文：Nickolas Tang (第十屆草根媒體工作者實習計劃學員)
by: Nickolas Tang (participant of grassmedia internship programme, 2019)
Hong Kong hosts nearly 400,000 migrant domestic workers hailing from different Southeast Asian countries. Within mainstream discourse, they are often seen as economic migrants, working in Hong Kong in order to provide for their families, fund the construction of their homes, support their children’s education, and save up for business ventures. In a society where stereotypes are the norm, it is no surprise that such interpretations are commonplace. If I had not migrated for my studies and tried to build a life abroad, I would have easily taken them for granted as well. My migration experience helped me realise leaving home is often a complicated decision requiring courage and entailing many personal struggles, and that accepting simplified narratives risks erasing interesting and important details of the journeys these migrant workers go through.
“Who would choose to move and work abroad if they were already leading a good life?” With this question in mind, I got to know the Indonesian migrant workers’ community in Hong Kong, hoping to uncover the reasons and circumstances that prompted them to migrate. I also wanted to get an idea on how they stay connected to those closest to their hearts who live across the sea, and how they deal with the difficulties of living and working in an unfamiliar country. While the two stories featured here do not represent all migrant workers’ struggles, they demonstrate moving abroad for work is never a decision as simple and straightforward as many perceive.
The Conquest of Cake
現時二十三歲的 Tia 家境不俗，學業成績也不錯，卻像 Adima 一樣，因為始料不及的事而無奈輟學。 Tia 在中爪哇一個名叫 Tengaran 小區的村落中長大，父親則遠赴印尼另一大島蘇門答臘打工：「我爸爸很少在家，因為公司派了他去另一個城市工作，做推銷員。他專門到不同的學校，向教師和校務人員兜售教科書和校服。」Tia 父親的收入來自書本和衣服批發價和零售價的差額；據 Tia 說，賣教科書是一份挺賺錢的工作，因為他每次發貨都會集齊過千本教科書的訂單，貨量足以載滿三、四個貨箱。親戚想分一杯羹，他亦樂意分享財源：「我的叔嬸拿爸爸的貨去賣，遲了甚至沒有付款給他，他也不介意，因為他自己賺的錢已經夠他養妻活兒。」
Tia, 23, hails from a family of decent means and has always done fairly well at school. But like Adima, she was forced to leave school because of events out of her control. Tia grew up in a small village in Tengaran in Central Java, while her father worked in Sumatra, Indonesia’s other major island. “He is almost never home, because his PT (company) sent him to work in another city as a salesperson. He goes to different schools to sell their teachers and staff textbooks and uniforms.” His income comes from the margin between the wholesale price and the price schools pay. According to Tia, this makes quite a lot of money for her father, especially when it comes to selling textbooks, as he takes on more than a thousand orders every time – that is three to four containers’ worth of books. When relatives wanted in on the money, he is always happy to share. “My uncles and aunts would sell my dad’s books and sometimes don’t pay him on time or at all, but he doesn’t mind, because he already makes enough to support us.”
推銷員的收入雖然可觀，但始終是一份零散工，動輒也可能會失業。碰巧印尼教育及文化局於 2013 年作出中小學課程修訂，並將教科書的出版收歸政府專營；政策於 2015 年全面出台後，不少企業被逼重組業務、停止出版教科書，僱用 Tia 父親的公司也因此辭退了他。當時十九歲的 Tia 正在修讀廚藝及管理的學位，剛要開始大學二年級的課程，奈何家中失去了主要收入來源，實在沒法繼續負擔 Tia 高昂的學費。「因為我的大學是在大城市 (雅加達) 的名校，而且我讀的是雙學位，所以每個學期要付八百萬印尼盾 (折合約四千五百港元) 的學費。爸爸失業後，試過自己搞漁業生意，但完全失敗，還欠下不少銀行債務，所以我便停學了。」
Despite providing a considerable income, working as a salesperson remains an insecure job. In 2013, the Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia revised the curriculum and renationalised the publication of textbooks. When the policy was fully rolled out in 2015, many companies were forced to restructure and stop publishing textbooks, which meant that Tia’s father got fired from his job. At the time, Tia was pursuing a double degree in Culinary and Business and was about to start her second year in university. But as her family lost their main source of income, there was no way they could afford her expensive university fees. “Because I was going to a prestigious university in a big city (Jakarta) and I was doing a double degree, I had to pay Rp8,000,000 (equivalent to HKD4,500 ) every term. After my dad lost his job, he tried to start a fishing business, but it totally failed and he became in debt, so I had to drop out of university.”
