[Marxism] 2 Worlds of Hong Kong, and a Fatal Intersection

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 21 07:48:18 MST 2014


(A blood-curdling tale.)

NY Times, Nov. 21 2014
2 Worlds of Hong Kong, and a Fatal Intersection
By MICHAEL FORSYTHE

HONG KONG — The banker, Rurik George Caton Jutting, a Cambridge 
graduate, came from London in 2013, one of thousands of expatriates who 
arrive in Hong Kong every year to pursue jobs in banking and burnish 
their résumés with Asia experience. Mostly men, they often live 
expense-account-subsidized lives in luxury high-rise apartments, 
patronizing trendy Western bars at night and socializing at members-only 
tennis and yacht clubs on weekends.

The women, Seneng Mujiasih, 29, and Sumarti Ningsih, 23, also came to 
Hong Kong to better their lives. Leaving poverty in rural Indonesia, 
they were among the city’s more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers, 
mostly women from Southeast Asia, earning as little as $530 a month 
cleaning houses and caring for children and old people, six days a week, 
17 hours a day.

Their worlds collided, the authorities believe, in the garish neon bars 
of Hong Kong’s red light district of Wan Chai, where Asian women, often 
current or former housemaids, earn extra money selling overpriced drinks 
and furtive sex to foreign men.

The encounters ended with death in Mr. Jutting’s apartment. Ms. Seneng’s 
body was found by the police in the early morning of Nov. 1, with cuts 
to the throat and buttocks. Ms. Sumarti was found hours later, her 
decomposing corpse stuffed into a suitcase on the balcony. The police 
said she had died on Oct. 27.

Mr. Jutting, 29, who had called the police, was charged with two counts 
of murder. He is now being evaluated to determine whether he is mentally 
fit to stand trial; if convicted, he would face life in prison.

The police have released few other details. How Mr. Jutting met the 
women, the nature of their relationship and investigators’ theories 
about the motive for the killings are not publicly known.

But interviews with friends, relatives and acquaintances, as well as 
extensive records left online by the suspect and the victims, yield a 
detailed portrait of a side of this financial capital that is rarely 
seen. They tell the story of impoverished immigrants who, trapped by 
harsh work rules that relegate them to second-class status and desperate 
to support families at home, were drawn to the bars of Wan Chai, and a 
banker who had a great deal of expendable income, and, according to his 
Facebook page, an abiding interest in young Asian women.

Seneng means “happiness” in Javanese, and Ms. Seneng tried to bring some 
to her family, sending money home every three months to help them build 
a house, pay for her mother’s diabetes medicine, buy a bed.

A friend, who did not want to be identified because she has started a 
new life in Indonesia and does not want her Hong Kong history 
publicized, said she and Ms. Seneng held two jobs in Hong Kong, working 
part time as domestic servants during the day and as prostitutes at 
night. At places like the New Makati Pub & Disco, a dimly lit 
second-floor walk-up bar, they could make as much as $100 on a busy 
night by encouraging men to buy drinks, and more than $250 for sex.

It was a double life that Ms. Seneng, who also went by the name Jesse 
Lorena, seemed to embrace. Photos on her Facebook profile show her as a 
fun-loving woman who liked to hang out at Hong Kong nightclubs and post 
sexually suggestive photos that drew admiring comments. But other photos 
show her fully covered in Muslim dress, a head scarf over her hair.

The friend said the maid’s job was enough to pay for room and board but 
left nothing to send home. Working the bars in Wan Chai seemed the only 
way. “We didn’t want to be like this forever,” she said.

Like Ms. Seneng, Ms. Sumarti, called Aliz by friends, was by far the 
biggest breadwinner in her family, sending the equivalent of $300 every 
month to help pay for the care of her son, Novan, who turns 5 this 
month. She left school at 13. She had worked as a servant here, came 
back on a tourist visa and was to have returned to Jakarta on Nov. 3. 
Her family said she had recently taken a D.J. course in Jakarta. “She 
made me happy,” said a friend, Susiati. “She had to take care of her 
son, and it wasn’t easy.”

