Tales of Confinement Past (Part 2)

When we first came home from hospital, Ling Jie blocked my way in at the door, going "Give me, GIVE me, GIVE ME (the baby)!" I think she has a thing for girls, she was never like that with Rockstar - she bemoans the fact she "always" gets boy babies to nanny, and that she "only" had three sons, when she badly also wanted a daughter.

Idly I observe she is the only person I know whose husband's other male family members sire umpteen girls and yet she still gets three sons. When local HK papers apparently report girl-heavy years, 6 out of 7 babies she is called to nanny would still be boys. The probability nerd in me who loves looking at the odds in investments is mildly intrigued in her conspiracy theory of The Fates.

But not exactly a page out of Dale Carnegie is it, to aggressively stick your arms out for the baby at a new mother coming home for the first time.

Come on Aileen, if she had said "please" would you have let her have the baby right then?

Well n-o, but at least I wouldn't go all Sigourney Weaver's Alien Queen on her.

(I mean really, Alien Queen had a gadzillion eggs filled with creepy spider-things and she was still such a bitch. How do you think I'm going to be, fresh back from the hospital, with my tiny only daughter?)

Toe curling, fist pumping milk drinking tiny only daughter

Oh yeah the Confinement Thing. I'm not completely sure I buy the "Can't touch 'raw' water for a whole month" thing, but I loved the smell of the hot ginger and herb water she boiled for me to bathe in - kinda like you might get at a spa. So when I later walked in on my nanny scooping several tablespoons of an Ovaltine-colored powder into a fabric bag for steeping the bath water, I wasn't happy.

I had noticed a change in the water, and had minor breakouts on my face, which I attributed to hormonal changes, as I'd had a very hormonal pregnancy - but I didn't expect she'd actually changed the water, no longer boiling a lot of fresh ingredients like she used to. Though frankly I was slightly squeamish even about the fresh-herb water, and had never washed every part of me with it - 20 years down the road I'll let you know if I have arthritis in strange places <sheepish> if I'm still blogging 😀  My girlfriend-who-uses-lotsa-chinese-medicines-and-things was, "You can even get those powders in sachets from Amway la" but still.....

I struggle with the whole Western vs Chinese remedies thing because on the one hand I think modern Western medicine, as with other science discoveries, has well, not "discovered it all." And in the face of some old herbal traditions and practices I'm thinking maybe there are things which though your average confinement nanny or grandma-who's-been-making-her-generations-old-soup cannot explain in an FDA-approved way and a manufacturer's list of ingredients/ nutritional values (I find such labels comforting), may still have wisdom to it. One of my best girlfriends, a former RM, counted a famous Chinese herbalist as a client and still receives tailor-made herbs for her pregnancies in the mail from Taiwan - to amazing effect. However I also think there are lotsa quacks out there - which has nothing to do with effectiveness of the Chinese herbalist movement but of some of the people practicing it. (Though every profession has people who don't do their job well la)

Also, we live so close to "China-of-the-dodgy-produce," local papers apparently reporting winter blankets stuffed with blood-stained cotton recycled from sanitary pads, or "high-quality" tissue that in lab tests shows up fecal bacteria because they recycle toilet paper  (it was then explained to me that flushing systems in offices etc can be quite bad so some Mainlanders are used to not flushing the used toilet paper down the toilet in case it gets stuck, instead collecting it and throwing it in the general bins - which I guess is how fecal bacteria could end up there) and I don't have the confidence that I'll always know which to avoid.

Every time my nanny goes "Is safe is safe one - my friend passed to me - is hand-picked on <dunno what mountain> in China!" I just think the nanny doth protest too much. That picture of beautiful verdant fields harvested in the shadow of a Mainland chemical factory from South China Morning Post flashes in my mind. She's probably been feeding the whole family Just Killed In Market Chicken when I told her to just go with Cold Dead Chicken (it's chicken! Supermarket chicken nuggets - also chicken!)

Then for awhile there I very nearly fired the nanny because of a combination of 'tude and some filching of shopping money. I'm almost sure that was from riding in the car driven by our batu api former driver to do the marketing in the last few days before we fired him. She totally stopped the nonsense once we fired the driver. So now I'm mostly pretty happy with her.

Now, our ex-driver. The same 64 year-old man we've been dying to fire throughout my pregnancy, who (accidentally) breaks Rockstar's homemade stuff (from rough "shooting" play in the car YES isn't he supposed to be driving) thereby making my son cry and then when he delivers my sobbing son to me going "I haven't even complained about how badly behaved he is, he pinched me!" (which made me suspicious cos back then Rockstar didn't know how to pinch), and whom we caught snooping in our bedroom on a day he thought we were out. Here's what happened next:

1) Kings one day brings our third-hand little Beemer for servicing and our regular mechanic tells us the car hasn't been back in some time. That's when Kings thinks to check the bills - about HKD 1,800 for a regular tune-up, but our driver always requested reimbursements of HKD 4,000-ish. Kings had stopped checking cos he'd been swamped. Chalk it down also to my simple-ness that no matter how irritating, and the fact ex-driver had gone "Wahhhh Kings doesn't check does he?" I hadn't thought to then check Kings was checking either. (Also, that last pregnancy was rather bad.)

