The End Of The Foreign Affair

No, this is not about the ex-bf.

Inspired to write this after my stint at ironing and feeling humbled by the mere iron because I realise that I had forgotten how to iron (checking on YouTube now) ! My mind wandered even as I struggled with the confounded pockets on my son’s pants, making a mental note not to buy anymore pants or shorts with more than 4 pockets (2 front and 2 back max !). You start to wonder why linen, being of light weight needed more heat than cotton and then you realise that you had melted the decal on the t shirt and it was causing an ugly smear on the next item and you thank God that boys are such messy creatures, folks will just think he is normal.

Yes, I fired my maid last Sunday, before I found out about the riots although I have never been worried that she would put a knife into my back when I was asleep.

Therefore, I have been without domestic help for the past week and I feel, strangely, empowered and liberated. For I have the house back to myself again, even the parts I never venture to and as the week went by, horror by horror I found in several places. As I cleaned out the scum in her bathroom with years of accumulated dirt and grime (and hair !!!), along with a family of centipedes in the drain hole, I busied my mind with the question on how much GDP had she contributed to the country or hers ?

Of course remittance contributes to a decent part of Indonesia’s GDP, not Singapore’s and so Singaporeans congratulate themselves on doing a favour to these folks we hire. The question is, what do they think ?

Probably differently.

Years back, I spent my flight back from Bali deliberating on a social moral issue. On the flight was a plumber from the UK, a fact I gleaned from overhearing his rather loud conversation with his mate. While in Bali, I had also discovered, then, that the average wage of skilled labour was about SGD 200 a month which was why Balinese were willing to troop down to work in Bintan island, which is nearer Singapore, for more than twice that wage.

In Bali, the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee was the same as Singapore which is about SGD 5. A cup of local coffee was about 20 SGD cents.

That Balinese plumber will never be able to journey to a Bali equivalent for a holiday like Mr UK had. Mr UK probably earned more money than me given the lucrative business of plumbing in the West. And the Balinese would kill for the chance to be in shoes … or mine. Yet we were doing Bali’s GDP a favour by spending money there, money which would not end up in the pockets of the typical Balinese because the hotels and Starbucks were owned by international chains and Indonesian tycoons.

It is all about the passport we carry, the country in which we were born or the social mobility that we have.

Social mobility is a hot issue in the US these days as findings have unveiled that it is increasingly more difficult to break out of the rung of the social ladder you were born into. And so we have a middle class explosion almost everywhere and the EM markets enjoy a disproportionately large allocations of foreign capital to exploit the middle class boom.

That money comes from countries and people who will not likely dream of living in the EM country that they are investing in. I am not so sure it makes the EM citizens all that happy about their lives as they quickly realise that the more that they have is still less than everyone else.

And governments around the world, realising that they have unhappy citizens, end up spending more money to appease the masses by getting into more debt and quickly leaving their office before the debt situation implodes. Note that Singapore cannot afford to do that because the government has not changed and thus have to behave more responsibly.

Next year, EM will start to feel the brunt of the slowdown as the economists predicts. Wages cannot rise as quickly like the 500-600% that Chinese cities have been enjoying within a short period of a decade. And workers, who are used to their annual increments, will feel discontent.

That is probably how my maid felt over here with her SGD 500 a month salary and McDonald dinners that I buy her which she did not think was good enough.

As for me ? As I fish pieces of my son’s clothing from under her bed that has not been swept for months (and will not go into details) and go through 1 gallon of Clorox cleaning out her bathroom, I have decided to buy an iRobot vacuum cleaner next week, get a part time gardener and master the art of ironing as therapy.

It is a fair trade – keeping our GDP alive.