Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, November 24, 2008

Household Help

With my family in the States and the hostel as my home, all I knew about amahs and yard boys was what I heard from others.

I did have a houseboy at the hostel, as did most everyone else. I don't recall what I paid my guy but I'm sure it wasn't a whole lot because I couldn't afford much. I hardly needed help keeping my room straight, but I was told by others that hiring a houseboy was expected and that having him would help ensure that nothing ever got stolen.

He made my bed, shined my shoes and kept the place all neat and tidy. He also replaced my water jug whenever it got low, which cost extra and I assume that he got a piece of that. He was very helpful and trustworthy as well. One morning I accidently left a rather large amount of cash on the table in my room when I headed off to work. When I returned that evening, not only was it all there, but it was neatly sorted and stacked as well.

My friend Larry, who lived in the room next door, had a different houseboy. Larry was a great guy, but he was a bit obsessive about some things. For example, he always lined up his containers of shampoo, shaving cream, aftershave, etc., by height -- the shortest item on the left and the tallest on the right. But when he returned home after work, he'd find the tallest item on the left and the shortest on the right. The next morning, he'd set them up the way he wanted them again but when he'd get home they were reversed again. After about a week, Larry couldn't take it anymore and had a talk with the guy. I guess they got it all sorted out because he returned to his usual happy self after that.

Anyway, Chapter 14 of The Taiwan Report discusses the hiring of household help in the mid-1970s:

1 comment:

sarj said...

There wasn't any manual or requirements for Amahs in the early 60's when I was there.
When I shared an apartment with my AF buddy Joe we had an amah to do light cooking, laundry, cleaning, washing, ironing and shining shoes.
She had her own family and went home in the evenings and worked 5 days a week. We paid her $25 US per month and although we knew it she raided the refrigerator and cabinets. Sometimes she would ask for things that we seemed to not using.
After all we didn't eat a lot at home but the fridge was always stocked with beer.
When I married our amah worked 6 days a week and we paid her $25 US per month too. She worked much harder than the amah that worked for me and Joe.
According to some Chinese friends we were overpaying by at least $5 per month and should have made the amah work 7 days a week as as they did. I never had the heart to do this. They worked so hard for their money as it was.
Somewhere I have a photo of me and Joe with our amah Sue. I'll find it and scan it for the blog.