Posted by: Sam Olsen | July 30, 2011

Settling in: maids, phones and clothes

Moving abroad isn’t quite as easy as it seems, or definitely as we remember. Having lived in numerous countries around the world, this is the first time we have hoiked ourselves to a different country together, and more importantly, with a child in tow. We have spent the last few days admin obsessed and getting used to the subtle day to day differences of living here compared to back in the UK.

Maids. Everyone has them here, whether you live in an apartment or a house. They generally live in with the family in their own special maid’s room, normally abutting the kitchen, and are expected to clean, cook and look after the children. Their wages are not extravagant (£500/month seems to be the norm) but they have all their living expenses paid for and they get to send a good portion of their wage back to their home country, where it goes a lot further. There seem to be five main nationalities employed: Filipina, Indonesian, Nepali, Sri Lankan, and Indian, with Filipinas being the vast majority. As Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs as they are officially called) contribute 13.5% of their national GDP, the Philippines Government is very keen to encourage them. There are  over 140,000 in HK, but did you know there are 200,000 in the UK and 2,000,000 in the Middle East? Needless to say, although by hiring them you are making your life a lot simpler, giving someone gainful employment, and contributing to a developing country, not all of them are fairly treated (as this slightly out of date guide to OFWs reveals). Some of the flats that we saw on Friday had maid rooms where it was actually impossible for the maid to lie down if she was of a normal (Western) height. When we pointed this out to the person showing us round, we were advised to ensure “the maid is very short”. In our interviews for maids so far, one thing they have had in common is that they don’t want to work for the non-Western families. Now, this could be a way of ingratiating themselves with us, but the stories we have heard are all of a similar theme. One example is of the maid not being given her own room, so having to sleep on the sofa; but the family used to watch TV till midnight every day, so the maid had to wait until then to go to sleep – but with the child waking up at 6, this did not allow for too much rest. Therefore, when we finally hire a maid – someone who is energetic enough to keep up with Larry – we will do our utmost to treat her like part of the family (which is a good thing, no matter what our folks back home might say!). Overall though, the best thing about searching for a maid is that the agency we are using is called “Asian Charm” and its proprietor is called Baby. We kid you not. Alan Partridge would be proud.

Phones. It is quite easy to get a phone contract here but whilst choosing a permanent plan, we got a Vodafone $100 (£8) sim card which included 1000 free minutes locally. Sounds reasonable, but this doesn’t take into account any data use. We used Google Maps once to find our way to a lovely little Italian restaurant – where Lawrence was warmly welcomed, even when he managed to drop a bakery worth of bread under the table – but were then called by a frantic Vodafone employee to let us know we had used a good whack of our credit. We repeated the Google Maps mistake the next day and now have only a few cents of credit left.

Clothes. Talking of expensive, Sam had a shock yesterday when buying socks. Everyone had assured us that clothing was much cheaper in HK than UK, so imagine the surprise when buying socks in Marks and Spencer yesterday (yes, Sam really is that British) the cheapest bunch were £20. And the best value suit spotted so far was pink and for £400 from a decidedly downmarket gaff. Seems to be that we haven’t found the best places to clothes shop yet…

Flats. There is simply no way we could afford a house here. A quick search on a HK property website for “detached house” shows that the cheapest comes in at £110,000 a year to rent. That said, flats still aren’t cheap. One thing that may work in our favour is that the Chinese seem to be obsessed with new, so some of the older flats – where we really don’t mind living – provide a lot more value for money.

Cricket. Not being on the same timezone as England playing India is a bit of a challenge for at least one member of the family. At least if England are having a bad day then we won’t know about it till we wake up, and don’t have to suffer the agony of livetime ball-by-ball failure; batting collapses and buffet bowling get served up in one sad, overall report.

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