Growing up with no maid

Growing up with no maid

When film-maker Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo won Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Awards last Saturday, my entire family yelped in delight.

Here was a film that documented the quintessential Singaporean experience.

I was a little older than Jiale, the spoilt 10-year-old in the movie, when the Asian financial crisis struck the region in 1997.

My mother wore maternity clothes in the same style of actress Yeo Yann Yann's character when she was pregnant with my youngest sister, oversized and with cutesy Peter Pan collars. Even the bedsheets in their home looked like those in our HDB flat.

There was, however, one key difference.

We never had a maid.

Perhaps that is not entirely accurate. We did have a maid, for about three months.

My mother had just given birth to my youngest sister. My grandmother, in the early stages of dementia, was absolutely certain that her new domestic helper was planning to kill her. She wasn't, of course, but it was difficult to convince my grandmother otherwise.

So my parents took her maid in for a bit of time before her contract was up and she could return to her home in the Philippines.

I was in primary school then, and the memories I have of her come back to me in brief fragments.

But I do remember her showing us the aerograms she wrote religiously to her family every week and I remember the astonishment of realising that an aerogram was the brilliant combination of an envelope and a letter at the same time.

She giggled when she saw that we were eating cream crackers with butter, because the crackers already had butter in them, she said.

And then she went home.

I believe we considered her more of a new playmate than a helper because household chores had already become a part of daily life.

They never felt like chores simply because they were a necessity - there was no one else around to do them.

My mother had started us on household chores from a very young age.

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