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Me in the bird parkBird, Park visit Blue Bird, living room, DInning room area, Second half of Patio, First half of my Patio, Chambre1.jpg, Dragon iguana, Sentosa beach Singapore, Birds parrots in the park, Port of Singapore
For those of you who know me well, you will be surprised to hear that I am now a Mom!! I still have no kids and I did not adopt one either, but I must admit that I have adopted the Asian life style: I now have a full time domestic! Call it “Home Maid”, “Maid in China” or female buttler, she is a fabulous domestic helper living full time with me, and she calls me Mom or Mam with a British accent! All domestic workers call their employer Mam or Sir, they called the cab drivers “Uncles” and a lady over forty-five working in a store or anywhere else: Aunty! Yes in Singapore we seem to be all a happy family and probably all related to Buddha.
As I mentioned before, living in Asia is living with different standards and domestics are part of life here. I knew I was a full time job for myself, but I never imagined I could become a full time job for someone else! But I guess I am, because Annabelle (that’s her name) never stops a moment to take care of me, day or night. If you are already in chock, sit down; take a deep breath because you are in for a ride.
When I visited the 17 or 18 apartments with my real-estate agent before selecting this one, I kept on asking him if there were smaller apartments available. I thought they were all too big for me: 1400 to 3500 sq. feet with 3 bedrooms are the standards in Singapore (opposite of Hong Kong and Tokyo). I said to him: These are for big families and I am alone and by the way, why do they have these ugly laundry rooms with lockers? He replied: These are the maids’ quarters and all apartments (90% of them) are equipped with maids’ quarters! I know that for you North Americans it sounds like slavery, but here Madame it is a standard!
These tiny maids’ apartments are usually attached to the kitchen, no air conditioning (it is very, very hot here), no windows, and when there is one (mine is equipped with one) there is no glass in the whole of the window. It is usually located next to the washer and dryer… with the garbage trap as a bed head. What should play the role of the bedroom is smaller than any of the closets you have: 4’ X 5’ room closed by an accordion plastic door (worst than a prison cell). It looks very much like lockers you would find in condominiums, except that here, it is 90% humidity and 32 degrees at night. Did I mention that the “no glass window” is overlooking the garbage main trap of the entire building? A heaven for cockroaches and other tropical pests that you don’t want to hear about. Most people put a crib mattress on the floor or a small bed in the room. Yes, 99% of the domestics sleep there.
Many of my colleagues at work (Except Jennie, an American with the same standard as me) told me that they don’t feel bad about this situation because in maids’ country (mainly Philippines and Indonesia), they sleep on the floor without a mattress. This is an upgrade apparently! Agencies through whom you hire Foreign Domestic Workers tell you the same thing and I guess most people tend to feel better about it, knowing it is the norm. I say most people, not everyone and you have guessed right, not me!
At work, and in my social life, everyone I know have a maid. I must admit that it is amazing to have someone doing all the work for you and she even irons my smallest clothing articles, my bed sheets, etc. Life in Singapore means long hours and when you come home at 7:30 or 8:00 pm and you have not done the grocery, nor did the laundry and still need to cook dinner, you feel that your life is all about work and chores.
Of course I want to live a little this amazing life here and since I can afford more because (sorry to say) income taxes are very very low in Singapore; why not adopting the life style. So I joined the club and adapted well to Asia.
Annabelle is amazing and a fabulous cook who cuts exotic fruits for my breakfast and times the perfect moment to bring me my coffee. While I eat, she makes my bed so I come back to a clean neat bedroom to get dressed for work, she makes me choose the recipe she will follow for the dinner meal and I only have to say that I will have few people over for dinner for her to run to the market. This leads me to explain to you the title of my blog!!
When I interviewed Annabelle, she got me at Hello, but I pretended to conduct a full interview anyways. When I asked her to describe a typical day in her current position, she proceeded with enthusiasm to say that she prepares breakfast in the morning and cleans for few hours and then said: I do marketing in the afternoon Mam! I looked at her stunned! Here I had worked all these years to build my expertise, studied at night and weekends to do my MBA and earned every piece of my life, built a career and yet, my house keeper does the same thing as me! Was this a match made in heaven? Could I also use her for doing some of my work and reduce the long working hours of Singapore (8h45am to 7:00-7:30pm with a lot of non productive time, but this is another topic). I rapidly asked Annabelle to explain to me what she does for her current Mam in the marketing department? I go to the market Mam, I do marketing of fruits, meat and all the things you need to eat! I nicely smiled and said: This is really good Annabelle and since I am a marketing specialist, you and me will get along just great! Can you start tomorrow?
