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The Case of Filipina Domesiic Helpers in Singapore and Hong Kong F.

Landa Jocano ~ This paper deals with the phenomenon of `culture shock" experienced by Filipinas working as domestic helpers in Singapore and Hong Kong !eports of incidents of "mental disoders"# "emotional stress#" "suicides" and many other forms of difficulties suffered by Filipina domestics during their stay in these places often bug the newspaper headlines $any reasons are gi%en why these incidents happen The most striking ones are psychological in nature &hile this is true# this paper offers another explanation' culture shock (t is misleading if one focuses attention mainly on the difficulties Filipina domestics suffer while working in these places There are ~so success stories but these seldom land in the newspaper headlines They only ser%e to fan the imagination of relati%es# neighbors and friends to come to these distant cities to seek the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" Some are lucky and others are not# whiche%er is the outcome of their %entures# they all encounter the same initial "shock" in the new cultural setting with which many are not prepared to cope The term "culture shock" refers to a "form of anxiety that results from an inability to predict ~e beha%ior of others or act appropriately in a ~toss) cultural situati*n " This anxiety arises because of differences in cultural ways of thinking# belie%ing# feeling and acting that characteri+e the orientations of people in different cultures &hat appears to be logical in one culture is illogical in another ,nd so on -ulture has been broadly defined as a way of life .ach group of people has "a way of life")whether %iewed from purely economic# social# political# and religious terms (t is this "way of life" which makes certain traits uni%ersal and others particular For example# eating is uni%ersal but preparing meals are not Shelter is uni%ersal but building houses and li%ing in them are not -lothing is uni%ersal but constructing attires and being fashionable is not (t is the nuances associated with these uni%ersal traits which make them uni/ue to certain groups of people 0eha%iorally# culture may be further %iewed as a system of symbols and meanings people use to 1(2 organi+e their ideas# 132 interpret their experiences# 142 pass 5udgments or make decisions# and 162 guide their beha%ior Symbols are ob5ects# ideas# sounds 1as in language2 and acts to which obser%ers 1as well as actor2 endow certain attributes and use these attributes to represent the realities of the ob5ects# ideas# sounds and acts &here attributed meanings are not congruent# difficulties in the organi+ation and interpretation of actions take place , person may know how to operate a telephone but if he cannot speak the language# like being in a foreign land# he could not reach the person he wants to speak with (f two persons do not share the same "meaning" they gi%e to an ob5ect# they ultimately /uarrel ,sian countries are said to share7 similar cu8tures This is true in the surface 0ut underneath the %eneer of being ,sian# there are nuances of lifestyles which make ,sian countries differ from each other These nuances are the ma5or factors which hamper the ability of those who choose to li%e in other cultures to respond appropriately or to adapt /uickly to the situation 1s2 in the host country The experiences of Filipina domestics in other ,sian countries support this obser%ation $uch of their reported sufferings are largely due to "culture shock" How to minimi+e the impact of this "shack" in their li%es is one of the issues that ought to chaHenge the concern of labor and ci%ic leaders in the countries of origin and the host countries

ast# Singapore and Hong Kong This paper deals mainly with experiences of domestic help 1DH2 in Singapore and Hong Kong The number of Filipinas working as DH in these two cities %aries There are no accurate statistics in that some domestic helpers do not pass go%ernment processing agencies# like the =hilippine A%erseas .Methodology The data for Singapore were obtained during fieldwork in that country in 89:.fter the Second &orld &ar# most Fi labor migrants were professionals' nurses# doctors# engineers and businessmen This .gency 1=A.* to 89@*# The boom of non)professionals but skilled labor migrants took place in the 89@*s Hundreds and thousands of Filipinos were recruited as construction workers in the $iddle .lmost all researchers who studied the plight of domestic helpers abroad report that the initial problems of them met were psycho)social in nature $eaning Fculture shock" They left the =hilippines with high hopes# often figuring how much they would make and the bright future their families mould en5oy upon return Howe%er# many of them did not /uite make it Some did $any fortunate .2 They go through pri%atc recruiting agencies Athers are directly hired $easons for %oing broad The reasons domestic helpers gi%e when asked why they opted to work abroad are %aried $ost of them howe%er gi%e economic reasons as the main stimulus in doing so They are ware of the risk associated with such %enture .ast# particularly in Saudi .mong these are "basta maka)abroad lang" 15ust to go abroad2# "nagtampo kaya lumayas " 1ran away from home because of hurt feelings2# "mayroong iniiwasan 1to escape from something or someone2# and many others (n other words# working as a domestic help is one of the easiest ways to a%oid all these troubles $ost of these domestic helpers are college graduatcs Some are already gainfully employed here in the =hilippines 0ut many do not ha%e the necessary skills to compete in the labor market