Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district has long served as an open door to drinking, drugs and exotic entertainment. Every Sunday, however, the district transforms into a mass speed dating hub for Western men and foreign domestic workers. This phenomenon is known locally as “Sunday Funday”.
From as early as 9am on any given Sunday (usually the only day a week Hong Kong’s domestic workers get off), Western men, customarily white, and the city’s maids, typically Filipino and Indonesian, are engrossed in dancing, drinking and discourse in the bars along Lockhart and Jaffe Road.
However, the majority of the domestic workers attend Sunday Funday with the different incentives to the men. Some women hope, even expect, to find more than just sex.
Karen, the manager of the famous Coyote Bar and a former domestic worker from the Philippines, describes the typical Sunday female punters.
“We have regular customers who come here to look for Western men,” she said. “The police get rid of some girls who overstay their visa; their only solution is to get married.”
Kate, who is currently single, came to Hong Kong from the Philippines and seems to fit the stereotype. “I don’t want a Filipino husband. I prefer Western men,” she said. “ I’m 47 years old and a good Western man is hard to find here.”
But while many domestic workers are indeed hoping to find a husband, most are not naive about the intentions of some of their suitors.
“Not all [Western men] are good,” says Sho, a Filipino domestic helper who frequently goes to Wan Chai on Sundays. “Not all of them are nice.”
A DJ at The Queen Victoria in Wan Chai added that most Western men come to the pub on Sunday for nothing more than a good time. “They don’t come to get married because they are already married.”
John, who moved to Hong Kong from England seven years ago, said many of the women he meets in Wan Chai are seeking more than he can provide.
“I’ve been married for 22 years. I can only see my wife six to seven times a year,” he says. “I never take her down here the places I hang out to avoid the other women I’ve met.”
“I come down here for female company. Sex, it’s like eating for men, and you need to eat… Most of them know I’m married, but they would have something more if they could.” John continued.
“Most of the domestic helpers live one step away from slavery… But I love my wife and I would never do anything to hurt her, and I don’t plan on leaving her.”
Although finding marriage, or indeed love, in such a hopeless place is definitely no easy task, some have been successful in their endeavours.
Ellen Howard has been in Hong Kong for almost 20 years. She met her husband in Wan Chai after coming to the city as a single mother from the Philippines.
“He was 48 and I was 25 when we got married…. He liked the way I smiled… He is from America and he is a very good husband,” she said. “I didn’t want a Filipino husband. Filipino men are lazy. I don’t like lazy!”
Howard, a former domestic worker and now the owner of Ellen’s Salon in Central, says that most of her regular customers are domestic workers.
“They come in to look good for Western men,” she said. “They come in to look good for the wedding of a friend who’s marrying a Western man, hoping to find a Western man at the wedding… Many of them go to Wan Chai on Sunday. ”
For some women, though, true love, and not simply marrying a Western man, is the ultimate goal.
Amore, who has worked in Hong Kong as a maid for three years, says that while she is single, her primary goal is to find a good man, regardless of where he is from or how much money he has. “I don’t care what race he is, as long as he treats me as a reflection of his mother,” she said.
Mya added, “I would prefer a Filipino man; Filipino men are the best because they tend to be more religious. They know how to treat a lady. I dated a Western man who had a lot of money. But there was no love there. I don’t go for money.”
It seems clear that, at least in Wan Chai on a Sunday, the domestic helpers looking for something serious out-number the Western men looking for anything more than sex. But many women we met remain quietly optimistic that they will find a long lasting and stable romantic relationship in Hong Kong’s most notoriously naughty neighbourhood.
They say there are just enough examples of success to keep them coming back at the end of every week.