It did not take Maria too long to understand that ‘FDW’ did not mean ‘First Day of Work’ but ‘Foreign Domestic Worker’. There were so many 1acronyms to get accustomed to in this unfamiliar country! ‘MOM’ (Ministry of Manpower), ‘WP’ (Work Permit), ‘EP’ (Employment Pass), ‘FT’ (Foreign Talent)… Maria caught on to the list of codes quickly. Now, on her FDW (First Day of Work) as a FDW (Foreign Domestic Worker), she would have to catch on quickly to the list of instructions her new owners were giving her as they showed her around their condominium located in a 2tony area of town.

Ma’am started with Maria’s daily duties in the living room. It was very spacious. Maria estimated that it must have been at least doubled the size of her family’s entire hut back home in her village. Ma’am liked her marble floors to gleam. Maria was to sweep and mop daily. The vacuum cleaner should only be used when Maria was alone in the apartment because Ma’am disliked noise. Ma’am was sensitive to dust. All surfaces (lacquered coffee table, teak wood shelves, Venetian mirrors) were to be wiped and dusted daily. Ma’am collected antique figurines. These had to be handled carefully with gloves during polishing.

Next came the kitchen. Ma’am would pin the menu for each day on the refrigerator door and Maria was to execute it. For the family, Maria would be expected to prepare simple local dishes such as steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables, pan-fried seafood and 3marinated meat. Maria was to cook and serve each meal. She would eat after the family had eaten. If there was any food leftover, Maria was welcome to have it. If not, there were packets of instant noodles in the bottom cabinet. Maria was allowed the cheaper brand. The costlier instant ramen imported from Korea was only for the family.

“Oh, you don’t mind handling pork, do you?” Ma’am enquires as an afterthought. No Ma’am, pork is not a problem. Maria was a Catholic.

Although there was an unoccupied, fully furnished bedroom, Ma’am needed it to be kept vacant “in case there are any unexpected guests”. Maria’s ‘bedroom’ would be the storeroom. “Plenty of space in there; she just has to move the boxes aside,” Ma’am cheerfully pointed out to Sir who wondered aloud where the spare mattress could have been kept. Could it be in one of the big boxes? Or was it under the pile of old magazines?

“Mattress – what for? Don’t you know? They prefer to sleep without a mattress because they are used to it back in their home country. They find it more comfortable and cooler also.”

That ended the bedding discussion between Sir and Ma’am. Maria’s 4designated ‘bed’ was to be the little space on the tiled floor between the pile of cardboard boxes and the rusty tricycle in the windowless storeroom. Ma’am gestured towards the second box from the top. Inside it was a pillow, two threadbare sheets with mismatched pillowcases and a wind-up alarm clock. No mattress. Thank you, Ma’am.

The bathrooms presented a strange situation. Firstly, Ma’am was 5paranoid about bacteria. Maria was to bleach and polish the tiles, cisterns, sinks, shower stalls and bathtubs each and every time after any family member was done in the bathroom. Secondly, Ma’am was not comfortable with the idea of ‘outsiders’ using any of the three bathrooms in her home. Maria was allowed to enter any bathroom to clean it, of course, but she was not to use it. She was to go downstairs to the condominium swimming pool. Sir handed her a computerised key card.

After her owners had retired for the evening, Maria put the key card, a bar of soap and a towel into a small pink plastic bag and headed for the pool. She looked forward to a refreshing shower. Even though her owners’ apartment was centrally air-conditioned, the cooking and cleaning chores on her first day of work had left her looking 6bedraggled and feeling sticky with perspiration.

The ripples of chlorine-scented water in the swimming pool reflected the light of the crescent moon. Maria thought about how this very same moon was softly glowing upon the modest thatched hut sheltering her husband and two-year-old daughter as they slumbered, thousands of miles away, back home in her village. Soon, she would be wiring them a portion of her first paycheck. Maria tapped the key card on the computerised sensor on the door to the ladies’ bathroom.

Suddenly, a booming voice broke the 7tranquil silence of the night. “You, maid! What do you think you are doing here? Can’t you read?”

It was the security guard, shouting across the pool. Glaring at Maria, he raised a finger to direct her attention to a metal placard displayed between the deckchairs and the pool. Under a graphic silhouette of a woman carrying a mop and bucket crossed out by a no-entry sign was a slogan printed in bright red boldface block letters.


Tears threatening to overwhelm her downcast eyes, she placed the key card back into her little plastic bag. Sorry, sir, it won’t happen again. As she trudged 8dejectedly back towards the lift lobby, Maria tried desperately to hold back her tears.

INSPIRE QUESTION: Do you agree with the way Maria was treated? How do you think maids should be treated?

For Further Reading:

‘Modern-day slavery? Shopping mall in Singapore found to be selling housemaids like commodities’, from The Independent. > https://goo.gl/a6amUl

‘Maid abuse case: Employer’s wife has suffered from anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder’, from The Straits Times. > https://goo.gl/AzRdTs

[ Word Bank ]
1. acronyms: abbreviations formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word (e.g. ASCII, NASA)

2. tony: fashionable among wealthy or stylish people

3. marinated: seasoned; soaked (meat, fish, or other food) in a marinade

4. designated: officially given a specified status or name to

5. paranoid: unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful

6. bedraggled: dishevelled; untidy

7. tranquil: free from disturbance; calm

8. dejectedly: in a sad and depressed manner; dispiritedly

Article extracted from Inspire Issue 7 (pages 22-25)

Click here to learn more about Inspire magazine

Written by: Mr Jeremy Au-Yong from www.theacademicworkshop.com

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