abroad# hence they accept the most readily a%ailable ones E domestic helpers C&lt&ral Shoc' ()periences: Some Cases .n informant said' "Kami ay nagbabakasakali kumita at makaginhawa naman sa hirap ng buhay sa ating bansa " 1&e take the chance order to earn 1money2 in order to "breath" sufferings we experience in our country2# &hile economic reasons are recogni+ed# are other factors informants gi%e for abroad as domestic helpers . From 8989 to 896*# most recruits came from the (locos region ..rabia Following close to the heels of Filipino construction workers were Filipinas who were recruited to work as entertainers# hospital attendants# hotel chambermaids and domestics The latter were recruited mostly for Capan# . went mostly to the ?nited States# -anada and . and 89:< The ones from Hong Kong were culled from the reports of colleagues and other writers These data ha%e since been updated through inter%iews with Filipina domestics who ha%e returned to the =hilippines (n other words# the data for this paper came from two sources' actual inter%iews in the field and secondary reports culled from published materials (nter%iews with scholars who ha%e done similar fieldwork were conducted to supplement the field materials Filipino Migrant Labor: n !"er"ie# The phenomenon of Filipino migrant labor is not new (t began as early as the turn of the 3*th century# when the .urope The migratian spread o%er a period of more than twenty years# from 89.urope# $iddle .merican plantation owners# particularly the sugar barons of Hawaii# recruited thousands of young Filipinos to work in the sugar plantations The first batch was in 89*> which consisted mainly of 3*> people# mostly Tagalogs 7The next group came from -ebu in 898.ast Af course# there were other places like Buam# $arianas# $alaysia and (ndonesia 0ut the bulk was in the $iddle .mployment .

lena cannot speak good .nglish 0ut many of the older ones do not speak the language or# at best# ha%e %ery little knowledge of it Thus# outside of the home# the newly)arri%ed domestic helpers do not ha%e any language problem They also do not ha%e any language problem with the younger employers# although many young -hinese do not ha%e a good grasp of the language The problem is with the older people in)laws# parents and grandparents )))who are left behind when the younger employers go to the office Benerally# the older people are %ery conser%ati%e They are also meticulous about household work &hen the younger employers come# they complain about the performance of the help )))FHour help is la+y" She does not know anything Such complains oftentimes also anger the young employers# especially the women The role of older people# especially mothers and mothers)in)law cannot be o%eremphasi+ed Iot to react positi%ely to what they say is percei%ed as disobedience# a %ery serious offense in -hinese culture Thus# complaints from the older people about the helps7 performance often trigger a /uarrel between the employer and the help Some employers hit the helps physically when angered Athers pull the hair or heap %erbal abuse Iewspaper reports of cases of physical %iolence due to miscommunication are many Here is one' .lena -ru+ 1a pseudonym2# 3*# comes from -agayan Jalley She is the eldest in a family of se%en She was in second year high school when her parents died She decided to /uit school und find work in order to make the family sur%i%e Ane day# a neighbor friend dropped by She has 5ust arri%ed from Singapore for a %acation She is working as a domestic helper She narrated her wonderful experiences and showed colored photographs to back up her stories She also said she is earning SK4** ** a month# which is e/ui%alent to =4#*** ** This excited .nglish is spoken and generally understood in many sectors in Singapore and Hong Kong Houng Singaporeans and Hong Kong -hinese know .nglish 0ut she can manage a halting con%ersation An arri%al in Singapore# she was fetched from the airport by the man from the agency They were taken to "a big house in the city "From there# the prospecti%e employer picked her up .ones)those whose employers were diplomats# businessmen# and Fforeigners" 1mostly &hitesG~)en5oyed comparable li%ing and no sad tales to tell :ut they also had initial discomforts with the new culture The many unfortunate ones# on the other hand did not only ha%e discomforts# they underwent all kinds of sufferings ranging from ner%ous breakdowns to physical abuse The ma5or challenge which confronts the domestic helpers# or anyone who goes abroad for that matter is how to cope with the problems of the new en%ironment The accounts informants narrate when inter%iewed point to what is known in the literature as Fculture shock " That is# the inability to cope with new ways of doing things in the new en%ironment There are six ma5or areas where the "shock" is most prominent' language# food# loneliness#5ealousy# sexual abuse# and cultural practices Lang&age $iscommunication is one of the ma5or of culture shock The inability to con%ey a message or to be understood is an excruciating experience (t brings about anxiety and fear# especially in a foreign land $any of the problems Filipino domestic helpers encounter in Singapore and Hong Kong emanated from language difficulties .lena decided to go &ith the help of relati%es# she was able to raise the money She went to $anila and approached the recruitment agency that was recommended by her friend .fter that# e%erything is simple#" said the friend .lena and her siblings They asked the girl how she was able to go to Singapore She told about the process)go to the recruiting agency# follow up papers# and pay the necessary fees# which amount to =:#*** ** ".

