Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Defining A "Housewife"

A woman journalist interviewed me about working women who quit their jobs to take care of their children. She asked on the phone, “So what do housewives like you do all day long?”

Taken aback, I explained that a ‘housewife’ works all day long to clean, cook and take care of family. She is very busy and she works hard. There is also a growing number of women who work to generate cash from home while they take care of the family. So they get to balance their work life with home life.

I thought she understood what I meant. She insisted on seeing me in my house to see what I do. As soon as she sat down, she asked me earnestly, “So don’t you feel bored doing nothing all day long?”

This time, I burst out laughing.

It was very FUNNY!

Perhaps I’ve become cynical.

I’ve been asked these questions for the last eleven years, since I started to work from home after the birth of my daughter. It was a conscious choice that a modern mother made. It hasn’t made me a lesser woman. Instead, it has enabled me to gain valuable perspectives and knowledge about life, and myself.

My daughter and I have a very good bonding. I’m her role model for work and discipline. Family values are imparted onto her, not through formal classes, but through me - the mother who is her friend, her clown and her big teddy bear.

The flexible work hours enable me to be there for her at critical moments -when she feels hurt as the entire class is punished for a few boys’ naughtiness; when she wants hugs after falling down; when she needs affirmation of what she has accomplished.

Mothers from the eHomemakers network have complained about the slights and deep-seated prejudice against us. The perception that we’re either ladies of leisure, or women who failed in our careers and so become homemakers, is strong. We’ve been labeled “failures” and “backward.”

For those with a university education, these incredulous questions are posed, “Why do you waste your education to be a housewife?” “You could earn more money with an education! Isn’t earning money more important than taking care of your family?”

We’re stunned. Why would anyone want to ask us questions like these? Can’t a woman choose how she wants to work and live?

For one thing, not all women who make ‘home’ a priority are wives. There are single mothers, widows and single women who willingly quit fulltime jobs to take care of elderly parents or siblings who are ill. The term ‘housewife’, said in a derogatory manner, can indeed hurt. Very much.

For some who are married, their husbands and mothers-in-law are the ones giving them the hardest time for ‘doing nothing at home’, even though they take care of the family and generate some income with whatever they can do.

A homemaker recently told me tearfully why she had to go back to fulltime work. Her mother-in-law and husband had been ridiculing her about ‘wasting her time’ although she brought in about half the total household income through her consultancy work. Moreover, she cooked, cleaned and took care of three kids herself.

At a talk in the university, a student asked me, "You have been writing about women's issues and empowering women with positive thoughts, yet you choose to be a housewife? Why do you give up your women’s right to be a career woman and stay in the house?"

I laughed, “Do you mean that advocating women’s rights means I should dump my kid to someone else?”

Empowering a woman is to give her self-confidence and options to choose from. If she chooses to love her family first, it's her prerogative. No one should condemn her, let alone tell her that she has fewer rights than those who work full-time outside.

In social functions, I notice that if I tell people, “I'm a homemaker”, it is the professional women who politely turn away and never talk to me again until the host or hostess mentions the United Nations career that I used to have!

Homemaking is indeed not a noble profession here.

Perhaps, one day, the economic contribution of homemakers will be counted in the Gross National Product statistics and we will be cheered for our contribution.

But for now, homemakers must not give up taking care of children and family members, no matter what others think.

And even if we’re single and no one cares to celebrate occasions like Mother’s Day with us, we must still celebrate by telling ourselves, “I am the best!”



By Chong Sheau Ching

A Life's Shifter's Journey

A few years ago, I wrote an article about life-shifting (changing one’s views about work and living life). People who are life-shifters usually transform themselves from a rigid corporate or organisational life to a lifestyle whereby they do what they like and what means the most to them.



Many readers from the corporate world wrote about their desire to become life-shifters but they didn’t know how. Quite a number of them were recently retrenched and they felt utterly lost. They wrote that they were hiding at home all day or pretended that they were still working in their former offices by going out of the house in the morning and coming back late.

They also spoke about their low self-esteem. Reader HD lamented, “After I lost my job, everyone expressed their sympathies. It took me some time to get adjusted from a supposedly 'highly respected' successful career woman to a 'lowly' homemaker. It was painful.

“I couldn’t handle it. There were days where I didn’t even answer any phone calls because I was embarrassed about my staying home. I yelled at my kids. They ran away. The food I cooked tasted bad. At times, depression would set in. Why are there so many women who could be both, successful career women and good mothers, but not me? Why do I feel guilty? Why can’t I look at myself in the mirror?”

“I left the corporate world, where I virtually lived, breathed and existed for more than ten years, due to a difficult pregnancy. After the birth, I began to suffer from depression. If I had sought medical treatment then, the doctors would have just dismissed my symptoms as post-partum blues and put me on a happy pill. I knew from deep inside that this was not merely the case. So I largely kept it to myself.

