An OFW Sunday: Where do we go now?

“Saan na tayo pupunta?” (Where do we go now?)

A simple question that might mean nothing more on most days, but today, I keep hearing it in my head. It breaks my heart.

I was with my Filipino friends at the Central and Western District Promenade today for a picnic–we were sending off a couple who will soon leave Hong Kong. We occupied a covered area with benches, and were very organized about it. There were white recycled plastic sheets that covered the surfaces where the food containers were laid out, and there were black trash bags for refuse.

At some point there were around 20 of us, huddled in small groups, enjoying lunch or catching up. All the while, there was one lady who was hovering, speaking in Cantonese, and was pointing at members of our group. I zoned her out as I do not understand the language anyway, and did not really know what she wanted. So we carried on.

Through the course of our picnic, there were kind locals who would greet us and ask if we were selling the food. We would say no, tell them we were having a picnic, but they could share our food if they would love some. The highlight of my interaction with strangers today was with a mother-daughter tandem–both proud grandmothers, as I learned through our very pleasant conversation.

The 95-year old grandmother walked toward us, pushing her wheelchair that acted as her walker, smiled and asked if there will be dancing. Her daughter translated her question to us, and we explained that we were just having a picnic. They stayed and chatted with us for almost 15 minutes, sharing proudly about their own helpers who they consider family, about grandma’s 33 grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was a heart-warming conversation, despite the language barrier.

Our group eventually started to thin out, as a lot of of our friends had curfews set by their employers and had to travel back to their places of work. As we were packing up and cleaning the area, the lady who was hovering started harassing our group. One of our friends tried to tell her in Cantonese to please calm down, but she was cursing at us.

I took a video of her, and she started taking photos of our group, too. I’m not sure if she was park staff, or if she was just a nosy bystander. Eventually, a member of the park staff tried to appease the lady by asking us to please leave. He apologized, but told us–“please do not eat here, this is not your house. Do not come back.” I just felt really defeated. I know it’s not our house, but it is a public place. We tried to explain we will be leaving shortly, and we’re just cleaning up, but it fell on deaf ears. The lady kept on harassing us, and the park staff was conversing to her– about what, I was not sure.

So we left, and one of my friends asked “saan na tayo pupunta” (Where do we go now?). I did not really have a response. If we were not allowed to have a picnic at the park, then where exactly do we go? I have a home to retreat to, but how about my friends? My house is open for them, but then I live an island away.

I sent the video I took to two of my best friends who are locals, and they said the lady who harassed us was not even a Hong Kong local, or at least did not sound like one. Apparently, the lady was complaining we were occupying space that belonged to them, and did not want us to eat there.

One of my friends passed along a message from her mom, to tell me and my friends that this lady does not represent the Hong Kong people. I am grateful for my friends and their families, and other residents (whether local or expats) who make Hong Kong a kinder place to brown-skinned people like myself.

I’m not sure what today’s lesson was, or what my take away should be for the day, but I had to write this all down or it will get too noisy in my head.

Though one question still remains–if Filipinos who are enjoying their only day off by having a picnic at the park will be turned away, then where are they supposed to go? In a foreign land where most of the domestic helpers live with their employers, and most of them playing crucial daily roles but remaining unseen, where do they fit in?