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Thanksgiving: Unsung Cleaning Heroes Post-Covid 🧹🧼

Thanksgiving is an occasion to show our appreciation to those who make a positive difference in our lives. The perfect occasion to appreciate the unsung heroes of our neighborhoods who work diligently to make our ‘hood a better place to live in—the street cleaners and gardeners. The cleaners work doubly hard in the post-Covid hypervigilant era of incessant sanitizing in public and private spaces and taking real risks to their health to keep ours low. They ensure that our Hong Kong remains a clean and well-maintained city which we are so proud to call home!

Source: Hong Kong Shifts per article titled “Hong Kong Shifts Exclusive Photo Journalism Series: Street Cleaners Of The City”

During the Covid and post-Covid times, some among us have the luxury of working from home or at least have the option to. The cleaning warriors, however, just armed themselves with a face mask and bottles of sanitizers. For them, it was business as usual and they get about with their work without complaint.

One sunny brisk stroll along the Central waterfront promenade, we came across Ms. Lau cheerfully gathering up a barrelful of rubbish by the seaside. Having worked for over 10 years, she shared that she enjoyed working outside and breathing the fresh air, though it could be sweltering hot outside in 30+ degrees C weather in the summer and clad in the thick synthetic cleaning uniforms. Her working hours were 7 am to 4:30 pm with a 30 minute lunch break which is spent on the pier footbridge. Her gripe was that the free masks she received from her employer were not as good as store-bought models which can keep her secure from catching Covid when picking up fallen masks. On a meagre cleaning worker’s salary, she would rather buy masks herself rather than use the free masks.

Central Waterfront Promenade. Source: Saravanan Subramaniam

Further along the path, we met a pair to cleaning workers being photographed by their supervisor while cleaning railings on the footbridge. We find it curious that they need to give evidential proof of their work. It seems that even cleaning workers need to meet KPIs—we encounter a few cleaners who refused to be photographed or interviewed because they were busy picking up trash or cleaning surfaces as though their lives depended on it. There was no time to rest for these public sanitation stewards – their mission was to fill up their assigned barrels each morning before the lunch shift.

One of the many barrels for cleaners to fill. Source: Saravanan Subramaniam

A common refrain from the cleaners was that they were not concerned about the hazards of picking up masks and unsanitary items from public spaces as they had no choice to pick and choose which rubbish to clean. Also, an advantage post-Covid for cleaners was that it’s now more orderly and less crowded so rubbish could be collected from the bins instead of having the elderly cleaners pick them from the ground.

Mr. Lam, gardener at Tamar park. Source: Saravanan Subramaniam

Mr. Lam was an affable gardener who was one of the few who agreed to be photographed. He was proud of maintaining the Tamar park greenery and knew some of the names of the plants there. A retired construction worker, he was grateful for securing his gardening job and was in excellent health at 75 years old. It was a bright spot in his life that he could contribute his part in cheering up Hong Kong people’s lives through gardening at Tamar park. Retiring soon, he hoped to continue gardening in his home.

For a contracted substitute cleaner working along the Central promenade, he shared that he took up the job to help make ends meet as he did not have enough income as a restaurant worker during the worst of the Covid times. He felt grateful for being able to support himself in these tough times and for having a non-airconditioned resting area near the LegCo building during his break.

In Hong Kong, there are about 13,200 cleaning workers either as government workers or working under independent contracts according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Cleaning workers make up less than 1% of Hong Kong’s total population but are responsible for doing our dirty work. While they are thankful for their cleaning job, let’s show more appreciation for their work in this season of Thanksgiving.

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