Side Dish to OFW’s Main Course

Blue vacuum cleaner

Image via Wikipedia

[ Notes from NOel : I’m not sure of the blog-worthiness of this activity, just that it was a first for me, at least in this city, though it certainly won’t be the last. So sorry for the late birthday greetings to Sec A memorables Dr Jo Te-Enriquez (29th Nov), Dr Gilbert Jao (1st Dec), Daisy Chua (4th Dec) and Jesse Chu (6th Dec), Liza Pavon-Wong (4th Dec), 3-point shooter Rodney Uyan (6th Dec), laugh-a-minute Jeff Lu (12th Dec), world class graphic designer Christine Chiang – Schultheiss (14th Dec) and 6-E buddy Klemson See (17th Dec) ! Many happy returns ! And sincerest condolences to schoolmate Mr Dan de Guzman and the rest of the family of Ms Nena de Guzman – Alvarez who passed away recently.]

Dear kabatch, brods, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan and friends :

Whether you’re a tradesman, IT guy or medical professional, a little extra cash never hurts, and fellow Pinoys know this only too well. Your mortgage payments get a little help, you’re able to sneak in a rare movie at the mall, and the kamag-anak back home get a little more than chocolates and the souvenir T-shirt.

During the holidays, the noche buena buffet table gets more crowded, more gifts are placed under the tree, and the trip back home becomes less of a dream. Kabayan all around know about it, but unless you’re this close (hold two fingers together), magaling makisama (get along well) and are willing to forego TV hours and weekend nappy time, you won’t hear about the open secret : there’s serious barya to be earned cleaning houses and offices.

Obviously the easiest way to get cleaning jobs is the referral method, although there may be gigs had via agencies and cleaning companies. As soon as you signify your willingness and you don’t look like you’re afraid of hard work, the vacuum cleaner (and mop, scourer, detergent and other stuff) is yours.

 As fate would have it, the house on our cleaning hit-list belonged to an Asian couple, a Malaysian married to a Singaporean, with three sons. They looked so similar to Filipinos that, if not for their accents, there would hardly be any discernible difference.

Modest to a fault, they said that spotless, perfect work wasn’t an essential to satisfy them, although if you were starting a job and wanted to impress, doing mediocre work would hardly be ideal. (more on this later.)

Modest in their dwelling as well, it was an impressive facade outside, double garage and manicured lawn, but the interior was surprisingly spartan and furnished with basic, no-frills furniture. The only luxury we saw, if you could call it that, was a beautiful, expensive looking piano, around which were dozens of sheet music and exercise books.

We started work immediately, working our way literally from top to bottom. Our plate was full : Sweeping cobwebs on the ceiling moulds, using both damp and dry rags on the bookshelves and ledges, mopping the tiles, changing the sheets and pillowcases, and finally, vacuuming the carpets.

[In case you’re wondering, there are two of us, and although my spirit is willing, the bulk of the cleaning is done by my more experienced partner, to save both time and energy for other pursuits. And just to be on the safe side, seeing all those reality / hidden camera shows that spy on nosy cleaners, I paid little more than cursory attention to any item unless I held it for cleaning or gently pushed it out of the way.]

Earlier I said that we worked literally from top to bottom, and though the explanation is common-sensical, it’s not common knowledge, at least not for ignorant little me : Starting from the top avoids the problem of having to repeat some cleaning in case dust or dirt resettles on some place you’ve already done.

I also cleaned from the furthest places retreating into the most accessible, since doing the opposite would’ve resulted in me redoing spots I would almost surely come back to before winding up. I couldn’t help but notice, despite my earlier commitment not to be nosy, that the heart and soul of the house was the academics and well-roundedness of the pre-teen and teenage kids. Reference books, reviewers for university entrance exams, learning software for technical topics, and other similar stuff were standard fare for each non-adult inhabitant, which I conceded was an attribute for ultra-competitive Asian families.

But the fact that this clan was also flexing its muscles among fellow migrant overachievers was a factor, because while initially it seemed a luxury, the need for each child to own a PC or laptop, in light of the necessity to submit well-prepared work (reports and term papers), advances in the hard sciences, and keeping abreast of promising careers, made such appliance an absolute essential.

Businesslike schedules on the fridge whiteboard, neat aparadors, and a garden that hardly needed maintenance gave this CSI wannabe another clue : that each family member pulled his or her weight in duties and chores, all helping out in the daily (or weekly) upkeep of the nest.

Remember we said that despite the tight ship, the kids looked well-rounded? This was why : Cricket practice and games, soccer practice and games, piano lessons, bible study were all part of each son’s sked, and these were the regular fare. And beholding the wall pics and awards, the lucky kids seemed to enjoy all these aspects of being young Rennaissance Men. I mentally saluted their broad-minded folks on that.

* * *

Have I said that cleaning house without being nosy was next to impossible if one was by nature a curious person? If no, I’m saying it now.

A few more details : We were paid the minimum hourly wage for what the homeowners thought would be a job fairly done in four hours. At the outset we thought this would be a breeze since a quick overview gave the impression that we would be in and out in a brisk two-and-a-half hours, three at most.

As the hours dragged on, and we kept adding on to our to-do list, we realized that three $20 notes we were paid was actually a bargain : our pride and gigil would not allow us to leave without vacuuming every cobweb, sweeping every speck of dust, and scrubbing to nothingness every ounce of grime.

In all, I signed off at the four-hour mark and my partner put in another 90 minutes before declaring the job finished. The owners probably knew this; by saying they didn’t expect much, they diplomatically ( if not psychologically ) put the burden on us to go beyond expectations and go overboard on the job. Whether or not it was the intention, the house became ultra – clean as a result.

The furniture, colors and interiors of the house we cleaned, notable in their simplicity and tastefulness, reminded me of many homes back in the Philippines. If anything, I realized that there was a marked effort to remind the visitor (even accidental ones like me) that, despite its being in NZ, the house was inhabited by Asians who someday would be going home.

Which, after all, is what most migrants dream to do, after doing well in their adopted land. An ageless fact of migrant life, confirmed in a most unexpected place of part-time work.

Thanks for reading ! NOel

3 thoughts on “Side Dish to OFW’s Main Course

  1. Pingback: Hihirit Pa Si Manoy, At The Very End of 2010 | YLBnoel's Blog

  2. Pingback: Baby Fat Slash Asian Fat Slash Happy Fat « YLBnoel's Blog

  3. Pingback: Baby Fat Slash Asian Fat Slash Happy Fat - clpl-india News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s