Sunday, March 18, 2007

South and East of KL

For the spring break we went to Singapore and Cherating Beach. We drove to the border town of Johar Bahru and left the car in a parking lot because cars were taxed by the day in Singapore, and took a taxi to the city. We had brought along our maid,Aimee, first as a babysitter, so Jacques and I could go out at night in Singapore with colleagues from Jacques office and secondly so she could see Singapore. She had never been anywhere except Malaysia. I wanted her to feel she got more out of her employment than just washing dishes and changing Gabriel’s nappies. Aimee was very nervous at the border, convinced they would throw her out, although she was legally allowed in, but it all went smoothly.

Aimee was a good travel companion, always patient with the kids, easy to have around and she genuinely seemed to enjoy our day-trips to the science museum, an indoor ski-slope and to Sentosa Island. Singapore bugged me though, it seemed over-populated and culturally over-rated to me. The famous shopping on Orchard Road was nothing compared to Megamall or One Utama in KL and I couldn't find any bargains. The ubiqutuous public signs that banned spitting, eating chewing gum, peeing in lifts and not eating on trains fascinated Marc who wanted explanations. I disliked the proper-English speaking and driving taxi drivers who moaned about the British tourists. I missed the spontaneity of KL taxis, the not knowing which language or music you would hear or what the driver would talk about. People tutted as we dashed through traffic rather than waiting for the red-lights. I realized how much I loved Malaysian life and how at home we felt there. Jacques looked for the Singapore he had loved ten years ago as a young student working on an intern project there, and couldn’t find it. It seemed to be full of Brit expats and tourists en route to Australia wanting a safe Asian experience. We did enjoy a British-style comedy night and taking Marc and Nina to the night zoo. We all loved eating breakfasts of black coffee with condensed milk and French toast in the local canteen near our hotel.

Aimee became quite chatty as we drove back up the east coast of Malaysia, the rural villages reminded her of home she said. One night we stayed in a cheap hotel by a black muddy beach. The kids rolled like piglets in it and were filthy. Back at the room we had no hot water, only a tap, and a small basin to ladle water onto our bodies. Aimee efficiently cleaned the kids in this way, saying that’s how they did it back in the Philippines. Later we sat on cushions under an outdoor thatched canopy eating ice-cream and she told us how her mother died when she was five and how she was brought up by her eldest sister. In her twenties her husband had died and now her only son, John, lived with her paralysed sister, who appreciated his help around the house. She had spent only two or three years with him before starting work as a maid overseas. I asked her when his birthday was, She said June. ‘What day?’ I asked, as one always asks other mothers. ‘I don’t remember’ she replied looking sad, ‘I am never there, but I always send a gift’. Nina asked what she would send for his birthday, and she replied ‘a pair of sports shoes’, but she must ask her sister first for his size, he was a growing teenager now. I felt terribly sorry for her and her family life and wondered how she could care for our children and still smile with all that heartache.

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