Category Archives: Life

My Maids

It has always been difficult to talk about my maid. My maids. My siblings and I have always had conversations about whether we will hire maids in the future with our own families. Their answers were always yes, because it would save you a lot of time not having to do all the household chores. It is mostly a transaction for them, that the money you spend on hiring a maid could be earned back with the income that you can make with the extra time. They think that hiring a maid is actually more valuable than buying a car. I adamantly said no, I will not hire a maid. Not because I think it is expensive. I actually do agree with my siblings that the cost of hiring a maid is affordable if you earn as much as the median income household in Singapore.

I will never hire a maid because I will never want my children to go through the same stabbing pain I feel when the maid leaves eventually. In fact writing this sentence sends me straight into tears.

My first ever maid left permanently on 27 Oct 08. I think it says a lot when I remember the exact date of her departure nearly one decade later. She was there the first 12 years of my life, she was probably the one feeding me when I cried when I was hungry, the one who held me to walk, the one who taught me how to ride a bike, the one who brought me downstairs to interact with other kids at the playground. She shared a bed with me and my soft toys when I was little because I did not want to sleep alone. She was the one face I would be expecting when I step into the Parent’s Corner after dismissal. The one face I expected when I alight from the school bus and left the doors of my kindergarten and nursery every single afternoon. The one who helped me with my Art homework. The one who brought me to Clementi Community Centre during special occasions like Mid Autumn Festival to play with my other friends. The reason why I grew up in a Chinese-speaking family yet my English was way superior to my Chinese – I interacted with her in English throughout my childhood days. I do not remember much of my parents being there in my childhood, except my mother scolding me for getting 48/50 because “I played too much computer”. I cried a lot at home and my maid was the only one comforting me and telling me that I did well. My mother could make those insensitive remarks without a flinch only because she never knew how much I prided myself to do well academically since young, but my maid knew.

She probably drew a pay less than $500 at that point in time, but she set aside money and bought me birthday presents every year. She brought me out on Sundays to Lucky Plaza to meet her other friends, and she treated me to Filipino food there all the time. She made all my wardrobe choices and organised all my big birthday celebrations every Christmas. She collected empty boxes and wrapped them up to put them under the Christmas tree to add to the Christmas atmosphere for my birthday, and played Christmas music every single day in December. There was no bias, as she did the same for Chinese New Year too – hanging red stuff and pink flowers all over the house and playing Chinese New Year Music. which is why I can sing by heart most of the Chinese New Year songs today. She played a role much bigger than what she was paid for, and for that I loved her so much as part of my family.

Her departure came in advance, but no matter how early the notice came, it was extremely abrupt for me. At Primary 6, at a time when my parents finally granted me a bit of freedom, I chose to stay home every day for a few weeks because I remembered how afraid I was of running out of time with her. I remember holding her hands to sleep every night then, and refusing to fall asleep the last night she was here. I remember going with her to the airport with my family, with me playing on my Nintendo DS on the car all the way. I knew that if my thoughts ran wild to imagine how my life would be without her, I would start bawling my eyes out. I remember that very moment when she turned away from my family and walked into the departure gate. I remember that moment even until today. I will never forget it, how she started tearing and quickly turned around, how that scene triggered me but I held back my tears so badly. It was the start of months of pretending to be happy when I came home to a different maid, to a different person greeting me when I rang the doorbell. When I got home from the airport, I remember her text saying that she loves me, and asking me to “tk cre” of myself. Telling me that she will always keep my photo in her wallet. I will never forget how much my heart died that day, and how much I wished I could hide somewhere so that I could cry until I dissolved into nothing. I realised from that point on that I dealt with departures really badly, and I hated them so so much. You would see evidence of these thoughts in my 2008 posts, although I struggle to read those posts properly because of the cringe-worthy style as a 12-year-old kid.

Years later she would call home, say hello to us in a thickened Filipino accent and ask how we are. But it is all different now, we are no longer the same people. She was no longer the confidante and rock that she was in my childhood. How do I explain to her everything that has happened? How do I explain to her that I have now gotten into a good secondary school, joined NCC, met many more friends and grew a lot? How do I relate my life to her over the phone? The phone call would then end awkwardly with us trying to make small jokes (eg. “I am prettier than Shihui”), and I guess we knew and understood that whatever we shared was now only something situated in the past.


