There are many things that are much easier in Hong Kong, but none hits you as a parent like having cheap, experienced, full time childcare. It is a sad fact of economics that thousands of women from South East Asia can make much more money working as housekeepers, nannies and carers for the elderly in Hong Kong or Singapore than they could make at home even in professional jobs. Hence H, our nanny, who has a university degree, lives in our home with us for less than half of what it costs my sister to put my niece in nursery.
The conditions for these women in Hong Kong are often very tough. Contractually they have to work 24 hours a day, 6 days a week for a pittance. The government stipulates that they live in with a family, but we are only legally obliged to provide a private sleeping area and in many instances this amounts to a curtain in the corner of the living room or a child's bedroom.
Aside from the conditions and appaling treatment some "helpers" get at the hands of employers and the government, I find the role they perform in many families to be quite odd related to the children. There seems to be a culture here of giving the child to the helper even when the parents are not at work. I find this wholesale outsourcing of parenting very odd and rather worrying.
For example, yesterday the Boy and I were out shopping. Shopping for the Boy is a tedious exercise as he hates making decisions and will never compromise on anything. Between the two of us we negotiated 3 hours of shopping centres, with the buggy. However, a surprising number of families had their helper in tow. Sometimes the helper was carrying the child, sometimes carrying the bags, sometimes just pushing the empty buggy behind the couple and their child. This posed the question "why?". What is so difficult about taking your own child shopping and carrying your own bags?
Then, in the evening at our pool we took Eve swimming. We were the only couple with a baby who did not have their helper with them as well. One couple brought their baby and helper with them - that is 3 adults to take one baby swimming. In one case only the helper was there with the child (it was a Saturday).
When I talk to H, our nanny, she is really surprised that we do so much for Eve - in her former jobs she has variously slept in the baby's room to do overnight feeds, taken the children swimming at weekends, and even gone on holiday to look after the children. It would be easy to think this is a Chinese culture thing until I recall two English couples I know who think nothing of giving their baby to a helper for the weekend so they can play golf or go on a junk for the day.
I just don't understand the concept of having a child and then not spending time with them. Aside from building a healthy relationship with your child, it is simply fun doing things with Eve. I try hard not to judge the choices of others, but this is something I can't help but do in these instances.