Monday, 23 November 2015

McRefugee S'porean mum homeless in HK after losing saving


For years, her son had feared the worst. Had his missing mother been kidnapped? Murdered?

Ms Mary Seow had disappeared more than four years ago, abandoning her only child, Mr Edward Goh, then aged 24. She had suddenly sold their home, a four-room flat in Boon Keng.

But after years of silence and a missing person's police report, a surprise: Ms Seow has been living on the streets of Hong Kong as a "McRefugee", Mr Goh learnt from news reports over the weekend.

related:
Singapore McRefugee in HK speaks to son in emotional
Son surprises S'pore McRefugee mum with HK visit
McRest for Hong Kong's homeless | The New Paper

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Missing Singaporean woman reunites with son after AP story on Hong Kong's 'McRefugees'
Mary Seow holds a boarding pass after she checked in with her son, in the background carrying a backpack, at the airport in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Seow, a Singaporean woman who went missing nearly five years ago, has been reunited with her son after her plight was reported in an Associated Press story about people who sleep at 24-hour McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Mary Seow disappeared after selling off the family home in Singapore. She said her ordeal began when she was swindled by people from China whom she met at a church in Singapore. They had persuaded her to sell her house and go with them to mainland China to invest the money in their transport business, but when she arrived she realized it was all a scam.

She decided to stay in China and try to earn back some money, including by working as a street sweeper. She eventually ended up in Hong Kong, where she has spent the past three months living on the streets and finding some work doing what is known as "parallel trading," carrying diapers, baby formula, chocolate and other branded goods across the border to resellers in mainland China.

Seow said she hadn't wanted to return to Singapore because she was mortified that she had lost the family home and didn't want to face her son.

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How an AP reporter helped a Singapore 'McRefugee' in Hong Kong
Associated Press/Vincent Yu - In this Oct. 29, 2015 photo, two men sleep with their belongings at night in a 24-hour McDonald’s branch in Hong Kong. The recent death of a woman at a Hong Kong McDonald’s, where her body lay slumped at a table for hours unnoticed by other diners, has focused attention on the city’s working poor and homeless people, dubbed “McRefugees,” who spend their nights at the fast food outlet’s 24-hour branches. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

When Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan wrote his feature story on “McRefugees”, a term used to describe homeless and poor people who stay overnight in McDonald’s outlets in Hong Kong, he did not think there would be much reaction from Singapore.

A week later, his story has helped 60-year-old Mary Seow reunite with her son, Edward Goh, whom she had not spoken to in about four years. Chan had been going to different McDonald’s outlets around Hong Kong for a photo gallery with AP photographer Vincent Yu, and together they had gone to a McDonald’s in Jordan, a road in Kowloon, on a Monday night.

“I bought a McNuggets combo meal that I was going to offer to one of them to break the ice,” Chan said, adding he had noticed a woman in the corner whom he decided to talk to first.

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S'porean Mcrefugee mom and son reunited

Thanks to readers of The New Paper, Singaporean Mary Seow was able to leave her harsh life in Hong Kong and return to Singapore with her son.

Arriving yesterday evening on a Jetstar Asia flight, with tickets sponsored by the airline, the 60-year-old smiled shyly as she emerged from the luggage collection area at Changi Airport's Terminal 1.

With her was her only son, Mr Edward Goh, 28, who flew to Hong Kong on Friday morning for a surprise visit, with the help of several kind TNP readers.

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Son surprises S'pore McRefugee mum with visit in HK & $22 lunch
TOGETHER AGAIN: Ms Mary Seow, 60, allowed herself a rare treat of snacks to celebrate her reunion with her only son, Mr Edward Goh, 28

She turned the corner and stopped in her tracks.

Ms Mary Seow, 60, could not believe her eyes. Her only son, whom she had last seen in person more than four years ago, was sitting on a bench just metres away. The single mum had abruptly sold the flat she shared with her son, Mr Edward Goh, some five years ago.

