Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Op-Ed, TODAY/abs-cbnnews.com
March 1, 2004

It is nighttime in Hong Kong and the drizzle which began early in the morning has not stopped. Buildings wink with moisture while the shadows of early vening blend with the fluorescent glow of Hong Kong's billboards and the general glimmer of wetness.

It is winter and in a shopping center in Hong Kong Central, a lanky woman is wearing an elegant warm-looking beige coat with soft amber piping. The woman is a model of femininity fronting the display of chic designer, Salvatore Ferragamo. She is wearing brown gloves that look equally elegant and which bears a hue that matches her well-pressed trousers. Her back is straight and a shoulder is slightly dipped; her head is tilted faintly and her eyes seem to be fixed on a far away unseen object while a muted pearl grey handbag hangs loosely from one of her hands.

The woman is a pageant by herself but she is not your usual Ferragamo model. In truth, despite the fact that she is more striking than the mannequins clothed with modish wear lining the shopping center's walls, the woman is sitting outside the designer's display window, her head leaning on the glass and her shoes - sneakers, really - far from her feet and far from the elan of Ferragamo's designs.

The woman is a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong and she is sitting with other Filipinas outside the mall on translucent plastic sheets that keep away the dampness of the sidewalk. Many are eating, some are playing cards and talking animatedly, and a few are looking through concrete walls, temporarily dissociated from the moment.

It is a Sunday, the day off from work for most of Hong Kong's foreign migrant workers.

I approach the woman in the beige coat and ask her for directions to the Tsim Sha Tsui-bound ferry, which I knew was just a few minutes away, and I ask her for her name and where she's from. "Elena," she said. "From Bulacan. The ferry is over there so you turn right at that corner and walk a few feet and you'll see the ferry sign which you just need to follow." I nod and she smiles and looks away once more. "Kain?" [Join us for a bite?] a woman in Elena's cluster asks me almost immediately in typical Filipino fashion, the question genuine. I decline politely, saying I had to be in Kowloon very soon.

I walk on and in seconds I pass by more clusters of Filipinas sitting on similar plastic sheets along covered sections of pavement. Many are also eating and playing cards. At the edge of one group a young woman in a black sweater is hugging her knees and swaying and kissing her ring. Or is she biting her knuckles? She is blinking slowly, repetitively, and she looks ad and her head is bowed and the pendant on her necklace is dangling gently. As she sways, her ornaments catch the sharp gleam of the tiny halogen lamps above her illuminating the small window display of Bulgari fine jewelry.

One set glitters radiantly, and another radiates melancholy.

Ferragamo and Bulgari.

Two classy names synonymous with timeless fashion, if the followers of today's fashion world are to be believed. Who knows? Maybe the late Blas Ople was a secret student of the two icons while he headed the Ministry of Labor and Employment during the martial law years.

Ople who, in a move to arrest the disintegrating Philippine economy which was threatening to disrupt the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, designed a class-based policy of such panache it would remain the fabric of choice of the Philippine government decades after the collapse of the dictatorship: the export of people, not products, to unfamiliar shores.

The export of Filipinos is still the rage today.

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