Tag Archive | maid

Cultural difference or callousness?

I’ve always thought there’s something not quite right with Mum’s Picky Siti, mainly because she’s not appreciative of anything — especially when it comes to her pay and all the privileges she enjoys, being treated like one of the family and where in effect I’m the second domestic helper in our home.

But what’s taken the cake in recent days is the way she’s reacted to death.

I came back from Guangzhou last week after my aunt — my father’s only sister — passed away. I hadn’t informed mum of the event, as her mind nowadays can’t receive and digest too many things, especially anything emotionally upsetting.

By extension, I didn’t speak to Siti about it when I called home– although she already knew that my rushed trip to Guangzhou with one of my brothers and his wife was because aunt was seriously ill. Also, she had met my China-based aunt on a few occasions when she was in Singapore.

So I was both startled and annoyed to be greeted by what she said when I stepped into the flat after arriving from the airport late in the evening. Without prompting or preamble. And with a gleeful smile. Everything totally inappropriate.

“She died right?”

I was too tired to reprimand her for staying that.

“How did you know?”

“Oh Popo FY called and asked for auntie’s number…”

Popo FY is my brother’s mum and “auntie” is my sister.

I tried to change the subject, bustling around with unpacking and checking on what’s been happening to my mother and my home while I was away.

I tried to forget such callousness but I was reminded about it starkly today. As we were driving out for lunch, Picky Siti dropped this gem.

“The Indian upstairs mati.”

I was naturally startled. A wasn’t young but he wasn’t old either.

“Who told you?


Budi is actually the immediate neighbour’s dog but its minder is also known by us by the same name, although her real name is Yanti.

“When did it happen? Where? Upstairs?”

“Saturday. In Batam.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. He’s a very nice man.”

“Better,” muttered Picky.

“That’s not nice. Why better?”

“Because of the arbok. He always smoked in the balcony.”

I should have reprimanded her but didn’t. I just reiterated that it’s a pity. He was a very nice man.

When we returned home after lunch and I was dropping Picky and mum off at the lobby, two other domestic helpers were there and she had a loud exchange of the news with them.

“Pinocchio mati,” was her gleeful pronouncement. (A did have a very prominent nose 😦 )

One replied: “Asthma”.

More chatter and gossip.

Even as I saw a small stream of sari or kuta clad women and more casually clad men of Indian appearance arriving and heading for the 9th floor home of the late A.

Bottom line: Picky’s behaviour could be due to cultural difference or callousness or both. But she still stands by her views about my recently departed upstairs neighbour, according to my sister. Guess in Lampung, Sumatra where she comes from, no one taught her never to speak ill of the dead! 😥


One lives and learns

Once upon a time, I used to castigate employers who take their maids to restaurants and let them sit there watching them (ie the employers) eat to their hearts’ content or have them banished outside the restaurant, waiting to be summoned once the bosses have had their fill.

Occasionally, friends who have more dealings with foreign domestic workers  than I did back then would point out that there could be all sorts of reasons why the FDWs didn’t eat with their employers.

For example, they said, it could be the maids didn’t like the food being served at those restaurants.

My usual reaction was: how can, good food, expensive places. I preferred to think those employers who let their maid run on empty while they fed their faces were stingy mean!

Other friends would point out that the maids had probably already eaten at home. Then why bring them out, I would retort. My ever patient friends would then say: Perhaps the kids or the elderly folks need the maid’s help?

I remain unconvinced.

Since that time, having lived with a maid — my mother’s actually — for about 30 months, my eyes have been open to some of the burden which some employers have to put up with from their FDWs.

Mum’s Siti, though extremely clean, meticulous and clever, is very temperamental and picky with her food. She’s all smiles one moment and stormy faced in another.

She’s complained of sickness of all sorts that had seen us taking her for A&E and a breast specialist at SGH — which friends at the hospital say is the best in Singapore — all with nil health results and she’s right as rain after the visits.

Friends have advised me to send her packing but as I give high marks for cleanliness and meticulousness and mum having gotten used to her, I’m reluctant to take their advice.

Then today, Siti did something that makes me reconsider my friends’ advice. As well as open my eyes to the reality that when employers don’t include their maids while dining in restaurants, it could be that the maids refused to eat.

That’s what happened to me at Culina in Dempsey at lunch today. I took mum and her maid there, altho earlier I had promised to take them to Marina Bay Sands to try the hawker fare there and also for Picky to take some pix of the Integrated Resorts to send home.

However, today being the first day when all the safety barriers have come down after the F1 races, I chickened out from heading for MBS. Also, I wasn’t sure where mum could be dropped off to minimise walking or using escalators, because of her wobbly legs.

After explaining all this — and promising to go to MBS another time — we headed for Dempsey, sat down and the wait girl was about to take our orders when Siti wrinkled her nose and said she didn’t want to eat.


 “I don’t like the food!” 

The wait girl tried to tempt her with offers to do spaghetti with this or that. I suggested the garlic prawns on the menu. Or pehaps a sandwich then? But no. Siti was adamant.

“I don’t want to eat.”

The situation was turning ridiculous.

