29 August 2011

Work update; Marcella

Jou san!

I hope all my friends back in the States are weathering the, ah, weather and staying dry! News of Hurricane Irene reaches us here, even as another Hurricane tears through the Philippines and Taiwan.

Starting this week I will no longer be going to the Bethune House twice a week; instead, I will come to the Mission every day and spend Sunday afternoons at Victoria Park teaching English. I am excited about this opportunity and hope that I am able to assist these women in communicating effectively in English.

Wednesday the 31st is a big event for the Mission: Flag Day! Similar to the one we had for Bethune House, we will be all over Central accepting donations for the Mission. Since permits for Flag Days are only given once every five years, it’s all hands on deck! The staff is abuzz with plans and organizing, preparing for what will surely be a big day.

This morning Father Dwight (the Filipino priest) and I went with a client to her conciliation meeting with the Labor Relations Division. Marcella*, an older woman in her mid-50's, had surgery some time ago to remove breast cancer but with a pre-employment medical examination was deemed fit to work when she began her contract in April. However, in June she began to experience pain and swelling in her right arm, and when it became too great to bear she requested to see a doctor. When she went to the hospital the doctors admitted her, and following several scans they discovered that her breast cancer had returned and spread down her arm. Over the following weeks she was kept in the hospital for observation. Her employer did not come to visit her; instead, she sent text messages asking how long this was going to take and if it was going to last for several months, or if she was unfit to work, then she would have to terminate the contract to find a new helper.

Marcella experienced not only the physical pain of cancer but also the emotional pain of being so far from her family and an antipathetic employer. The employer continued to send text messages threatening to terminate. In July Marcella received a letter of termination, stating that she had lied on her employment contract and was unable to perform her duties. The employer did not want to pay any of her obligations---wages in lieu of notice, air ticket to the place of origin, travel allowance, medical bills. When she signed the contract she must have skipped the parts that spelled out her obligations; too often, it seems, employers do not take into consideration their end of the arrangements.

From the employer's point of view--a young Canadian woman, living here in Hong Kong with her boyfriend and their dog--I could understand her need to find a replacement since the helper they had hired was no longer able to perform the duties. I would want to find someone else too. However, the way she went about terminating the contract and the ensuing ugliness over Marcella's care and her obligations to Marcella were despicable. It seems she was more concerned about having someone available to walk and feed her dog than she was about the health and well-being of the woman she entered into a contract with.

In the end, Marcella settled for a little more than half of what she was claiming. She will be heading home to the Philippines in the next week while she is still able to travel. Her prognosis was not good--stage four, already metastasized. Father Dwight says she has a month, maybe a few weeks, left. It is good that she is now able to go home and be with her family. To have fought this case any longer would only cost precious time, so much of which has already been wasted.

Before we departed we laid our hands on Marcella and prayed for healing, for grace, for mercy. Sunday’s sermon at the Cathedral encouraged us to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?” and take up our crosses to follow Him. In the work we do at the Mission we proclaim Christ’s presence to those who are suffering injustice. We leave behind the world that says that to be successful is to have material wealth; rather, a life of love and service is what we are called into—a life that fulfills God’s mission of reconciliation.

Thank you for joining me in this journey, and I hope you will leave any thoughts, comments, or questions.

Grace and Peace,

*name changed

17 August 2011

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life
You are probably wondering what it is I do on a daily basis, so here is a little breakdown:
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I am at the Mission, answering the phone and/or helping with clients who have enquiries about illegal agency fees or issues with their employer. During the week things are a little slow but it is important to be available to anyone who shows up. I like to arrive here a little early so I can spend some quiet time in the Cathedral. Sometimes that time is not so quiet--the organist is practicing, people are cleaning, visitors wandering around taking photos--but it is important to be able to find peace amongst those situations too. ;)
Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to the women’s shelter, the Bethune House. This may change in the future, as the current location is no longer available and they are looking for a new place. They will maintain offices on the current premises but will have to move to a permanent location, as yet to be determined.
Saturdays I have the day off, and I have the option of taking a half day during the week as well. I usually spend the day cleaning my apartment or running errands, or spending time with friends. Spencer introduced me to some folks before she left, and I am so grateful! It is nice to have friends to run around with who are familiar with all of the fun things happening here in Hong Kong.  
Sundays are by far the busiest days! I go to the 9am service at the Cathedral then head to the Mission, which usually gets very crowded. Sundays are the only days off migrant workers usually have (aside from public holidays, but sometimes they have to work some on those days), so it is a big day for those who need to make enquiries and are not able to come during the week. In the future I will also go to Victoria Park in the afternoon to spend time with Indonesian migrants, to improve their English and my Bahasa.
I hope that the postcards and letters I have sent will reach their destinations this week! Snail-mail takes so long but isn’t it fun to get things in the mail that aren’t bills? My mailbox is sadly so empty! If you wish to send me a letter you can send it to:
Kathleen Clark
Apt 5E
Wing Fu Mansion
10-24 Parkes Street
Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong SAR

