Cooking for Families, Happiness for Me - Jessie 

戴雪殷TAI Suet Yan


In the kitchen, there were sound of water stream from washing up and a cheerful humming mixed together. 

The water stream stopped, Jessie came out of the kitchen humming. She put on a amiable smile, wiped her hands on her top and greeted us in English. 

When Jessie was being asked about what languages did she use in hometown, she took over a piece of paper and used her roundish handwriting to jot down four Filipino languages. It is quite common for Hongkongers to know two to three languages but Jessie knows even more. 

“Ilocano, Bisaya, Ilonggo, Tagalog and English.” Jessie counted her fingers and said. 



“My dad speaks Ilocano , my mom speaks Bisaya and My husband speaks Ilonggo. Tagalog is our official language. English is taught in primary and high schools in the Philippines.” Being in a multilingual environment since very young, Jessie did not feel odd but it is full of harmony within the family.

Bukidnon has a reputation of the food basket of Mindano. Its capital is the city of Malabalay. Jessie’s home is located in southern part of Malaybalay ---- Sto. Niño. Sto. Niño is warm and humid with sufficient rainfalls, and its fertile land and fields are perfect for crops.

Before coming to Hong Kong, Jessie was a housewife. When she finished her housework, she would go help her husband in the field. They mainly grow rice and corns. Buyer would go to Jessie’s house regularly to pick up the crops, place it on his head and bring them to the market for sale. If it is a good harvest, Jessie’s family would have extra income.

“We can get three pigs! It’s three!” Jessie put out three fingers, her eyes were wide open with a grin.

Some harvested crops are sold and some are reserved for food for the family. With three pigs they got from income of the harvest, they can put more dishes on the table.

On the dining table in Jessie’s house, rice is there for every meal because working in field burns through tremendous amount of energy. Rice is a necessity since there might not be enough ingredients to make the next meals, then they had to save some and heat them up for the next meal. Dish for the rice is mostly a plate full of stir fry with pork and chicken; with the all these food , just to stuff their stomach full to be ready for work in field.

To improve the livelihood of the family, Jessie decided to leave the beautifully green Bukidnon to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong.When she left, her daughter was only thirteen and son was only five.

“ Mommy has to work in a foreign country, I can only come back once a year.” Jessie told her two children directly without any modification in words to protect their feeliings.

For Jessie having to work somewhere far, the two children did not throw a tantrum. Jessie always had to intervene when the two would fight and argue for a TV show, but this time they were just so understanding and promised that they would behave.

Jessie left for Cagayon de Oro without worries and boarded the plane with a destination to Hong Kong.

When we asked Jessie how she felt when she first arrived Hong Kong, she leaned forward and put her hands together.

“ I was extremely excited!” Jessie’s voice raised, so did the corner of her mouth. Both of her hands moved as she spoke,” It was my first time leaving the Philippines to a foreign place, to an international metropolis like Hong Kong.”

Jessie’s eye opened wider with sparks in them as if she went back to the very first time arriving in Hong Kong with her hands opened wanting to capture everything in her arms.

Jessie’s smiley face turned into a frown when we asked about her first employer. “Oh!” she sighed.

In the first employer’s family, the children go to school and adults are working. Most of the time, she stayed with the grandmother in the family. Only the father in the family can communicate in English. Jessie was not able to contact her family all the time and she had no one to talk to in the cramped house. The light yellow wallpaper could not warm up Jessie’s heart. The loneliness and anxiety started to swallow her bit by bit. At midnight, Jessie curled up on the couch and was again sleepless. She missed home and tears started to run down her face.

Lastly, Jessie terminated the contract. She would be sent home if a new employer was not found within fourteen days. Three days before being sent home, she met her current employer.

“She wants to find someone who is not scared of dog and takes care of Sunny.”

Sunny, the Shiba Inu, lied on the floor with his white fluffy tummy up kicking his legs.

“Why would I be scared?” she waved her hand and smiled, “there are lot of dogs wandering around my home in the Philippines.”

Sometimes, when homesick strikes, Jessie would think about returning home. Then she reminded herself the purpose of coming to Hong Kong to get a better life for family, she suppressed the impulse of wanting to return to the warm and lovely home.

“Returning home suddenly costs way too much!” Jessie put out her left hand and counted each finger with right hand. With her head shaking, she said “I have to buy this and that, airplane tickets and so on. It is just too expensive.”

Jessie uses mobile phone to contact her faraway families. The current employer allows her to meet up with her friends from the same place once she finishes her work at home. In these meetups, they would have some Filipino prawn crackers to reminisce their homes. Jessie evicts her homesick with the familiar taste of food and refill her energy for continuing the work in Hong Kong.

Jessie loved to use fish sauce when cooking at home. Small fishes and shrimps are washed, deboned and crushed. The mixture will be placed in a bottle with a lot of water and salt added. Seal the bottle and place in cool dark place for fermentation. The fish sauce can be readily used in a week.

The fermented fish sauce is rich in glutamate, therefore, it has a savory uamai flavor. People who have not tried it would think it smells unpleasant. Mixing fish sauce in food, the savory and sweet flavor will seep through the rice and ingredients, bring out the fresh flavors hidden in the ingredients.

Jessie travelled to overseas, experienced the searching stage and got through the loneliness, found a suitable job, a home in Hong Kong and a way of living. Jessie used her wages to renovate her originally small tin shack. She also purchased another hectare of field which doubles her family income. But Jessie is not yet to return home.

“I will work in Hong Kong for another six to ten years because I want to help my mom get back the land she sold to other. If my children want to pursue higher education, I will help them as well.”

When being asked about anything she would want for herself, she raised her eyebrows and giggled. “I don’t really want anything for myself. I like the way it is now.”

Translated by 廖杏怡LIU Rachel Hang Yi 



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