但這轉折並沒有令 Tia 放棄自立門戶、做飲食生意的夢想。「我中學時期已經喜歡上烹飪了，而修讀廚藝及管理就是為了讓我琢磨烹飪技術和準備開展自己的生意，日後不用幫人打工啊！我雖然輟學了，但也許我不需要大學教育也可以成功。」離開大學後，Tia 一直鍛鍊自己在學時希望深造的烘焙技巧，不久後更初試牛刀，開了一間專賣自製蛋糕的 Instagram 網店。不過，他發覺這不算是很賺錢的生意，所以網店經營了一年多，他便起了出國打工的想法：「在鄉村中使用社交媒體的人不多，(因此生意額不高)，但若接市區生意，則要起碼半小時的車程才可以將蛋糕運達。如果我住在城市，那麼網店的生意模式便較為適合；在村落的話，開舖頭則更佳。糕點、甜品終究不是人們天天也會吃的東西。在節慶日子，我的生意還不錯，但我相信開餐廳，提供人們日常也需要的食物，會較為划算。」
But Tia did not give up her goal to start her own food business despite this setback. “I have enjoyed cooking since high school, and the reason I studied Culinary and Business was so that I can learn the skills and open my own restaurant, and don’t have to work for somebody else! I am not in university anymore, but maybe I don’t need a university education to succeed.” Since leaving university, Tia has been developing her baking skills, which she had hoped to hone and master in her course, and not long afterwards, she opened a homemade cake shop on Instagram. Eventually, Tia learned that this was not a very lucrative business, and started to entertain the idea of working abroad. “Not many people use social media in the village, [so I don’t get a lot of business], but if I take orders from the city, then it takes at least half an hour on a motorbike to deliver the cake. This business model would work better if I lived in the city; in the village, it’s better to have a physical shop.” Tia goes on: “Cakes and desserts are not food that people would order all the time. I may make good money [from the online cake shop] during festive times, but I believe opening a restaurant that serves people everyday food is a better plan.”
「可是我哪有這麼多錢呢？」Tia 估計開餐廳大概需要一億盾 (折合逾五萬港元) 的本金，但他有信心，只要有耐性由小生意做起，一定可以越做越大，終有一天他會成為連鎖餐廳的大老闆。賺取這筆本金是 Tia 出國打工的主要目標之一，而他選擇來港，則是因為去其他國家工作，需要更長時間的職業培訓或更高的資歷：「有不少印尼人會去新加玻、澳洲等地的工廠打工，我自己也有想過；但要找到一份待遇較好的工作，就一定要讀過大學。如果到日本、韓國打工，則要花半年培訓、半年學習當地語言。我沒有完成大學學位，家人也負擔不起我整年不工作、還要培訓和上課的錢；所以到香港工作算是最適合我的情況了。」
“But I don’t have that much money!” Tia estimated that she would need about Rp100 million (around HKD55,000) to start a restaurant, but she is confident that as long as she is patient, she could grow her business and eventually become the boss of a restaurant chain. Earning that 100 million is one of Tia’s main objectives of working abroad, and she chose Hong Kong because going to other countries would have taken her longer to undergo vocational training or required higher academic qualifications. “Many Indonesians would go to Singapore or Australia for work; I thought about it as well, but to find a good job there, you must finish university. If I go to Japan or Korea, then I need to go to training for six months and learn the language for another six months. I don’t have a university degree, and I couldn’t afford to not work for a whole year while paying for training and language classes, so coming to Hong Kong was the most suitable option for me.”
職業培訓連同辦理來港簽證只花了不足兩個月，對於家道中落的 Tia 來說確是比較便利的選擇，但在港移民家務工的最低月薪只得約四千五百港元，減去日常的使費及寄回鄉的家用後，要儲到五萬港元並非易事。Tia 更像許多移工一樣，被中介公司超收費用，勢令達到這個目標更遙遠。「我只是接受了一個月的培訓，他們卻要我付一萬三千元的中介費。可是我其實沒有從他們學到甚麼，連日常會話我也是自學的，而且『培訓』的內容其實就是服侍中心的員工，為他們煮飯、清潔，為他們勞動；他們根本就應該給我們發薪水，而不是要我們付錢啊！」
Given that it took her less than two months to complete vocational training and process her visa application, coming to Hong Kong is indeed Tia’s most sensible choice. But the minimum monthly salary of migration domestic workers in Hong Kong is only 4,520 HKD; take away the expenditure on daily necessities and money sent home to support her family, and not a lot is left for Tia’s “restaurant dream”. Making things worse is that – like many other migrant domestic workers – Tia has been overcharged by her agency. “I only had training for one month, but they (the agency) charge me 13,000 HKD in agency fees. But I never learned anything from them, I even had to teach myself conversational Cantonese. Also, my ‘training’ was simply serving the staff at the training centre, cooking for them, cleaning after them, working for them; they should be paying us, not asking us to pay!”