lena does not ha%e problems when the young# .nglish .%entually the maids get ad5usted but not without experiencing difficulties along the way For example# most -hinese ser%e porridge for ordinary meals -ulturally# porridge is ser%ed in =hilippines to people who are sick or on soft The preparation is also ser%ed as snacks# known as goto =orridge is not ser%ed as the regular menu for meals Howe%er# among the -hinese in both Singapore and Hong Kong# this is the regular meal Sometimes# the porridge is mixed with chicken# beef# onions and other condiments Howe%er# some Filipina maids report that the porridge ser%ed them "is mainly rice and water " To meet personal tastes# the indi%idual may add sauce# pepper or salt $ost Filipina domestics complained about practice .side from -hinese food# (ndian# (ndonesian # ~ $alaysian food preparations are not palatable to many Filipinas (t is "too hot for our "0ut that is all there is in the house and if ~ r~" do not like the preparation# then you do not Ha%e any meal at all " Since the maids are not allowed to cook their food separately# many sur%i%e the first few months on crackers or# if they are .lena did not retaliate (n the e%ening# when the young employer arri%ed# the old woman told them that .lena and pulled her hair &hen the man saw this# he helped his wife and they took turns punishing .lana7s employer is a young -hinese couple who are in a pri%ate company .lena to prepare lunch They could not understand each other .lena This incident triggered similar incidents .lena refused to obey her This angered the wife She confronted .t the height of their misunderstanding# the women hurled at .lena suffered much# not because she was not competent but because she could not handle the language well She was brought by her employer7s sister to work at the stall in the market .lena cannot follow the instructions to the detail and this often angers the older women Ane noontime# the old woman instructed .nglish)speaking employers are at home 0ut when they are in the office# that is when problems arise (nstructions from the older women are in -hinese Sign language is resorted to most of the time 0ut this is %ery difficult .t home# the man7s older sister and mother stay with them# the flat is located on the <th floor of a high)rise apartment The older sister runs a good stall in the market The older woman# in her se%enties# stays at home with the children 0oth women cannot speak .s one maid said' "&e worked so hard and yet we are fed with lugaw -ould you ~ imagine eating porridge in the morning# in and e%ening through the week>" &hen they complain about this# they are reminded ~ "you are not in the =hilippines Hou are in Singapore 1or Hong Kong# as the case may be2 FHou better ad5ust " .lena tried to follow but e%erything she did was always out of place She tried to explain but it was useless ..lena all kinds of in%ecti%es and finally slapped her .gain# she messed up the business because she could not understand what the customers wanted or were talking about .lena The latter tried to explain but she did not want any of this *ne word led to another and they /uarreled The employer slapped .gain# she was punished for her mistake Food Food is the other source of problem of adaptation among the newly arri%ed Filipino dmoestic hclpers Af course# Filipinos are used to -hinese food and are %ery flexible insofar as food is concerned Howe%er# the food preparation for ordinary household consumption is another thing .mong the reported preparation which Filipina domestic helpers find culturally intolerable is the use of porridge 1Filipino lugaw2 for meals among the -hinese# and the peppery 1maanghang2 food among the (ndians and $alaysians Food would not ha%e been a "source of culture shock if the maids are allowed to cook their own food Benerally# they are forbidden to do so They ha%e to Fmake do" of what is ser%ed in the house .