I said, resignedly: “Well, if you don’t want to eat, then you mustn’t sit here watching us. Why don’t you go for a walk?”

She got up, made a face and went off.

My mother, who has MCI, was non-plus.

“Where she’s going?”

“For a walk. She doesn’t want to eat.”

As it turned out, Picky didn’t go for a walk. She just sat outside the restaurant, probably giving everyone who walked into Culina the impression that we didn’t want to pay for her meal! Oh the poor maid! Oh the wicked employer!

Was i embarrassed? Yes! Was I annoyed? Yes! Did she spoil my lunch? Rather!

But it also made me see that when a maid doesn’t eat with her ma’am in a restaurant, it isn’t always because ma’am is Cinderella’s step-mum.

If anything, today’s nasty experience showed that I’ve maligned too many maid employers in the past and got my just dessert!

Resolution 2010 – one post a day!

I don’t usually make resolutions at the start of a year. Not because making resolutions means having a guilt trip if they are broken, as invariably they would be. Rather, I can and do make resolutions at any time, so what’s the big deal of making them to co-incide with a new year? :-D!

I’ll make an exception this year, as I’ve decided that there’s just one resolution I can keep with little hardship. And that is to post in this blog, once a day. And of course the post needn’t be long, as in length, not in appropriateness, if you know what I mean.

So here goes: family members wanted to visit our home today on hearing I’ve been unwell. Brave souls! I said no but allowed them to persuade me to let them take mum and her maid out for lunch.

Yup, I may be out of action but there’s no need to deny mum her outing, something she enjoys more and more, as she grows older, more frail and mentally vacuous!

So, the relatives came and took them to Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant at Quality Hotel for its buffet which is a treasure trove of irresistible choices. Certainly wished I could have joined them but bed and a nap after putting in more medication into myself was the more sensible choice.

Meanwhile, here’s a pix of mum having her glass of Piper Heidseik at our Chong cousins on Christmas Day. Little did I know then at that lunch that a restless flu bug was about to break loose and cause me a few sleepless nites! Just as well humans aren’t prescient. Or else how could we enjoy the present, as in now, not the gift!

To the future!

Out of the mouths of maids…

With the upcoming Indonesian elections hogging our newspaper headlines for longer than I care to remember culminating in this week-end’s Straits Times’ special supplement on Indonesia’s Wayang Kulit “Dance with Democracy” prompted me to ask the family’s picky maid Siti: do you need to register at your embassy be4 you can vote?

To which — like her answers to many questions–  she replied: “I don’t know.” 

Never mind, I told her, find out from the maid upstairs, downstairs, wherever. Then when election day comes, you can vote.

“What for ma’am?”

I was nonplussed. Don’t you want to vote?

“No, ma’am.”


“I don’t know the people, ma’am.”

I wanted to lecture her that if she followed the news more closely she might know more. How many of us “know” the people we give our votes to, in the sense that we’ve been introduced, have met, have shared a coffee, a meal, had long conversations with etc…

Then I checked myself. Picky Siti may have a point after all. Why do 99% of us vote for someone we know only by name or appearance — taken off newspapers, the Internet or TV? And that’s all!

For all we know, the packaging and branding are hiding a monster or potential monster. By our vote and our reliance on reported versions of the real McCoy, we could be endorsing someone we won’t give the time of day to, let alone allow to run our lives — if we knew the full unvarnished facts!

Showcasing Siti

Although she’s just an Indonesian maid from deepest Sumatra, she’s nifty at art n crafts. Since I don’t like “inventing” work for her to do, besides the standard washing n cleaning, I gave Siti a box of water color paints and encouraged her to get going to fill up her spare time in something concrete and meaningful.
Since then, she’s painted four little cheerfully colorful “naive” pictures, and I managed to find buyers for two of them, netting her a total of $80. She’s mighty pleased with her success and is diligently working on a portfolio to “show”.

Her latest she’s titled Going to the Farm (below) and she wants $50 for it. She may or may not find a buyer but I don’t want to discourage her.

Update: As of Dec 27, Going to the Farm has gone at Siti’s asking price of $50 to a buyer who is a leading educationist in S’pore. The buyer and friends say I should help Siti start on acrylics but I think I’d better not, in case she gets the stuff all over the place and there would be domestic disharmony. Still, it’s gratifying to find that she can produce works of art that people actually want to buy!

Farm Lass

Farm Lass

She’s done another which I thought is too seasonal to attract any buyers and so have “borrowed” it to make into an e-card and send to friends to show off my maid’s “talents”, for which I’ve duly received many compliments. The picture reproduced below was superimposed with a greeting using MS Paint.

