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!