South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Peter Kammerer says depending on helpers for daily living well into adulthood renders Hongkongers averse to hardship, unable to think for themselves and lacking basic life skills
The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China raised all sorts of issues, among them whether our city has lost its edge. The conclusion seems to be yes – that we’re gradually falling behind competitors in virtually every area.
There was even a suggestion that our famed entrepreneurial spirit was disappearing, and questions were asked as to why. It’s a complicated subject with rent, education and parental ambitions for children at play, but I’d also wager that part of the problem is because we have too many maids.
Foreign domestic helpers aren’t to blame for the decline of shipping, universities slipping down rankings and Shenzhen lording it over us with innovations and hi-tech industries.
But my argument is less about advantage than laziness. Rather than coming up with solutions to our problems, we’re increasingly expecting others to fix them for us. Younger generations, like the millennials, appear to want everything laid out for them, from cheap housing to the best jobs – all for minimal effort.
It’s easy to see why people aged between 18 and their mid-30s would think this way; many had or continue to have maids to take care of them.
Between the end of 1998 and 2015, the year for the latest statistics, the number of foreign domestic helpers almost doubled – from 180,000 to 340,380.
That’s a lot of youngsters who didn’t need to clean up after themselves, had someone cooking for them, getting them ready for and perhaps taking them to school, and to be on hand to cater for their every need.
They were spoilt as kids and many continue that way as adults.
I know of single people who have full-time maids to take care of them and their pets. A couple with a pre-teen son have decided to move back into the wife’s parents’ home while their helper is on vacation because the thought of taking care of the child, cleaning the flat and cooking is too daunting.
Those raised by maids are readily identifiable at the gym I go to; they ignore rules to return used towels to the front counter and instead drop them on the changing room floor.
In the weights area, heavy plates are left either on the floor or attached to bars, rather than being put back in racks, posing a danger to other users. The toilets are left in a mess.
Helpers are an integral part of the Hong Kong government’s growth strategy. They enable both parents to work and provide care for children and the elderly. As a result, their wages are kept artificially low and exempt from minimum wage requirements.
With the typical Hongkonger earning about HK$15,800 a month, many working couples can easily afford the HK$4,310 salary.
But the influx of maids, at present increasing annually by about 10,000, has a litany of drawbacks.
The government is not under pressure to expand or improve child and elderly care services. Helpers may not be adequately trained to take care of a wheelchair-bound or bedridden person.
Sundays are a popular day for employers to give their maids their weekly day off, which means public places are overcrowded. And then, there is the reliance of families on their helpers to the point that they no longer have basic life skills.
Lazy people don’t necessarily have lazy minds; studies have found they’re often the intelligent ones and have figured how to get by with minimal effort.
But avoiding hard work and expecting something for nothing doesn’t teach us important lessons like success and failure, and finding solutions to problems.
Helpers free us up from what some people would consider the mundane, but the extra time is only worthwhile if put to constructive use.
Judging by our flat economic growth, reluctance to break away from businesses that are fading, and jump on opportunities offered by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments and take a risk, we’re well on the way to losing the ability to think for ourselves.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post