I hope you will! But I love hearing from friends back home, whether through letters or email or comments here on the blog. I invite yours, as always, and your thoughts and questions too.

Grace and Peace,

What's August Like in China?

August is a busy month here in China!
China uses a lunar calendar (which is why the new year is in February instead of January), and in Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month (August) in general is regarded as the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm.

From Wiki: “On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living.”

I have passed people burning things in large bins (miniature replicas of everything from iPads and cell phones to maids and mansions), food laid out as offering and the streets perfumed with incense. These traditions are very much alive!

August is also the holy month of Ramadan, observed by the many Muslims here in Hong Kong. On Sunday another one of the interns and I went to Victoria Park, the hang-out spot for Indonesian migrant workers—most of whom are Muslim.

Many of the women were napping on blankets, crowded under precious shade or creating shade of their own with bright umbrellas. They gather to talk and help each other and spend time with friends. Since it is Ramadan many were fasting, but the ones who weren’t offered us traditional foods and tea, which were delicious! I am at a real disadvantage since I don’t know Bahasa or Cantonese, and only a few spoke English, but luckily the other intern knows Cantonese so he translated for me. Several of the women there expressed an interest in learning or improving their English so I offered to come for a few hours on Sundays to chat with them and provide informal lessons. Language is such a valuable commodity and I am taking steps to learn Cantonese, Tagalog (the Filipino language), and Bahasa too. It is good to have tutors in the form of colleagues and clients, but some formal training would be really helpful.
August is also the hottest month, much like it is in my home state of Tennessee. The weather continues to be hot and humid with no sign of letting up. I am hopeful that September will cool off, as I really enjoy Hong Kong but during the day it is too hot to go outside! I would like to go to Ngong Ping, where there is a giant Buddha statue and monastery, but it’s so hot I might as well wait until things cool down.
Technical difficulties
I have begun running into problems with my trusty laptop and internet connection. My laptop has undergone more wear and tear in the last month than it did in three months back home, and since it is also several years old it might be time to retire it. (Blue Screen of Death appears at least three times in a day.. not good!) My internet connection has turned spotty and drops the signal every two minutes, frustrating when skyping with parents or friends or chatting online. Also uploading blog posts! I made an inquiry at the shop that sells the internet connection I have, and after preliminary testing they determined that yes, my internet connection is reeaalllyy slow. They were not sure what to do about it though, so someone is supposed to call me. Since I am not the account holder I’m not sure what I can do. I live down the street from Mong Kok, a bustling shopping area with a large computer center. I also went to Wan Chai the other day to check a few things out. Looks like I can get some great deals on electronics, so perhaps in the next few weeks I can hunt down a good deal. I realize I am fortunate to have a laptop and internet connection at all, so I am grateful for what I have even if it is sometimes frustrating to deal with.

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? I invite them all! <3 Kathleen

10 August 2011

Right of Abode: Recognizing and Reconciling Each Other

I am amazed sometimes at the all of the problems that arise from people denying the humanity of others. They stop seeing human faces and instead see stereotypes and one-dimensional caricatures. The riots currently going on in London, for example, seem to come from the root problem of people denying others a place in the community and not seeing their worth.

In my own hometown for the past year there has been an on-going debate about a large mosque being built on a plot of land--purchased legally, permits obtained legally, everything by the book--because some members of the community are misinformed (or uninformed). The atmosphere of fear and hate clouds judgement and permeates the community, polluting sound minds against their fellow humans. Citizens are being denied the right to worship in a space large enough to accommodate their growing numbers because of fear and the inability to see fellow citizens as human beings.

