No, it’s not the kind of story the typical Thai TV soaps love to parody, where the husband is always going after a nubile maid while the wife’s out shopping. It has to do with more practical things, where clothes actually need to be washed,
the house needs cleaning, and a lot of those other menial tasks you really need done but just don’t have the time for as everyone is either at work or in school.
The maidservant in Thailand is an affordable alternative to frayed nerves and lost weekends, especially when you have growing children who keep adding to the ever-increasing piles of clothes each weekend. Even with a fully automatic washing
machine, someone still has to load it, hang out the clothes, and get them ironed…
The problem is finding a good one.
The first lady we got came in initially on weekends only, about the time my eldest was still being sent to a day-care nursery. I’ll call her Aoy. Her son was at about the same age as mine, and she would sometimes bring him along if
her security-guard husband had to work. My wife would tell her what needed to be done, and she’d quietly go off and do it. We both liked her as she did not talk a lot, and her work was both neat and clean. When she did bring her son along,
he would quite happily sit in front of the TV, and would consume anything that was put in front of him, unlike my son who tended to be a bit fussy.
After some time, when we got to trust her, we would also get her in on alternate weekdays. It was also about this time that one of my wife’s younger sisters came to stay as she was attending university classes in the evenings, so the
maid was not left alone in the house. It thus came as a surprise that we’d sometimes see her son with her, and asked if he was in kindergarten yet? No, not yet. Why not? I don’t know how to or where. Ah.
The following Saturday my wife and I brought her around one or two potential places, understanding that it would have to be affordable to her as well. The poor thing was so terrified of authority that my wife would literally have to hold
her by the hand, though I think she was more worried at the expenses that would be incurred. She eventually settled for the temple school, as they would accept payment in kind, such as helping clean the temple grounds or helping out during festivities.
She eventually left as she and her husband had put a down payment for a ‘condo’ (literally a single room flat with attached bathroom in a multi-storey block), and it was too far away to continue working for us. It was sad to
see her go. We did see her many years later; she now worked as a cleaning lady in a small company, worked regular hours, had social welfare benefits, and politely turned down all offers my wife had to come back and work for us. I know she’s
happier and more secure where she is, and they do drop by once in a blue moon just to say hi.
Aoy did help us get a replacement just before she left. I’ll call her ‘Pa’. Pa was a much older person, and thin as a rake. She stayed with her latest husband (and a whole host of ‘relatives’) at a semi-permanent
construction site accommodation in the village. These people were employed by the owner of the village to build houses on his land; it was more of a hobby with him than anything else, and one of the benefits was that they could stay on the land
for free. We started Pa out with her working weekends only.
Pa was quite different from Aoy. The good thing was, she did what she was asked to do, and would eventually grasp the functions of the washing machine after four or five tries. She didn’t say more than two words at a time, and did
not talk about what she did in our house with the rest of the village. Her work was also clean, and while she did try to keep the house neat, more often than not I’d not be able to find my latest ‘Popular Science’ magazine
for days after she’d been around. Misplacing articles seemed to be a particular knack with her. She was also as slow as a snail. She wasn’t lazy, mind you, just slow.
She also had another problem. She could drink herself blind some nights and not show up for work the next day.
She was with us for many years; and while she only worked three days a week for us, she also worked for other households in the village. She also followed the rules we set down – one of them was that no one – even the husband
or daughter – was to be allowed into the house while she was working. People appreciated her because she did not gossip and would do what she was told. We all trusted her, too. They all knew about her tendencies and faults but were willing
to overlook them, as we did.
As she got more regular work, she drank a lot less. And when the work in the village dried up and the owner was bedridden, the husband (and relatives) just sat around twiddling their thumbs waiting for her to finish work, go to the market,
and come back and cook the food with the money she got from her labours. Lazy fellows.
