Read: For Starters (Part 3)
Anyway, babies here have it worse. They either never get a taste of breastmilk, or are weaned off before their first birthday because their mommies just don’t have the space to do “taboo stuff”. During my second week working at an ad agency, a locked door with the sign “ESTHER’S PRIVATE TIME” stuck on it stood between me and the pantry. I got the ad agency job less than a month after my job hunt began. I wanted to take a break from being a reporter, which took up so much of my time, I’d stopped writing. How come Esther gets her private time and I don’t? Who is Esther anyway? I guessed she was in charge of stock-taking, because cardboard boxes were stacked from floor to ceiling around the six by eight feet pantry. I fingered the electronic lock on the door. A few digits lit up, along with a row of Korean characters. The lock started flashing dangerously. Empty mug in hand, I knocked on the door. “Who is it?” Esther called out. “I would like some water, please.” After about a minute of fumbling, Esther, a pale, annoyed woman with bloodshot, bulbous eyes, opened the door. I apologised profusely for interrupting her private time. She tried to explain, “Just so you know, I’ll be using this room at a certain time every day.” I apologised again after haphazardly filling my mug. When I got back to my desk, I asked the intern, “Calvin, what’s ‘Esther’s Private Time?” Calvin’s usual toothy grin faded into a solemn look. “She’s lactating.” I opened my mouth to laugh at what I thought was another one of Calvin’s boob jokes and quickly closed it when he didn’t flinch.
I never saw Esther’s sign again. I figured, from Esther’s Instagram, that it’s because her kid has grown a reasonable size to get bigger but, not to grow up. I am permanently logged into one of the ad agency’s Instagram accounts, and spend my downtime tracking my colleagues’ profiles. In real life, Esther looks too young to be the owner of a selfie-free, baby- and cat-packed Instagram. Since our encounter in the store room, her bulbous eyes have shrunk to elegant, almond-shaped peepers. It was the post-pregnancy puffiness that made her look old and dumpy. She has now changed out of her black, stretchy dresses into structured, form-fitting fashion. Pale, bloodshot-eyed Esther has even begun smiling “goodbye” to me when I clock out every day! I searched her Instagram captions for her stance on the milk powder front, but, nothing. Since tainted milk formula became a thing in China, people from the mainland have been flocking to Hong Kong to stock up on it. Text messages from supermarkets and drugstores informing me of birthday deals all end with “IMF & selected items excluded.” Infant milk formula has become such a popular and prized commodity, it’s abbreviated, and hidden in STAFF-ONLY areas. Milk powder smuggling has become so rampant, the government has imposed a two-can IMF export limit. “Nobody walks out with more than two tins!” warn signs put up in drugstores and supermarkets. Funny how the government allowed mainlanders to have unlimited access to Hong Kong so they could keep the city’s economy afloat, but now resorts to imposing restrictions on everyone because the mainlanders have become too generous.