7 x 6" in height# slender and with 5etblack hair which she keeps close to her shoulders Her eyes ha%e an oriental slant which# at a glance# make her look like a -hinese She sought employment as a maid in Singapore when she and her boyfriend broke their engagement Her employer is a middle)aged -hinese couple The man is fifty and the woman is forty)nine They ha%e four children# mostly grown)up and ha%e their own families Their grandchildren li%e with them Ane day# they brought the grandchildren to a country fair .melia dressed for the occasion &hen they reached the fair)site# she was mistaken for $rs Ang# her employer 0ecause of her pretty looks# the aging $r Ang also took a fancy at .s one employer complained to me' "$r Cocano# what shall ( do with my Filipina maid> She cries in the morning# she cries at noon# she cries in the afternoon# she cries in the e%ening and she cries before going to sleep $y husband is getting concerned because our business is ha%ing difficulties " &hen ( explained that perhaps they are lonely the crisp reply was' "0ut why did they come>" Loneliness is not so much a problem to single girls 0ut to married ones who ha%e left their small children# it is an ordeal ".melia that she refused to bring her out again She also accused .t first#" said one of the maids# "( could not stand it ( cried almost all day long $y employers) husband and wife)were always mad at me &hen 8 did not ha%e any letter from home ( felt miserable &hen ( recei%ed letters from home# it was also e/ually miserable ( did not know what to do ( hung on to my rosary ( prayed and prayed Slowly# my loneliness faded away as days went by and ( started to ha%e friends " Jealo&sy The third main source of conflict between the Filipino domestic helper and her employers# particularly the wife# is 5ealousy Benerally# Filipinas are fashion conscious They lo%e to dress themsel%es# complete with fashion 5ewelry they could afford (t is irrele%ant whether the materials used for a dress are cheap or the 5ewelry are imitations These are worn with some elegance and taste .xcept for the well)to)do# -hinese women are conser%ati%e in their taste for fashion Thus# when Filipina domestic helpers accompany their employers 1specifically to take care of the children2 when the latter attend social gatherings# the former looks more "beautiful than the ama " This contrast makes the wife 5ealous 8t also catches the attention of the husband and leads to conflict This is typified by this case .melia7s life %ery miserable She would make her work more than eight hours a day# from fi%e o7clock in the morning to two o7clock the Collowing morning# especially when there is a mah5ong game in the .%en if she is not pre%ented from calling friends# she knows no one $aybe she has friends ~ but they are also busy and also warned against recei%ing calls "Loneliness is the worst enemy#" said one of the maids during an inter%iew "Mt took me fi%e months to o%ercome it That was when ( started to ha%e friends 0ut before that 8 did not know what to do)( can only cry " -rying is sometimes the cause of the /uarrel between Filipina domestic helpers and their employers Shedding tears# in conser%ati%e -hinese belief# brings bad luck to the family The employers cannot understand why the maids are always crying .melia of trying to seduce her husband 0ecause of 5ealousy# $rs Ang made . Loneliness is the first psychological problem that hits the Filipina domestic upon arri%al in a foerign country The warmth and attention recei%ed at home are suddenly not there She is alone She is warned against using the telephone for calling friends She could not recei%e calls either .melia is 36 years old She comes from =ampanga She has a fairly white complexion or mesti+ahin# is .fortunate to ha%e weekends off# they buy Filipino food from snack corners and from market places Loneliness.melia Trouble began $rs Ang became %ery 5ealous of .

melia was allowed to ha%e a day off only once a month She was not gi%en ade/uate food She was scolded# shouted at and humiliated in front of %isitors &hen inter%iewed# .siatic beliefs and Thus# when people coming from these two cultures interact# they generally do not communicate well and this often brings conflicts (t is suggested# in this connection that to enhance cross)cultural understanding between the Filipina help and their prospecti%e employers in Singapore and Hong Kong# a predeparture# cross)cultural seminar be gi%en as the Filipina domestic helpers This will them on what to expect and how to beha%e so that they do not become so %ulnerable to exploitation and abuse abroad -onflicts generated by misunderstanding at the indi%idual le%el can become a problem at the intercountry le%el .sian countries are the same .siatic cultures# the nuances of each country7s cultural orientation %ary This is when the problem lies in cross)cultural encounters $any of the -hinese beliefs and practices coincide with those of the =hilippines Aur exposure to the Spaniards and the .ast# are similar Afficial reports from the Department of Labor and .melia showed flat iron marks on her arms She said that it was inflicted by $s Ang when she did not iron the latter7s dress "as good as she expected me to do " There were many other physical abuses &hen .mployment also record similar cases Suffice it for the moment to state that most of the difficulties Filipina domestic helpers meet abroad emanate from clash of cultural orientations The famiiiar ways of doing things in the =hilippines signal different meanings among the -hinese in Singapore and Hong Kong -rying# for example# is not good for business because tears "block the flow of money and wash away good luck " Dirt must not be swept away through the door (t brings bad luck Se%eral Filipinas inter%iewed said they were dismissed because "the tip of the broom (Nm using accidentally touched the feet of my employer " Doing this "( was told by my employer that it would bring untold bad luck to the family " There are many other cross)cultural practices which cause miscommunication and conflict between the Filipino maids and their employers (n many occasions# they cannot understand why they are %erbally abused and physically harmed "&e try our best to perform well# said many of them when inter%iewed# "but our best is not good enough Hou are not corrected so that you can learn 0asta7t sabunutan ka na lang 1Hou are 5ust hit2 Theoretically# e%en if .house " (n addition# .melia could not take it anymore she ran away She sought help at the -atholic -enter in Baylang Street S&mmary and Concl&sion There are many other cases that document the cross)cultural problems met by Filipinas in Singapore and Hong Kong Data from other countries# like $alaysia and the $iddle .mericans ha%e altered many of our .