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Maid search

Posted by
spots (Singapore, Singapore) on 19 July 2007 in Miscellaneous and Portfolio.

If "FDW BIODATA" means anything to you, you've probably, like me, searched for a maid before. It is a tiring, vaguely non-amusing & arduous process. Searching for a maid is almost like searching for a life partner. You pray. You meet a few "potentials". You consider them carefully, find out more about them. There is disappointment and frustration when things "don't work out". Then, you move on. More hopeless, more dejected, more cautious than before. You wonder if you'll ever find... "the one"... ^__^ *sigh*

(By the way, "FDW" stands for Foreign Domestic Worker. And "BIODATA" is the commonly-used term in Sinapore for the maid's resume or employment history/background.)

Along the way, I've encountered a few stories, which I'd like to share:

1. Meet F. who has been working for the same employer for 7 years, with no day off. (Can you imagine not having a single day off for 7 years?) F. wanted to transfer and I interviewed her over the phone and found her quite suitable. She came across as the feminine-sweet-girly sort of Filipina, not the low-voiced-gruff-rough kind. She didn't even ask me for a pay rise, but only requested that she be given a day off every week. Of course I agreed. How can anyone NOT have a day off every week?? When I SMS-ed her employer to ask him when would be a good time for me to speak with him about F., he rudely SMS-ed back that she was NOT planning to transfer and he said to go and tell her agent that and to stop bothering him?!?! When I checked with the agent, she said that F. had become un-contactable, that the employer refused to release her and was planning to send her back to the Philippines (rather than release her to be further employed in Singapore).


2. A similar sort of thing happened to Z, a warm-hearted, clearly-devout Filipina who spoke English perfectly. She had been with the same employer for 11 years before transferring to another employer for 2 years. The agent said that her employer verbally abused her, but she stuck it out and completed her contract. As we found her qualifications quite suitable, we gave her an offer after much prayer. But guess what happened? The employer refused to renew her visa and sent her back to the Philippines!


Are Singapore employers all so mean??

A definitively-confusing aspect of the maid search has been the countless pieces of advice we have got from people. Many people tell us:

1. Don't be too friendly with the maid. Once you are friendly, she'll know she can cut corners, slack off.

2. Don't give the maid a day off. That's when they go out and meet other maids, and that's when the 'trouble' starts, e.g., bad company, boyfriends, borrowing/lending money.

3. Make sure you test your maid. Drop in "unexpected" in the middle of the day, leave money "lying around". See whether she's honest and trustworthy. Some people even very seriously said, "Install CCTV! Or at least, lie that you have CCTV in the house!"

This has been confusing for us because even though we believe that trust must be earned, we also believe we should treat people fairly.

And then there is all the conflicting advice on which type of maid is best: Some people say get a fresh new maid from her home country - cos they're more eager and innocent. Others say get maids with experience from Hong Kong or Taiwan, cos they are supposedly better & can cook Chinese food. Some say get "ex-Singapore" maids (meaning maids who have previously worked in Singapore but have returned to their home country). Some say don't get "ex-Singapore", because "they know how to fool you".


Then there is the whole debate about character vs competence. Should we pick a person based on her character? Or based on her skills? If A. has experience & skills in cooking and infant care, but she comes across as a bit cold, indifferent, a bit too quick to say "Yes ok no problem", should we hire her over, say, B., who has little experience & skills in cooking & infant care, but seems genuinely caring, warm-hearted, thorough, hardworking, honest and trustworthy?

And to top it all off, there are the maid agencies to deal with. Out of the 15 agencies I called, only 4 have actually bothered to call me back regularly to recommend me further candidates when the initial ones did not work out. The others? Some didn't even bother calling me back about the initial candidates I shortlisted. Some never picked up their phone. And the general impression I get is that they are just plain not interested in my business. Really! I'm not sure whether this is due to the general lower standard of customer service in Singapore (compared to America), or whether the agencies are all overloaded with work, or what. But it was plain frustrating.