The land owner’s brother eventually had them move. As it was not too far away, she still continued working in the village. The husband, though skilled, would rather stay home than go out looking for work, and when he did find work,
almost always overquoted the going rate. This lasted until they could not afford to stay where they were and shifted quite far away, partly as a result of their daughter having to go to a different school, and probably to avoid paying up what
We had one or two other servants come in for short periods; one you had to watch like a hawk as she had a tendency to rifle through drawers, and another was the village gossip. Eventually we started doing the household chores ourselves but
farmed out the ironing to a nearby laundry.
I spotted Pa near the market almost two years later, and mentioned it to my wife in passing. I also noted that she had developed a prominent stoop, and looked thinner than ever. My wife gave me THE look, and I just shook my head. We’ve
managed without a servant for some time, why get her back? But, no, my wife did spot her a few days later and had a chat. They’d moved back somewhere around a temple nearby, and her daughter had started working at a supermarket. She talked
her into coming back to work for us.
Now I was not entirely comfortable with this, as just a while before they had moved out, my wife had had a spat with Pa’s husband over some work he had been paid to do but never got around to completing. However, Thai logic, being
what it is, my wife said it’s between Pa and herself, and had nothing to do with Pa’s husband. R-r-right.
Pa’s been back almost two years. She still does three days a week, and half a day at my wife’s sister’s place next door. She has work elsewhere on other days. I occasionally see her husband working for one of the local
village contractors – he’s too lazy to look for work himself and is absolutely hopeless at materials estimation – I once had a large pile of sand and granite chips blocking the driveway because of this. Anyway…
I sensed a change in the air some eight months ago. Things didn’t just get misplaced, they went missing. The nice Sony Cybershot U-40 I bought for my wife was the first. My son is in the habit of borrowing it, but it somehow disappeared
in his room. Mind you, you could lose an elephant in his room, but I digress. We asked Pa, too, but she hadn’t seen it.
The other change was in the way Pa worked. She seemed to put on a show when people were around. I do drop by home sometimes unexpectedly during the day, due to the fact that my son now has a habit of borrowing things (like my card reader) without asking
and I have to go back and retrieve it. She once looked like she had just gotten up from sleeping off a hangover and was hurriedly mopping the porch when I opened the gate. My wife’s sister confirmed that she seemed to have started hitting
the bottle again…
My wife complained that she had all her new fifty-baht notes kept in her dressing table drawer go missing, about a thousand baht worth (Don’t ask – they just collect these things like some people collect stamps).
The Konica I bought as a replacement camera also went permanently missing. I remember putting it in my wife’s cupboard drawer and she didn’t remember ever taking it out. I refused to let her use my old Nikon, or buy a replacement.
She just got a Lumix…
Of course my wife put aside my suspicions. Then. But…
My wife’s sister complained that she had misplaced some gold about a week ago. Not a lot, about one baht weight in total, but enough to get annoyed about if it disappeared permanently.
My wife told her to use the small safe we keep in our house, and I think she decided to get some important documents last night and do exactly that. She still hadn’t been able to find her gold.
She came over ranting and raving about an hour later. Her ‘special’ fifty-baht notes (as I said, don’t ask) that had been carefully kept with the first-day covers of sixty-baht notes and other stuff had gone missing.
Only the cash was gone. I think that’s when my wife and her sister put two and two together.
They believe Pa has been taking things of value that she thinks we’ve forgotten about and are lying in ‘hidden’ places, while leaving the obvious alone. They’re both really pissed off at it.
What will happen? I don’t know, nor do I want to know. One thing I have learnt, when Thais have problems with Thais, it’s best to let them settle it their own way.
Hired help in Thailand is cheap, and there are many reasons why the average farang should utilise such help – it gives you more time to enjoy life. But it has to be remembered that hired help typically comprise people from poor backgrounds and eventually, there may be some temptation, perhaps at a time in need.
We have had hired help, but I make sure everything of value is locked away. That's not something I like doing though, in my own place, locking things up when the maid comes.