Honey Grace Minaves follows a herd of hundreds of Filipina women, all navigating their way through a maze of back alleyways in Hong Kong’s Central district. Eventually they turn into the narrow lobby of an unmarked building, where Honey Grace patiently waits her turn to squeeze into one of the small elevators.
A dozen pint-sized Filipinas cram into the lift that would be a tight fit for five grown men. The elevator ascends past floor after floor, each with a distinct theme: shoe warehouses, consignment shops, beauty pageant rehearsals, and – for Honey Grace – a hair salon.
“I don’t have a boyfriend, that’s why I cut my hair,” says the raven-haired woman as her hair is styled. “I cut my hair so that I can find someone.”
Honey Grace is one of tens of thousands of Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong who pamper themselves in hopes of finding love on Sundays – the one day of the week when they are usually off.
But one day a week is not enough time for romance, and the women are resorting to online dating sites to be courted.
“U r beautiful”
Arneli Agarrader is a 42-year-old domestic helper who has lived in Hong Kong for nearly 15 years. She is seen as a dating mentor to most of her Filipina friends, and when referencing her own knowledge, the pride in her voice is unmistakable.
There are two types of Filipinas who date in Hong Kong, she says: “The types that go to Wan Chai nightclubs to meet foreigners, and the ones that meet men online.”
Many single Filipinas go into online dating because of circumstance rather than choice. In addition to being only allowed to go out on Sundays, many also have an early evening curfew during the week, eliminating any opportunities to explore Hong Kong’s nightlife.
According to Filipina helpers interviewed, the most frequented avenue for online dating is Facebook – an unsurprising note when considering 93 percent of Filipinos are active on social media, the highest rate in the world, according to Local Measure – a social engagement platform.
Arneli says that a man’s typical approach is to find a Filipina’s profile on Facebook, woo with the message “U r beautiful”, and hope that she trusts him.
But commencing a courtship isn’t limited to social media. After becoming accustomed to attention from strangers on Facebook, Filipina women – more confident and comfortable – begin to explore dating sites such as www.asiandating.com or www.areyouinterested.com.
However Arneli warns that men use online dating sites to swindle both Indonesians and Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
She herself narrowly escaped being defrauded of HK$5,000. A man she met online claimed to be from the UK and told her he was planning a trip to Hong Kong to meet her. He even posted his flight ticket on Facebook, which she excitedly shared with her online friends.
“They (the scammers) speak to you like a gentleman and then they pretend they want to come to Hong Kong. I was new to online dating – and I believed him,” she recalls.
She arranged his hotel booking, planned their itinerary and waited eagerly to pick him up at the airport. But he never arrived.
Instead, she received a call from the man, from a Malaysian phone number. She says he claimed he was being held by immigration during his layover in Kuala Lumpur, and that he wouldn’t be able to catch a connecting flight to Hong Kong unless she sent him HK$5,000. A few men also came on the phone to say they were customs officers needing the money.
But her suspicions quickly shifted to anger. “I said, ‘You leave me alone bastards! Or I’m calling the police!’” she recalls.
He never phoned again.
Searching for love amidst distrust
Yet despite the heartbreak, the possibility of love inspires Arneli to scour the dating sites once more and to venture into Hong Kong’s Central district on Sundays; walking out on the idea of love is too much to bear.
Honey Grace toyed with online dating but can’t decide if it’s her preferred route to love.
“It’s exchanging sweet words, but I don’t think it’s for me. It’s just a fling,” says the youthful 37-year-old with a giggle.
Initially, she swore off online dating but when we spoke to her one week later, she couldn’t contain her excitement over an American man she met on an online dating site.
She pulls out her phone and shows a picture of her new beau. “Do you think he’s handsome?” she asks.
As she carries on discussing what she fancies about him, her grin is unable to mask what so many domestic helpers feel in Hong Kong: suspicion that she is being exploited for money or labour.
“In our world, it’s very difficult to trust any[one],” she says.
Despite this, Honey Grace, with her beaming smile and wide-eyed views on love, hopes her off-putting distrust and quest for love will some how reconcile themselves.
“I haven’t been dating much in Hong Kong yet but I hope I will. If I have that, I am the most happiest girl,” says Honey Grace.