And the same is happening here in Hong Kong. Workers who have come here legally--who are, in large part, educated professionals who find better employment as domestic helpers here in Hong Kong than in their chosen profession in their home countries--who live here and work here and contribute to the overall economic, social, and cultural aspects of Hong Kong, are denied the right of abode.

HK Basic Law (a sort of mini-constitution) states that, "Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" are eligible to claim permanent resident status. This means they would have the right to vote, that they are free from any condition of stay (including limit of stay), that they cannot be removed or deported from HK.

However, there is an Immigration Ordinance that was passed (in 1997, after the hand-over) that prohibits--specifically--foreign domestic workers from claiming permanent residency status. It is not right that this immigration ordinance supersedes the Basic Law, and that is what the three families who have brought the suit are claiming.

A statement of the Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body on this issue points out that "upholding this right [could not be] destructive to Hong Kong [because] a just society can only be built and really prosper when the collective rights of people enshrined in national laws such as the Basic Law and international human rights agreements are respected." The statement comes as a response to the many erroneous and exaggerated claims by politicians that should the migrants' case be upheld, the strain on Hong Kong's physical and social structures would be too great for the city to shoulder.

So where do Christians stand on such hot button issues?

As Christians we are heirs of God's Kingdom along with the Hebrew people, who were given laws to live by through Moses and the prophets. Among these is this command: "And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). The root of this law is: recognize yourselves in others; love others as yourself. Sound familiar?

In the Gospel of John, after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an act of love and service, he tells his disciples, "“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Therefore, serving and loving others is how we are to live as Christians. 

Here at the mission, we serve migrant workers by assisting them in making claims against abusive employers or employment agencies. We serve them by recognizing their humanity and loving them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We serve them by advocating with them, by standing with them to claim their rights as human beings. No one should be treated in the ways that they are often treated. 

But let us not overlook the fact that the ones perpetrating such acts are also humans. They, too, deserve our compassion and love. Christ is in them as well. Let us do what we can to educate, to dismiss the atmosphere of fear and hate, and to reconcile ourselves to one another so that we may be reconciled together with God. 

As always, I invite your comments, thoughts, or questions. :)

Grace and Peace,

09 August 2011

quelle jour!

Today I went to Wan Chai to apply for a Hong Kong identification card. Since I am here on an employment visa I am eligible for this card, which among other things means that when I go through immigration I can go through the (much shorter!) HK resident line rather than the (extremely long!) passport holder line. I wasn’t sure what the process would be like, and when I finally got to the 8th floor of the Immigration Tower I stood for a moment looking around, trying to figure out the next step. Most everything is in Chinese and English, so it was rare that there weren’t instructions boldly printed on a huge sign.

After a few moments a young woman came up to me with slips of paper in hand. She looked official—with her HK Immigration Department lanyard and badge—so I told her I was there to apply for a card and not sure what to dot. She asked to see my passport so I showed it to her. Then she gave me a slip of paper and told me to come back at 2:45. It was 10:30 then. Yikes!

I wasn’t sure where to go next so I wandered the streets for a little while. I called Father Dwight and my boss Cynthia, both of whom were busy, so I just wandered around looking at signs and ended up in a little park nearby. Father Dwight called and I told him what was going on; he said to come to the mission until it was time for me to be at immigration. The nearest and cheapest transportation was the tram (we would call it a trolley) so after standing awkwardly on the platform looking at the tram map trying to determine which direction I needed to go, I hopped on. 

This, my friends, is a great way to see the city. I was only on for a few stops but I really think one Saturday I’m going to take it from one side of the island to the other. For one, it’s cheap, and another, it’s double decker so you have a good view. I hopped off at the platform closest to St. John’s and headed up to the mission.

We have quite a few interns right now—myself, two Chinese girls who are just finishing up a service term, another Chinese guy studying law at HK University, and another guy whose father is Chinese but his mom is British so he has dual citizenship. He’s here for a few weeks before heading back to school in England. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all! I stayed at the mission for a few hours, helped with some filing and then at 2 headed back to immigration.

You would think that a big city like Hong Kong would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Lines, horrendous waiting times, stuffy rooms. Happily this was not the case. I stood in a line waiting to go to reception for about fifteen minutes, filled out a form and waited in a small waiting area for about ten minutes, when my number came up on the screen I headed to the designated cubicle and had my thumbprints scanned and photo taken, waited in another small area for another ten minutes, scanned my thumbs again and that was it. I was in and out in 45 minutes. Had I phoned ahead or made the appointment online I could have probably gotten in quicker but I wasn’t aware of the option until I was actually at immigration. 

