I didn’t know you were here

“In India there is only the white business – that is the garment”, the dealer says, and between his thumb and index finger he rubs the sleeve of his t-shirt, “or the black business – that is the hashish.” He grins and hands me a joint.

We sit in a concrete courtyard surrounded by half a dozen high-rises. There’s laundry hanging from a thousand window grills. Around us, like corn cobs spread out to dry on the concrete, about 30 Filipino women are laying, sleeping in their jackets, chit-chatting quietly, plucking each other’s eyebrows, facetiming home. 170.000 migrant workers from the Philippines live in Hong Kong, most of them are housemaids or cleaning ladies.


“They are here from 8 to 8, every Sunday. It’s their only free day”, the dealer says. He is 25 years old, fragile frame, carefully groomed hair sprinkled with grey. He came to Hong Kong to find a different line of work, something that’s not black or white. But that didn’t work out, because after five years he still has no work permit. Instead he found a drug lord from his hometown somewhere in the belly of Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong’s “bourgeois Ghetto”, two minutes from here.

“I want to work, man”, he says. He stubs out the joint and then starts to roll another one. It looks as if all the energy that drained out of the bodies of the Filipino women has accumulated in the dealer’s restless bones.


Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world. It’s also one of the most unequal; it’s just that in Hong Kong, you can’t see the inequality. There is no slum at the edge of the city. There’s no area the taxi driver refuses to drive you to. Here, if you don’t earn a shitload of money you simply disappear. In the basement of a high-rise. In Chungking Mansions’ big belly. Or in a boarder house for Filipino women at the city’s fringes.


As it gets dark, the dealer goes back to black. I go home. The following morning at 8, there’s a knock at the door of my friend’s apartment. It’s the Filipino cleaning lady. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were here”, she says.