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Hong Kong

We are invisible

Written by Chan Yau Nga Alpha / Translation by Ng Hon Wah / Photo by LEI Jih-sheng

Pulling a cart with her left hand and holding a box with her right, with big and small bags hanging off her shoulders, 60-year-old Maymay, staggers and wanders the streets alone every night looking for shelter. In the very early hours of the morning, she enters a McDonalds. All she wants to do is lay down all her baggage and find a spot without glaring lights, where she can spend the night resting her head and arms on a table. Compared with the all the baggage she carries, the life she has gone through is even more burdensome.


Maymay, who was born at the grassroots level, was poor when she was a child. It is often said that knowledge can change fate and lift people out of poverty. However, although she had a strong desire to learn, she was suspected to be suffering from dyslexia. In the end, she passed only one subject during the school certificate examination. Under the encouragement of her teacher, she studied part time but only at evening school as she worked as a salesperson during the day. Biting the bullet, she gradually established a life.


She got married at the age of 30. And though the marriage could be regarded as a good one, her husband had a strong desire to control her. Two years later, her daughter was born. It was then that her husband showed his real face and his attitude towards her deteriorated. When her daughter turned one, she couldn't stand it any longer and decided to separate. In order to make a living, she became a tutor, and realized it was her dream to be a teacher.


After deliberating over the pros and cons, she eventually returned to her husband in order to fulfil a mother’s duty. But because she couldn't give up her educational dreams, she had to plan in secret to set up a tutorial school. She hoped to help the grassroots and fringe groups, such as the youthful delinquents and suicidal school children. 


However, paper can't be held with fire and eventually, her husband found that she incurred credit card debts for buying teaching material. One day, her husband, together with a group of friends, forcibly cleared her belongings from her residence. Furious, she stormed into the room and took a lighter from the drawer. She held up her apron and pretended to ignite it. During the confrontation, her husband had called the police and a police tactical unit squad arrived quickly with shields. They pinned her to the ground and sent her to hospital for treatment. The psychiatrist said she was suffering from personality disorder and so she eventually spent two years in a private residential home for the disabled.


Once she was discharged, she rented a sub-divided unit of sixty odd square feet, which was infested with bedbugs, and made it impossible for her to live there. She began to wander the streets, but didn't dare be so reckless as to sleep on the streets, she could only go to McDonalds which operated around the clock.


Whenever she walks into McDonalds, countless eyes are on her, be it the staff, customers, cleaning workers or homeless people. Some cover their noses and leave. There are others who are infuriated and feel that they have "been robbed of their territory” and angrily throw the food trays at her, “I am scared all the time while I am sleeping.” 


Looking around, she sees many female and young homeless people, for whom she has compassion for. Were it not for her own suffering, she definitely wouldn't have been so sensitive to the underprivileged. And so, she started to take part in self-help organizations to serve rehabilitated patients, grassroots, street-sleepers, etc. “I hope to bring them together. If you support me, I will support you. If the government does not care and people are not heard, it is difficult to arouse society’s concern. Better to be united,” she said.


We ask about her hope for the future, upon hearing the question, she says with a bitter smile, “The government seems not to have seen us at all, as if we are invisible.” Loudly and clearly with every word, she says, “It doesn’t mean if you have hope that you fight for it. You will not fight forever; it will always end in zero. Instead of waiting, waiting and waiting, why not do something about it?”

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