal =) never give up =)

  14. Jess says:

    國榮,

    You are very busy lately? you rarely update this blog now. I come here everyday to see if you have updated this but I always get disappointed =( haha anyway, please keep us updated how Jason is. I miss him. I hope he is living happily now.

  15. sapphire says:

    Jess, I totally agree with you. I feel lost without Mr. Ho’s update. He might be busy with the leave of his 御廚房最高尚宮,(對唔住,中了大長今毒)。
    I’d like to know more about Jason after the adoption as well.

  16. Your fan :) says:

    You and your wife are such decent people! I hope there are more people with good heart like you and your wife! :)

    I'm not Chinese, but I love to watch TVB series and I like your acting in there.

    Keep up the good work and do more series for us to enjoy!

    Have a good week! :)

  17. Alison says:

    Yeah, me three (agree w/ Jess n Sapphire)! I feel sth is missing when I see such infrequent responses from Greg.

    Hope that he is only being busy and everything is fine with him ne!

    Greg, is everything fine with you? Hope to hear from you soooon.

  18. 河國榮 says:

    Alison and Vanesse,

    yes. unfortunately, there are also bad maids. there are bad people in every profession, even in the priest profession. unfortunately, the bad maids get more publicity than the good maids. this is true for every aspect of life. people love to complain but rarely praise.

    we did have a Philippino maid previously who was not bad but wasn't fantastic either. she respected me more than my wife and sometimes chose to ignore my wife's instructions. on the whole however, she was good to us and we are still friends even though she doesn't work for us anymore.

    I did however observe a big difference between the two maids. the Philippino maid was smart. with 'smart' came ambition so she was always thinking of ways to make more money. working with us was her mainstay while she tried to make extra money from selling clothing, food, coffee, etc to her friends. she even worked for a hair saloon for a period of time; on her day off of course. this extra activity didn't significantly detract from her work for us so we were okay with it and she was open about it. with openness came some degree of trust. (the HK government could learn from this: "with openness comes trust")

    Asih wasn't smart. don't get me wrong. she definitely wasn't dumb. she was just 'simpler' than the Philippino maid and she was more than happy performing her chores while chatting on her mobile phone. she didn't think about the chores. she just did them, and she was very efficient that way. occasionally, she would forget to do something or would accidentally break something but that's a part of life and we accepted it.

    I now understand why smart supervisors hire people with just enough intelligence to get the job done. if the employees are too smart, they'll be ambitious and with ambition comes many problems. it does of course depend on the job. some jobs require ambition. many don't. (smart supervisors also hire people not as smart as themselves to protect their own jobs.)

    Sapphire,

    I've discussed your points with my wife, and she feels that both points apply. we have been lucky with people. we have never been lucky with money. maybe that's the trade off and in the end, being lucky with people is better than being lucky with money so I guess we're fortunate that way.

    we have the same saying in English: "putting yourself in someone else's shoes". I guess I can do that to some degree. basically, I never view our maids as lower cast people. to me, they are just people working for us and helping us. probably related to that view is my rule that I never ask the maid to do something that I myself am not willing or able to do. I believe I've seen shock, amazement and joy on the faces of our maids when they've seen me personally get on my hands and knees to clean the dirty smelly open-face drain that runs through our garden, or when I carry something out to the rubbish collection area instead of commanding them to do it because I don't think it would be fair to ask them to move something so heavy. it seems to give the maids a special respect for me and it's possibly this respect that helps our working relationships improve with time.

    Vanesse talked about being lenient with her maid. lenient usually means allowing the maid to be lazy. I don't do that. I simply don't expect perfection from them and try to educate them about how to improve their work whenever the chance arises. many employers are unhappy with their maids when they forget to clean a part of the house or when they iron clothes incorrectly or when they do something else incorrectly. unfortunately, many of these employers expect perfection (by their own individual standards) from the start and fail to realise that they need to point out what the maid is missing or how they're performing their chores incorrectly.

    there's also a time to put your foot down and be angry. Asih has seen my anger on occasion. however I rarely needed to say anything. because of our relationship and her wish for us to be happy, it was enough for her to see the anger on my face to know that she had messed up.

    discipline, right and wrong, reward and punishment are strange things. I'll have to write about them sometime.

    "your fan",

    wow! you don't speak Chinese? how do you watch the TV programs? subtitles?

    take care everyone.

  19. Your fan :) says:

    I watched TVB series and other Chinese speaking series in dubbed version in my language, which is Vietnamese. Btw, I'm living in USA.

    Have a great day! :)

    Best wishes to you and your family! :)

  20. Your fan :) says:

    May I ask you something if it's too personal then you don't have to answer.

    Do you have another job besides working in the entertainment business?

    I asked because I see you rarely in TVB series (which is their loss that they haven't given you more screen time), so how can you survive if you only do ads and TV series.

    I bet you would have another career besides these right?

  21. James says:

    Hi Greg,

    I sent you an email but you never even had the decency to reply to it. I wonder why you bother putting your email contact on your site?

  22. 河國榮 says:

    hi James.

    sorry. I haven't had the time to reply to all of the emails yet. still have 150 to go. I'll reply asap.

  23. Felix says:

    The maid was soooo lucky that she meet a ppl like you that so kind.at here many ppl think that maid is just a work machine.force them to work from morning til night.its sad seeing this kind of thing happen here.hope one day all ppl will learn the true meaning of it and be more kind to anybody.

  24. Edward NG says:

    You are a nice/smart guy!! I am agreeing with many your views in articles of Captioned images. Sorry that it is a headache to me to drop voluminous English.

    Have a nice trip to Indonesia.

  25. 河國榮 says:

    Edward, you can post comments in Chinese if you like. I have no problems reading Chinese, but I'm normally too lazy to respond in Chinese. It's much easier and faster for me to respond in English.

  26. yinyin says:

    Yeah i totally agree that there are bad people in every profession. i dont come from a quite rich family so i never being serve by maids because my mother is doing part time as well as being a house wife. However i certainly agree that they are bad boss every where. One of my family friend, who is quite rich and they have two maids, one for looking after the parents and one for house work. As a rescult they always come to conflcit because they always think that their job is more harder and consume a lot more time. As a rescult my auntie have to sack both of them and hire one maid only but paying the income that is much higher.
    I think simple life is better. In my life, i never experience any big challenges apart from setting in Australia with knowning no english not even the A B C.However i think the first maid is much more subtle in terms of her personality, but her personality makes me nauseate, it is alright to work away from the maid, but i think she is being a bit slack. Ignoring people which happened in lots case, like they only follow the REAL boss which they establised in their heart.
    The second maid is much more friendly ...
    What am'i talking about...
    personal views....
    Sorry for any "rudeness"
    Regards Yin ^_^