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Wednesday, May 10, 2006
A Conversation With My Readers - Part One

My parents and two brothers are away in Cambodia for a holiday. The house is at peace. The maids are doing their stuff and Milo is still practicing how to climb up his newly installed tree house.

It is tough being a 6.5 kilo baby cat these days. His babysitter, Maid Number Two places him on the steps and pats his bottom gently to coax him up onto the first platform. Milo gets really excited each time any of us place him on the tree house. His ears perk up and his pupils dilate. The gentle breeze that is forever present in our house and is evident as it brushes gently pass Milo’s extra thick fur.

I think Jim Davis drew Garfield with Milo in mind – a red, fat cat with eating and sleeping in his mind.

The house is so still. Normally the TV would be blasting with CNN news round the clock with my father and mother sitting at the sofas, watching TV, chatting when they are not arguing, munching on some cookies and channel surfing. How odd it seems now that my whole family went for a holiday without me.

I am home alone.

Okay, technically I have two Indonesian maids who are ultra loved because they make our lives easy. On our way home last evening, my maid, Maid Number One, requested for a mobile phone. I told her indirectly that most employers are not willing to buy their kakak-s (literal translation “sister” – a term generally used in the Malaysian household, in reference to their house help) a mobile for fear of excessive communication with unwanted people, such as some foreign worker men at a construction site.

Maid Number One said she wanted it to sms her mother in Indonesia. She quickly added that my family doctor gave one to his maid. Now this is a predicament and I am sure that many employers would agree with me. I want to be a good employer and I strongly encourage that my maid be brought out for social events with us. So on Saturday nights, both maids go to church with the rest of the family.

There are plenty of maids there to mix and chat with. Most of them are found upstairs, caring for their young charges. My maids do not need to supervise any child since my siblings and I are adults and Milo is not a Christian, since he is a cat.

That leaves both maids to chat freely and have a social life. This is something that I am very pleased with. I want my kakak-s to be happy, to have a life of their own and to have their own set of friends. A good social life means a better kakak and a better kakak is heaven sent.

However over the years, I have encountered many incidents that make me question whether it is wise to give my maids an opportunity to meet other fellow Indonesians. There are two of them at home, so socialising and speaking in their own tongue is fulfilled. The family buys them a ration of Indonesian foodstuff, so they would not miss home that much. We do our best to appreciate them because they have eased our domestic lives a lot.

But what if the maid goes for a social function and learns negative habits? The church had its share of maid stories. One maid (not mine) once told her friends during a church event that she does not work at all. She sits at home and watches TV whenever she pleased. The direct result of that one conversation was many maids resenting their work, all are praying for a similar lifestyle of not working.

As the maids socialise, they share secrets, hang their employers’ dirty linens in public and gang up. Sometimes they trade their stolen spoils, so the items are not easily detected. They exchange notes and start to question what they should do, what they should not do and how long can they do.

Personally I do not have a problem with them questioning their rights. We send them to rest approximately at 7:00 p.m. immediately after dinner. They are free to sit and watch TV with the rest of the family (currently they sit with my mother, watching Wah Lai Toi). They have books and magazines to read in their own private space, plus a radio to keep themselves entertained.

And now I have to deal with Maid Number One’s request for a mobile phone. What should I do?

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16 Comments:

Cambodia. Going there soon myself.

As for hired help issue, I'm kinda biased against it. They can get their own handphones by all means but providing them with one is not on the good employer list of things to do.

3:29 am  

Your reluctance to supply a mobile is reasonable. As crass as this may sound, they are there to work. If they want a phone, they can save up for one themselves.

But I agree with everything else you said which is to make your maids as happy and comfortable as can be, though within limits.

A happy worker is a good worker. :)

3:55 am  

Cambodia...I'm going there as well, to Angkor Wat.

Anyway, we used to have a live-in maid, but there were too many problems (theft, apathy, attitude problems) so we decided to let her go instead.

I'm biased towards this as well due to negative past experiences, but I don't think providing them with a cell phone would be a good thing. Our live-in maid used to use the house phone to make phone calls and left us with a RM 2,000+ bill on the two months before she left. Who was she talking to?

God knows...

4:01 am  

I strongly feel for killuminati for I have experienced similar encounters. Human rights are considered breached if you ill-treat or abuse your domestic employees. But that does not mean that they are rightfully provided the luxury. Thing is, we are all humans and most of us tend to desire comfort rather than work, especially working under their conditions where they have to reluctantly leave their family behind to come out on their own.

Otto, I shall not directly recommend whether you should or shouldn't provide your kakak a mobile phone. But I shall share an anecdote with you:

A few maids my family used to hire, (not at the same time tho), most of them end up with some hanky panky business. They use homephones to chit chat with fellow maids in the neighbourhood. (We had caller ID) Once of them used the phone to arrange for an operation-jumping-plane. We found her gone with (haha coincidentally) a foreign construction worker.