Mr. Jutting had been working in Hong Kong more than a year, after 
starting at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London in 2010, in the 
derivatives unit. He was “well regarded and a hard worker,” a co-worker 
said, and liked to travel to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia on 
weekends.

With four years of experience, he would have been earning $600,000 to 
$800,000 a year, according to a banker familiar with the company’s 
compensation.

Ms. Seneng and Ms. Sumarti would have had to work 100 years as domestic 
servants to earn what Mr. Jutting made in a year. Meager as their wages 
were, they catapulted the women far beyond their worlds at home. Ms. 
Sumarti’s father, for instance, earns about $2 a day helping neighbors 
tend their rice fields in central Java. His own small rice plot brings 
in about $400 a year.

The gulf between the haves and have-nots in Hong Kong is among the 
world’s widest. This gap is reinforced by laws that rights groups say 
institutionalize a caste system among foreigners, putting expatriate 
business people like Mr. Jutting at the top and migrant workers such as 
Ms. Seneng and Ms. Sumarti at the bottom.

Domestic servants, called helpers, cannot apply for permanent residency, 
which businessmen like Mr. Jutting qualify for after seven years. And 
they are subject to a special pay scale, with a wage floor that works 
out to about two-thirds less than Hong Kong’s minimum wage of $3.87 an 
hour. The law also makes their lives here dependent on remaining in the 
good graces of their employers. If dismissed, they have 14 days to leave 
the country and must pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to 
placement agencies to arrange a return.

Facing those hurdles, and dismal job prospects back home, some dismissed 
servants decide to overstay their visas. Such was the case with Ms. 
Seneng, who had overstayed her domestic servant visa by three years, 
according to the Indonesian Consulate. With no right to work in other 
professions, some end up in Wan Chai.

“There are a million and one ways to exploit the migrant domestic 
workers, especially from Indonesia,” said Norma Muico, a researcher for 
Amnesty International who focuses on migrant rights. “If they come out 
of this with a successful migration, it’s due to luck, because there are 
so many ways it can go wrong.”

The building where Mr. Jutting lived in a 31st-floor apartment is a 
four-minute walk from the bars on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai, where aging 
madams, paired with heavily made-up young women in short, skintight 
skirts, grab passing men by the arm. They beckon them to come in and 
converse with the Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian women inside.

Robert Van den Bosch, 47, entertainment manager for the Queen Victoria 
pub on Lockhart Road, said he had known Ms. Seneng for two years and had 
identified her photos to the police. He said that she had worked at bars 
in Wan Chai where men would buy her drinks. She would get a cut from the 
bar, about $2 to $3 a drink. Working six days a week, she could earn as 
much as $580 a month, more than a housemaid’s salary, he said.

The last time he saw Ms. Seneng was on the night of Oct. 31, hours 
before the police say she was killed. She gave him two kisses, as usual, 
and said she was off to the New Makati a few doors down. By then Mr. 
Jutting had stopped showing up for work regularly had gained weight, his 
co-worker said, adding that on Oct. 27, Mr. Jutting resigned.

On the night of Oct. 31, about the time Ms. Seneng was saying goodbye to 
Mr. Van den Bosch, Mr. Jutting posted what was to be his final public 
Facebook entry before his arrest. Citing an article about a study 
showing increasing happiness in countries with growing economies, he 
wrote, “Money DOES buy happiness: Growing wealth of Asian nations is 
making their people happier — but women are more content than men.”

It is not clear how Ms. Seneng ended up in Mr. Jutting’s apartment.

On Nov. 9, about 200 people, mostly Indonesian women, attended a 
memorial service in Victoria Park. Ms. Sumarti’s friend, Susiati, sat on 
a blanket, wearing a surgical mask to hide her face. She and a cousin of 
Ms. Sumarti’s held photos of the two dead women. White roses were laid 
out in front of them.

A Muslim cleric, Muhammad Faisal Firdaus, offered a prayer and a eulogy. 
“They are accused of being sex workers, but it is not known why they do 
so,” he said. “See them as human beings.”

Joe Cochrane contributed reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Yenni 
Kwok and Alexandra Stevenson from Hong Kong.




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