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