After 12 years of spending every single waking day together, our conversations are reduced to this one decade later. She added me on Facebook one or two years ago as she found my account by luck, but we could barely say anything to each other. Doesn’t it hurt when this is all you can say to the parental figure who took part in shaping your life all the way until you turned a teenager?



She also sent me messages on the special occasions, and on one of these occasions sent me these pictures that she took of me when I was young. The first picture spies a peach blossom flower pot with hanging red packets. These practices stopped after she went home, as no one else in the family saw the need to decorate the home for these occasions anymore. I couldn’t help crying when I saw these pictures for the first time. They were not in my childhood photo albums, presumably because she had taken them home for her personal collection of her 14 years of stay in Singapore. She was the biggest character of my childhood, and I knew she loved me with all her heart. It was as if we were forced apart by circumstance.

Sometimes I wish I did not have such vivid visual memories. I can remember all of these above-mentioned scenes: the exact setting, the lighting, and what people were doing. The ability to re-position myself in the exact scene in my head brings me back to how I felt then, and it stabs my heart sharply. How do you explain this void in your heart? These maids that you clearly regarded as family, leaving us permanently for their first families. Is it any different from an abrupt departure of a family member, since you will never get to see them again? I never received any form of contact from her from that text message until a few years later, when she finally called us. One day ago we cried leaving each other as she held my hand in hers to sleep, and for a few entire years after that not a single word was shared between us. How do we reconcile these feelings? I have been crying on and off as I write this post for the past hour, and I guess it is clear that I still am not able to deal with these feelings.

My third, and current maid has been with me since 2011. I remember her first day with us when we first met at my parent’s shop, when we realised that her English was terrible. She did not know how to tell us that she wanted a drink. When my sister wanted her to go downstairs to buy some food for dinner, she left the house gate and stood outside waiting for my sister, lost in translation. She got scolded several times for keeping the leftovers from our meals because it was what she was used to back at home – my mother thinks that eating leftovers are unhealthy and unhygienic. My brother uses a towel every time he showers, which means that he uses a towel up to four times in a day. It must have been difficult for her to adapt to our wasteful lifestyle habits initially. It took her several months of notes and mistakes, scoldings from my many-a-time unreasonable mother, and familiarisation around the neighbourhood to get acquainted with us. I remember her first few weeks when she would stand by the window and look out into the buildings in the background for hours after she was done with work. She did not have a mobile phone at that point in time as my mother did not allow her one, and she was cut off of all connection from her family. My heart ached for her. She wasn’t doing so well at the start.

6 years later she has become family. She speaks out about unwelcome guests to our house who mess up the order that she has put in place, she knows our wardrobes inside out, she can find anything you lose, and she is more well-acquainted with our schedule than anyone else. She knows when I want to go swimming, she knows when I have to go to base, she knows what time I have to wake up. She has been progressing with me in my life – through my NCC days when she helped me iron my uniform late at night, to my JC days when she cooked for me when I arrived home late from studying, to my BMT and OCS days when she helped me magically pack and unpack my book-in bag, to my overseas days when she packed my luggage for me. She was more of a friend than a parent, she proudly talked to me about her daughter going to university and training to become a teacher. She talked to me about my brother’s girlfriend, my sister’s boyfriend and of course when I brought my boyfriend home for the first time. She was there during what I would call my formative years, when most of my character was developed and moulded into who I am today. She helped me throughout and made my life so much easier to cope with in those busy school years. When I left I remember reserving my last polaroid picture for her, because I was afraid that she will no longer be there when I eventually return from my undergraduate studies.

These were also the reasons why I could not bring myself to watch Ilo Ilo even with the critical acclaim of the film. I know what it is about, and I know how much it will kill me if I sat through the entire film. And that’s why it also hurts my heart so much when I see news articles on Facebook with people mistreating maids. Restricting them of their food, withholding their pay even though they are clearly financially capable. I hate it when employers exercise authority over them just because they feel like they can. That’s why I get into heated arguments with my mother when she scolds my maid and deprive her from going out on her off day. Why do people always not put themselves in their shoes? Why would you do that to family, why would you do that to people who love you and whom you ought to love? Maids are not simply workers you pay, they are family who live with you and grow accustomed to your living habits.