Sometimes I cannot blame my mother for being so paranoid and strict at them whenever they were doing something not within their 'job scope', I feel for both parties.

Anyways, it's all over now. No maid, no headache, only more house chores to be done.

[Disturbing trivia: rumours and supersitions spread among Indonesian maids that if they want their employers to listen to them and not abuse them, feed them their own urine (the maid's, that is) *shudders*]

4:43 am  

Give her a mobile and the latent problems will bloom.

6:11 am  

my friend's maid got pregnant and ran away soon after she got a mobile phone.

7:03 am  

What should you do? Consider that they are also people, and that paying them a wage doesn't give you an excuse to control their whole entire lives. I believe that's called slavery, only without wages.

10:05 am  

Supplying her with a mobile phone can have its repercussions. If you trust her enough I reckon it's okay to give her one.

Although, I'm also sort of biased against giving her one. Only because I've seen my fair share of maid horror stories. I think if she really needed one, she can get one by herself.

I mean, even if you don't get her one, I'm pretty sure she can go out and get one herself anyway, right?

2:02 pm  

GB
I wanted to go to Cambodia but prefer to do so with friends or with Alex instead.

When it comes to the phone, I have nagging doubts that it will be solely for the purpose of calling her mother.........



Mooiness
Hello there, sir! Contented worker = effecient worker, that is for sure.

Which is why I am thinking about this ---> Maid Number One (mine) has been perfect in her duties. Sometimes she pouts when she toils in the kitchen but hey, I would pout too, if I had to fry some John Dory fish or something like that.

BTW my kakak makes killer curries.....!

5:11 pm  

Killuminati
Hello Hot Babe =) Angkor Wat would be fun. I heard it takes 3 days just to explore the whole complex. I am a bit sore abt not going actually but someone has to remain in the house to babysit the maids, I guess.

R once cycled at 5 a.m. to watch the sun rise in Angkor. He bitched abt getting up early but swore it was worth the early wake. So you might want to consider a program like the one R was on.

I had a maid who left my parents with a RM500 bill. Somehow maids get tricky in their last few months. Too eager to go home and quickly show their 'true' colours.. hahahaha... last year, my mother let her maid go a month earlier because she tak boleh tahan the perangai!

5:16 pm  

Ian
Well my family stays in an 'ulu' place... hahahahaha, with a nice parcel of land around the house. In our previous house, our neighbours were Indons with 2 Indon maids too, so the four of them chatted merrily each evening - which was fine for both parties because we wanted the maids to socialise too.

But to exchange phone numbers and rack up the phone bill is such a no-no... I buy my maids iTalk cards to use, if ever they need to call anyone. So far so good.


*trivia*
In relation to your trivia bit, my father once said that he wanted to secretly feed the maids with pork - which in his opinion, was the chinese employer equivelent of having a more cooperative maid....

We never did it though, so please don't blast this space. Thanks.

As a matter of fact, the family gave up eating pork when we started taking maids more than 10 years ago. We don't buy pork and don't cook pork at home. We do eat pork outside (like in wan tan mee etc) but seldom bring them home. And if we do, we will handle those items ourselves.

5:21 pm  

Licko
I can more than assume that problems will arise in the future, if ever I purchase a mobile for my maid.

I am just shocked that my family doctor bought his maid one!!!



Arboon!
I think it is compulsory to send pregnant maids back home. Whatever levy and etc fees paid B-U-N-R-T-!



Anon
I understand your concerns. Those are equally my concerns and I want to give some amount of life for my maids. I teach them to speak and read in English and most of them do both with ease by the time they return home after the two year contract.

5:25 pm  

Mae
I am more inclined to giving her one as opposed to her purchasing one for herself. Basically this is due to the fact that if ever I do give a mobile to her, it will come as a privilege and a gift that she has to earn.

Pre-paid cards (yes, I have thought abt this issue the whole day!) RM15 per month max. She has access to the mobile as long as she works effeciently. And the moment she slacks or create trouble (gossip, waste money, idle chat, gossip, jump plane planning etc) the mobile will be taken away and the privilege withdrawn.

I don't think it is right to impose such rules (which I think are wise, when considering the freedom and potential problem arising from the mobile access) if she bought the mobile on her own.

5:29 pm  

I think giving them a handphone may not be a very good idea... You treat them very nicely and appreciate them, that's more than enough already I think. Hei, before handphones, the maids are happy with using only the public phones to call. Maybe you should just ask them to get their own IDD cards and use your house phone to call home. :)

4:10 am  

Kuek
I do buy her the occasional iTalk card, so that she can call home etc. I have thought abt the whole issue and decided against purchasing her a mobile for the moment. In the event I do buy her one, I will limit her access to it by giving the mobile to her on specific hours only.

Then again, if a maid wants to cheat you, she will find ways.

2:42 pm  

Long ago, we found pictures of my maid in my lingerie, lying on my parents bed. God know who took the pic and what happened on the bed.

We got a new bed, and a part time maid ever since.

5:29 pm  

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