When women work together, they can achieve truly incredible things.
May is a very special month for the women in our life. Not only are we celebrating Mother’s Day, but also Helper Appreciation Month. In honour of this, we sat down with two incredible women. Sarah Vee, the Hong Kong Mama doing whatever it takes to unite the Women of Hong Kong, and her wonderful mother Agnes. From arriving in the city as a domestic worker to managing some of Hong Kong’s leading nightlife venues, Agnes paved the way and inspired Sarah to pursue her passions. In Agnes’s own words, “Family is everything. It’s my life. From the bottom of my heart, it’s all of them. They are the most important things to me.”
“No matter what, we don’t quit on each other.”
If things get bad, we can love our family members from afar, but we never quit on each other. No matter how long it takes.
Sarah recalls her childhood growing up in Hong Kong…
The strongest memories from my childhood were when Mom and Dad would throw huge family parties. All the titas and titos and our grandparents would come, with all their kids.
“The world would just disappear as we were having such a great time as a family.”
While Agnes shares Sarah’s early passions for leadership
After long nights at work, I’d be trying to sleep while your grandma and aunties were watching TV, and you’d keep the house in order, telling them to keep quiet.
Sarah adds “Ha! I was already so bossy!”
Sarah shares her memories of her Mum…
She was a big hustler. Day and night, she would dedicate everything she did to her kids. Whether it was cooking, cleaning, or wrapping up birthday gifts. One time, she made 30 custom-made goodie bags, DIY goodie bags, for all of my classmates because it was my birthday.
“I feel like, not just as a parent, but as a woman in the events industry, I’ve taken what she used to do for me and brought it to the members of Women of Hong Kong.”
I would always try to find goodie bags to make sure nobody walks away empty-handed for any events that we do. But mostly as a parent, I learnt as a parent what you meant by unconditional love. It’s hard sometimes when there’s a conflict with your child. You kind of want to say, “I’m done. I quit being a mom today.” But you can’t quit. You just have to really understand what love means from a child to a parent and back, from a parent to a child. And it doesn’t mean crossing boundaries, but it means having to make difficult choices because it benefits the child more than yourself.
But like any family, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing…
Our family has gone through a lot of rough patches, and we even had a few years where we didn’t talk to each other. After reconciliation, my mom gifted me this necklace that says, love. And I know she knows this, but it’s a piece of jewellery that she also had when she first could afford gold jewellery in Hong Kong. I remember looking at this symbol and I’m really proud to have it. I love you, mom.
Agnes shares her journey… From arriving in Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper…
It was 1986, and I was only 19 years old. I came to work and to have a better life. In the Philippines, I didn’t see a big picture or a future. So I decided to come to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper. Fortunately, I had very good employers who treated me like their own daughter. I was only 19 years old after all!
That started my journey here in Hong Kong. Then my boyfriend followed me out after a year we got married here and after a year, I got Sarah.
Working as a domestic helper is not challenging for me, because it’s like my home. I was taking care of three kids and I loved them so much.
To go on to manage some of the city’s leading nightlife establishments…
After I gave birth, I worked for a restaurant as a waitress. I moved through different restaurants and bars until I started at Joe Bananas when it was famous and in its prime. Sarah even celebrated her 10th birthday there!
I worked there for fifteen years and made a whole lot of connections. Big, high, low, all this, decent, indecent. Everything’s there. I see the whole world of Hong Kong in Joe Bananas. And I’ve seen all different nationalities, every single accent, I heard.
So many celebrities passed through the doors, from Bruce Willis to Jackie Chan and big business owners. I’ve seen it all.
For Sarah, it paved the way for her future…
Seeing my Mom throw all these events and manage an establishment that was very popular, for both celebrities, local and international, taught me how to manage events in the future. Everybody knew her name. They’d say “Your mom’s Aggie?” and I’d have to plead for them not to tell them I was sneaking in.
But more than that, she always had people’s experiences in mind when you were throwing a party. She’d have me help create all the materials and designs for events.
“Unknowingly, she paved the way for me and gave me the skills required for Women of Hong Kong to flourish, and be successful.”
And it was me with hands full of glitter in the room with my Mom, thinking I was capable at the age of six.
Like her mum, Sarah had a child in her early twenties…
My friends and family were really, really supportive. When the news came out, it was great because, for somebody who got pregnant at such a young age,
“I was extremely confused, I felt lost and I felt vulnerable to a point where I would probably take anybody’s advice. My mom was my number one advisor.”
She said, “Don’t make any brash decisions. We have time. We have time. We’ll take it one step at a time. Whatever you decide, we will support you.”
And that meant so much to me. I found community first through my mom. And the people that she was around. I really do believe you are who your friends are. My mom had amazing people around her, she had wonderful sisters who were so supportive. So before Women of Hong Kong, I had my family.
If you could give your child one thing from your own upbringing, what would it be?
Something that I had that I want my child to experience as well is what it’s like to be in a Filipino family, through celebrations, hardship, whatever it is. They said this joke once, “When you date a Filipino, you date their whole family.” And I think this applies to every Filipino, I know he’ll have that same experience of family, knowing that, no matter what, there’s always that one circle you can always run to. My brother would have his back, and so would my 500 cousins! It would be that.