She then became uncontactable shortly after leaving for China for business in 2011. Mr Goh filed a missing person's report later that year. He found out only last week through news reports that his mother was living in Hong Kong as a McRefugee - a homeless individual seeking overnight shelter at 24-hour McDonald's outlets.

related:
Mum, no need to be sorry: Man realises S’porean McRefugee is estranged mum
McRefugee: 'Despite all this, he's still standing by my side'

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AP's 'McRefugee' Story Helps Reunite Singaporean Woman, Son
Mary Seow holds a boarding pass after she checked in with her son, in the background carrying a backpack, at the airport in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Seow, a Singaporean woman who went missing nearly five years ago, has been reunited with her son after her plight was reported in an Associated Press story about people who sleep at 24-hour McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A Singaporean woman who went missing nearly five years ago has been reunited with her son after her plight was reported in an Associated Press story about people who sleep at 24-hour McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong.

Mary Seow disappeared after selling off the family home in Singapore. Family members reported her missing, but her whereabouts were a mystery until she was quoted in the AP story on Nov. 12 about people known as "McRefugees."

Seow was just one of an untold number of homeless and working poor spending their nights at the 120 McDonald's restaurants open round the clock in Hong Kong.

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Singapore man finds mother missing for 4 years living among McRefugees in Hong Kong
For years, her son had feared the worst. Had his missing mother been kidnapped? Murdered?

Ms Mary Seow had disappeared more than four years ago, abandoning her only child, Mr Edward Goh, then aged 24.

She had suddenly sold their home, a four-room flat in Boon Keng.

But after years of silence and a missing person's police report, a surprise: Ms Seow has been living on the streets of Hong Kong as a "McRefugee", Mr Goh learnt from news reports over the weekend.


MFA offers assistance to Singapore ‘McRefugee’ in Hong Kong

Associated Press/Vincent Yu - In this Oct. 30, 2015 photo, a man, who has been sleeping at night in a 24-hour McDonald’s branch in Hong Kong, prays outside the restaurant.in Hong Kong. The recent death of a woman at a Hong Kong McDonald’s, where her body lay slumped at a table for hours unnoticed by other diners, has focused attention on the city’s working poor and homeless people, dubbed “McRefugees,” who spend their nights at the fast food outlet’s 24-hour branches. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

The Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong has located  and offered assistance to Mary Seow, the Singapore “McRefugee” who was interviewed in an Associated Press story on working poor and homeless people spending their nights in McDonald’s outlets in the territory. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also in touch with her family in Singapore, a MFA spokesman said on Saturday (14 November).

Seow’s plight was highlighted after another woman, a 56-year-old identified by Hong Kong police by her surname Lai, died in one outlet and went unnoticed until the next morning.

According to the AP, Seow said she had been swindled by mainland Chinese “friends” she met in a Singapore church. The 60-year-old widow sold her house and followed them to China to invest the money, which she claimed was depleted in five years.

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We're slummin' it: McDonald's restaurants become makeshift homeless shelters across Hong Kong... because staff are not allowed to throw people out

Homeless people in Hong Kong are turning the city's McDonald's restaurants into makeshift shelters


With its 24-hour openings and warm, cheap food, McDonald's is a popular destination after a night out. But in Hong Kong, those qualities have unwittingly turned its restaurants into makeshift shelters for the city's homeless population.

Some of the city's poorest residents are now spending the night in one of the city's 235 McDonald's restaurants and staff say they are powerless to stop them.

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One night at McZzzzs
Two McRefugees spend the night in the central portion of the restaurant on Nov 14, unabashedly lying across the cushioned benches with nothing except a free cup of water to justify their stay. Photo: The New Paper

It is just past 11pm and some are already slumped over tables, while others lie sprawled across cushioned seats, shoes kicked off.

In the background, orders for burgers, fries and chicken nuggets ring off at the counters. But the dozen or so "McRefugees" - typically homeless people seeking shelter in Hong Kong's 24-hour McDonald's outlets where staff are known not to kick them out - seemed oblivious to the bustle and occasional stares.

And nobody seemed to mind the McRefugees turning the dining area into a public hostel.