I have dealt with these permanent departures by my maids twice, but I do not think I will do well the third time it happens. I remember telling my maid that I will be coming back this Christmas to celebrate my 21st birthday. She told me that she would wait for me to come back to celebrate my birthday with me before she leaves for good. Hearing that sentence from her killed me, because I once again realise her impermanence in my life. I hate people leaving me, and I hate how emotionally reactive I am to it. She will probably be the last maid that I would spend so much time with, because within the next 6 years I might no longer be living in the same house as my parents. I hope she will be the last painful departure in the best years of my life, before I deal with much harsher realities when I become middle-aged.

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Eventual goodbye

Right now I am sitting upright on my bed, with my pillow propping myself up and blasting 至少还有你 through my earphones.

I look around my room and I see the wooden table, clothes hanging where my curtains are, my dusty digital piano and my coats hanging where they are, and I think this scene is one I will come to miss very much.

Although I do this infrequently, I am glad that I make an effort to actually document bits of my overseas life in blog posts. They are inscribed memories of my extended time abroad in London during the best years of my life, and will one day be the only remnants of my thoughts and experiences as the passing time erodes much of my memories.

I sometimes imagine one day when I am much older, when I will lie on my bed and memories from different parts of my life will skim through my entire head like a life story (like 甄嬛传’s last 5 minutes). I hope during then I will be happy for having made the best of my life.

Online games

I am in the library, attempting to churn out a post for my academic blog but am very very distracted. Especially since I had lunch with my batchboys earlier… I just feel like taking a good long nap now.

Anyway I have been watching 微微一笑很倾城 (Love O2O) and it is once again another drama I feel very strongly for! I am going through this drama at a much slower pace than usual because I have been spending more time than usual in school, but I do like it a lot even though the storyline has dramatically slowed down and there is no villain to piss me off at present. Basically, the drama revolves around the love story of two Computer Science undergraduates in a beautiful university campus (!!! reinforcing my desires to go to China), except that what makes it stands out from other dramas is the fact that they met through an online game. Of course, their aspirations after university are automatically to create an online game that has a global reach… and for this purpose they also pursue internships at game firms.

This was not what I found particularly interesting, in fact I think I could do without good-looking casts and a happily ever after in a drama (even though they are bonuses). I liked a particular part where the lead, Weiwei, was the tuition teacher for a rich and privileged but unfortunately wheelchair-bound child. Since he was disabled, he always found it difficult to leave the house as he was extremely vulnerable to kidnappers or scammers. It was equally difficult for people to even enter his house, because he was instructed not to let strangers in, unless they knew the morse code to communicate with him through knocks on the door. He was an intelligent child who wanted to learn many things, and the only way was through tuition teachers who were headed to his home. Weiwei was one of them. Weiwei then mentioned in the drama that it was this child that led her into online gaming. This child, who was deprived of his opportunity to see the world, did not allow his physical disability to limit him. He chose to explore the world through online games, where he adopted a virtual character that allowed him to go wherever he wanted without his limitations in reality. He could fight (PK) with people, he could run around, and he could teleport! Literally, he lived in a virtual world detached from reality, and to him it was a pleasant detachment because he could do in an online game whatever he could not do in real life, like socialising with other players and fulfilling his adventurous side. It was truly a new way of thinking about online games for me, and I wonder why it took me so long to outline my thoughts about why I never regretted spending so much time and money on online games.

I used to be pretty addicted to MU Online, Monster and Me, MapleStory, ROSE Online, Trickster Online, … the list goes on at different phases of my childhood life, they are mostly MMORPGs. Out of all of them I spent the most time on MapleStory, and it was always cited as a waste of time. I was one of the ‘lucky’ kids at school who got unlimited access to the computer and Internet because my parents weren’t home most of the time, unlike my other peers who had their computer usage heavily controlled. Most of them could only use their computer on weekends, and were only allowed an hour at most. I remember an English Oral practice in Primary 3 when I engaged in the “Conversation” aspect of the oral, and my teacher asked me what I did at home in my free time. I expressed that I liked to play online games, but I felt abashed by that statement and quickly went on to say that I only did so during weekends. I also quickly added on that I only play games after I study, but I am not quite sure whether my teacher bought that lie. Of course, people used to be surprised that I could spend so so so much time on the computer. People were surprised that my parents were even willing to tolerate my expenditure on online game cash (SGD$10.50 per 10k virtual cash, later $10.70 after GST increase), and even supported me so by buying them as birthday gifts for me or a form of reward for doing well in my examinations. It may also be because of the fact that I found myself in a rather good class ever since Primary 3, where most parents continued to reign over their children’s lives (and timetables). I used to be embarrassed about it because I was spending every single waking hour on the computer after school – immediately after reaching home, skipping dinner for it, until the hours right before I sleep. I even continue playing at the same time I watched my daily TVB dramas, by installing MapleStory on the laptop outside in the living room.