What I didn’t know then was that I was actually experiencing low self- esteem. From someone with a ‘respectable’ corporate position and independent income, I was now reduced to a ‘housewife’ who had to depend on her husband for all her expenses. I had daily struggles with these issues, and my constant exhaustion from being a new mother did not help matters. Nor did the lack of emotional support from my spouse and family.

The proverbial last straw came as I was filling in an application form for a departmental store card. As I worked my way down the questions, I felt a lurch in my stomach. When I came to ‘Occupation’, I wrote “None”. After that, I went to the toilet. I broke down in tears and wept

Anyway, as they always say, when you hit rock-bottom, there’s no where else to go other than ‘up’, unless you choose to remain at the bottom.

From that moment on, my mental haze began to clear up. My daughter’s nap-time became my self-help-book-reading time. I was also fortunate enough to catch several episodes of Oprah Winfrey which explored the issue of ‘Self’. Then, I learnt about eHomemakers' Work @ Home conferences. I attended one and learnt that a housewife is a very noble life option and that I can still earn cash from home.

Suddenly, my understanding about the depression I was going through came to light! For years, I was identified by a piece of paper measuring about 9 x 5.5 cm – the corporate call card. My sense of worthiness was defined solely by the title appearing on the card. When I became a full-time mother, I no longer had a corporate call card to carry around. My identity was lost, gone, disappeared. In my mind, I had ceased to exist as a person – I had become irrelevant, unimportant, non-contributing.

It took a year for me to claw and crawl my way out of the dungeons of my depression. It was a period of intense soul-searching and inner healing. I learnt to really know myself by seeing me as who I really am, as opposed to who I thought I was. It was a very, very painful process. I literally cried buckets. I was grieving the loss of the woman who I had been for so long.

Today, I am a changed person. I am a new woman whose priorities have been reshuffled and definitions of life redefined. I have less material wants but I feel richer. I am busier but I feel more in control. I face more challenges but I feel more at peace. I am also finally doing what gives me tremendous joy – writing!

And the icing on the cake? A gorgeous angel who I am raising and homeschooling with great enjoyment and love. I always think of her as the catalyst to my ‘self-discovery’. If I had not gone through a problematic pregnancy, I would still be chasing those elusive corporate goals with a maid is my daughter's surrogate mother.

This is the first time I am actually discussing my life’s metamorphosis. And in doing so, I hope I have both acknowledged and honoured the process I went through to become the person I am today.

Life shifter? Absolutely spot on! I believe that the life we start to ‘shift’ first is our own. A massive change would not happen overnight, but I sense a momentum beginning, a low rumble, and some slight vibrations. And it will eventually happen. A global makeover in terms of life definitions. We just need to persevere and insist on living our lives the way we believe it should be lived, despite being branded as corporate failures, social misfits or even family disgraces. We need trail-blazers like all the working from home moms to light the way, so that the road would not seem steeped in total darkness.

I am now a full-time mother to a beautiful little girl. A new world beckons…”

By Chong Sheau Ching

A Job Only Mothers Can Do

"How could you eat in a restaurant like this? No air-con, loud-mouthed waitresses, holes on the tablecloth, chipped glasses and plates, and wooden chopsticks! Everything here goes against sophistication and style!" LL complained as she wiped the sweat from her forehead with an imported, perfumed tissue.

"The dim sum here is great and cheap! I don't see any problem eating here at all!" I shrugged my shoulders.

LL wiped her mouth with another tissue that she took from her designer handbag. She pushed her plate away. "You know," she said, "you've changed since you've become a mother."

"Of course, I see things differently after carrying a big tummy for nine months!" I laughed as I looked unwaveringly at her eyes. They emanated the confidence and assertiveness of a high-salaried banker who could assess a customer's credit worthiness in minutes.

LL's eyebrows cocked. Her dark brown pupils narrowed from beneath her fashionable green contact lenses. "It's not ‘good’ change. It's - let me call it – ‘bad’ change."

"Bad change?" I stopped laughing.

"Look, I've to tell you this frankly. You've lost your "uumph" for success!"

She paused to let her words sink into my mind.

"You used to have this enormous drive to achieve great things in your career and you enjoyed being a yuppie, but now you stay home with your daughter doing nothing, happy to be poor and you like doing cheap stuff like this! What has happened to you?"

"I do nothing?" I protested. "I arrange my business so I can work mostly out of home! I don't want to leave Little R with a maid all day long. The responsibility of teaching her values and discipline is mine.

This is the best way to be close to Little R while I make money to pay the bills! It's not your traditional nine to five job, but it works! Do you know that one million American mid-career professionals leave their corporate jobs each year to set up small businesses, working from their homes so that they can be close to their children? If I am one of the pioneers here, is that wrong?"

"Those are Americans but we are Malaysians. Why do you want to follow them?" LL questioned.

"I'm not following them. I find working from home a great mothering cum career alternative. Instead of listening to office gossip and backbiting during tea breaks, I go downstairs to hug my daughter, read her a story or play a game with her. My outside activities are arranged to avoid traffic jams and crowds. Since I work for myself, there's more incentive to be effective and efficient. And I've got time to exercise daily! Look at my figure! Not bad for a mother, eh?"

