“Early morning Manhattan, / Ocean winds blow on the land. / The Movie-Palace is now undone, / The all-night watchmen have had their fun. / Sleeping cheaply on the midnight show, / It’s the same old ending-time to go. / Get out! / It seems they cannot leave their dream. / There’s something moving in the sidewalk steam, / And the lamb lies down on Broadway.”
Genesis, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”
Early morning Wednesday. A fire broke out in an old shop in a tiny Inner Harbor alley. Four people were trapped inside and were burned to death. Earlier this month, on November 1st, two grisly killings were discovered at a banker’s apartment in Hong Kong. The victims, all non-resident workers from South East Asia.
The Macau-Hong Kong region is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, but also from Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal.
Well, “is home” may be an insult to the meaning of home. Here and across the delta, migrant workers are more often than not underpaid, exploited, enslaved – and killed. Yet, if they decided now to go on strike all together the sister-SARs would experience havoc and chaos.
In Macau the Asian blue-cards are of tremendous help to both homes and businesses. They help us raise kids from cradle to high-school, with affection and hard work, and they serve us in restaurants and bars, with a smile, a friendly word and top professionalism. Yet, our society and laws make a clear divide between resident and non-resident workers, granting the latter very few rights, as if the right to work here for low-to-miserable pay and harsh conditions is enough of a gift to them. It’s not. Not anymore.
Our approach to migrant helpers has often been patronizing if not downright discriminatory and this perspective is preventing us from seeing the full picture.
These horror stories brought those migrant workers into the spotlight; sadly enough it’s how they usually grab the headlines. But these tales of horror will also contribute to diverting those in SE Asia seeking work overseas to try “greener” places – or to even leave Macau in search of more rewarding experiences and opportunities.
Over the past year or so, I was personally aware of dozens of cases of experienced Filipina maids leaving Macau for the Americas. Also, I was told of a growing number of hotel staff leaving our wealthy gambling enclave, heading to Singapore, Australia, Dubai and elsewhere. Like for the majority of us, the city’s quality of life has deteriorated badly over the past five years.
The fire fatalities are closely intertwined with the lack of proper and affordable housing, one of the top issues, which along with horrendous traffic conditions worry Macau’s citizens, as we also learn this week to no surprise.
Yet, we heard Chief Chui telling us, citizens, Tuesday what a great job they did during his first term in office – the most prosperous five years in Macau’s contemporary history! A job so good that there is but “room for improvement.” I tell you Chief: there’s plenty of room. Wrong expression, I know…
The lamb lies down on Macau.