My sister Ade wrote something on FB that touched me greatly. She said she contacted our old Malaysian maid/nanny/housekeeper/helper (what is the politically correct term now?), Ah Eng, after my brother’s visit to Ah Eng’s home town last week. Ade said, she (Ah Eng) was very surprised and touched. She said looking after us was the right thing to do cos we are more ‘xiao xun’ than her own kids.
Ah Eng cannot blame her kids. After all, she and her husband, Ah Cai, left their hometown in Perak to make a living in Singapore for almost ten years, leaving their young kids at home for relatives to care for. Their 5 children were our age, the oldest being 4 years older than me and the youngest 4 years younger. Ah Eng, like many Indonesian and Filipina maids now, left her children to come look after the three of us in 1973 and left in 1983. How then can she expect her children to be close to her when she was an absentee mother?
With our own mother working, Ah Eng was a surrogate mother to us, and imparted her values to the three of us, values that she could have taught her own children had she been there for them. Thrift, honesty, filial piety, and many Chinese customs that we no longer demand of our own kids. Her husband, Ah Cai, who had worked in a plastic molding factory then, would stay with us for the weekends and did all the handiwork and gardening around the house, even building a shed for Gigi and her pups.
We missed her presence when she left and the maids that followed, from Philippines, India, Indonesia, Myanmar were not in the same league. In fact, many of my homemaking skills were taught by her, from cleaning to cooking.
I’m thinking, it’s time for me to pay her a visit too – a nine-hour drive to Lumut, Perak.