印尼的法例規定移工離國前必須先接受職業培訓，而根據其政府的人力及移民部 2012 年的法令，首次到港工作的移工應付標準培訓費約一千五百萬盾，折合約八千港元 (若以當時的匯率計算，則為約一萬三千港元)，高於此標準則為違法超收費用。準家務工一般需要先接受四至六個月的培訓才可以開始工作，但由於 Tia 能操不錯的英語，他只接受了一個月培訓便找到僱主，而且這是他在香港的第二份合約，理應連標準費用也毋須全部繳付，更甭說中介公司要求他付的一萬三千元了。若以香港的法律為準，超收費用的幅度則更嚴重，因為僱傭條例只准中介公司收取不高於月薪的 10% 的費用，即約四百五十港元。
As per Indonesia’s laws, first-time migrant domestic workers must undergo vocational training before they work abroad. According to a 2012 decree of the Indonesia’s Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, the standard training fee payable by workers going to Hong Kong is Rp14,780,400 (around HKD8000 under current exchange rates, and around HKD13,000 under 2012 exchange rates), any fee higher than that constitutes overcharging. Migrant domestic workers-to-be often have to train for four to six months before they are qualified to work, but because Tia spoke English well, it only took her a month to find an employer. Importantly, this would be her second employer in Hong Kong, meaning she is not a first-timer and has no reason to pay the standard training fee in full, let alone the HKD13,000 that was asked of her by her agency. If we evaluate this according to Hong Kong’s laws, then the extent of overcharging would be even worse: Hong Kong’s Employment Ordinance only permits agencies to charge fees no higher than 10% of a worker’s monthly salary, i.e. HKD452.
The overcharging of agency fees is rampant, and since very few migrant workers could afford to pay so much money in one go, agencies often force them to borrow from a local financial company to pay off the fees, and repay the debt over six to nine months. Workers often have to part with one-third to one-half of their monthly salary just to repay this enforced debt. Charging workers through local lenders also makes it more difficult for the Hong Kong government and relevant authorities in Indonesia to prosecute the training centres and agencies involved in overcharging; in fact, this is why they have come up with this arrangement. Agencies would even threaten workers that they would send enforcers to their employers’ residence to recover the debt, in order to ensure the workers pay the full fees.
Tia 正在為此事煩擾：「中介和財務公司現在不時會打電話到我僱主家，說會派不法之徒來收錢。我想他們是希望令我害怕，然後乖乖給錢吧。我沒有被他們嚇到，因為我從移工群體中的組織者得知超收費用是違法的，所以我清楚中介公司做不了甚麼。」Tia 更笑稱被他們要脅時，他都會回答：「即管來啊！」因為他知道作為第二次來港、只接受了一個月培訓便找到工作的移工，中介最多只可收他三千港元，而他早已繳付了逾六千港元。
This is exactly what Tia is currently dealing with. “The agency and financial company would call my employer’s home, saying that they would send criminals to get the money from me. I think they want to make me afraid, so that I would give them the money. I am not scared of them, because I learned from (migrant domestic worker) organisations that overcharging is illegal. So I know they can’t really do anything.” Half-jokingly, Tia says when she is threatened by the agency, she would tell them to “Come! Please!” This is because she knows that – given this is her second time working in Hong Kong and she has only undergone one month of training – she cannot be charged more than HKD3,000, and she has already paid the agency more than HKD6,000.
The difficult part is clarifying the situation to her employer. “I am not scared of the agency myself, but my ‘sir’ (employer) is a bit worried because he actually thinks I owe people money, and that bad people will come to his house and make trouble. Maybe it’s because his previous jie jie (domestic worker/maid) did owe the money and someone came to his house to chase the debt. But my situation is very different! ‘Borrowing’ from a financial company is just a normal procedures for us to work in Hong Kong, I don’t actually owe anyone money.” Tia endeavoured to prove her innocence and explain to her employer that what the agency is doing and threatening to do is illegal, but since overcharging involves a lot of technicalities and neither Tia nor her employer speak English as a first language, it is difficult for them to communicate effectively on this topic.
