Saturday, 2 November 2013

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Jennifer Liu of Caffe Habitu experiences what it's like to make minimum wage
It's a pity that Radio Television Hong Kong doesn't have its own TV channel because the programs it presents are enlightening, educational and informative.

The government-funded broadcaster finished its series today that invites wealthy entrepreneurs to literally walk in the shoes of those less fortunate and experience first hand what it is like to eke out a living.

At the end of September the Hong Kong government finally set the poverty line at 1.31 million people, though it arrived at this number by halving the median household income. A new study by British and Hong Kong academics says there are another 160,000 who find it hard to have three proper meals a day and have to forgo social activities in order to financially survive.

And so this RTHK series perfectly illustrates the challenges (to say the least) that a large number of people in Hong Kong go through on a daily basis.

I have only seen two of the episodes with four or five in total.

Last week featured Jennifer Liu, owner of the Caffe Habitu chain of coffee shops around the city, and from the family that owns Choong Hing Bank, and tonight's episode featuring Richard Eng who owns a tutoring school.

Superstar tutor Richard Eng decides to help those in need
Liu had to do away with her CEO status and work in house keeping at Holiday Inn Express and then live with different people in conditions that were hardly five-star accommodation.

She quickly learned how tough it was to clean a room not only as thoroughly as possible, but also quickly. When her rooms were inspected, she didn't fold the bedsheets nice enough.

During the show she met people who lived in different places, mostly subdivided flats with kitchen and bathroom conditions that weren't very clean. However the people she interacted with were open and honest with her.

Towards the end of the program she met people living in sad conditions very close to where her flagship coffee shop was. She was shocked to realize that people barely able to financially survive were only living around the corner and had no idea they were there before.

She asked them why they paid such expensive rent, but they explained that since they worked in the restaurant business, they worked long hours and they didn't want to spend too much time commuting as all they wanted to do was to lie down and rest as soon as possible.

Tonight's show featured Eng and his daughter Stephanie who goes to an international school in Hong Kong and so she constantly spoke using English to express herself. He gave up his Lamborghini and designer threads to do jobs from working in a hairdressing salon to delivering goods around the city.

Stephanie tried working in a Japanese ramen place, but made many mistakes including spilling food all over a customer. She also experienced going to class in a local school for a day.

Meanwhile Eng periodically met students who were otherwise academically doing well except for English. They could not afford English tutoring as they were in difficult situations, such as one young man whose mother collected garbage in an apartment building. He told Eng how one time she woke up at 3am and turned on the light so it woke him up too. He could see that she was holding her hand because it was in so much pain, but she didn't cry out but instead tears rolled down her cheeks.

One of the girls had dreams of becoming a nurse but the family obviously could barely afford extra help. She and her sister asked Stephanie what she did on the weekends and she said she sometimes baked a cake or went out to watch movies. They told her they had hardly ever seen a movie in a theatre because the HK$50 ticket was too expensive.

This shocked Stephanie because she never thought that going to see a movie was a financial strain, and something that everyone did for fun.

Eng bravely managed delivering goods -- he had to work fast but it was a physical strain on his body. He only did it for a few days but it gave him a greater appreciation for people who have to sacrifice their education to put food on the table. It reminds him of when he grew up in a public housing estate and his family had barely enough food to eat.

In the end he decided to offer English tutoring lessons for free and he hopes this will get off the ground in January with free old textbooks from other tutoring schools.

We need more TV programs like this one to not only show the general public how the poor survive in Hong Kong, but also people's reaction to it and how they try to find solutions to alleviate some problems.

In Eng's case he believes education is so important, but also constantly telling the students they don't have to be scared of English, that he can help them, and with practice they will overcome their fear of the language. Only then can they get closer to their goals and dreams.

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