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Jun Concepcion and Aileen Alonzo of RTHK's Pinoy Life

Freelance journalist Jun Concepcion (left) and musician Aileen Alonzo (right) are the presenters of “Pinoy Life,” an RTHK 3 radio show targeted at their fellow Filipinos—especially those working as domestic helpers. They chat to Yannie Chan about being seen as outsiders in the city, and the problems many domestic helpers face.

Aug 15, 2013

HK Magazine: What difficulties do you face as Filipinos in HK?
Aileen Alonzo:
It’s surprising how many people assume that you’re a domestic helper when you tell them you’re Filipino. Whenever I buy something at the market, the shopkeeper asks me if I need a receipt for my employer. I don’t mind it, but they do treat you differently once they find out that you’re not.
Jun Concepcion: I’ve been asked a few times by friends from Manila why staff of yum cha restaurants seemed to be throwing plates and utensils on the table, and if they were welcome in those restaurants. But every Sunday I feel like I’m in Manila. Everywhere I go, there are Filipinos. Sundays are much better than during the week.

HK: What are your thoughts on helpers gathering on Sundays?
They meet in Central because there is no space for them to go. Where else can they find a place to sit down and chat with their friends?
JC: The government should use underutilized school buildings as shelters where helpers can spend their days off. There is one in Kennedy Town, but it is underused because it’s some distance away.

HKM: Why make a radio show for Pinoys?
I used to have a lot of relatives who were here as domestic helpers. They had a hard time finding someone to ask about placement fees and red-tape bureaucracies, especially in The Philippine Consulate. They are hesitant or afraid to ask for help. It’d be much easier for them to approach someone more relatable.

HK: In terms of Hong Kong dollars, helpers don’t earn that much. Does it translate to a lot more back home?
Not at all. Because of our culture—you have to support your family, even your extended family, if you work abroad. I pay for my sister’s studies. But it’s true most of the Filipinos who work here have really big and nice houses back in The Philippines. When you go to my town, you’d know which one of them has Filipinos working abroad. If you have $20,000, you can start revamping your old house.

HK: What happens when helpers return to The Philippines?
If they don’t set up a new source of income, and their family has been relying on them, they’ll be sitting ducks. They’ll be poor again.
AA: They’re used to domestic work, so when they go back they’re not qualified for office jobs even if they have the degree, because their line of work in the past 20 years has been domestic work. A segment in our show advises on how to set up small- to medium-sized businesses that are really realistic, such as backyard fishponds and cooking lessons.

HK: So, should domestic helpers be granted right of abode?
Of course, Hong Kong has to think about the social infrastructure as a whole. If they do give right of abode to all workers, that’s an added number of people to support. But if they don’t, the Filipinos will feel more alienated: that they’re in Hong Kong, but they don’t feel like they’re in Hong Kong. It’s very hard to take sides.

HK: What’s the best Filipino restaurant in town?
There’s a restaurant in Wan Chai. Cinta-J [Shop G4, Malaysia Building, 69 Jaffe Rd., Wan Chai, 2529-6622].
AA: They do Filipino food really well. They have lechon, which is a pig roasted with Coca-Cola or Sprite. The skin is super yummy. They also do very good crispy pata, which is deep-fried pig’s leg with crispy skin and meat.

Tune in to Pinoy Life every Sunday from 4-6pm, on RTHK Radio 3 and online. Meet the pair on Facebook.

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