In Tai Po, two Sunday leisure groups use one coveted patch of riverside land: a wide pedestrian walkway that runs underneath the Po Heung Bridge.
The first leisure group, elderly Cantonese/Hakka card players, have claimed a makeshift fenced-off area and have filled it with old wooden tables and chairs. They spend Sundays playing low-stakes dominos in the shade cast by the bridge.
The second group, Indonesian domestic helpers, have claimed the opposite edge of the underpass. They spread out blankets on the concrete ground, kick off their shoes and spend the day snacking, laughing, singing, dancing, praying and relaxing.
(Background on ‘helpers’ for those outside of Hong Kong: ‘Foreign domestic helpers’ live and work in Hong Kong as housekeepers on domestic worker visas. Sunday is their usual day off and with no homes of their own to relax in — domestic helpers are legally required to ‘live-in’ with the families they work for — they fill Hong Kong’s public spaces.)
Between these two groups, the card-players and the helpers, the main pedestrian walkway is kept clear.
For several years these two groups appeared to share this public space very well. A few months ago, however, I noticed that the helpers had started playing louder than usual music. Another day I noticed them giving speeches to each other using a tinny microphone system.
For several weeks I have passed through looking from the helpers to the card-players. The noise from the helper side was at times deafening. I slowly developed deep sympathies for the card-players.
This Sunday I saw something different. The helpers were set-up with their blankets and snacks. The card-playing area, however, was completely empty except for one old man. He sat sprawled on a chair facing the helpers. Next to him was a large, silver boombox pointed towards the helpers. The boombox was absolutely blaring Chinese music.
Several hours later I revisited the area. The card tables were full of players. The blankets were full of women laughing. Neither side was playing any music.