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Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Moderator: hansioux

Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby Dr Jellyfish » 10 Dec 2014, 15:42

I'd like to know what people think about Taiwanese families hiring maids and helpers (for the young, elderly, or for general household chores) from Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, etc.

I'm asking this question because I initially thought of this is as being very wrong. In the cases I had observed - where the maids/helpers looking after children, looking after the elderly & doing chores - they sometimes seemed to be treat poorly:

- For instance everyone was sitting at a restaurant (party for kids), and the parents of one child brought a maid along. They never sat down or ate while everyone else was doing so - and this made me feel very uncomfortable.
- Another case involved going to Zhanghua, to a rural/farming home, and as we ate, the older Taiwanese guys kept cracking jokes about the maids/helpers - about them eating the local mice and rats. The other Taiwanese (mostly from wealthy families - with lawyers, accountants, bankers etc. laughed at the jokes.

- I have also seen maids/helpers working in better conditions, and "seemingly" more integrated with their employing families.

My main problem (and perhaps this is too much of a general notion) is that it seems to be a form of exploitation. I've heard Taiwanese refer to these people as being black or blacker. In English, for me personally, black is not a pejorative or offensive terms; however, the way in which some Taiwanese were using it certainly seemed to be racist. I once had a Chinese teacher who was describing how a friend divorced his Taiwanese wife, who had more classical northern Chinese features, and married a local hairdresser who was bi jiao hei, danshi hai keyi (a bit blacker/darker, but still OK). This really annoyed me, and I stopped taking classes from that guy (ages ago) - but I digress.

I've spoke with many Taiwanese about this topic, and very few of them can see my point of view. They often argue that they can "earn even more money" in Taiwan, and then go back and buy so much land, etc. Some of them mention that in the west many white nations took black slaves. My response is something along the lines of - yes, it happened in the past, and it was disgusting, racist, evil and wrong, and anyone with a shred of decency knows this. Then the conversation just ends in - don't think to much, la - lo -just like that.

I'd just like people to share their ideas - is this always a case of exploitation? Why are the helpers always from Southeast Asia and not from Taiwan?

I'm not in a position to hire a maid/helper, and even if I was - I wouldn't. I just want to know what people think.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby hansioux » 10 Dec 2014, 16:26

I would think it is more akin to Americans driving to home depo to pick up gardeners or hiring latino maids back in the states. Those Taiwanese who compared it with slavery are idiots.

When I lived in El Paso, my family hired a Mexican cleaner. She would cross the Rio Grand to clean different people's houses on a daily basis. Once every 2 weeks or so, she'd come to my house. She would clean, and my family would have food and drinks ready when she took her breaks. Till this day I haven't figure out how she was able to cross the boarder and work as a cleaner. Maybe she doesn't cross the river at all, but I just think she does because she mentioned children in Juarez.

When I came back to Taiwan, I noticed my grand parents in Tainan had an Indonesian caretaker. Typically my family went to hotel buffets on family reunions, and she would sit next to my grand parents and eat the same food as the rest of us (minus the pork, but many members in my family are vegetarians, that's why we go to buffets, so people stop arguing about food). They eventually caught their first caretaker stealing money from them, but tolerated it for a while because they were afraid that she would get sent home and not be able to work in Taiwan. In the end my aunt decided enough is enough, and they got a second caretaker. She is still taking care of my grandma.

Of course, that's just one Taiwanese family, and arguably my grand parents were received relatively high education during the Japanese era (high school graduate and nurse), and most of their children were overseas at one time, so they treated the caretakers really well. I can definitely see how other Taiwanese families would discriminate against their foreign house workers, which would make them racist idiots. Many of the house workers are afraid of reporting abuse to their agency, because they are afraid their employee would turn it around and accuse them of wrong doings, and get them deported.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby headhonchoII » 10 Dec 2014, 16:43

Just as an aside, this is an issue around the richer Asian countries and areas. I heard my HK colleague tell my Taiwan colleague how cheap her maid was, only 500 USD, the Taiwanese colleague was a bit jealous. I just don't react very well to talking about people like that but I didn't say anything because they have made their choices already and obviously are very money oriented like most of the population.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby Dr Jellyfish » 10 Dec 2014, 16:50

[quoteThose Taiwanese who compared it with slavery are idiots.][/quote]

Perhaps that was my poor explanation. I had just raised the topic with Taiwanese I know. Mentioning the fact that a certain group of people are being used for certain jobs here, with low pay etc. And a few Taiwanese have over the years mentioned slavery in the west, in the context that nations of predominantly white/Caucasian people had previously taken black slaves in past - which is much worse that what some Taiwanese families are doing now. I think their point is that many years ago white people did actually take slaves, so what's my problem with a bit of minor exploitation. The Taiwanese get help, the maids/helpers get rich (apparently).

