A PLEASANT surprise in our accidental OFW/migrant adventure is the friendships gained not just by me, but by Mahal, who like the typical Pinay is initially reserved but ready to engage warmly before long.
I don’t feel like I’m blabbing to you about her friends because I won’t identify them by name, and I try to be general in my descriptions (wink, wink).
One of the first Kiwis (white New Zealanders of European descent) esposa was introduced to was a cleaning woman who needed a part-timer. Hers was a carefree, happy-go-lucky youth but was now all-business and managing her own contracting company. She was (is) very accommodating to my wife, who had been in NZ for only a few months, taught her the ropes, and was an endless source of practical knowledge on living in New Zealand.
At first, Mahal found it a bit difficult to listen and understand to all the Kiwi-isms and idioms like mucking around (wasting time), having a feed (eating), on the piss (drinking alcohol), and the singsong way Kiwis end all their sentences, but after a while and with all that practice, it became second nature to her.
In turn, Mahal also started telling Kiwi Cleaning Lady all about this erstwhile little-known country who looked a little like the Polynesians, a little like the Chinese, but were definitely more friendly, adaptable and hardworking. Her part-time boss didn’t find the qualities hard to believe because Mahal was all these, friendly, adaptable and hardworking!
Lastly, her cleaning boss left an indelible mark on her, as the former insisted that she learn a few driving lessons from her everyday and even left her the wheel under supervision. Before long, Mahal was already applying and sitting for her learners and now has a Restricted driving permit, all thanks to part-timing under her Kiwi friend. Not a bad bargain don’t you think?
A second working relationship of Mahal’s I discovered was with a Christian Singaporean family she cleaned house for weekly.
If you believe in stereotypes, then this family’s for you : the husband and wife were both successful manager-types in their fields, specialists in number crunching. All of their three sons were overachievers, evidenced by their being tops in their class in maths, accounting and languages. Their house was typically understated Asian: smart without being ostentatious in the furnishings, and functional but not drab.
I sometimes helped Mahal clean their house and couldn’t help but be impressed by two things : the devotion to learning, the extra books and literature the kids pored over, and the division of labor from the most senior member (the dad) to the most junior (the youngest son) in mowing the lawn, laundry and even organizing their bible reading classes! Almost too perfect to be true.
Their rooms were a bit disorganized at times and sometimes the kitchen was a bit dodgy, but beyond that, the house usually hardly needed cleaning, and that’s why Mahal loved keeping the latter spic and span for its owners, who likewise have kept Mahal as its trusted cleaner (even and especially during vacatios) for its owners for two years now.
The last friend Mahal has made is a bit of an oddity. She is a Mainland Chinese who has been in NZ the last 10 years, has had three Kiwi husbands but in her manner and speech sounds and looks like she is the eternal migrant. Not only has she kept her Chinese accent, but she literally translates idioms and phrases into English, and something inevitably gets lost in translation. Because Mahal has had plenty of experience in awkward language encounters, this suits her fine.
The Chinese friend is one of her occasional colleagues at work, but they go so well together that the language barrier is more a novelty than anything else. They are like hand in glove and know what each person’s functions are that they both wonder why they don’t work together more often, and in the near future they will probably do so.
Mahal recently found out that while Chinese Friend likes the work, it’s more optional than anything else. She has a tidy nest egg and lives in her own house, and earns a comfortable sum from shrewd investments both here and in her homeland. Literally, she can quit her job anytime she wants, jump into her new Nissan Juke and race into the sunset.
She often asks Chinese Friend why she doesn’t work or go into business for herself but the friend insists that money isn’t that important to her anymore. After the rat race of working in bureaucratic Beijing, working in New Zealand is the idyll for semi-retirement, which is where she sees herself now, with her early pension and middle-aged husband. Everything is fine for me, I don’t want anything to change, she says in her typically inscrutable English.
And those are Mahal’s Kiwi and migrant friends, who have made her life richer and more interesting.
- even for shortchanged migrants, NZ continues to improve employment outcomes (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)