Since it is Thanksgiving week, I have been thinking a lot about all the things for which I am thankful. I think being in Asia, and in Singapore, puts life into perspective. As Americans, we aren’t familiar with the type of poverty experienced over here.
Singapore is different than most countries here, because the paternalistic government ensures everyone is housed and as productive as they can be. However, in other parts of the region, the poverty is extreme. I have been talking to a lot of helpers lately. Domestic helpers are prevalent in Asia, and as many as 25% of Singaporeans have helpers, even those in government housing. They are imported in from other less affluent areas of Asia like Indonesia, the Phillipines and Myanmar. They are paid a pittance, really, as low as S$350 per month plus food and housing and taxes. That translates to about $280 USD per month. There is talk that the minimum is going up to S$450, but even so, that’s not a lot of money.
Put yourself in the maid’s shoes. She likely came from a poor rural village, and the money she is paid goes back to support her family. She may have children and/or a husband. How hard would it be to leave your family to work as a maid in Singapore? They are guaranteed a return trip home for only a week every two years. How badly must they want to provide for their families, to leave them behind to work for so little? How impoverished must they be in their homeland to make it a worthwhile tradeoff? In many ways you have to admire them for doing what is undoubtedly a thankless and difficult job. In Singapore, the maids are only required to have one day off per month. They work 10, 12, and 14 hours a day. Some of them sleep on a rollout mat in the kitchen. I know, I’ve talked to them.
Then I turn around and look at what I have. I have a nice condo, with a fab pool, I don’t have to work, and I get to spend time volunteering at school and taking care of my children. It is a great life. How did I get to have this life, while someone else has to ship off to work as a maid? It is really by great fortune and luck that we have the lives we have. I was fortunate enough to be born in the United States, where even if you were born poor (and I can assure you, I was), you can get an education and change your life. In other parts of the world, those doors aren’t even open. How lucky are we, anyway? Being here makes you think about how fortunate you are, how we truly won the life lottery just by being American. Maybe the reason “they” hate us is because we don’t have a clue how lucky we are.