• Audrey Chin

What the maids and foreign workers get up to AND why I’m not appalled


Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks, whirljack.net


I’ve been mooning about quite abit in our neighbourhood park recently.There was the mid-Autumn blog series and my looking for inspiration from  the trees, the fresh air and of course the moon. And then there was my grand-dog, whom we get to dog sit whenever my daughter and son-in-law are away. Both imperatives necessitated lots of  circumnavigation around our park.

We live in one of those decidedly middle class estates where there’s a mix of HDB flats at the fringe, and then private condominiums, terrace and semi-detached houses and modest 10,000 square feet bungalows further in. The area was first occupied by university lecturers and professionals who are now being replaced by bankers with adolescent children, flush with cash.

Our estate’s Construction Central

The new buyers invariably tear down the perfectly good 2,000 square feet 2 storey 1960’s house they’ve purchased to put up a post-modern 4,000 foot  3 1/2  storey high edifice with a lap pool and roof deck. On our short stretch of street, 10 houses long, we’ve seen 3 houses torn down and rebuilt in the last 12 months. I’d say, within the estates’ 2 square kilometers, we currently have at least 10 construction projects. That’s a lot of construction workers coming in and out of the area, and sleeping over at their worksites. Healthy young men with muscles from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia.

We’ve a whole community of home helpers

Being a middle class neighbourhood, almost every family has at least one home helper. We’ve got at least six hundred families living here, I’d estimate. That’s a lot of home helpers. Young women from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Myanmar, alone and far away from home.

Our park is Hookup Hub

The park nearest my house is just off the main access road. It’s the size of a football field, with shady trees, benches, and picnic tables. It’s reasonably lighted at night, but not too bright. It’s HookUp Hub for all the migrant workers in the vicinity.

The park has its diurnal rhythm. In the early morning, the old ladies come out for tai-chi, followed a little later by the maids with their dogs. It’s pretty much empty through the hot hours. But at four the children flood onto the swings and climbing equipment, their nannies, grandma’s and granddad’s with them. The wheelchairs are out then too, their helpers pushing along.

The park’s empty again at dinner time. And then…

Between eight to nine, that’s my time in the park. Also other middle-aged people who want to get an after dinner stroll in before going back to their televisions and computers. But gradually, as we move towards nine, the men appear. They’re alone or in pairs. They lounge on the benches, playing with their mobile phones, chatting in Bengali or Burmese or Indonesian. Invariably smoking. Then, done with the after dinner washing up, the maids arrive. They’re usually by themselves, with a gigantic dog on a leash. They congregate at the tables and around the swings and slides with their friends. They laugh and talk loudly, teasing in Tagalog and Indonesian. Sooner or later, the men begin to sidle up to fringes of the conversation. Soon, they’re chatting in broken English, their only common tongue.

There’s a little cluster of three Indonesian women and a Bengali man. He brings his meals onto the children’s tree house and eats his evening meal there. The girls, Filipino, hang around – one on the swing, another at the bottom of the slide, one up in the tree house her legs dangling out. I wonder which one our lucky chap will finally choose. Or, will he say in true egalitarian fashion, I’ll marry all three.

Then there’s the girl with the yellow dog who seems to walk out of the park with a different man every time I see her. She’s doesn’t seem particular. Golden, brown or mahogany, tall or short.  I wonder if she’s doing a business. Or if she just hasn’t found Mr. Right.

Why I’m not appalled

I can imagine many of you snorting as you read this. Saying, “So there! You see! No wonder we need to keep our maids shut in, cloistered. Just in case, they catch Aids, or a baby, or worst still runs away with one of these unsavoury men. Most horrible of all, end up bashed to death after a lover’s tiff or found floating face down in a water tank. It’s how things begin, with the smallest loosening of restrictions. And before we know it, there’s a pile of big trouble and we’re on our way to losing our 5,000 maid deposit.”

I’m not appalled though. I find what’s happening in the park charming, albeit very sad too.

All this glancing and prancing about just shows how you can’t keep that buzz between men and women down, no matter what we legislate. The park overflows with male and female pheromones. And that’s as natural as can be.

The problem isn’t that men are coming out to look for women. That women are waiting to be picked up. The problem’s that poor men and poor women are forced to leave their families to look for work far from home and their own people. The problem is we pretend we can suppress these natural urges and we refuse to talke about them with our domestic help. The problem’s that we leave our domestic help  so little time for leisure and for expression, they’re forced to seek it on the sly.

Our helpers have every week-end off. I have no idea what they get up to on the week-end and I don’t care. As long as they’re back by ten., and get up to make breakfast and send the children off to school on time. They know adn I remind them every so often if they want to continue working in Singapore, to continue to send money home, no pregnancies please, no STD’s. That’s the law. If they want to continue working for me, please don’t bring your problems into the house. My home is your workplace, please be professional.

But everyone needs a place of their own. My helper’s bedroom belongs to them, I don’t go in and sneak around. Although I won’t have their visitors in my house, after work’s done, they can talk as long as they like on the phone to whomever they like. It’s a private place and a set aside time for them to have a meltdown if they need one. They can pick over their lives on the weekend, over the phone when work is done. That’s how it should be.

After all I’m not their friend, I’m not their mother, I’m not their caretaker. I’m their employer.

And as for that matter of AIDS

I mentioned the goings on in the park to one of our helpers. “The girl with the yellow dog, isn’t she afraid of getting HIV?” I wondered.

“Ah Ma’am,” she said with a smile, “all foreign workers get tested every six months. It’s safer than sleeping with your own husband back at home.”

Helpers are humans. They’re adults. We can’t treat them like half-grown children. In the same way we’re not going to let our daughters out into the wild wild world without “that conversation” its up to us to have “that talk” with the help. It’s up to us give back the responsibility for their sex lives to them.

Otherwise, we’re just going to wring our hands and dither. And the park around the corner will remain HookUp Hub.

Am I just a naive fool? What do you think? Leave a comment!

#Courtshipandloveamongforeignworkers #Domesticworker #ForeignworkersinSingapore #AIDS #MaidsinSingapore #singapore

0 views

© 2012 by SAMANTA JONES