Friday, September 28

I need a nanny

One of the most appealing aspects of my life in Hong Kong was having a full time, live-in, domestic helper.  It is very common in Hong Kong.  When I lived in Hong Kong I didn't know anyone who didn't have a domestic helper.  I assumed that this lifestyle was also common in Bangkok. You know what they say, "when you assume, you make 'A Silly Simpleton of U and ME'."  OK that's not really what they say.  What they really say is "when you assume, you make an 'ASS of U and ME'."  I was trying to come up with something PG Rated because "ass" is a bad word. 

Anyway, I was very excited at the prospect of having affordable full-time babysitting.  Help with cleaning and laundry would be a bonus.  When we arrived, finding a domestic helper was my first objective, even before unpacking.  I determined that:

1) We need a babysitter
2) It is much harder to get a babysitter than I realized because:
  • Thai women don't like to 'nanny'.  I don't know if they don't like to nanny for foreigners specifically, or they don't like to nanny in general.
  • Everyone here is Thai
Undeterred by this speed bump, I was convinced that in a country with such considerable poverty, there must be at least one woman that would be willing to babysit my children.  I realize now, that my theory was seriously flawed.  But, to be fair, moving to a foreign country is not simple and sometimes I concoct plans that are not thoroughly analyzed or rigorously tested.

The Thai women that are willing to nanny are from 'up country'.   These are women from tribes in northernn Thailand.  Tribal people and aren't Thai citizens.  They speak a different language and cannot understand Thai. There are many tribes in the mountains of northern Thailand. They don't have refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, cars, etc. Their understanding of childcare is very different than even the average Thai family here in Bangkok, much less the average western family.

Again, to be fair, I had no idea that the women that are willing to nanny are from tribes that don't wear 'clothes' as we know them.

STRATEGY FOR PROBLEM (but not for the ISSUE because I didn't know about it at the time)
1) I called an agency and said that we would pay a monthly rate, so that she would have a steady salary even if there were days when we didn't need a babysitter.

The agencies aren't reliable and do send tribal women.  The agencies will also send women that have second jobs as 'dancers' (involving a pole).  Apparently the nanny has to pay the agency a fee when they are hired.

The agency sent Miss Lee.  We set her interview up in the evening so that the kids could meet her.  She seemed perfectly nice and everyone liked her.  She said "I can do the cooking, the cleaning, I know the babies, I do everything."  Then she gestured to the our dinner still on the table and said "I can cook everything."  Looking back, I realize that a ten minute interview is not enough when hiring full time help.  Also, I probably should have looked at her resume or reviewed her references.  Here is a photo of Miss Lee
Miss Lee
I wasn't surprised during the interview to find that Miss Lee was very difficult to understand.  We had the same experience in Hong Kong.  English is taught in the schools here, but the students don't have a lot of opportunity to practice.  And more often than not, the teachers themselves, are Thai and have never been to an English speaking country.  I believed that her language issues could be overcome.  After I determined that she was a strong candidate and that we would likely hire her, I carefully enunciated my name for her and I introduced her to the children:

Me: "My name is Virginia Russell"
Miss Lee: "Huuhheeenia  Rooosselll"
Me: "uh, well that's not really it.  I think it might be hard for you to say?"
Miss Lee: "I call you Madame."  That sounded fine to me.
Me: "This is Timmy"
Miss Lee: "Timmeeeee"
Me: "Timmy can you say "Hello" to Miss Lee?"
Timmy: "Hello Miss Lee"
Miss Lee: "Helloh Timmeeee, Sawasdee Kah"
Timmy: "Why is she saying my name like that?"
Me: "She speaks thai, and you will need to help her with her english.  You may need to help her say your name.  Maybe you can learn some thai from her?"
Timmy: "I don't want to do that."  (I ignore all of this, hoping she didn't understand what he said).
Me: "This is Katrina"
Miss Lee: "Kasseeeenah"
Me: "No, it's Katrina"
Miss Lee: "Treeeenaaaah"
Me: "OK, Call her Kat"
Miss Lee: "Gahhfeeld!"
Me: "Garfield?  You mean Garfield that cat?  The cat in the cartooon?"
Miss Lee: "Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya, Gahhfeeld!"
Katrina: "My name is Katrina," said in a total state of confusion, surprise and consternation.  You can call me "Kat."
Miss Lee:  "Yes, Yes, like cat! You cat! Ok Gahhhfeeeld!  I call you Gahhhfeeeld," said with glee.
Katrina: "I'm not Garfield."  Looking at me,  "Does she think my name is Garfield?"
Me: "It's ok Katrina, I'll explain it to her later."
Tim: "So you have worked with children before?  You like children?"
Miss Lee: "Yes, I like.  The baybees.  I thaburie nara nar rah non tah baybeees. And I chit plun kop kah kah kah  Always, yes, kah, sam, sip, sum, kah kop kah."
Tim: "OK, sounds great."

After she left, I asked Tim, "Did you understand what she said?"  "Not a word"

We hired Miss Lee.

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