Susan was born as the fifth child with 3 elder brothers and 1 elder sister. Her mother subsequently remarried, and had another daughter, Susan’s youngest half-sister.
This sister would have many children (4 or 5) but a husband who died young (aged 30), and Susan would then send money to help with her children’s education.
Though born in a village near Tacloban (a number of hours (5?) bus-trip away), Susan herself went to live with her brother in Manila at the age of 8. She then got married really young at the age of 18, and had 2 children by the age of 22. Within a few years however, she got divorced, and decided to travel to Singapore to eke out a living.
Her son went to live with her husband, who remarried, and her daughter went to live with her mother near Tacloban.
Little did Susan know that the first home she went to work in as a domestic help, would be her home for 13 years. And little did she know, that she would end up living in Singapore for 29 years (and counting).
She did so to give her children a better life. As with many other domestic helpers, her salary would eventually support not just her children, but also her extended family.
She would send money to her mother, for her daughter, and at one point was sending her entire salary for her son’s private school education in Manila (her eyes welled up a bit when she recounted this).
Life as a domestic help is hard. Living with a family that is not quite your family, and having to suffer minor slights at best, and anguish at worst. The physical work is hard too, and the toil in exchange for such minimal wages would only be contemplated by those who had little choice.
These days, Susan’s wages are of the higher tier, and she lives with us, who treat her fondly like an aunt. She is certainly more than a helper, and is more like a grandaunt to our kids too. My SIL sees her as a second mum, and honoured her as ‘one of the two women who brought me up’, with a bouquet on mother’s day. And she deserves the accolade for she has given her whole heart in loving the children in her care, especially those who were the littlest in the family when she arrived.
*insert photo screen shot*
Susan’s experience from 1987 in Singapore was a varied and interesting one.
She started out working for the Lee family, first at their AMK flat, and later their Bedok Reservoir flat, and finally to Sirat Place, where the family resides in to date.
Jeanette was only 1.5 years old when Susan arrived, and Susan cared for her when she was young, rubbing Zambuk on her cane wounds, and generally developing a really soft spot for the sweet, playful girl, who was to grow up to an unfailingly generous and open-hearted lady.
Life as a helper to a Chinese family was not easy, as there were many expectations and work was hard. However, the family treated Susan fairly and opened their hearts to her as well, with Christian love, and when the day came, wrote her a splendid reference that nailed her her first expatriate employer.
That was to mark the start of many stellar references that would see her move from mansion to penthouse, and the pinnacle of a Sentosa Cove residence! Her pay increased alongside her benefits, and fittingly so, for Susan was a housekeeper who deserved total trust, discharging her responsibilities with industry and a kind heart.
Condotel at Leonie Hill/Grange Road
First, she worked for an American employer who lived in Condotel.
Then there was the American employer with 4 boys who left them all in her care whilst they went on a week long couple trip to India (probably the one and only time in their life they could do that before the kids were all old enough to subsist alone!), and subsequently for hotel staycations.
Then there was the British employer (Orange Grove Road condo)
He also generously gave her a $2000 (?) bonus when they left for good to return home to Australia.
(Penthouse opposite Takashimaya)
(Sentosa Cove condominium, where her window opened up to a view of yachts and luxury sailboats, and the employer who put a TV in her room with Pinoy cable TV!)
She recalls the total trust of an employer with regard to the monthly household expenditure. She had 3 American employers in total, and mentions that she likes working for Americans the most! 🙂