Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Maid in Singapore

I was waiting for the train at Potong Pasir last Friday evening - my daily routine - to get home after a hard day's work. Usually, the train going up north will have standing room only, but yesterday, an empty train came from the north, stopped at Potong Pasir station and headed north again. I guess something must have happened along the rail that day - another rail suicide, perhaps?

Whatever happened, I got a comfortable seat and noticed a couple and their maid with a pram in tow, containing a toddler of about 2-3 years just across from where I sat. This is not an uncommon sight in Singapore nowadays, but it is a disturbing one. Assuming that that couple has only that one son (I didn't see another), we are looking at 3 adults looking after one toddler - an overkill by any measure, don't you think? Just because one can afford a maid doesn't mean that one needs to engage one. Is it so very hard to look after ONE toddler nowadays? If that is not the maid's primary responsibility, what is she doing out with the couple then? They weren't ladden with bags of shopping either. Shouldn't the maid be at home cleaning the house and cooking dinner, or perhaps looking after the aged parents of this couple, if there is any?

Our children are becoming mini-emperors, and by the same token, couples of these mini-emperors are the great pretenders - the budget version of emperors who have bought their statuses at $350 a month or thereabouts and like to parade around with them. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that all couples with maids are pretenders. But there are instances when the need for a maid is manifestly questionable. On the other hand, the mini-emperors phenomenon is much like what happened in China when the one-child policy was forcefully pushed down the Chinese' throat. Only, in Singapore, it is a matter of not willing to bear more children than not being allowed to do so. Everywhere a toddler goes in Singapore today, there is an entourage of mummy, daddy and maiddy accompanying, ensuring the comfort, safety, needs and wants of that ONE toddler by three grown-ups. Children have never had it so good, in fact, too good. Teenagers nowadays do not know how to sweep the floor (okay, vacuum the floor) and put their soiled clothes out to be washed.

So schools have found it necessary and perhaps therapeutic to organise outdoor camps and activities for these teenagers, only to have teachers complain about how 'spoilt' and molly-coddled their charges are. For example, a group of 21 students (about 17-19 years old) were told to plan their menus and BBQ for an outdoor camp. And what was the plan they submitted? Simple, have the food and the BBQ catered for - entirely outsourced! No need to go to the market, no need to cook, no need to do anything except wait for the food to be delivered . All they have to do, besides paying for it, is simply to eat it. This is probably an indication of what normally happens in their homes.

So while our students get sparkling results because of the many hours of extra lessons put in after school hours with tuition for every subject they take in school and then some others, they do not know anything else except to 'outsource'. Some call this smart and keeping up with the times, I call this shortsighted and regrettable. This dependency culture is going to boomerang on Singapore society in years to come, with detrimental effects.

What to do with our young ones who are fast growing up? I shudder to think about the day they 'outsource' us, the aging parents. Some say this is already happening.