Annabelle moved in the day after. We use the maid’s quarter as a storage room for the ugly furniture that was supplied with the apartment, we put a screen in the large “No glass window” to prevent any pest intrusion (she knows how crazy I am about anything that crawls) and we use the maid’s quarter as the laundry room. We laugh every time we open that door and think it should be her apartment. You must know that Annabelle is in Singapore working for Expatriates since 14 years and she usually had to live in the maid’s quarter (except for one British couple who moved to Barcelona and treated her well too for a couple of years). I gave her the third room of my apartment (should be an office) where there was a built-in bunk bed. I bought her a TV and gave her a large closet. The room is large and air conditioned, pretty and comfortable. We went shopping together for her to select her bedspread; she picked a bright yellow comforter with large flowers on it. She placed her stuffed animals in all the little squares of the bunk bed walls and the first night I gave her a copy of the “Little Prince” that she read in two days. A large window with a view on the garden is taking most of the outside wall of the bedroom. When she first saw her room, Annabelle started to cry and hugged me. She kept on thanking me for treating her like this: I prayed God every day for a Mam like you!
Annabelle is a 42 year old mother of an 18 year old girl. She had to leave her baby behind in Philippines when she was 2 months old!
Annabelle goes to church every Sunday and does volunteer church work in the afternoon. I give her every Sunday off and the agency told me that I am spoiling it for all the other Mams she will have in the future. What you are doing is bad Madame Blanchette, the government only requires for you to give her one day a month and you could demand to never let her out!! You just have to pay the day off she would have taken and demand that she stays in. Like this she will have no time to do bad things.
When you hire a maid in Singapore, you have a responsibility: you must have an orientation class that you do on-line. The government explains their rights and your duty as a Mom. Their rights are the basic things of life and you are stunned that they have to explain to people that they must provide proper meals and a minimum 4 inch thick mattress to sleep. They try to protect the workers by teaching the employers not to demand for her to hang from the 22nd floor of a building to clean your window (a maid died doing that last month and the mom went to jail for 6 months with a fine of $15 000). They give you serious warning on what is acceptable and what is not. Yet some people abuse the workers. The government also requires a $5000 bond that you lose if the worker leaves the country, gets into trouble or gets pregnant. You must go through a certified recruitment agency to do all the paperwork.
Annabelle sends most of her salary to pay for her daughter’s schooling and to help her family of 9 children. She looks like she is 20 years old and is such a great woman. She is now with me for a little over one month and we get along well. She does not try to play the role of a roommate; she is very discreet and disappears after diner in her new quarters to read the newspaper and watch her favourite TV shows. She has gained so much confidence in a month that it is fascinating to see her evolve: she now takes initiatives, she goes shopping for me and negotiates well (you get charged way more when you are a white caucasian woman). She is excited at night when I arrive because she can show me all the initiatives she has taken to fix this or that, to improve the way the garden is or to have made the landlord replace my shower. Annabelle has transformed into an adult in a month, discusses at diner about the economy of Singapore and tells me the last horror story on maids who died from bad treatments or killed their Mom (I think she is trying to keep me on my toesJ).
My friend Sharon and her husband Jacques spent 10 great days with me in Singapore and she catered to them so well that there was a big hugging session when they left for Dubai. The day after Annabelle made it clear that she misses Mam Sharon and Sir Jacques. I hope they will find a job in Singapore she added. I laughed and reminded her that we have a contract and that she is stocked with me for 2 years. She smiled and insisted on how much God was good to her. When she laughs at me for wanting a pest free environment (a challenge in tropical countries), she tells me her story of the 22 feet python that was curled up under the dining room table of her last Mom’s apartment (a year ago). He had just eaten a big animal (she says a pig but I suspect a dog) and had crawled from the patio opening to the dining room table to try to digest his meal. The body of the snake was about 8-10 inches in diameter. Although more frequent when you live next to the reservoir, the bird park (a must see) or the zoo (with its fantastic night safari), I will not take a chance and leave the doors closed! She then completes her story by asking me: Did I tell you about the snake tail that was sticking out of the air conditioning unit and that my master has pulled suddenly? No Annabelle I don’t want to hear the story from you, but if your old master is still in Singapore and free tonight, he could tell me himself!! J