While the addiction was definitely unhealthy, it meant that I spent a large part of my childhood in an alternative virtual world. Even until today, people would see playing around in the playgrounds, going to the park catching spiders, and running around in beaches as examples of having a superior childhood. Gaming for hours in front of computers is often viewed with large disdain, and it is made worse by the fact that some people die from gaming for long hours, and when grades take a large slip because of poor time management. Although I would not disagree completely, my personal opinion is that it boils down to what you truly enjoy as a child, and for me I enjoyed sitting in front of my computer jumping over haystacks and killing snails much more. Perhaps it may be because I had not been fully developed in other extra-curricular activities such as learning an instrument or picking up a sport, but we never really know. It may also be because of how I was not really allowed to leave the house on my own when I was younger, and therefore my only way of exploring the world and expanding my mental map was through an online game where I could go on and on without limits. As a child, I very much enjoyed the satisfaction from seeing my character grow stronger, fight better, and enjoyed the privileges and quests that were unlocked as we got higher. At a younger age especially, as I was not disciplined enough to even train my character well, I spent most of my time in the virtual world walking through different maps – from Perion to Henesys, from Ellinia to Sleepywood, killing monsters and alternating between the quests. At a point, I did it so much that I knew all the maps by heart. I knew which maps were perfect for training at particular levels, I knew which skills were preferable to boost earlier, and I knew how to increase my stats such that I best improved my character. I enjoyed my understanding of this alternative world, and felt superior to the many other beginners as I continued trawling through this virtual world I created for myself.

MapleStory was the place where I learnt what a “cape” was, was where I understood the concept of “dexterity” and “haste”, where I was influenced to surf through and post on SG Forums and Asiasoft Forums daily, and where I learnt how to write English paragraphs much better (you can refer to evidence of my cringe-worthy posts in 2006 – although the content is shit, my grammar was pretty decent for a primary 4 child). Other than that, it was where I learnt how to transact with virtual money, was where I learnt the concept of negotiating and bargaining through free market trade, where I learnt how best you can save money, and where I made many friends with whom I connected with as a young child. It also holds many special memories for me, like how I would happily spend the whole of my Christmas day at Happyville (a Maple event map) creating my own Christmas tree and listening to the Christmas audio. The background music always makes me nostalgic, and I wish I realised back then that those memories on Maple were what I would value very strongly in the future.

Technology has been said to retard your brain development, and there have been evidences of studies validating such claims, but online games may not necessarily be consumed/thought of in a bad way. There are always negative things about online gaming, like how I picked up vulgarities extremely early in life, or how I may have been subjected to online scams that may be traumatising for a young child, or how my grades may have truly took a slip to affect me for my entire life subsequently. However at this point in life after nearly a decade since then, all I have left are good memories, visual imagery of the places I loved the most online and the knowledge that I will restart that whole virtual life again because it made me really happy as a kid. It was a memorable childhood for me, and I do not consider it any less than any of my peers who spent most of theirs playing soccer in the court or going for many extra-curricular activities to improve themselves from a young age.

Altruism

All of a sudden, I found myself thinking about the days on the Koh Rumdual Island and Kolap 4 in Cambodia yesterday. I remembered feeling out of place in ironed T-shirts and school skirts, and realising how trivial my everyday worries were as a secondary school kid. Not having enough money to eat out, being stressed out having to study for tests after tests, hating the feeling of dragging my ass to go to school in the morning. I told HT about it and asked if he had any similar volunteering experiences, he said he has not. My thoughts about Cambodia ended there.

