MAY 20 — A Youtube video featuring the life of a Hong Kong tai tai made its rounds this week on Facebook and an online expat forum to much loathing — and sympathy.
The 12-minute documentary by FreedomLab TV kicks off with a voiceover saying, “If I stay in Hong Kong all my life I will be more material... like the typical Hong Kong woman... buy luxury clothing or designer handbag.”
I can identify with that statement. Four years on, my husband still can’t understand what happened to his budget-friendly wife who used to shop at the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Another voice continues from the first speaker, providing the definition of this curious creature: “Tai-tai is the wife of a rich man. She does not need to work, and has a lot of leisure time. She can have whatever she wants.”
The sole interviewee is a mother of three children who live abroad. She looks straight into the camera and begins by introducing herself: “My name is Gloria Chor. I am a Hong Kong tai tai. I have no work.”
While commentators have been quick to point out the futility of the tai tai’s existence, it is easy to take a liking to Chor. She is friendly, forthcoming and unapologetic. Her bright, wide smile seems shy at times even as she displays her collection of python designer bags on her fur bedspread.
She shares her humble past, where she lived in a dwelling without a toilet. The bucket once collected by the night soil man is now replaced with a $30,000 (RM11,152) automated toilet bowl fitted with a fan to remove any offending smells.
As the camera tracks her daily ritual, the viewer is transported from beauty salons to the gym, from the racing course to the glitzy mall and around her luxurious Bel Air apartment.
She doesn’t care much for designer watches and jewellery but wears them anyway because if she doesn’t, it would appear as if her husband cannot afford to buy these luxuries for her, she explains.
Like Chor, I am a “no work” (read: stay-at-home) mum. The only similarities we share is that we are mothers and we live in Hong Kong. I will argue, like most SAHM, I do work. A lot.
Let’s see how I stack up:
8.15am: I begin my day with a wake up call from a sleepy-eyed four- year-old who says he is hungry, followed shortly by my five-month old.
9am: Unfortunately for hungry boy, breakfast is only served 45 minutes after he wakes. It’s a case of mother and daughter first where the sole loo in this apartment is concerned. Hungry boy is also slow boy as he takes an average of 45 minutes to consume a meal.
10am: Homework followed by playtime at home. Meanwhile baby girl enjoys some cuddles before going down for a nap.
11am: It’s a mad rush to prepare lunch, have lunch and get son ready for school.
12.25pm: I lift baby girl gently out of bed so we can walk big brother to the bus stop. She wakes. So much for the Me time I was looking forward to.
1pm: Next, it’s off to the market or supermarket for groceries. My summer get-up consists of flip flops, shorts and T-shirt. I am no glam-ma’am (wish I was!). My fingernails are crying out for a trim while my month-old pedicure is beginning to chip. Make-up is optional, though I attempt lipstick so as to not be mistaken for a domestic helper.
Chor may have a Ferrari and a Merc but I have my Octopus card. We catch the bus into Aberdeen. I sport my red cotton shopping bag with bright pink peonies on it. The Birkin will have to wait for my next lifetime.
Wish shoppers would stop touching baby girl’s cheeks and fingers. Some folks prod raw meat and fish (itchy fingers testing for freshness). When I can carry no more, we catch the bus home.
2pm: Baby girl and I fold the laundry on the bed (she tries to help by putting them to her mouth). We play some more. Try to get her to have another nap so I can prep for dinner. She naps for 30 mins.
3.45pm: Time to pick up big brother. Scoop up little one from bed, rush down to bus stop.
4.10pm: Tea time. Baby girl sucks on table edge as I feed hungry boy. He has regressed to asking to be fed since just before baby girl was born.
5pm: Play time. This time we head downstairs where he gets to race around on his scooter with friends. I wear baby girl in the baby carrier or push her in the stroller, depending on whether there are little girls around wanting to “push the baby.”
6pm: Children magically disappear from the play area. We head home. Baby girl has her bath, feed and it’s bedtime.
7pm: Son settles down to his favourite cartoons while I cook. Hubby comes home, gives son a bath.
7.45pm: We sit down to dinner. Plain rice is the star of the night. Dishes. Laundry.
9pm: Hour-long bedtime ritual begins for son. My favourite, as the three of us lie in bed reading together.
10.30pm: A bit of TV to unwind. Okay, a lot of TV.
I mentioned sympathy at the start of this article. Chor is the quintessential poor little rich tai tai. In a touching moment at the nine-minute mark, she crumbles when talks about the closeness she used to share with her husband.
Would I trade all this for shopping, lunch dates with the girls and a workout at the gym? Sure! I want to be a tai tai, no shame there. But not just yet.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.