Read this very interesting piece written by a Filipino who visited Hong Kong for medical reasons and saw an advertisement on the TV portraying Filipinos as primitives who could be transformed through training into the perfect maid. The writer, at first, admired Hong Kong, but after seeing this advertisement, went away hating Hong Kong. We never see our own prejudice and bigotry, but it exists nevertheless.
A hell of my own - INQUIRER.net
FRIENDS in Cebu never fail to remind me that everything over there is just fifteen minutes away by car. Whether it’s the harbor, the town square, or the monument to Lapu-Lapu with his perfectly sculpted calf muscles, each destination is easily within reach in the same amount of time that one takes a shower or smokes a few cigarettes.
To this, I proudly reply that in Metro Manila, traffic is the great equalizer, and that everything is just about two hours away.
I say this the same way the Soviets might praise the unforgiving Russian winter that drove out the Nazis from their homeland, but also wracked the country with famine and blight. Read between the lines. What I’m saying is, sure it’s hell here, but at least it’s a hell we can call our own.
It really amazes me then that with the same amount of time it takes to go to work, I can actually hop on a plane and fly to Hong Kong. This is exactly what I did several months ago, when I went there with my dad for my PET scan.
Having pulled a muscle while playing badminton the weekend before the trip, he limped around with a stainless steel cane—a fact he did not hide, but rather exaggerated in order to get attention and special care. One of the airport staff spotted him hobbling from afar and immediately directed us to the customs lane reserved for the likes of government officials and foreign diplomats.
“Thanks!” my father said, raising his cane in salute before quickly remembering he should still be playing the part of an invalid.
The airport is connected to the rest of the city by an express train. At most, it’s a half-hour ride that cruises through Kowloon and Hong Kong proper, displaying to passengers the rolling hills and glittering skyscrapers iconic to the landscape.
On a map, we found the Adventist Hospital in a section of town called Happy Valley, a name that made me think of gleeful Chinese children, arms linked together and skipping to school, and toothless old men, waving with one hand and dangling a butchered piglet in the other.
The Cancer Center itself had all the accoutrements of a hotel lobby: soft carpeting, cozy lounge chairs, and a magazine rack with a generous selection of fashion, business, and show biz weeklies. In between raiding the secretary’s counter for Mentos and catching up on the misadventures of “Posh and Beck,” my father and I sat back and watched whatever was showing on the giant plasma screen.
There were several commercials, all of which were in Mandarin, so I had to be content with dubbing them in my mind.
“Gee!” exclaimed a handsome man who was admiring a woman’s glossy, black hair. “If looking sexy is this easy, I definitely don’t need that sex-change operation anymore!”
For a dog food commercial, I eagerly translated the tag line at the end to “Better food for your dog, better dog for your food.”
What seemed to be a news alert showed masked health workers herding gaggles of geese into sacks and then whacking the sacks with truncheons. A few escapee birds were promptly kicked, but I assumed this was all part of a highly convoluted advertisement about the dependable quality of some company’s line of sacks or truncheons or both.
It was the following commercial, however, that won my heart.
A well-to-do modern Chinese family sat in the living room, laughing merrily (perhaps they lived in Happy Valley) when the doorbell rang. The daughter—a pig-tailed toddler—climbed a stool and looked through the peephole. There stood a Thai woman dressed in a bright purple sash and long fingernail attachments. She put her palms together as if in prayer, and said a greeting.
Surprised, the little girl turned to her family, and they shook their heads. The same happened with the next visitor, a Malay woman sporting a colorful hijab, but she too was turned away. As if this was not enough, the doorbell rang again. This time the child found an exotic woman poised on the doorstep. She had feathers in her hair, animal teeth around her neck, and wore what looked like a fur loincloth.
“Ako’y nagmula sa Pilipinas!” she proudly said with a curtsy, bone jewelry jingling as she bended over. For a moment I was delighted. Perhaps I had stumbled into a new portion of an international beauty pageant wherein contestants proved their worth by trying to charm their way into someone’s household.
But delight shortly gave way to confusion, and then to shock. For the first time in my life, I finally saw how foreigners imagined Filipinos.
Back in New York, I had scoffed at acquaintances who had asked me if my countrymen lived in trees, washed their clothes by the river, and feasted on strays.
“Oh come on!” I’d say, “Honestly, does it look like I grew up living in a tree?” But I do walk around in a fur loincloth. At least that’s what the commercial confirmed.
Just like the other women, her foreignness was met with disapproving stares by the rest of the family. That was until a neon blurb burst into the screen accompanied by dazzling glitter effects, and in the next shot, the Filipina was transformed into a properly dressed housemaid with a matching pink apron and a pink feather duster.
She lifted the giggling little girl in her arms, looked straight at the camera, and addressed viewers in fluent Mandarin. In hindsight, the commercial probably made sense as a domestic helper training service. But since I didn’t know what she said, it was the perfect reason to get offended. Up until that point, I had admired Hong Kong as any wide-eyed tourist would, humbled by its working traffic lights and neatly paved streets as compared to Manila.
Pedestrian crossings were clearly marked, and even with single lanes, traffic kept on moving. But with that one commercial, my envy flared into downright contempt.
It was unfair for me to hate Hong Kong, especially since it was all made up in my mind, but someone still had to pay for humiliating that woman even if she was simply acting.
Would that family be just as cocky had they found themselves on the bad side of my town? Would anyone understand their pleas to escape the gridlock of Cubao at rush hour, rugby boys knocking on their windows?
Elsewhere, the Russian winter raged with full force, bearing down on both the invader and the innocent. Sure it’s hell back home, but at least it’s a hell I could call my own.
But back then, there wasn’t enough time yet to gather ire at the family and the city that turned down this Filipina. All there was was an unsettling feeling in my gut: pangs of lukewarm dread mixed with embarrassment and curiosity.
Outside the hospital, the rest of Hong Kong still glittered, its skyscrapers still soared as high as the mountains. On television, commercials still streamed one after another with messages propped up by blocky Chinese characters, and local celebrities spouting alien words.
The Filipina maid, still in a bright pink apron, looked straight at me. I followed the movement of her lips, but let my imagination fly:
My loincloth was too warm and itchy. Thank you, this apron makes me feel pretty now.
I welcome peanuts as a form of payment for my services.
You won’t regret hiring me. Just wait until you try my roasted poodle surprise.