Poverty and Hong Kong's Cardboard Grannies
I’ve seen Hong Kong in a different light during my second visit. I love it more than ever, however, this time I’ve got to grips with societal issues a little more. I saw the stark contrast of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities for those who have and those who definitely have not.
I read about cardboard ladies in a blog from an adopted lady seeking to find out who her birth parents were in Hong Kong. She mentioned perhaps she would have ended up one, had her mother not put her up for adoption in the UK. I’d seen older people collecting cardboard and this made do some research. It turns out they are people who can’t afford to live on either a meagre salary or small pension and so they earn a few HK$ by selling to recycling plants.
When we stayed at the Novotel in Kowloon last time, we were kindly notified there will no housekeeping on Sunday as it’s the maid’s day off. Co-incidentally (or so we thought) we saw hundreds of ladies seemingly from the Philippines sitting and chatting over a picnic all over the Central area, in particular under the iconic HSBC building, AKA The Mothership. [DYK HSBC’s original shareholders included those from India, Europe & China?]
I wondered if they were maids, and now we know for sure, it is their one day off to get-together. Sometimes I’ve seen peaceful protests mixed among the crowds. With incredibly low wages, I can only imagine how cramped their living conditions are and this gives them some space and quality time on their day off.
I’ve researched the average Hong Kong salary to be somewhere between HK$375 and HK$531 (£36-51k) vs a domestic help salary of HK$54,240 to 15,000 (minimum wage) (£5,288 to £17,522).
Despite the poverty, there is no tipping or indeed a begging culture in Hong Kong. The Cardboard Grannies would rather work, even for pennies, though they may live in a space no bigger than my airing cupboard, as I saw on a documentary on the flight home. I also saw people selling whatever second-hand goods they can get hold off in the street. All of this is illegal of course and they could have their scant livelihood confiscated at any moment. My heart breaks and I’m desperate to leave big tips (big for them) but no one asks for anything. Like the majority of the world, they just want to earn a living.