The firing must have been anticipated, because Rockstar was due to finish Kindergarten and I had stopped humoring the old guy when he flapped his gums. So I think he started trying to "make more money" in the final months. Bearing in mind we mostly have no proof unless we demand he show us where he took the car and got the receipts. (But would you want to go marching into some potentially dodgy, receipt-fudging garage Lord-knows-where in Hong Kong to say "My own garage only charge me HKD 1,800 how come yours is HKD 4,000 one?)

2) Kings tells the driver we don't need his services anymore, after he asks for more money for tips. We do pay that last large "tip" which is about two-thirds of what we usually pay him each month, not to mention besides this final "tip" we often did tip him heavily (we kept thinking he was an old guy who still had to work cos he wanted to shower his own grand daughter with gifts). He then follows Kings to his lunch place and asks if Kings wants to invest in a "milk powder supplying business." Kings says no.

3) Ex-driver comes back again shortly after and asks for the car key because he "forgot something" in the car. Kings quickly finishes lunch and follows him back, rather than give him the key. (Kings is not sure he actually saw him take anything he'd forgotten out of the car, with Kings there, but well Kings was as usual on his email.)

4) Car comes back from mega-servicing/ tuning whereby Kings observes all car problems he'd been having in the last few months seem to have vanished. It's been 4 weeks and still no recurring problems (the car was in such bad shape going in we seriously considered just getting rid of it, thinking we were spending HKD 4k a month plus a mega tune-up of HKD 20k, the car must be too old). That makes us think our driver towards the end may not even have brought the car for servicing. Again we have no proof unless we pursue.

5) 3 weeks after letting him go, Kings gets a call from our ex-driver. "I just remembered you didn't actually pay me a 1 month extra salary in lieu of notice. Pay up, or I will report you to Immigration." Honestly what we paid him in "tips" (not to mention what we probably lost on "tune-ups" was way in excess of this "1 month extra salary" for this little part time job. But we had not put it in writing nor expressly said "This. Is. Your. Final. 1 month. Salary." Which is why he can demand this and threaten us.

I write this so you won't make the mistake we did. We thought aiya old retiree, just doing odd-jobs for few hours for extra cash, why need to do all this "mah-fan".

Newsflash: If it's HK, do all this mah-fan. 

At the Kosmo's I hangout in all the time, I relate this to the very local guys behind the counter. Apologetically, they tell me, "Hong Kong people always think of these things. You are Malaysian/Singaporean you probably think this doesn't happen a lot. But if you were from Hong Kong, you would understand you have to protect yourself."

One of the Kosmo's guys illustrates via this story: His fiancé sustained a prolonged back injury (cracked spine) from an accident at work that has kept her permanently incapable of lifting anything (including, in future, a child with any measure of comfort) - they have all the medical to prove it. Every Tuesday Kosmo's Guy takes leave to attend physical therapy with her. For the last 3 years, they've then been in a court case with her former employer seeking reimbursement for loss of income. This is because it has been extremely difficult to find a job - even part time. Potential employers are all too afraid she'll now fake further injury for more payouts.

Though he'd worked in Kosmo's for years, even his own supervisor was unwilling to hire her for several hours' part time, for the same reason.

"See, a native Hong Konger would always think of things like this. Hong Kongers think of many things, we think too much. Your driver probably did what he did simply because he knew he could. And I suppose you haven't written anything down with your nanny either? Make sure she signs something when she leaves.........."

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • CA

    There are greedy people out there who have no decency and will take advantage of anyone they can, just to get more money. This shameless self-promoting and daylight robbery (because let’s be honest, it really is that) are the reason why some many expats say the local Chinese are “tricky”, yet you hear the same term being thrown around by local HK people about their northern bretherns.

    Your Kosmos guy is right – In the “right” circles (namely among locals who aren’t on the upper-middle to higher ends of the salary brackets or those who have learnt the hard way), HK makes you see almost everyone as if they have a hidden agenda and that they’re out to take advantage of you. Hong Kong forced me in a short space of time to see this and I became a very skeptical person in a short space of time because of what I had witnessed or experienced here in HK. This is not to say there aren’t true and honest hardworking people here as there are loads but there are also plenty of shysters who have tarred all HK people with the same brush.

    • http://raisingrockstar.com Aileen

      Dear CA. Thank you so much for the affirmation that I’m not a total fruitcake living here, being either a dodgy-ness magnet or seeing the worst in situations. Because we’d been getting messed about by so many different helps that I was really thinking we must have it written on our foreheads or something that we are a soft touch.

  • http://lifeafter38.blogspot.com/ zmun2

    I assume the driver got his very final 1 month extra salary from you all again and signed for the receipt of it?

    • http://raisingrockstar.com Aileen

      In a nutshell that would eventually be yes

      • http://lifeafter38.blogspot.com/ zmun2

        It is a good thing for the elderly to not want to “burden” their children by still working but it is not right to be “sneaky” in order to earn money. Glad to know that it is all settled with him now – Rockstar won’t have to put up with his “ejek-ejek” “finger gun” anymore. 

      • http://raisingrockstar.com Aileen

        Yeah of course that’s “sneaky”… Kings said something to him like “It’s not about money, what really pisses us off is after (our suspicions about the car tuneups) plus all our heavy tipping you can threaten us and demand your Official 1mth Extra Salary”. Know what he said re the overcharging for possibly non-existent tuneups? “You can say whatever you want loh.”