Since I was done so early I went back to the mission for a while. There were a few clients there who had appointments with other case officers but otherwise it was pretty quiet. I chatted with the other interns, and Stella, one of the Chinese girls, started talking about having sushi and this great website (www.openrice.com) where you can find great places to eat around town. So we looked and found a place in Tsim Sha Tshui (which is near where I live) and decided to go after work. 

I was glad to have plans and glad for some company. Lately I have just been coming home, using my computer, cooking dinner and going to bed. Not a bad routine but I am craving social interaction. So, I was glad to have a friend to go out with and break bread with. Breaking bread together is such a universal way to build friendships---feeds the soul and the stomach! 

The sushi was amazing, and we were in the biggest mall I’ve ever been to in my life. Stella was a good companion and after the sushi we went for some frozen yogurt. As we sat talking, an older blonde woman sat nearby. After a few moments she leaned over and asked “where she might find a curlin’ iron”… we suggested a few places and then I asked her where she was from. Maybe it was something in the way she said “curlin’ iron” or the fact that she needed one in general that tipped me off that she was from the south like me. Yup! South Carolina. Her husband came and sat with her and we struck up a conversation.

They are missionaries with an organization out of Charleston and have been all over the world serving in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. They are currently at a place in Seoul training missionaries (South Korea is actually the biggest deployer of missionaries, as I learned at orientation) and shared some stories with us. The lady was gracious and kind and her husband was spry and funny. I enjoyed chatting with them and wished them luck in finding the curling iron. While I am enjoying everything about Hong Kong, it was good to talk to someone familiar with home.

If you are following me on facebook I have uploaded some photos; it's kind of a chore to upload pictures to my blog AND facebook and it is easier to organize pictures there. I will still post photos here occasionally but be aware that there are probably more on facebook.

I invite, as always, your thoughts and comments!

Grace and Peace,

05 August 2011


"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together."
 -Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

I have to be honest here: I am uncomfortable with "helping" people. This might seem strange, considering my current occupation. But it's the bold truth--I tend to shy away from words like "fixing" and "helping." It's why the title of my blog is 'living and serving'... because I am intensely uncomfortable with 'helping people.'

I recently read an article by Dr. Rachel Remen that resonated with me: Helping, Fixing, or Serving? Here is an excerpt that more eloquently explains what I am getting at:

"Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.

Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.

Service is not an experience of strength or expertise; service is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. Helpers and fixers feel causal. Servers may experience from time to time a sense of being used by larger unknown forces. Those who serve have traded a sense of mastery for an experience of mystery, and in doing so have transformed their work and their lives into practice."

Dr. Ramen published that in the Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine, in 1999. While I learn much and use Buddhist meditation techniques in a centering prayer practice, I am a Christian and therefore cannot think about service without thinking about Christ, who "did not come to be served, but to serve."

At the end of our liturgy we end with:
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

We are called to love and serve as Christ loves and serves--to follow the commandments to love God and love one another. In serving others we serve God--we recognize that holy mystery that resides in all of creation. I hope you will seek out ways to serve--in small ways and not-so-small ways, because all service is service to God.

01 August 2011

UNIFIL Celebration

Hello Friends!

Yesterday I attended the 26th anniversary celebration of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) organization. (http://www.unifil.org.hk) One of the streets in downtown Hong Kong was blocked off, and the day was full of singing, dancing, and honoring people and organizations that contribute to the ongoing efforts of UNIFIL. The acts ranged from Filipino pop, American pop, dance numbers (both modern and traditional), and events from the sponsors.

Through its campaigning, UNIFIL fights for rights of migrant workers in the Philippines and abroad. The collection of organizations that are members of UNIFIL (including the Mission that I am serving) come together to lobby the governments of Hong Kong and the Philippines on issues that affect migrant workers and their families--wages, illegal agency fees, right of abode, etc.

I also attended the 8AM service at the Cathedral, at which I will hopefully be a server in the future. I have been looking over the manual for servers and will be going over it with Father Dwight on Wednesday.

Here are a few photos of the event. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions!

Members of the mission at the booth

two of the MCs announcing the acts

UNIFIL Banner (the organization is two months older than me!)

Ladies performing a traditional dance

Grace and Peace,