Saturday, September 12, 2015

Story: Molly in Singapore. Part 5.

by Camille Langtry and Monica Graz

I wasn’t sure what to wear for my orientation day, but Signora Moretti made the choice for me, grabbing a simple light blue maid’s dress from my small wardrobe and putting it on the bed.

“You are an FDW in this country, Molly, there is no reason to hide this fact,’’ she said casually. She turned her back to me, but not before urging me to dress as quickly as I could as Mr. Singh was already waiting to take me to the orientation, or the Settling In Program.

“Yes, Ma’am. I be bery past”, I uttered in my thick Filipino accent, but she’s already left the room.
I slipped on the dress and, almost without thinking, tied an apron around my waist. I quickly brushed my pitch black hair - I dyed it again just days ago when still in Manila to conceal my natural auburn color - and put it in a simple ponytail, when I heard Signora Moretti shout from the hall: “Girl, are you ready yet? Mr. Singh is waiting! You are running late!”

The mistress appeared in the door, looked at me in bewilderment and rolled her eyes as if I did something incredibly silly.

“Molly, Molly, I don’t think you need an apron where you are going!”

“Yes, Ma’am. Sorry, Ma’am.”

I quickly removed the apron and was sent on my way by Signora Moretti, who, by the look of things, had plans of her own this morning.

A 30-minute drive across Singapore - my first real chance to see the city - and I found myself among dozens of Asian women of all ages who came here as FDWs - apart from my fellow Filipinas, there were also girls from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. I had to follow the signs that took me to a large room where all the maids from the Philippines had to be. We were about twenty in the room, half of us dressed just like me in a maid’s dress without the apron on, the other half in simple street clothes, mostly white blouses and dark trousers or skirts, another sort of uniform as I understood later.

A Filipino-looking woman, who introduced herself as Joy, came in and started talking to us in very fast Tagalog. I wasn’t able to comprehend everything she said, but I understood much more than I thought I would. I still had to turn to a young girl next to me to translate some things into English - she looked at me peculiarly, but still helped me with some explanations.

I soon realized of course that most of the talk and a PowerPoint presentation were about safety precautions, how to use kitchen appliances, how to clean windows in the Singaporean high-rise apartments without risking your life etc. The Settling in Program was clearly designed for simple inexperienced women coming from rural and backward areas in Philippines and other Asian countries that were sending FDWs to Singapore. A lot of them grew up in remote villages with no running water and electricity and had to be explained the most basic things in the simplistic language they could understand. I was treated as - no, I WAS one of those women now, I thought with mixed feelings as usual, feelings of remorse and fear mixed with excitement and anticipation.

We were given a one-hour break for lunch and the girl who was helping me with translation, who said her name was Linda, offered me to go for a walk. I gladly accepted as I needed some fresh air after what seemed like eternity in the classroom. I told her my story, explaining why my Tagalog was not that good, and she seemed genuinely interested in my invented family history. Linda seemed quite different from the other girls in the class - her English was pretty good, she had a college degree in home economics and she certainly had higher aspirations than being just a maid.

We were right in the heart of what seemed like the city’s business district. It was lunch time and the small square next to our building was filled with office workers enjoying their coffee and sandwiches or just walking around. Dressed in my maid’s dress I immediately felt uneasy surrounded by fashionable office girls in their pencil skirts and trendy silk blouses. We set on an empty bench under a tree, when I heard someone to my left say with a distinct British accent: “Julia, hello!”

I turned my head slowly, half-expecting to see someone from my old life, but instead saw a very good-looking Western woman in a tight form-hugging short-sleeved grey sheath dress and patent leather high heels - clearly an expat executive at a bank or a consultancy here - chatting on the phone to some Julia, possibly a business associate. She noticed my staring and gave me that arrogant “what are you doing in my line of vision” look before turning to the other side as if I wasn’t even there. In a sense, as far as she was concerned, I didn’t exist. We lived in parallel universes. Hers was of business class travel, $800 shoes and Michelin restaurants. Mine was of minimum pay, cheapest ugly clothing and backbreaking manual work. She’d probably making more in a month than I’ll make in 10 years slaving off as a maid, I thought to myself. Her designer bag alone was probably worth more than my entire wardrobe times ten. The gap between us was insurmountable.

My new friend, Linda, was meanwhile looking around starry-eyed, barely containing her excitement about the city and its inhabitants. Indeed, after Manila, the city I called home the last few months, Singapore seemed like a dream. It was incredibly clean, with well-organized traffic and modern, well-kept cars - a far cry from the chaos of Manila’s city life. People - mostly Chinese, but there were also quite a lot of Westerners - were well-dressed and I couldn’t help but feel inferior to them sitting there in my maid uniform. Unlike me, though, Linda was dressed more casually in just a simple blouse and skirt outfit, but not at all of the uniform type. And I couldn’t help but notice that she had a rather expensive-looking smartphone. She was talking nonstop about how much she liked it here. She thought that applying to come to Singapore as an FDW was her ticket out of misery and was hoping that soon she would be able to get a better job.

“I want to be like them, Molly, and I will,” she told me, pointing to a group of professionally dressed Asian office girls, happily chatting by the fountain in the center of the square. “Wouldn’t you want to get a nicer job than just being a cleaner at somebody else’s home, Molly? Become respected instead of being bossed around and shouted at?”