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The night time 'McRefugees' of Hong Kong
Earlier this month, an elderly homeless woman died in a crowded Hong Kong McDonald's restaurant. No-one noticed her for seven hours. The BBC's Juliana Liu spent a night in one 24-hour restaurant to meet the people the city has dubbed "McRefugees"

On a major road in the working class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, a pair of bright yellow arches beckons visitors into a 24-hour McDonald's outlet. Spread out over two floors, it is spacious by Hong Kong standards.

As night falls, the fast-food restaurant becomes a temporary hostel, attracting dozens of the city's poorest people.

Although similar crowds can be found at McDonald's outlets all over Asia - especially in Japan and mainland China - an aging population, unaffordable property prices and stagnant wages all conspire to make the problem particularly acute in Hong Kong.

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McRefugees illustrate plight of HK's homeless
This is what the hard ground beneath Hong Kong's social safety net looks like

It is the dusty floor of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, a cardboard sheet in the shadows of the grand Peninsula Hotel.

It is the plastic chair of McDonald's restaurants.

It was at the latter that a middle- aged woman was found dead earlier this month, slumped over a table. For seven hours, staff and customers at the outlet in Ping Shek Estate, Kowloon Bay, swirled around her body, clearing trays and eating burgers, before someone called the police.

related: Woman sits dead for hours in Hong Kong McDonald's

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Hong Kong's McRefugees

Dubbed "McRefugees," they sleep in 24-hour branches of the fast food chain, which offer a clean, safe and free refuge found in few other places in the southern Chinese business hub. More than 120 of the company's 253 Hong Kong outlets operate around the clock.

In a statement, McDonald's Hong Kong said "we welcome all walks of life to visit our restaurants any time."

It added that it tries to be "accommodating and caring" to customers who stay a long time in restaurants "for their own respective reasons."

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McRefugee
McRefugees is a neologism and McWord referring to those who stay overnight in a 24-hour McDonald's fast food restaurant

The term was first created in Japanese language: マック難民. (That term has been largely replaced by ネットカフェ難民, literally "net cafe refugee".) In Japan, most McDonald's restaurants are operated around the clock. Due to unemployment and high rents and transportation costs in Japan, McRefugees are forced to stay at a McDonald's overnight.

The phenomenon and word spread to Hong Kong as 麥難民, where some McRefugees play video games and are known as McGamers. McDonald's opened 24-hour branches in mainland China in September 2006, which quickly attracted McRefugees.

On March 19, 2010, a McRefugee in a McDonald's at Xujiahui, Shanghai was told by a member of McDonald's staff named Li Feng not to sleep in the store. Li was then stabbed with a knife in response. He died of the wound.

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Lonely McDonald's death highlights 'McRefugees'
In this Nov. 10, 2015 photo, two men sleep at night in a 24-hour McDonald’s branch in Hong Kong. The recent death of a woman at a Hong Kong McDonald’s, where her body lay slumped at a table for hours unnoticed by other diners, has focused attention on the city’s working poor and homeless people, dubbed “McRefugees,” who spend their nights at the fast food outlet’s 24-hour branches. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

As other diners in the McDonald's enjoyed their Big Macs past midnight early last month, no one noticed the middle-aged woman who appeared to be sleeping at her table. The woman, wearing a grey coat and slippers, abruptly slumped over at about 1:20 a.m., according to surveillance camera footage.

It wasn't until the next morning that a customer found the woman was cold and unresponsive. The police were called at 8:30 a.m., about 24 hours after the woman first entered the restaurant, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

The death of the woman, identified by police as a 56-year-old surnamed Lai, has focused attention on the growing number of working poor and homeless people spending their nights in McDonald's. Dubbed "McRefugees," they sleep in 24-hour branches of the fast food chain, which offer a clean, safe and free refuge found in few other places in the southern Chinese business hub. More than 120 of the company's 253 Hong Kong outlets operate around the clock.

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Homeless woman dies at McDonald's branch in Hong Kong, remains unnoticed for more than seven hours
A homeless woman who sought refuge at a McDonald's branch in Kowloon who slumped over and died went unnoticed by staff and customers for more than seven hours

According to SCMP, the woman entered the Ping Shek Estate branch of McDonalds at 8:39 a.m. on September 2. CCTV footage shows that while seated near the bathroom, the woman suddenly collapsed over a table at around 1:20 a.m. yesterday morning.