僱主雖然體諒 Tia 的處境，但仍未完全消除疑慮，所以他現在惟有到駐港印尼領事館求助。「唉，我當時真的笨了，沒有瞭解清楚，害得自己受騙。」Tia 不禁就此事自責，不過他說領事館已經派人跟進，並答應會要求培訓中心停止恐嚇他及違法追討超額費用。從其他移工組織者的分享看來，領事館不像有甚麼板斧可以制衡超收費用的中介公司和培訓中心；移工們向領事館抗議，要求享有不經中介、自行與僱主配對的權利，卻遭漠視的經驗，筆者反而聽說不少。但眼見 Tia 對領事館的介入仍感到樂觀，筆者也不好意思潑冷水，惟有希望事情會如他所說，「一切都會 OK 的。」
Tia’s employer have been understanding of her situation, but he is still fearing the worst, leaving Tia no choice but to get help from the Indonesian Consulate. “I was stupid; I didn’t know about anything and now I’m in this situation,” Tia could not help but blame herself, but she said – with relief – that the Consulate is already following up on her case and promised to demand the agency to stop threatening and overcharging her. Judging from what other migrant worker organisers have shared with me, the Consulate does not appear to have any substantive means to rein in agencies and training centres who overcharge workers. On the contrary, I have heard a lot more about workers being ignored by the Consulate when they demand to have the right to negotiate with potential employers directly without the intervention of agencies. Nonetheless, seeing how optimistic Tia was about the Consulate’s promise, I did not want to rain on her parade. I could only hope she is right when she said, “everything will be ok.”
來港工作麻煩重重，還未開工已經要先花一筆錢，但 Tia 並未退卻，除了是因為需要養家和夢想做生意，亦是出於對自由的嚮往。Tia 坦言，印尼鄉村的價值觀普遍比較保守，使女兒身的他要面對不少來自左鄰右里的壓力。「鄉村的生活有很多掣肘；譬如女生不可以夜歸，應該要留在家中清潔、做家務等。我的朋友曾告訴我，村中的人會在我背後講壞話，說：『他可是個女子，怎麼還沒有結婚？』所以一直以來，我都很想遠離家鄉，我覺得我會過得更愉快。」
Despite the troubles and exorbitant costs of moving to Hong Kong for work, Tia had not been deterred. This was down to her longing for freedom as much as her family’s dependence on her income and her dream to start a restaurant. Tia admitted that the values of Indonesian country life are generally quite conservative, meaning she – as a woman – has to contend with a lot of pressure and expectations from her neighbours. “Life in a village has many restrictions. For example, girls are not allowed to come home late, and they are expected to stay at home to clean and do housework. My friends once told me that some people in our village talked behind my back, saying that ‘ she is a woman, why is she not married yet?’ So I’ve always wanted to leave home, I think I would enjoy life more.”
Tia 十五歲時，首次離開家人和村落，隻身到爪哇島的梭羅市上高中。城市的生活多少能讓他逃脫鄉村的規範：「我也不知道這是否文化的分別。可能是因為城市的生活比較個體化，所以人們都不會八卦我的生活細節，就算我跟朋友到夜店玩，很晚才回家，也不會有人閒言閒語。這點跟我在村落的鄰里不同，他們很容易會以貌取人，憑片面的印象對其他人品頭論足。」不過，雖然 Tia 遇到的城市人不多管閒事，但亦未必是出於進步觀念或尊重私隱：「在梭羅這種大城市，我跟鄰居們其實互不相識，見面也只是君子之交，打個招呼而已。」大家只會管自己的事，可能只是因為城市中的人際關係比較疏離。
Tia was fifteen when she first left her family and village to go to high school in Surakarta, Java. Living in the city means she could more or less escape from the strict conventions of country life. “I don’t know if it’s because the culture is different. Maybe it’s because life in the city is more atomised, so people don’t care about my own business. Even if I go out with my friends at night and come back very late, no one will say anything. This is very different from my village. In my village, even if people don’t know someone, they still judge very easily.” Nonetheless, the fact that the city dwellers Tia met are not nosy might not mean they are particularly progressive or respectful of boundaries. “In big cities like Surakarta, me and my neighbours don’t really know each other,” explained Tia. “When we see each other, we say hi to each other, that’s it.” People keeping to themselves may just be a reflection of how distant and isolated city dwellers are.