As for what happens in North America, with Mexicans working as gardeners or helpers... all I know is from what I've seen on TV. To the best of my knowledge there's nothing so wide-spread as that going on in the UK at the moment (though there are bucket-loads of other problems).
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby finley » 10 Dec 2014, 17:09

I don't like it either - partly for the reasons you mention (it gives nouveaux riches Taiwanese people the opportunity to lord it over a "black" skivvy) but also because it pains me to watch foreign workers scrub floors in Taiwan instead of sorting out what's wrong with their own country. It's a form of voluntary bonded labour, and it stinks whichever way you're looking at it.

I suppose you can understand foreign professionals going abroad for a more fulfilling career - not just for the money, but simply to work with a higher calibre of people in a better environment. The sad bit about that is that the doctors, lawyers, engineers etc who are left behind are the ones who wouldn't get a work permit anywhere else, either because they're idiots or because they're crooks. And so the downward spiral continues.

The ones who come from 'the provinces' bother me more. The only system I'm familiar with is the Philippines, where dodgy brokers, and the Philippine government, take many thousands of US$ from OFWs so they can be granted "opportunities" abroad. For example, I understand they have to register with some government agency whose only real purpose is to fleece them of their earnings. Then you have the "designated earner" phenomenon, where some hard-working family member goes abroad to earn money and send it back home, while 20 brothers, sisters, uncles and assorted hangers-on sit on their collective ass and drink/gamble it away or spend it on useless shit. Thus the whole system encourages and facilitates corruption and dependence. As for buying land, the majority of "poor" Filipinos already own land - they're just too feckless or ignorant to do anything useful with it, and it ends up being stolen by squatters, abandoned, or repossessed by the taxman.

Underlying all this is a bad attitude to money: namely, the idea that paper currency is the be-all and end-all of everything. While you can understand people who have never had money becoming enamoured with it when they do, the failure to address cultural misunderstandings about money and economic development just perpetuates poverty. I'm not sure what the solution is, but looking the other way while rich families hire floor-scrubbers for a pittance probably does more harm than good.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby Doraemonster » 10 Dec 2014, 18:11

What you described is perhaps one of the worst aspects of the Taiwanese society. The bad treatment these "wailao" (外勞, 'foreign labor', but the phrase almost always refers exclusively to people from South-East Asia) get as a rule, and the unwillingness to address it by the society at large, makes it difficult to feel for the Taiwanese when they're the ones being discriminated against.

It can be argued that this is technically not comparable to slavery, because the Filipinos could opt not to come here but I guess the fact that they still do come says more about how dire the situation is there, and not that the treatment they receive here is acceptable by any standards.

In a way, the Taiwanese are also victims of their own racism, as a lot of Filipino people speak English at a level unattainable to most local people, and could work here as translators or teachers to mutual benefit, were they given the chance to do so.

As an aside, the bias against darker skin is more widespread and affects even the perception of Malaysian Chinese, most of whom are, ironically, descendants of emigrants from the same province in China as the population of Taiwan.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby Indiana » 10 Dec 2014, 18:52

You also have to remember that even though the salary that these employees get seems low, they are also getting housing / food / medical insurance / flights to and from their home countries covered. It is definitely not slavery if they are paid what they were promised and their employers are obeying labor laws. Having said that, the impression I got from Taiwanese is that they view these folks as sub-human. I can't imagine working for people who saw me that way.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby headhonchoII » 10 Dec 2014, 19:29

Many or perhaps all have to pay a bond so it is really just a modern form of indentured servitude.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby res » 10 Dec 2014, 20:27

Hmmmm

We employ a live out Philippine maid/nanny and she speaks much better english than 99% of the Taiwanese people I have encountered. We also pay her an amount that is over what I understand is the average income in Taiwan.

She seems head and shoulders above all the Taiwanese we interviews for the job in every way.

I still feel guilty as what she earns is less than the legal minimum back home, and she works harder than any person I have ever employed/managed

She tells me that the day that she has to work for a Taiwanese is the day she books her flight home. Read into that what you will.
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Re: Southeast Asian Maids & Helpers in Taiwan

Postby Dr Jellyfish » 10 Dec 2014, 20:47

res wrote:Hmmmm

We employ a live out Philippine maid/nanny and she speaks much better english than 99% of the Taiwanese people I have encountered. We also pay her an amount that is over what I understand is the average income in Taiwan.

She seems head and shoulders above all the Taiwanese we interviews for the job in every way.

I still feel guilty as what she earns is less than the legal minimum back home, and she works harder than any person I have ever employed/managed

She tells me that the day that she has to work for a Taiwanese is the day she books her flight home. Read into that what you will.


From what you say, this would be different from the perceived norm. As you've hired someone solely on the basis of their merits, and not on their ethnicity or how cheap they are.
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