By Marifel Mosquera
Teresita (Terry) is the newly hired helper of Lim Family from the Province of Iloilo in the Philippines. Like most of the women who come to Singapore as domestic workers, she is looking to better her life and climb out of poverty.
The film is about her relationship and struggle with one of the children Jiale (played by Koh Jia Ler), the son of Mr.& Mrs Lim, who is temperamental and at times disrespectful of Terry. Despite this, Terry is patient and never loses hope; she tries her best to get close to him and succeeds as she finally forms a powerful bond with the family.
When the family encounters a financial crisis, it creates a huge impact on Terry’s life and leaves both the family and the domestic worker with few choices.
The film is a simple family drama, portraying the life of the Lim family, and their involvement in Terry’s life. As domestic workers, me and my friends were hugely excited about this film, thinking there would be more to it, that it would be more appealing. We never thought we’d get to the point where we all felt so bored. The story was not as enticing as we thought, but there were parts of the film that aren’t handled well and probably don’t truly reflect the life of a domestic worker in Singapore.
For example, there is a scene with Terry and Jiale in a convenience store, where, without her knowledge the young boy puts something in her bag. Jiale quickly pays for his items and leaves her behind; Terry runs after him but is stopped at the front and questioned by security. That’s it! The guard doesn’t even call her employer about what happened, and in the next scene Terry goes home and doesn’t mention the issue with her employer. Would that really happen? Amazingly, there’s no further questioning from her employer either.
Another scene features Terry in a car heading to hospital after Jiale has an accident. Mrs.Lim talks to Terry and doesn’t even notice that Terry has her lipstick on. Nothing more is said about it, there’s no reaction at all. It’s very unusual for an employer not to ask her maid about putting lipstick on during work hours. For us, that was totally unbelievable.
Auntie Terry is also a proficient driver, which is again a point which puzzled me and my friends – when and where would she have learned to drive and who would have taught her in rural Iloilo? It gave us something to think about… but it seems a bit clueless.
At another point in the film Mr. Lim and Terry have a chat, during which he lights up a cigarette, and in the midst of their conversation, surprisingly, Terry herself asks for a cigarette.
These are just a few of the points which stretched reality for us, but the most frustrating scene arrives at the airport, when Terry bids farewell to the Lims and to young Jiale. After 8 years of working and being so close to the child, Terry doesn’t even cry, it is just the boy that breaks down. She tells Jiale to “learn how to take care himself” and, after that, she’s gone. There are many parts of the film which illustrate how fond Terry is of Jiale: she treats him as her son, but then fails to cry when she leaves him to head back to the Philippines. Where did that affection go?
At the end of it all, and for all these reasons, we are not fully convinced with the story, some of it may be true and some of it may not be; the dialogue is creative and there are some funny lines which brace up the narrative.
As employers, the Lims treat Terry very well in difficult circumstances; it seems unusual for a local employer to treat their maid that way. I don’t want to be completely negative because there are lots of things we really appreciated.
We loved Angeli Abayani and her style of dress, as it contributes to the overall tone of her role as a “maid”. We are also impressed about the way Jiale treats Terry, in particular when he tries to buy Toto in the hope of keeping Terry in the family. That is sweet.
We can relate to this movie, to most of us domestic workers we encounter a lot of these kinds of situations with our employer’s children. At first, it’s a challenge, but if we are willing to endure and confront it patiently, we can still create an admirable relationship with our employer and their children.
Marifel Mosquera is from the Philippines, working in Singapore.