An Indonesian maid seems to have a natural talent for languages, having learnt Mandarin in Taiwan in three weeks, becoming fluent in three years, and now she also has Cantonese under her belt.

Herma Ekawati, who came from Sumbawa Besar in Nusa Tenggara Barat, had been applying her knowledge of computer skills at an Indonesian hospital before she landed a job in Taiwan as a maid three years ago. 

“The monthly salary for hospital workers in Indonesia was about HK$1,000 (US$128), which was significantly lower than working as a domestic worker in Hong Kong,” Ekawati told Asia Times in an interview.

The minimum wage for domestic workers is HK$4,310 in Hong Kong and NT$21,009 (US$697) in Taiwan.

Ekawati, who has neither learnt Mandarin or known any relatives who could speak the language, said she managed to be able to speak the Chinese language after living in Taiwan for just three weeks.

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And when she arrived in Hong Kong 18 months ago, she also learnt Cantonese without any difficulty.

“I don’t know how I learnt the Chinese language,” Ekawati said in fluent Mandarin, the official language in Taiwan, which is similar to Putonghua in mainland China. 

She was able to speak fluent Mandarin during the entire interview with Asia Times. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, many domestic workers learnt to speak Cantonese or Mandarin.

Being able to speak Mandarin was an advantage for her amid the closer economic relationship between China and Indonesia, but she did not have any plans to work in mainland China, she said, adding that she knew nothing about the one belt, one road initiative, renamed as Belt and Road, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

In late April, Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Hong Kong and met 5,000 of his compatriots, including domestic workers and businessmen. He then joined the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, seeking more Chinese investments.

Better future for her children

Ekawati said she was planning to return home after the current two-year contract expired because by that time she would have saved enough money to start her own restaurant as she likes to cook. 

She said she would then have more time to be with her parents, five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son at home.

She said she hoped her children would become professionals when they grew up so they would not need to work overseas. If there are other choices, she does not want her daughter to work as an overseas domestic worker.

Ekawati is a volunteer in a program sponsored by PT Bank Mandiri, which encourages Indonesian maids in Hong Kong to save money and start their own businesses when they return home. She teaches domestic workers about computing in Lok Fu in Kowloon every Sunday.

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