It was not until later that morning at around 8:30 a.m. that a McDonald's employee called emergency services after finding the woman unconscious and cold at the table. She was confirmed dead at the scene. In the 24 hour period that she was in the restaurant, no customers or member of staff approached the woman to see if she had a problem.

The restaurant remained busy as police arrived on the scene. The area she had sat in was cordoned off and customers continued to sit inside and eat. Her body was taken away to a mortuary through the back door at around 11:30 a.m.

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Homeless woman's corpse was sat in a McDonald's for seven hours before anyone realised

Forgotten: The woman was found in this McDonald's restaurant in Hong Kong, and may have been dead for up to seven hours before staff noticed

A homeless woman lay dead at a Hong Kong McDonald's restaurant for hours surrounded by diners who failed to notice her, sparking concern over the city's 'McRefugees'.

The woman, who police say was in her 50s, was found dead on Saturday morning, and may have been dead for as long as seven hours.

She has been held up as an example of the growing number of homeless people who seek shelter in 24-hour restaurants.

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Homeless woman lay dead in Hong Kong McDonald's for hours

The woman was thought to have regularly spent nights in the McDonald’s. Photograph: Anat Givon/AP

Local media said the woman was slumped at a table, 24 hours after she first entered the restaurant in the working class district of Ping Shek

She had not moved for seven hours before fellow diners noticed something was wrong, according to Apple Daily, citing CCTV footage.

The woman was thought to have regularly spent nights in the McDonald’s, said the South China Morning Post. The city’s social welfare department said it was highly concerned about the incident.

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In Hong Kong, a crowded restaurant, a death unnoticed and ‘McRefugees’


As she neared her final breath, people around her were contemplating ham n’ cheese burgers and hotcakes.

At 8:39 a.m. last Friday, the 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, was as busy as always. No one paid any attention to the middle-aged woman with short black hair and black-framed glasses, dressed in a gray jacket and slippers, who sat down at a table near the bathroom.

Early Saturday, at 1:20 a.m., the woman abruptly slumped over. Other patrons remained unconcerned, scooping Oreo McFlurry chunks into their mouths as they indulged in a late night snack.

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Woman dies in McDonald’s - but diners eat around her for seven hours before anyone notices

Customers in a McDonald’s sat eating their meals alongside the body of a dead woman for seven hours before she was noticed

The homeless woman, aged between 50 and 60 years old, was discovered in a 24-hour McDonald’s in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong.

Footage from CCTV showed the woman entering the restaurant at 8.39am the previous day - 24 hours before she was found dead - and sitting at a table near the bathroom, the South China Morning Post reported.

At 1.20am the following day, she suddenly slumped over the table. Nobody paid her any attention and customers continued to eat their late-night meals around her.

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Woman sat in McDonald’s for hours was actually dead
Homeless people are using McDonald’s as a last resort (Picture: Getty Images, for illustration only)

A woman who could not afford rent sat dead at a McDonald’s table almost all night before people realised something was wrong. The homeless customer was dubbed one of the city’s ‘McRefugees’, who have nowhere to live because of Hong Kong’s exorbitant rents and so spend nights in the safety of all-night restaurants.

She was surrounded by diners but nobody tried to help her until 8.30am on Saturday – a whole day after she came inside, the South China Morning Post reported. Police say the woman was between 50 and 60, and had spent nights at the fast food chain in the working class district of Kowloon Bay before.

At 1.20am on Saturday she suddenly slumped over the table, the Morning Post said, claiming nobody paid her any attention as customers ate their late-night meals around her.

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McRefugees Are McSleeping and McDying in Hong Kong's Many 24-Hour McDonald's

This story, from the Associated Press, has the odd and rare quality of being deeply disturbing and sad while also being, I dunno, weirdly uplifting? As a not-entirely-comfortable glimpse of humanity in the post- and anti-human world of international corporate sprawl? Whatever. It’s late.