Maid's view of X'mas

Maid's view of X'mas

A sampling of the compliments:

  • From my cousin D in the UK: “Siti’s artistic flair is highly commendable.  You should nurture her talent and who knows, one day – someone may come up with an idea of starting up a centre where maids’ talents in all manner of craftwork could be encouraged, collated and exhibited/sold at say, an annual festive season.  Don’t mind me … I’m in one of my day-dreaming mode!  “
  • From KL, Prof C wrote: “Siti Nurlaila should be a greetings card designer for Hallmark, or maybe you should start a home-based business for personalized greetings cards!”
  • A banking ex-colleague said: “your maid Siti has a cheerful artistic flair going by the cheerful colours she uses, ” adding her good wishes for Siti’s “l’l business”.
  • A librarian friend wrote:”Your domestic help is in the wrong job!”
  • “Please tell Siti that the drawing is very good,” wrote SCY an ex-colleague, while another two ex-colleagues actually bought her pictures, Time 2 Play, and Putri Solo. (below)
First Sale

First Sale

I think the suggestions to engage our maids in creative activities n enterprise have a lot of merit. So, I throw it out to those groups working to uplift the lot of transient workers in Singapore to get the ball rolling. I have already done a little, in my own way. Your turn Transient Workers Matter 2 and ACMI..

Unique gifts for sale

This isn’t like the usual eat-meet-shop-bitch posts found in this blog. Rather, it aims to do two things.

  • Help to put my dozy maid Siti’s naive art on the map, or at least on the Internet.
  • Help put my sister Daffy’s hand-made semi precious trinkets and other wearables into hands beyond those who are the hapless captives of my email address book.

First, Siti’s latest offering for S$30 is her rendition of Time 2 Play (below). It measures 20cm by 29.5 cms. Guess after all the cleaning and ironing and the occasional cooking, she longs to play…

She had sold another same size n style water color painting to one of my friends for $50 but understanding her own uncultivated talent, she’s setting her sights lower this time.. she’s willing to take special commissions too, as she does have spare time to pursue this hobby.

Latest: Siti has sold the painting to Ismail Kassim, author of No Hard Feelings, a reporter’s memoir.

FDW's idea of bliss

FDW's dream of bliss

Now about my sister Daffy who is already known to many of you for her unique antique jade made modern items. She’s branched out to something that’s light on the neck and light on the wallet or purse. She’s making chord dragonflies in various colors for sale.

I’m the satisfied guinea pig wearing one such dragonlfy around my neck ( G n G yr suggestion on the need to have a ‘model’ for Daffy’s trinkets has been taken up, but the result isn’t quite right, I think)…

Dragonfly pendent

Dragonfly pendant

This one I’m wearing is the largest at 6 cm in length, including a stainless steel hook, that can be used with finer chains.

Below is a better shot of the pendant without the distraction of my crepy neck/chest.

on a casual chain

on a casual chain

Daffy will customise as to size and color but as it is a hand-made item, measurements may not be 100% exact. What is exact is the price. $5 per pendant. Add $1 for gift box, if needed. Otherwise comes in plain cellophane wrap. Self pick up at my place near Newton MRT for orders of less than six pendants. Delivery can be arranged for anything more.

Finally, some of you may wonder what a sales pitch has to do with food which is the theme of this blog..

My explanation: when Siti sells her painting(s), it’ll supplement her monthly pay and help to contribute to her household income in Lampung, Sumatra. When Daffy sells her trinkets, it helps feed her hobbies and perhaps put the occasional cherry in my martini!

Choi sum fa got deflowered

How detail must the instructions I give the maid be when it comes to preparing food for the table?

Cleanliness? Check! Every minutiiae from washing and drying of hands, to separating cooking equipment, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans. Which tea towel for what. Chopping board: one each for meat/fish, veggie and fruits.

But there are finer points unrelated to cleanliness that get overlooked. I mean when I say “peel this apple”, I don’t need to add, “and then put the peel in the trash-bin”, do I?

It seems that such finer details aren’t always obvious to those who come from the deepest of Indonesia.

Let me illustrate.

There’s this rather expensive vegetable called Choi Sum Fa (Chinese spinach with tiny flowers ranging from green to yellow as seen in the pix).


Now you would imagine there’s no need to instruct someone, indeed anyone, that the flowers (besides the tender stems and leaves) are the piece de resistance and that’s what makes the veggie quite pricey.

So, I never thought to tell Siti the maid who joined us 4 months ago, unlike digging out the “eyes” from potatoes, sweet potatoes etc, taking out the seeds from chilli, running water when peeling onions and so on.

Image my surprise earlier this week when I walked into the kitchen and found her at the sink diligently snipping off the yellow flowers of my precious bag of choi sum!

“Why are you doing that?” I demanded, more suprised than angry, just like I would be if I found her putting a tub of ice-cream next to boiling pot, with the gas turned on high. (Actually, she’s done that with fish fresh from the market but that’s another story!)

“What ma’am?” asked my dosey maid, snipping off yet another flower.

“Stop it, now!” I said in my most peremtory voice as she looked at me with her hush-puppy eyes.

Oh, I gave her an earful about the flowers but at the end of the day, what else could I do but gnash my teeth that I had once again 4gotten to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”. One may think it isn’t necessary to spell out everything but that’s where one is wrong. Never take anything for granted with an FDW!

Come to think of it, we have had choi sum fa on several occasions already and it now occurs to me that each time the dish had come to the table sans the yellow flowers, even tho the veggie back from the supermarket often had resplendent bouquets.

Must make sure I reinforce the lesson the next time we have choi sum fa for dinner.