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.