Contrinx, YouTuber and one of the 340,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong, has gone viral alongside her videos that sarcastically imitate employers on their abusive behaviors — in fluent Cantonese, no less. The Loop HK sits down with her as she tells about her rationale and vision on helper rights, equal power, and fixing racism in Hong Kong.
Jeh-jeh (姐姐, meaning “elder sister(s)” in Cantonese) domestic helpers are present in many HongKongers’ childhoods and lives. Regretfully, the long-overdue issue of helper rights is yet to be tackled properly in our city. Ever since Covid-19 first plagued the city, it is not only the extended working hours with employers working from home that is stressing domestic helpers out. They have been failed first by the government, as even the lowest fine of violation of the city’s stringent social-distancing policies exceeds their monthly salary; then by their workplaces, a.k.a. homes, for being seen as the only “virus-carriers” in the household. Local broadcaster TVB has also recently gone under fire for brown-facing (or black-facing) Filipina domestic helpers, igniting the heated discussion on helper rights and racial representation in Hong Kong.
“Just because we work for you doesn’t mean we are anything less or that we rank lower in social status. Yes, we work for you, but we are human too, we are not your slaves.” Contrinx suggests employers empathize with their helpers at home and treat them exactly the way they would like to be treated at work, so as to not hold double standards. “Even my boss does this sometimes. We discussed, and even argued about the differences we have on the topic.” She continued, “I can defend myself, but not all of my fellow helpers can, simply because they don’t have the courage, or they don’t have the techniques to communicate with their bosses.
Never be afraid and make good use of the attention you got. With her video going viral, Contrinx got numerous interview opportunities with news outlets. She sees the Hong Kong Free Press piece as the most impactful. “I have been posting videos for more than three weeks and nobody pays attention to them. After my piece with Hong Kong Free Press came out, the Labour Department immediately responded with an ad asking people to please be polite and kind to migrant workers.” She then followed up with a 10-minute video, restating her stance. “Helpers are not dolls. We do feel and we get tired like everyone else. Helpers are not robots [that could work endlessly].”
Following up on the above, she also suggests that both the employer and employee should treat each other as a friend with respect. “Treat us equally. We respect employers’ privacy and please also respect ours. And we can talk things out just like friends do.” Having been in the industry for two decades and in Hong Kong for 16 years, Contrinx says that she has learned to resolve negative emotions when coming across discrimination targeting her. “But not everyone’s strong like me. Domestic helpers come to Hong Kong as foreign as they are. We have a totally different background, hence habits of life and work ethic. Try to understand them and I encourage employers to try communicating with their helpers and help them communicate with you.” She then gives an example of how she does it: “When my boss was working from home, I told him, I am tired of seeing his face all the time. We both laughed. He then told me maybe [I] can take a walk for a while. So he understands, and he gives me room.”
Saving the last two tips for employers, she started with sharing another one of her experiences working in Singapore. “I am lucky because my boss [in Singapore] was encouraging and empowering. She made me a better person, helped me grow and trained me to be disciplined.” This is not the only thing her employer did for her after knowing she wanted to learn and get exposure in the job. Her stay in Singapore also taught her English, thanks to the same employer who speaks fluently in the language.
“Some have commented on my Facebook saying that we [domestic helpers] came to Hong Kong because we are poor. No, not all of us [are] poor. Some of us are looking for exposure or opportunities that are not there back home. Some of us are chasing after our dreams.” When asked what her dream is, she said it is to teach and to give, which is already happening. “I help some of my fellow Indonesian domestic helpers to cope with the language barrier as some of them might not be that familiar with English. So, I teach them about the regulations. And I also encourage employers to validate and respect their home keepers.” Adapting what she’s learned into her teaching, she explains why she spoke in Cantonese instead of any other of the four languages that she knows, in her viral YouTube video. “Because most of them are first-language Cantonese speakers and that helps them to keep up with me. It’s not easy to change someone’s mindset, let alone that of the entire Hong Kong. So, yes, I need to work very hard on it.”
Contrinx claims she is not surprised by Hong Kong people’s “attitude” as she had been warned even before coming. “It’s not that they look down on people but they treat themselves higher up,” while also touching on the fact that people here need to “have face” (有面, meaning to feel respected and proud in Cantonese) and never apologize even for their own mistakes.
The problem has gotten more prominent after Covid. “People are used to living a very rushed life. With Covid slowing down everything, it can be quite hard for them to cope with and this stresses them even more.” She then continued with a story about her and one of her former employers. “She [the former employer] would come home from work with a long face. “Gong-Gong (公公, meaning grandfather or an elderly man in Cantonese), Poh-poh (婆婆, meaning grandmother or an elderly woman in Cantonese) and I would not attempt to speak to her.” Contrinx eased her employer’s temper by suggesting for her to try to calm down by looking and holding something that she treasures — her baby. “And it worked!” Contrinx then underlines the importance of observing: “We are not used to living with each other. If you keep observing, also through discussing or sometimes even arguing, you will understand each other much better and get better at handling their emotions.”
Having experienced or heard of all kinds of abusive relationships in the industry, Contrinx is still positive towards the future for domestic helpers in Hong Kong. “We are all learning every day, and learning is a lifelong commitment.” After all, her dream is to teach. She is looking forward to sharing more of her knowledge on helper rights on her platforms, and teaching kids English when she retires and returns to her home in Indonesia.
While locals are criticizing the misrepresentation of Filipino people and domestic helpers in Hong Kong media, the same discussion doesn’t seem to interest Contrinx. For her, the problem is beyond the actress or the broadcaster, it is the city lacking inclusivity that needs to be fixed. “Hong Kong has to face diversity,” as she put it.