打從首次見面，筆者已發覺 Tia 對各種規範的反感頗為強烈。談及香港家庭時，他表示不解為何有父母會很用力地催促子女讀書，要他們補習、上課外班。談到高中生活時，他解釋因為無法抵受住在宿舍必須要早睡早起、每事排隊的紀律，所以搬了出去，和同學合租了一個單位。他既控訴培訓中心的導師沒收他的手機，和對地方清潔的要求過分嚴格；亦不滿村裡的人預期他準時六點回家，但他的哥哥們卻不受此限，入夜後仍可以隨意出門、見朋友。
It was obvious from when we first met that Tia has a strong aversion to restrictions and conventions. When we talked about Hong Kong families, she was perplexed by how many parents push their kids very hard academically, and insist on sending them to tutorial classes and extra-curricular activities. When we talked about her high school life, she recounted how she could not bear with the disciplined life in a student dormitory, where she had to wake up and go to bed early and queue up for everything, and eventually moved out and rented a place with a classmate. She complained that the training centre staff took her phone away and was too strict with how clean her room had to be. She took issue with how people in her village expect her to get home at 6 but did not apply the same rule to her brothers, who were free to go out and see their friends at night.
Tia 有這種意識並非意外，而是來自他與母親的相處。「我媽媽跟村中其他家長很不同，因為他會讓我自己做選擇，尊重我的意志，還會跟我說：『我相信你可以自己做決定，只要你為自己的選擇負責就行。』他當然有自己的意見和對我的期望，但他從來只會說自己會如何處理，不會給我任何壓力或者過份保護我。」Tia 舉例說，母親是個虔誠的穆斯林信徒，因此很希望自己會像他一樣戴頭巾、不穿短衫短裙，但也會讓他自己拿主意。連當年 Tia 提出想搬離學校宿舍，也是有賴母親諒解和幫忙隱瞞負責付宿費的父親才能成事。可以說，Tia 在和母親的關係中，嘗到了不少在所謂更文明國度的孩子也可能接觸不到的自由氣息。
It is not surprising that Tia has such a consciousness given her relationship with her mother. “My mum is very different from other parents in my village, because she always lets me make my own decisions and respects my wishes. She even tells me ‘I believe you can make your own choices as long as you take responsibility for them.’ Of course, she has her opinions and expectations for me, but she only tells me how she would handle something, she never pressures me or tries to be overprotective.” Tia told me, as an example, that her mother is very religious and would have wanted for Tia to don a hijab and not wear short skirts, but let her choose how to dress anyway. And without her mother’s understanding and willingness to cover for her from her father, Tia would not have been able to move out of student dormitory and live with her friend. Through the relationship with her mother, Tia might have breathed freedoms even that children in supposedly more civilised countries have not.
「如果不是媽媽，我今天可能不會在香港。」Tia 若有所思地說。現在 Tia 不但自食其力，更因為父親已經失業了數個月，但新的生意仍未搞起，要靠他每月寄錢回鄉，幫補家計，讓 Tia「買到」了一點自主和話語權：「我爸爸沒有媽媽的思想那麼開放，我小時他沒有嚴加管教，大概只是因為他在外省工作，長期不在家而已。他對我仍有不少要求和期望，例如他不想我出國工作、希望我回印尼、想我結婚等。可是現在我自給自足，還是家中的經濟支柱，所以爸爸也沒有再說太多，比較願意接受我自己的決定⸺畢竟他們是由我來養著的啊！」
“If it was not for my mum, maybe today I would not be in Hong Kong,” Tia mused. Now she is supporting not only herself but also her family, as her father had not been able to start a new business since losing his last job. This “bought” Tia more autonomy and authority in the family. “My dad is not as open-minded as my mum. The only reason I didn’t have a strict upbringing was probably because my dad worked in another city and was never home. He still expects many things from me; for example, he doesn’t want me to work abroad, he wants me to go back and get married. But now I am not only on my own two feet, I am also supporting my family, so my dad doesn’t say much and just accepts my decision. Of course he has to – I am the one putting food on the table!”
也許在平行時空， Tia 是一個出色的蛋糕師傅和餐廳老闆，閒時會跟媽媽周遊各地，自由自在地生活。也許在這個時空，他一樣可以夢想成真。
Perhaps in a parallel universe, Tia would be a great pastry chef and restaurant owner, who travels around the world with her mum, living a life as free as a bird. Perhaps in this universe, this dream can also come true.
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