Coincidentally, I had a lecture today morning on urban poverty and sanitation as part of my module on Water and Development in Africa, and revisited this whole topic of toilets, slums and urban poverty once again. It honestly feels so unbelievable that in one area of the world we live in, women are prostituting themselves to earn money for sanitary pads, women are subjected to sexual abuse when going to public restrooms and women are making slum dwellings their safe space. I got really distracted during the lecture and thought about the personal statement that I wrote for UCAS many years back, that I had wished to help the less privileged in these undesirable living conditions one day. I obviously stopped focusing on the lecture and thought about how I did not bat an eyelid when I booked my air tickets home this Christmas for £1000, how I booked my birthday venue and buffet dinner for another huge amount, thinking to myself that it would be the only birthday celebration I plan for myself in this lifetime. I thought about my spending habits, and how I would cart out expensive items as long as I was keeping my expenses within my monthly budget. I also thought about how I am going to Japan after Christmas, another big ticket expense that I readily splurged on. I thought about how I probably would not have much chances to travel together with HT anymore in the future, since it is difficult for us both to take overseas leave at the same time, and these thoughts seemed to immediately justify my vacation expenses. I suddenly felt extremely guilty for earning a paycheck, that seemed to benefit no one except for myself. What happened to the desire to help the underprivileged that I once spoke about?

I still think well of voluntourism despite the debates ongoing in academia, because the awareness/empathy of an extra person to the living conditions of the underprivileged is never a bad thing. So today, I committed to my thoughts and decided to make a small donation to Harvest Care Centre, the centre which guided me on my first overseas learning trip as a student. I hope that it will go a long way, and I hope to have greater financial capacity to help many more people in the future.

Scenes in my head that I’d like to document in writing

1. Seven Sisters



We took the hike, alighting from Seaford and walking towards Eastbourne station through the entire length of the Seven Sisters cliffs. It was a good day!

I remember certain moments:

1. Dilys urgently needing a toilet, while I chose to pee in the bushes (lol) thrice hehe
2. Having to take an extremely long detour around a valley because we obviously could not walk straight ahead. I think that detour took more than an hour, truly “so near yet so far”.
3. Not being adequately prepared for the long hike and therefore not bringing much food other than 3 miserable chocolate bars we bought that morning…
4. Having to self-time all our shots on rocks, grasses, stacking of our bags.
5. The PMS weather, having to put on our jackets, remove them, put them on, remove them, until nearly the end of our hike when it became really cold and windy. It stayed on permanently after.

Regardless of point 5 the weather was lovely, it was warm enough to shed our coats for most parts of the hike. I remember we thought that seven sisters meant 7 sets of uphills and downhills, and it appeared to be so in the photos as well! But when we were actually scaling the hills, it was so much more than that, and I perspired so so so so much. I requested for a rest after the second hill… I was, at that point in time, the epitome of a true potato. Exams had just concluded and I was far from any form related to the word ‘fit’, and the hike was really strenuous. Walking a total of 50000 steps right after exams was memorable to say the least, with our feet aching so badly by the end of the day. Bad decisions make excellent memories!

I also find it hard to believe that once upon a time, I walked 24km for my route march with shitloads on my back… What happened, HP?

2. Richmond Park



Laying our sleeping bag as a picnic mat, putting our food down, enjoying a very Instagram-worthy background….. and then hurriedly picking our food and scrambling around when birds ended up perching (and shitting WTF) on the tree above us. 진짜진짜! We got visited by huge dogs too, who hopped over our strawberries and cookies…

And the deers!!! Deers! Took a selfie with the deers before we approached someone else who was also interested in the deers and therefore came close by. Hehe. We went for Korean fried chicken at night at Liverpool Street, and snagged for ourselves some salted beef bagels for breakfasts the following day too. Good day!!!

3. Food

I have been eating (and spending) too much in London.


First meal in London with Bowei this academic year.


Burger and Lobster with Bowei. It was £20 in my first year, £26 when I ate it in my second year, and now £31?! WTF?



Korean BBQ and bingsu with Chenxi.


Chirashidon when we (Aloy, Bea and I) were out celebrating Youjing’s birthday!


Korean fried chicken at some Superstar Korean restaurant.



