I was a different person when I moved to Hong Kong. I'm pretty sure I was still called Nat, but other than that, I was pretty much chalk. I'm now cheese.
(Has anyone ever tried to combine chalk with cheese? Are they really that different? I guess they are. Plus, not much goes with chalk.)
I digress. I saw many unfamiliar and 'weird' things when I got here in 2009; people hanging meat outside all day long and then eating it, bird's nest, shark fin, dogs in prams, you-name-it.
But one thing that was really strange for me were the domestic helpers. Often called 'amahs', which is similar to 'aunt' in Chinese (and NEVER called 'maids'), these are the ladies who move from places like the Philippines and Indonesia to wait on expat and Chinese families. At first I thought this was reserved for the wealthy folk, much like having a full-time nanny in Australia. But, no... every single person I know in Hong Kong has a helper that comes at least once a week. I've only met two people who decided not to have a full-time helper after they had children.
It's what you do: you move here; you get a helper to do things like cleaning, ironing and washing. You move here and have a baby; you get a full-time, live-in helper who does all of the above, as well as cooking, shopping, nannying - whatever you need her to do. It's more than common. It's just the done thing.
And the reason why most of the population can afford this miracle? Because it's cheap. Because minimum wage for domestic helpers in Hong Kong is low, and because most of us who live and work here can afford it.
And now that B and are 'with child', we're faced with the decision about whether or not to have one of these full-time helpers. A lady who is with us every day, taking away 'the daily grind' off our hands, looking after our child when we need her to, cooking our meals when we need her to, and basically just freeing up my time to parent without the extra pains. The bigger part of me says 'yes'. Why make life harder than it needs to be? Why try and be superwoman, when I don't have to be? And, if everyone else does it, why shouldn't we?
The smaller part of me worries about two things: (1) being physically unable to move back to Australia after becoming reliant on a life without endless buckets of washing and sheet-changing; and (2) that terrible word: 'exploitation'. And that's the tricky one. While it's no-doubt not good that people are paid far less than us per hour to keep our homes clean and our table's full of food, most of these ladies earn far less in their home countries and want the work; particularly when their employer is someone who is kind to them and pays them above minimum wage. Which is what we would do: pay above and beyond the standard, do as much as we can around the house ourselves, and - maybe most importantly - be kind. I have friends here who love their helpers like they're part of their own family. They're not 'maids', they're housekeepers and they're just doing a job.
The woman we interviewed is currently working with a local family who makes her sleep on a wafer-thin mattress on the kitchen floor because they don't have room for her. They ask her to work from 7am to 9pm six days per week, and she's paid the very minimum wage and benefits.
We'll have her work less hours, pay her more overall, and do what extras we can. We'll never boss her around or make her do anything, and she'll live in comfort. We'll get along with her, and we'll be an employer she can count on to treat her as an equal.
Is that really so bad?
Please be honest with me, because I'm cheese. Maybe I need to remember what it's like to be chalk.
No need to run for cover, this isn't a post about me losing my virginity (although that would have been quite the beautiful post.)
I've been feeling myself become all giddy and inspired lately about 'firsts'... first baby coming, first (and hopefully only) wedding, first visit back to Australia in what feels like forever. Firsts are just lovely, aren't they? Except when they're scary. And bad.
But, this post is a little summary of firsts about me and my gorgeous B. Why? Well, that's hardly a difficult question to answer. Because I love him and I'll take any excuse.
At my work Christmas party, circa 2007. I've blogged about this before somewhere... he was the cute guy with an American (but really Canadian) accent in a white shirt and suit pants, I was wearing an off-the-shoulder black dress and must have thought I looked hawt. I thought he was too young for me (ahem, he turned out to be nine years my senior) but his courage to talk reincarnation with a strange woman was charming. Cue sparks.
The only photo I have from the night that we met. I cropped my friends out because I don't know if they're keen on being associated with my blog rambles. p.s. The man kissing me on the cheek is not B... Sadly, I don't have any pics of him from that night.
Around a week later, B took me for drinks to a trendy city bar (sooooo not him, now that I know him so well), then for dinner at a funky Thai restaurant (much more his style.) We talked and ate until our mouths hurt, and he graciously showed me his secret taxi spot, but didn't kiss me goodnight. Mixed messages, grrrrr.
Pervert much?? Haw haw. It was in his puhretty 1968 Mercedes convertible outside my apartment. Yummy. Cue one of us taking a top hat off and holding it in front of our faces as we smooch while the image turns sepia. Perhaps B can have the top hat, I'd look fairly odd wearing one, especially if he wasn't.
First awkward moment
When we climbed into a taxi with the ghost of Michael Schumacher (who's, uh, actually not dead) behind the wheel on one of our early dates. B got in first, and before I was even in my seat, Michael spun the car around and took off - me flying across the seat and landing right in B's lap. I'm pretty sure he blushed. B that is, not Michael, who was too busy trying to break the sound barrier.
Not really a voices raised type of thing, but the first time I saw B frown at me was when we went to the Blue Mountains for a weekend away and I kept texting my friends from his car. He didn't think it was very social of me to do that and promptly told me. I remember thinking, "whoa... he's wound a lil' tight, inn'he??" But, now I do agree with him. Texting a lot on a couple-ish weekend away is bad form. Sorry, honey.
First holiday together
See previous entry about the Blue Mountains. My friend invited me to his 'masquerade' wedding up there only a few weeks after B and I met, so we faced the nervous decision about whether or not he should come along. Screw it... he joined me in his sexy Zorro mask and we balked in horror when the groom (my dear friend) fainted at the altar. Twice.
First time I embarrassed myself
On that same trip when I decided I'd be all sultry-like and run a bubble bath. Except I poured in the liquid and then turned on the jets, not realising what would happen. I screamed and B ran into the bathroom, laughing at me so hard I still think there's a ruptured spleen soaking in those suds somewhere.
Sexy stuff Nat, sexy stuff.
First time I knew I had a big crush
On our second date, when took me on a long drive through a lovely national park. While beautiful beyond compare, his classic car did this weird thing where the speaker would start making this loud buzz, and the only way to stop it was to bang his hand hard against it several times in a row. I won't forget giggling under my breath as he drove with one hand, the other bashing his radio while trying to still look cool in front of a girl. It was so adorable.
When he picked me up at Toronto airport to meet his family after the world's longest flight (I may have passed the moon and several solar systems on the way.) He was carrying an esky with a Canadian beer in it (bless him) while wearing a dark blue t-shirt, his hair slightly messy, his skin tanned. I don't remember anything else other than thinking, "I love you."
And who wouldn't?
So, there you go... just a few firsts. Let's have plenty more shall we, B? Are you there? Do you even read my blog? Hello?