Vivi Anna

wonder maid

Vivi Anna (or simply Anna) has all the qualities that a Singapore or expatriate employer would look for in a maid.
  1. She is from a dialect group who are highly regarded by employers in Singapore.
  2. She is a university graduate with a degree in nutrition, surely a plus for a domestic worker.
  3. Instead of remaining idle in a country plagued by high unemployment, she accepts an offer to work as a maid in a foreign country.
  4. She has worked for a Singapore employer Mr Lim for 4 years.
  5. Anna has done an excellent job for one Dr Garibaldi who gave her a substantial raise.
With so many things in her favour, it is therefore all the more unexpected that she should now be swatting flies in her kampong or barrio.

Out of her seven years in Singapore, her two years with the Garibaldis was the most rewarding. It sounds like a fairy tale, for Anna started at $300 and ended up earning $700* per month. But all good things come to an end and Dr Garibaldi was recalled. (* Later Mrs Garibaldi confirmed to this chronicler that Anna was indeed paid $700 - $500 in hard cash and $200 in her dreams.)

Armed with a testimonial signed by both Dr and Mrs Garibaldi which describes in detail her contribution to the comfort and well-being of the family, Anna should have no trouble getting a job for as long as she needed one.

Indeed finding employment was the least of her problem. The real challenge was to stay employed. Within three months she had been hired and ingloriously fired by her next employer one Mr Glorioso Juniperos formerly of Little Rock, now an entrepreneur operating a business out his home. Mr Juniperos began to doubt her intelligence and asked her agent when it no longer mattered if he had checked her credentials. Does it really matter if a woman who works as a maid and is paid the wages of a maid is a university graduate? Glorioso was not employing a secretary, was he? One gets only what one pays for.

Anyway, Anna was not jobless for long. She got her next job in the twinkling of an eye. Before one year had elapsed, her next employer Mrs Smith had given her two advances each amounting to three months of her salary.

The irony of it all is that while most maids would count themselves lucky to work for Mrs Smith, Anna thought otherwise. She was earning $350 plus another $100 "pocket money" for some extra chores not originally counted among her duties. Apparently $450 a month did not impress her who had been paid $700 (of which as we have earlier observed, $500 was in real money, $200 in Anna's dreams) when she worked for Dr Garibaldi.

When Dr Garibaldi was recalled, Mrs Garibaldi and the children stayed back so that the education of the latter would not be disrupted. Often Anna would visit and, on one occasion, six months after she began working for Mrs Smith, while visiting Mrs Garibaldi, she met her guest, a newly arrived colleague of Dr Garibaldi's. This visitor turned out to be single and Anna assumed that he would need a maid, preferrably a great cook, like her. Is it not universally accepted that a single man with a good job and good income should be in need of a great housekeeper, like Anna?

Anna would be just right for the job and she thought nothing of breaking her contract with Mrs Smith and going to work for Dr Garibaldi's colleague. Working for a bachelor is something to be devoutly desired; there are many advantages. However, the job offer did not materialise. Perhaps it existed only in Anna's vivi imagination. Perhaps he was looking for other qualities than the ability to cook. Perhaps a single man with a good job and a good income needed his privacy more than Anna's great cooking.

But Anna was none the worse for it. Mrs Smith was totally unaware of what some employers might consider a betrayal. Not only did she pay Anna one hundred dollars more than her previous employer did, she had also given her a substantial loan interest-free, without collateral. Anna knew that if she borrowed the same amount in her own country, she would have had to pay a bundle on interest per month, under the "five-six" system where one borrows 5 and pays back 6 at the end of the month.

In general it is not a good idea to give your maid an advance on her salary. In fact a maid should not even ask her employer for an advance on her salary.

If the maid asks her employer for an advance on three months of her salary, the employer has two alternatives:

  • say no and agonise over the possibility that the maid, being disappointed and embarassed, will thereafter neglect her duties or, worse, do something silly or damaging or both;
  • say yes and lose control over her maid who would then feel that as long as she owes her employer money, the latter would not fire her - even if she deserved it.

The first time Mrs Smith gave Anna an advance, all went well. But the second time she was not so lucky! A month after giving the maid a second advance, she began to regret it.