She was expecting some sort of a response from me and I said, in my best accented English, that I wasn’t educated enough to start a different career.

“It’s never too late, Molly! Your English could use a lot of improvement, but it is not beyond repair. And there are a lot of classes for girls like you in Singapore - sewing, cooking, hairdressing, manicure and pedicure, basic computers and accounting. Wouldn’t you want to start your own small business back home in Manila? You don’t want to be a maid a decade from now, do you?”

I thanked her for her useful advice and she gave me a piece of paper with her Singapore mobile number to call if I felt like meeting her again after the classes were over. I could tell that this girl was going to move upwards on the social ladder, she had confidence that you don’t see among all those rather destitute FDWs. Here she was, doing her best to climb from the very bottom, trying to create a better life for herself. I was wondering what she would think of me if she knew that I’ve willingly given up my privileged life as a European woman and embraced my new existence as a third-world maidservant with no money, no family and no future.

After lunch we were shown several short instruction videos, urging us not to pour water on electric sockets, to be extra careful when hanging laundry outside windows in high-rise buildings and not to stick our limbs into working household appliances. Following that we were handed dual language English-Tagalog booklets titled “Gabay para sa mga banyagang domestic worker. A guide for foreign domestic workers”. On the cover was a cartoonish-looking dark-haired maid in a pink smock and apron, holding a mop in her hand. Possible problems facing her in Singapore were shown through a series of drawings that also featured her mistress, a red-haired Western woman in glasses and her happy expat family.

Once again, the booklet was undoubtedly written with the most dim-witted and backward FDW in mind. There were some useful bits of information on work permit conditions or phone numbers to call, but for the most part it contained such pieces of advice as “do things that make you happy, such as writing to your family or listening to music, when you have finished your chores”, “perform your daily duties diligently”, “work hard and have a positive attitude” or “take a bath at least once a day and wash your hair every day”. We also were reminded in no uncertain terms that we were only allowed to work for our employer; working in another job, even if part-time, would get us fined $20,000 or we could end up in prison for up to 2 years. A fine for prostitution was $1,000 for first offense and imprisonment of up to 6 months for all the subsequent offenses. Punishments for murder, drug trafficking, littering, jaywalking and a half a dozen other offenses big and small were also explained in some detail. FDWs clearly didn’t have the best of reputation in this town, I thought to myself.

Several hours later the program was concluded and we all got a certificate of attendance. I bid farewell to my new acquaintance Linda and called Mr. Singh on the cheap pre-owned mobile phone that Signora Moretti gave me so that he could pick me up.


  1. Thanks, Camolle and Monica. The contrast between the two maids was interesting. Waiting for continuation.

  2. Camille and Monica, splendid couple, thanks.
    I think the first days for Molly are too easy and soft!!
    When she start to scrubbing, cleaning and washing?
    Moretti family need a hardworking aproned maid of all works...

    1. You wouldn't have to wait too long! But you must understand that there are a lot of procedures that need to be completed. After all, we don't want to allow an unverified and unprepared foreigner full access to the Moretti family?

  3. Nice work!

    What are Mollys strategic measurements?

    1. Thank you. Not sure what you mean by that. Can you elaborate?


    I forgot put some words between " "-marks. Sorry.

    1. Hmm. She is probably quite a bit taller than most Filipinas, but average height in Europe. Not sure about other measurements. Perhaps Monica had an idea...

    2. It is true what Camille mentioned. Molly is taller than most Filipinas and other Asian women and because she stands out she needs a more Asian face. Signora Moretti is looking to that.
      Other than that Molly is quite slim, she has a proper waistline and her boobs are size 36C.
      And though her maid's dresses are not flattering at all, when she ties her apron on she can emphasize her waistline and her boobs stand out more.
      Monica G.

  5. Thank you for this story. It is very accurate. As a former FDW in Hong Kong, I say that the training course is very true.

    1. Thanks. Isn't it interesting how something that was designed to help foreign workers ends up humiliating them by reinforcing stereotypes? That region of the world is hardly obsessed with Western-style political correctness though. The things they get away with, it often feels like the 1930s with smartphones.

    2. Thanks for your reply. What you say is so true. Only one thing though, that is in Hong Kong, new maids usually stay in dormitories owned by the maid agencies.

    3. Given the size of Hong Kong apartments it is no wonder. Even the ones that are considered large by local standards can hardly fit in a live in maid.

  6. Another fantastic chapter. I loved the contrast of Molly's ugly maids dress and the fashionable outfits of even simple office girls. Imagine the contrast to wealthy people like her employers!
    "We lived in parallel universes. Hers was of business class travel, $800 shoes and Michelin restaurants. Mine was of minimum pay, cheapest ugly clothing and backbreaking manual work." sums up all that is so great about this fantasy ... only poor Molly does not have an easy way (or any way at all?) to escape her self-inflicted reality.

    So far she's enjoying herself. I wonder what will happen if she wants to return to her old life at some point.

    1. Thank you. Degradation stories often rely on forced sex, public humiliation with bdsm overtones or transformation magic to get the point across, when in reality few things are more degrading than being seen as poor and destitute.