invisible divide

Several times a week I have to go through the ‘border’ control didviding the haves and have nots; in my case it is only a matter of a few hundred yards.  I have to produce my identity card and the details are duely noted.  I have to state which residence I am visiting and their name and this is checked against the data stored on the computer.  But the guards aren’t armed and not stationed at Lo Wo or Shenzhen.  Even they don’t ask you where you are going.

This sentry is stationed at the gateway to prosperity, mansions and posh cars, namely my neighbouring gated community.  Every time I crossed that line and pass the interrogation I am struck by the instant difference between my habitat and theirs.  It really is us and them.

The streets are immaculate, yet there are sweepers virtually on every corner brushing the odd leave.  Not much of a sense of job satisfaction, I shouldn’t think.  I joked with one that she should come to my village, lots of rubbish there, her services would be highly appreciated.  She laughed and thought it was a joke.  I guess with the obsene management fees charged they’ll have to at least keep the streets clean.

The same with wealth, I thought.  Those in need don’t get any extra yet the filthy rich get wealthier and wealthier.

Behind the hallowed gates everyone is cleaning.  Well not eveyone, just the Filipino and Indonesian maids and the chauffeurs.  Some are washing the cars, others are watering the plants.  Saving water and recycling don’t seem to be an issue.  Almost tempted to rush back to my hovel, get a bucket and collect the wasted water.

Yes it would be nice to live somewhere clean, devoid of litter, dog poo, ignorant neighbours and roaming dogs who won’t let your repair man in.  Probably lovely to live in those huge houses and being waited hand and foot.  No mundane household chores to roughen  your hands or ruffle your hair.  The outdoor swimming pool where you can have a quick dip in the unforgiving humid sun is particularly tempting.  And of course the posh car you can parade round in denoting status, all the better if you are chauffeured around.  I note that the proud owners always seem smug when they drive by staring at me trudging up the hill laden with rucksack or even a trolley at times.  They must think I am the hired help and I am, we just perform different roles and I don’t get the full board.

In spite of all that I don’t find myself plagued with envy, wishing to trade places.  I’d rather live with the ‘commom’ people and experience what it is like for the vast majority.  Similarly I’d rather be on the noisy ward than secluded in a private room.

I guess the divide isn’t that invisible.


About cho wan yau

Teacher by day poet/writer by night. Words have been my first love and will be my last. As a child I locked myself into the toilet devouring books which transported me to distant lands. Poetry shared penned from 2009-2010 in a titanic struggle to stay sane at Heartbreak Hotel. Please check it out on Any comments or feedback welcome. Why not share your story with me, because we all have one, don't we?

Posted on December 25, 2013, in Domestic help, Hong Kong Inside Out, New Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Ah that divide. I know it too well. Being a wealthy “doctor’s daughter” I come from the other side where my Mom had a housekeeper, nanny and gardener. Luckily when I was a child we didn’t have gated communities thank God, so I was well aware that I was lucky.

    Merry Christmas and May justice and equality come to all men

  2. You were indeed privileged I’m not sure ‘lucky’ and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful or sour grapes way. I bet there were were great expectations on tiny shoulders; it was a given that you would be a high acheiver and follow in your father’s footsteps, you obviously did not disappoint. If you have brothers the pressure on them would have been doubled especially if he is the eldest. Family honour is all and losing face by not delivering the goods in an unwritten contract can result in excommunication from the exclusive clan. Poor William and now baby George.

    I have always been on this side of the divide, grew up in a hamlet bearing our surname living in one room with our nucleur family in the ancestral home. There was barely enough to eat and Mama would go without. Being a proud resourceful woman and loving her children passionately she waited all day outside the fabric shop till it was closing time. Then she demurely approached the owner and asked if he would let her have the cutoffs as she had four children and couldn’t bear that they’d be the only ones not in new clothes to welcome in the year. Fortunately he was a kind man and so Mother Hen burnt the midnight oil transforming into a fashion designer and sewing by hand four beautiful outfits for her precious chicks. She taught me that there is dignity in poverty and it is not an excuse to throw away principles and your integrity. She did not beg, she did not hassle the owner till he finally gave in to get rid of her . God I miss her.

  3. OMG those new clothes to bring in the new year! That does bring back some memories. Everyone had to have a set rich or poor. Do you know, that was the worse bit about celebrating New Year. Mom would always insist that me and my brother dress in the ‘best new clothes’ to greet house guests. Of course in the tropics that meant that you were uncomfortable all day because the new clothes were always scratchy! And hot.

  4. Yes but I bet your mum didn’t need to wait patiently all day to ask for cutoffs and burn the midnight oil so her kids wouldn’t be looked down on.

  5. I kinda expected you to say what a loving and resourceful mum rather than oh i had to suffer the discomfort of new clothes! I think your experience of having to wear hot scratchy new clothes differs from my being lucky enough to have some, thanks to Mum.

  6. Did you have the “money soup” on the first day of CNY? Sorry we were meant to be talking about Christmas weren’t we?

  7. I am sorry about your mum, and she was loving and resourceful. I didn’t mean to offend. I was trying to comment on that tradition of ‘new clothes’ and it’s meaning to my Mom and all the other mothers, and my memory of it. Which as a five year old was more of the discomfort then the actual intent.

    Money soup is I think more of a Straits Chinese tradition then a HK one. It was always eaten on the first day, and consisted of mooli, carrot cut into coin shapes, pork liver and pancreas and fat choy. Each of the ingredients were symbolic. Red carrot = gold coin, Mooli = silver coin. Fat choy = prosperity

    • That’s ok sorry I am just feeling bit fragile at this time of year when everybody is supposed to be playing hapy families.

      No we don’t have ‘money’ soup but we do have special Chinese New Year Day food whose names symbolises prosperity, health, you know all the stuff that you would want for the coming year. Guess the idea is similar.

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