When my brother was five, Gran’s neighbour at Cuppage Road introduced us a maid from Malaysia. Ah Eng was 38 years old when she came. She was born in China of Teochew descent, and was matched to Ah Chai, a Hokkien in Perak. She bored him 5 children and the couple left the kids, the youngest only eight, to come to Singapore to work in 1977. Ah Chai worked in a plastic molding factory in Changi while Ah Eng worked for us. Every weekend on his day off, he would travel from east to west to come stay with us, making himself useful by tending to the gardens and doing repairs around the house. He once built a dog house for my seven puppies, using scraps he found. On her off day every fortnight, Ah Eng will travel to Changi to join her husband for a much earned day off.
Ah Eng worked for us for almost eight years, treating us like the children she left behind in her village Lumut. I was of the same age as her third child, a son; my sister was the same age as her fourth child, another son. The youngest child, a daughter, was the same age as our neighbour Jo. While in our family, she witnessed the ups and downs of my parents’ marriage until their final divorce. I believe we kids were not very much affected as she provided the security we needed then.
When Ah Eng and Ah Chai decided to leave Singapore for good, we were sad but as teenagers, there were more things to be concerned about than domestic worries. Mom gradually engaged the first of many Filipinas, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Myamese maids to come.
My brother Min visited Ah Eng twice and encouraged me to do the same when he heard that we were driving to Cameron Highlands. I discussed with my travelling companions and they were happy to accommodate my wish, even if it’s travelling three hours to Lumut for a night stay. (Great hubby and friends I have.)
Lumut used to be a British naval base. The most famous resort in the world, Pangkor Laut, is situated in an island, Pangkor, off Lumut. Otherwise, the accommodations around Lumut and Pangkor were pretty basic. We managed to book a Best Western Marina Island Resort which turned out to be unexpectedly pleasant and new (very important!).
We visited Ah Eng as soon as we checked in and I managed to catch up with her. Her kids are all doing well, and are living in semi-ds and terrace houses quite similar to those at Faberhills, or even Harvey.
The three sons joined us and treated us to a great seafood meal. After dinner, we took a walk at the esplanade.
I’m glad Ah Eng and Ah Chai are living well. It was great to see them again. As for Lumut, it houses the largest Malaysian Navy. Other than that, we didn’t really see much. Another time, perhaps.