Whatever it is, the entire maid search has been quite painful and eye-opening. But on the more philosophical side, I think it has given Husband & myself a good opportunity for reflection and some fine-tuning of how we view parenthood, what it should and should not be, what it entails and what it doesn't entail. How this search process ends,.... remains yet to be seen. But we are definitely clearer on a few things:

1. Getting a maid doesn't mean abdicating our responsibility as parents of our children

2. A maid is not going to solve all our problems in life (haha, did we ever think that? Even vaguely??)

3. We must choose wisely. Hope for the best. Pray pray pray.

Strangely, almost 100% of Singaporeans I've talked to have likened choosing a maid to "luck of the draw". That term "luck of the draw" has been on everybody's lips... as if they all conferred with each other beforehand or something. I really don't believe that. I believe you can choose wisely. Yes... you will never know REALLY if you have chosen well, because you can't really see a person's whole character till over time, but at least, you can do your best to weed our unwise choices, major character flaws, definite lack of competences.

I'm not sure that, after having said all this, we will end up making the right choice. (We've even had maids we were keen on reject us! One said she didn't want to look after 2 young kids!!) Perhaps this maid search IS really like finding a life partner... after ensuring a few choice criteria have been met, the rest is all about PRAY PRAY PRAY PRAY PRAY!

Fong from Singapore

Though I have never gone through the process of hiring a maid, I can appreciate the headache process of getting one and the harder part of training them and then half a year later, they want to leave (for all possible reasons). That's why i never hire a maid even though I work full-time with a 2-year old toddler. I prefer to engage a weekly part-time cleaner. Having said that, a stayed-in maid is certainly helpful once she is trained and familiar with your household needs. And I'm sure she will enjoy learning some interesting dishes that you used to prepare. Wish you best of luck!

20 Jul 2007 12:44am

Nancy from Singapore

Hi Ruth, I am also in the midst of getting a maid.... going to do some interviews later. Pray that I will be able to get someone who is trustworthy. Well, skills can be trained lah.

20 Jul 2007 3:47am

Joyous from Singapore

WOW! I didn't know the great maid hunt was so complicated! And why are Singaporean employers so mean? Don't understand their logic... Anyway, I'm currently not working, so you can give me a buzz anytime if you need help! :)

20 Jul 2007 8:27am

Emily from United States

Goodness, what a headache! But I trust God will provide. FWIW, I believe character (+ hopefully a willingness to learn) is much more impt than competency. After all, this is the person your kids will spend many hours with and learn from.

20 Jul 2007 6:42pm

Mama BoK from Yarmouth, Canada

Alot of praying needed.. you are right..! not easy to find a maid at all. So many things to consider too.. ! good luck ya..!

21 Jul 2007 6:58am

Wayne from Melbourne, Australia

Hi Spots...I think what you said about maids and life partners is quite true. I've had one maid, Aunty Chris, in my family for 12 years now and she is family. My mom's taught her to cook to the point her cooking is quite indistinguishable from my mom's (with me as one of the primary beneficiaries of twin food streams!). I definitely do agree that its a growth process...of both partners doing that waltz of trust...slowly circling each other until a mutual understanding arises. But as in any dance...people may stumble and falter for a bit...and its those times to paraphrase some movie I watched ages just dance on.

I hope that when I have children of my own, I'll be as good a parent as you and your husband are or even my mom too (dare I hope so high). I think too often, people in general, tend to view maids or hired help as a quick fix to the arduous and sometimes seemingly unrewarding task of raising up the young 'uns. I'm glad my mom taught me right to respect Aunty Chris as both a person and an older family member than just a servant. My mom takes the same view as army instructors do...they care not for head skills but the heart attitude...because the heart attitude is one of the hardest things to instill in a person. Will keep you and your family in my prayers!

22 Jul 2007 2:54am

jleoivken from Singapore

I have maids since I had my first kid; all Indonesians; some good ones; a couple of "rotten" ones; stealing, lying, etc. The current one is renewing her contract; that will be her 3rd one. I believe in "luck" and also the "give-and-take" attitude; so long the children are well look after; food on the table; the house does not have to be spotless clean. One advice; those whose bio-data did not put "Child care" as "1st choice"; do not deserve consideration at all. BTW, do take a look at MOM website; they have a list on agents who are under accredited; under case trust; suspended agents; etc. Good Luck!

23 Jul 2007 2:25am

JO from Singapore

sigh.... what can i say.... someone once said, they are a necessary evil.... you dont really know the problems employers face until you are in their shoes....

24 Jul 2007 6:58am

kcos from United States

how do you get a maid to come to the usa

28 Jul 2007 10:58pm