Mrs Smith bought a pet kitten and to her annoyance Anna would not feed it unless she was given some more "pocket money". Mrs Smith argued that feeding her new kitten was part of her job and promptly showed Anna a copy of her application, pointing to where she had indicated that she was willing to take care of pets. Anna did not want to be reminded and unceremoniously brushed aside her resume. Mrs Smith found Anna disagreeable. But she was to blame for not consulting Anna before she brought home the kitten. So now she had to take care of the kitten herself, not a big deal though. One never has to fuss over a kitten as one would over a dog which Anna abhorred. A kitten is so unobstrusive.

But Anna was indignant. Her employer had the audacity to bring a kitten home without first consulting her and now she would deprive her of a little extra income by feeding the kitten herself! She was so affluent she ought to be generous to someone who was poor, like herself. She felt that Mrs Smith did not deserve her, so she gave notice to quit.

Mrs Smith was incredulous! How could she quit when she was still indebted to her. So Anna said graciously (or presumptiously?), "I'll work for you until I have repaid you." It did not occur to her that Mrs Smith might not want to put up with her for another two months, given her attitude.

The trouble probably started when the Smiths went home for a vacation, leaving Anna behind. For ten days or so, Anna became the monarch of all she surveyed. During this period, if her majesty was not entertaining her guests in her employer's house, she would be working for a newly arrived expatriate family Ibitssen. This is illegal of course as the maid may only work for the employer named in the work permit. But new arrivals would not know this. Meanwhile, perhaps ignorant of the rules of the Work Permit Office, Mrs Ibitssen offered Anna a job, probably at a higher salary. Was the kitten only an excuse for Anna to break her contract?

It appears that Anna was not so popular among her comrades, for after Mrs Smith had cancelled her work permit and repatriated her, the maids in the condominium became noticeably more friendly to her, ostensibly to inquire after Anna but really to rat on her. That's how Mrs Smith found out that Anna had been moonlighting for the newly arrived Ibitssens while she was in the U.K.; that's how she found out that Anna had tried unsuccessfully to bring not one but two men to her employer's house. Two, not one!

One is reminded of the old woman who not only swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then a cock to catch the spider and soon graduated to bigger things and

like a greedy hog swallowed a dog
and, not sated, swallowed a horse.
How coarse! She died, of course

The security guard on duty refused to let the two horses enter the condominium complex. He did not tell Mrs Smith about it, but her friends did. And Mrs Smith later discovered that Anna had, on one occasion at least, invited a friend to stay over.

Two days after Anna had gone home, the postman delivered three photos of her taken in Mrs Smith's living room. From the date stamp Mrs Smith could see that the photos were taken on two consecutive days, suggesting that whoever took the photographs had stayed over. The return address on the envelope belonged to Anna's previous employer Mr Glorioso Juniperos. Was the photographer the maid who replaced Anna in Mr Juniperos's house?

Mrs Smith's experience would seem to confirm that lending money to one's maid is not a terribly good idea.

  • Kindness does not necessarily beget kindness.
  • The employer has to put up with unacceptable behaviour until the loan is repaid.
  • The employer may not be able to recover the money if the maid becomes obnoxious and employer wants her out and quickly.
  • The employer may have to make unwilling concessions to the maid who may say, as Anna did, "I will give you buck the money I owe you, but only after you give me a release paper." By a release paper Anna meant her employer's consent for her to work for another employer.

As it turned out Mrs Smith gave in to Anna's demand; she signed a form indicating that she had no objection to her working for another as yet unnamed employer, Ibitssen perhaps. In return Anna repaid what she still owed. Mrs Smith was both relieved to be repaid and at the same time uneasy that Anna who should be broke had so much money now.

Anna had her way. She had won a battle. Mrs Smith gave her what she wanted: her release paper, an experession favoured by Anna. Now she wanted to move out, to her new employer's house. She had been packing her belongings the past several days. It became clear that she had been planning to leave and was ready to do so now. Her employer, the real employer, would not let her go she knew not where. She knew that Anna could not work for the new as yet unnamed employer until a work permit had been issued in the latter's name. Anna ought to know because only a year earlier she had to wait until a new work permit was issued before she went to work for Mrs Smith. She probably thought that Mrs Smith would not know.

Finding Anna not only unreasonable but also insufferably rude, the Smiths decided that they would not put up with her any longer. The next morning Mrs Smith cancelled her work permit prior to repatriating her under the terms of the security bond. And before one year had elapsed, Anna again found herself jobless.