McDonald’s Hong Kong, on the other hand, takes a different view of things:
In a statement, McDonald’s Hong Kong said “we welcome all walks of life to visit our restaurants any time.” It adds that it tries to be “accommodating and caring” to customers who stay a long time in restaurants “for their own respective reasons.”
They can now add “to die peacefully” to the list of reasons.

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13 heartbreaking images of Hong Kong’s ‘McSleepers,’ homeless people who live in McDonald’s

McRefugees are the latest phenomenon shining a light on the staggering property prices crippling major cities around Asia.

As rental and property prices continue to soar in Japan, China, and Hong Kong, people who have solid educational and family backgrounds, and full-time jobs, are facing no option but to seek refuge in the countries’ 24/7 branches of McDonald’s.

Reuters photographer Tyrone Siu visited one of these restaurants in Hong Kong and captured saddening images that show the reality, for many, of life in the city.

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McDonald’s staff allegedly ridiculed elderly woman for not having money

McDonald's Singapore has tried to make it right for customers who may not be “lovin’ it”. In response to media queries on Wednesday, spokesperson for McDonald’s Singapore Ms Carolyn Khiu said it has counselled and disciplined its staff who reportedly shouted at and “mocked” an elderly lady at its Toa Payoh Hub branch.


News of this incident went viral after Ms Si Ti posted about it on Facebook (which has since been taken down but shared on All Singapore Stuff), sharing how she was approached by an elderly woman with a hunched back who asked if she could buy her some chicken nuggets and a hot milo drink.

"The staff kept screaming and threatened to call the police to chase her away. She blatantly announced that this old lady comes to the restaurant regularly and would ask strangers to buy her a meal. The staff even told me off for wanting to pay for the meal, saying that by doing so, I was encouraging this old lady to keep returning," she wrote. "When I insisted, she refused to take the old lady's orders and would proceed only when I personally made the order," she added.

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McDonald's says staff who shouted at elderly woman in Toa Payoh outlet disciplined

A spokesperson for McDonald's Singapore has said the company has counselled its staff members who allegedly shouted and "mocked" an elderly woman at its Toa Payoh Hub outlet. The incident was widely shared on Facebook after it was posted by a user on Sunday evening.

Ms Carolyn Khiu, director of Corporate Communcations for eCommerce and Customer Relations at McDonald's, responded to media queries on Wednesday, saying "their actions were contrary to our customer service policy".

"Firstly, let us be the first to acknowledge that our crew could have managed this better. Their actions were contrary to our customer service policy. The crew members involved have been counselled and disciplinary action has been taken," said Ms Khiu.

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Full Coverage:
Mum, no need to be sorry: Man realises S'porean
Son surprises S'pore McRefugee mum with visit in HK & $22
The night time 'McRefugees' of Hong Kong - BBC News
AP's 'McRefugee' Story Helps Reunite Singaporean Woman
McRefugee - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Singapore McRefugee in HK speaks to son in emotional
AP's 'McRefugee' story helps reunite Singaporean woman, son
How an AP reporter helped a Singapore 'McRefugee' in Hong Kong
Homeless woman found dead at Hong Kong McDonald's 24
McDonald's - Singapore Seen - Stomp
McDonald's staff allegedly ridiculed elderly woman for not
Homeless woman lies dead for hours at a McDonald's in HK
MFA offers assistance to Singapore 'McRefugee' in Hong
How an AP reporter helped a Singapore 'McRefugee' in
McRefugee Singaporean mum homeless in HK after losing
McRest for Hong Kong's homeless | The New Paper
One night at McZzzzs, AsiaOne Asia News - News @ AsiaOne
McDonald's restaurants become makeshift homeless
Homeless woman dies at McDonald's branch in Hong Kong
Homeless woman sat dead at McDonald's table in Hong
Homeless woman's corpse in McDonald's for 7 hours in
Homeless woman lay dead in Hong Kong McDonald's for
Homeless woman lies dead for hours at a McDonald's in HK
In Hong Kong, a crowded restaurant, a death unnoticed and
Menacing monkeys steal McD's food from kids, bananas
Woman dies in McDonald's - but diners eat around her for