£5 Shoryu ramen and 1-for-1 buns. Love it.


Lobster noodles!!!!! Loved it.

On a very random note, coffee is truly an acquired taste. I used to hate it so much, then I started going to Starbucks in JC, started consuming the coffee mixes occasionally in Year 1, and am now reliant on at least a cup everyday. I hope the same does not apply for alcohol anytime soon my tummy cannot afford it.

On another very random note, please support two of my academic blogs this year heh (1, 2). I feel like I need to put these out there because I clearly am writing for an audience, but probably no one will read it except 1 or 2 curious coursemates, and the course convenor when it comes to grading the blog. LOL. There is a need to make frequent weekly posts and that means this platform will probably be very much neglected compared to the other two.

But then again, my blog always seems to be the most active when I am the busiest. During busy periods, blogging seems to be the most justifiable activity when procrastinating 🙂

One door closes

After all the challenging months of waking up amid failures during VA, this seems like a walk in the park.

I am of course, disappointed, and partly guilty for all the misplaced faith, but I will try again. For everything beautiful, hard work needs to be invested. And I will continue to remember that 谟事在人, 成事在天.

London for the third time

Third time’s the charm, they say.

Today I arrived in London at 0600hrs, reached home at 0800hrs and tried to make the best out of the day to cure my jetlag as soon as possible. I met Weixuan (obviously), Richard to return him his laptop and Bo Wei for lunch. It was nice to catch up with Wei Xuan and Bo Wei especially, since we hardly met when we were back in Singapore. I think this is one of the things I will miss a lot when I return home back for good too — being so so so close in proximity to my closest friends. Being in London presents a valuable opportunity for us to talk to each other very much, and I am looking forward to exploiting much more of it on my last 8 months here. I did my grocery runs quite a fair bit. I bought a new set of oriental sauces that I will need for cooking this year, heard 933 over the radio when I was in Chinatown and missed Singapore. I bought household supplies, including toilet paper and bathroom cleaners. I bought 5kg of rice that I am going to be cooking with and living on, and bought cereal too. I feel like I am living two entirely separate lives when I am in Singapore and London that even my diet differs. There is no more fancy hokkien mee, mee rebus or seafood fried rice that I can purchase from downstairs my house whenever I am hungry. I am forced to be much more thrifty and independent here because I have to do my own cooking and my own household chores. I make much healthier food choices here too (although not the best), perhaps because of an active choice to eat healthier to keep my weight down.

I have a lot of mixed feelings this time and it confuses me quite a bit. It was, of course, painful to part from HT once again. We shared so many memories these 2 weeks. After he came back from his deployment, he took lots of days off to spend my last week here with me. Frog porridge trips to Geylang, swee choon trips, cable skiing, escape room, arcade screaming at each other on Bishi Bashi, employing him to help out with my dissertation and dragonfly watching, subsequent swims/showers at Temasek Club, Halloween Horror Night at USS, late night bingsu dates, eating at SO MANY places in Jalan Besar… we made so many beautiful memories out of our tiny island. I cried bitterly at departures and I believe it is a lie that people say it gets easier. It does not ever. It felt reminiscent of one whole year ago when I left him at departures too. Choking on tears all the way to the departure gate, crying on the plane with tears streaming down my eyes even with my eye mask on. I get very triggered especially when I see photos of us together, I cannot help it.

But in all the missing him and LDR, I oddly missed London as well. I missed London and the lifestyle I have come to associate with living in this city. I sat on the quarterdeck of Freedom on some days and missed the nights running for Korean lessons at 6pm. I missed heading home in the dark after that, cooking my own dinner and having the whole night to myself. I missed walking through Oxford Street to get to places for meals with my friends, or even HT when he was here for a short 2 weeks last year. In many nights through the last academic year, I sat alone with my own thoughts and I think I missed that. I missed being able to make travelling plans at a whim, and I missed the picturesque scenery that really cannot be replicated anywhere else (Seven Sisters, Norway, Switzerland, skiing). You could only enjoy all these sights through travelling, and living in London allowed so many affordable opportunities for that.

8 last months, and I hope to make it count.

I am really sleepy all of a sudden and this is the perfect opportunity to cure my jetlag since it is arguably time for bed (2230hrs). Good night.