Is there nowhere in the world today contentedly basking in the rays of happiness? In the US and the UK, doomsayers warn of a double-dip recession and a return to the days of the Great Depression, with the barefooted destitute selling apples and lining up at soup kitchens. China and Japan are in a bitter dispute, undoing historic humiliation and injustice over the Diaoyutai islands, or upholding international law over the Senkakus, according to taste. Nearly everywhere else in the world is undergoing earthquakes or floods, reeling from the shock of rapidly rising food prices, or having to watch reality TV shows.
In one place, however, everything is wonderful. The Republic of the Philippines rejoices today at the news that Hong Kong people still want its citizens to come and wash their dishes, mop their floors and – to quote today’s guest star – wipe the baby’s ass. This is despite all the unpleasantness over the Manila bus massacre, and the lower wages that Indonesian maids simply love working for. The reasons, the Philippine press excitedly reports, involve its migrant workers’ “proven reliability.” In other words, reduced down-time, of the sort amply illustrated in the main English-language newspapers of Hong Kong and Macau, both showing why hirers of Indonesians went without dinner on Friday as their helpers were goofing off celebrating Eid in local parks.
What the recruiters quoted in the article don’t say is that Philippine domestic staff bring more than a high degree of dependability and functionality, undying loyalty, incessant good cheer and superior English skills: they also display a certain ingenuity. Or at least my own pair of Filipino Elves do, which is why my freezer frequently bulges with free food. Pounds of lamb – a scarce meat in this sheep-averse Cantonese town – are salvaged from the trimmed ends of shoulder rejected every week by a nearby Lebanese restaurant. The seafood is actually caught by hook and line at a remote location on Lantau Island that I am sworn to keep secret, where a little community of Filipinos, Chinese plus one Japanese regularly gather on the pier to harvest the cornucopia of the sea.
The elves did not have a good week. One was looking for a little apartment and was turned away by a landlady on the grounds that “Filipinos no good, bang! bang!” The other was taken to task by one of my own neighbours for her undoubted part in the incompetence of the Manila police. But things went their way the other evening when the fishing expedition yielded an incredible 170 squid (a few of which are pictured) plus a garoupa. A Chinese woman alongside them on the quay somehow ended up with a completely empty bucket and asked if she could have a few of the elves’ obviously spare cephalopods. They said no.