When the escort came to bring Anna to the airport, she realised that her employer had cancelled her work permit. She ran amok! She flung an electric iron on the floor and probably chipped a ceramic tile or two. She stormed out of the apartment and called out to her comrades in the complex to come to her rescue.

Those who are wiser than Anna know that if a foreign maid's work permit is cancelled, the visit pass is also cancelled and she has to go home. They know that an employer is required, on pain of losing her bond of $5,000, to cancel her maid's work permit and repatriate her if the employment relationship breaks down. They advised her to go home and not make a fuss.

But Anna would not give up without a fight. She would go to the Embassy and demand protection. Surely General V. Letscaro would somehow prevail upon Mrs Smith to let her stay, regardless of what the law says. Laws are meant to be broken, no? So to the Embassy she went and, helpless to restrain her, the Smiths went too.

Much to Anna's disappointment, General Letscaro did not try to scare Mrs Smith, but instead explained to her that an employer had the right to cancel the work permit of the maid she was no longer pleased to employ; and that when the work permit was cancelled the maid lost her privilege to stay and her visit pass was accordingly cancelled.

Anna had to face the truth. She agreed to go home quietly if her real employer would make a few small concessions. She was sure that her real employer would give in to her small requests, for otherwise if she refused to go home, if she decided to go into hiding, the employer would lose five thousand dollars!

So she asked for one month's salary. Mrs Smith argued that she had paid her what was due to her - 10 days, up to that very day, but General Letscaro managed to persuade Mrs Smith to be charitable and pay for the whole month, only a few dollars more. Mrs Smith gave in. She was such a pushover. Anna had won one more battle.

The next concession was not so small. Anna had accumulated a lot of goodies - several big crates' worth - and now she wanted Mrs Smith to ship them to her in her country. Mr Smith who had hitherto sat quietly by, never saying a word the whole time, stood up and walked out mumbling angrily, "This is too much. I am prepared to lose my $5,000...." implying that Anna could refuse to go home and break the law thereby causing him to lose $5,000. More of this.

Of course Anna could make as many requests as she liked. At this point General Letscaro excused himself and Victorioso Labatto walked in to relieve the former who had some less important matter to attend to - preparing a list of agents to declare personae non gratis. Victorioso Labatto was embarassed and chided Anna for making such unreasonable demands. So she backed down. But please, would madam let her stay for a few more days. What for, Mrs Smith wanted to know. She had some unfinished business to attend to with her employer. Oops again! Anna kept on putting her left foot in her mouth, making that mistake of referring to someone else other than Mrs Smith as her employer. Labatto noticed her lack of respect for her real employer and chided her for it.

Now convinced that Anna was the offending party, Victorioso Labatto suggested to Mrs Smith to rush her to the airport that very afternoon. But there was not enough time and Mrs Smith had to put up with Anna for one more day.

Anna had no more trump to play. She became inexplicably ever so sweet, sickeningly so, and thanked madam again and again for being so kind, for giving her a whole month's pay for only 10 days' work, for letting her stay another day and giving her time to arrange for her friends to cart away her several crates of goodies. Anna probably used the time to assure her would-be employer that she would return.

On the day she left she vowed, as Arthur once did, "I shall return." Or more probably, "I'll be buck."

But surely not within two weeks as she bragged.*** The newly arrived family would by now be more knowledgeable and realise that there was much paperwork to attend to. They might just look for another maid.

(*** 3 months after she went home, Mrs Garibaldi called this chronicler for his opinion about lending Anna $3,000 so that she could go to work in Canada, Hong Kong or Taiwan. There she would earn more than seven hundred dollars, all in real money. Mrs Ibitssen had apparently changed her mind about hiring Anna when she could not come buck within 2 weeks.)
Anna should have been more reasonable. Just as a maid would not like her employer to terminate her contract without adequate notice, so Anna should have waited until Mrs Smith had found a new maid to take her place. And she should have made herself more agreeable so that Mrs Smith, not having to put up with her obnoxious conduct would be willing put her up until she could legally transfer to the Ibitssens.

If she did not make herself so disagreeable, but had given Mrs Smith time, she would herself have got more time to wait for her new employer to get her a new work permit.

Anna had won several battles: such as securing her release paper, getting a full month's pay for 10 days' work and an extra day to liaise with employer, oops, employer-to-be.

But in the end all the advantages count for nothing. As long as she is jobless, she has lost the war, a war she could not win, for she was her own enemy.