"You're wasting your education and work experience to stay home instead of achieving success in your career. Kindergarten teachers can teach your daughter all the values she needs."

Her face came closer to mine. "Quitting for a few years will set you back for the rest of your career. You should be out there now getting a real power job and concentrating on getting to the top just like me. You should be making more money to buy property and shares for a comfortable retirement. You've got only one life. Live your life fully. Mooning at your daughter all day long is a crime to yourself!"
"So what if I don't make much money!" I retorted. "As long as I can pay my bills, I don't have to own so many things, go to expensive restaurants and travel overseas!"

LL said in her cold business voice, "If you die tomorrow, what material things are you leaving for your daughter? She needs money to go to school, buy roller skates and have fun like other children. She can't do any of this if all she has are your photos!"

I felt like a deflated balloon. LL wasn't the first one who had pointed her finger at me for quitting my career since my daughter's birth. Several friends and family members also had a hard time accepting the fact that I chose my daughter as my life's priority. Most saw me as a failure, quitting just as I was on the way up.

Very few people I know have good things to say about educated mothers who stay home for the children. A neighbour once introduced me to her friends as a homemaker who had time on my hands to do voluntary work. Another time, I overheard a relative describing me - "She must have gotten fired from her international job. Who in her right mind would quit a good job to be a housewife?"

For a while I doubted that I had made the right decision. The pressure for me to get back to my career to prove I wasn't a failure was so high that I went for a job interview in an international organisation after my first year at home.

The interview confirmed my decision. The two senior managers who interviewed me jumped right into the reasons for my choice. One said, after listening to my explanation, "We need people who have the drive to perform. Although motherhood is a noble responsibility, women who have career drives don't have this type of commitment to motherhood." The other asked me how I defined success. I replied, "Success means happiness and fulfillment."

He laughed and said, "That's too vague. Everyone who gets a job here sees success as career achievement! Our organisation will go downhill if the people who run it place their families before their jobs. This organization is not into welfare. We demand excellence!"

An invisible wall came up between them and me. A mixture of anger and helplessness surged through me. Their eyes spoke of hypocrisy. I had seen them expounding the virtues of women's development in international conferences, yet they weren't willing to give career mothers practical support. I had heard them affirming women's advancement as a key symbol to development, yet they gave motherhood low status and believed that mothers are unreliable performers in a competitive work environment.

A gust of cool, conditioned air blew onto my back as the automatic door of the big, grey building slid shut. I heaved a sigh. The organisation would stifle my ability because it wouldn't accept me as I am. "I'm going to do what is right for me," I said to myself. "Someday, I will work for an organisation which values me as a responsible, courageous woman."



I was stressed from a deadline the other day. I stared at my computer blankly, feeling guilty that I was not making money by letting time slip by. Little R yelled from downstairs, "Mamee, wo hen ai ni-ah!" (Mandarin: I love you very much). Then, she broke out into a Mandarin song, "Mama Hou" (My Mother is the Best).

I slumped onto my chair to listen to her, feeling so blessed and rewarded. When her song was over, inspiration rushed onto me for the rest of the afternoon as I saw what success was about.

It has many forms and I can achieve them all in many ways.

By Chong Sheau Ching

Monday, December 14, 2009

Feminists or Cowards?

When eHomemakers was started more than 11 years ago, an acquaintance from a women’s organization chided me saying, "Some of us who are fighting for women’s rights are upset with you. We want equality with men. We want women to join the workforce, but there you are, encouraging women to be housewives"

I explained that eHomemakers encouraged women to balance career and motherhood, and that we were helping women recognize the right to choose the appropriate path for their families and career as every woman has a unique situation. We were also encouraging women to take charge of their lives by being entrepreneurs instead of job seekers.

Refusing to listen, she said in a huff, "You’re supposed to be a feminist, having worked in women’s development projects before. Now you are overturning women’s advancement with your middle class ideas!" The phone clicked.

I was rather disturbed. However, after mulling over it for several days, I realized that her misgivings had to do with her understanding of motherhood. Being a single woman from a one-child family, she probably did not have the same first-hand push-and-pull experiences that mothers in the 90s do.

The same misunderstanding is prevalent among many other people I meet while organizing various events for eHomemakers' members. When sourcing for sponsors and venues, I am often met with derision and sometimes laughter.

"A conference for housewives to talk about diapers?" asked one. "You are encouraging my wife to be lazy!"

A senior woman manager reprimanded me saying, "You’re telling women like me to depend on our husbands for money and stay home to cook all day long? No way!"

I sigh with sadness hearing these comments. No doubt, there is a misconception that motherhood means either staying home to be a homemaker or working outside full-time to make more money for the children’s material comfort.

Homemakers are perceived as uneducated, having only household skills or as rich ladies-of-leisure. Worse, educated homemakers are seen as failures having wasted their education just to do housework. The misconception that homemakers don’t contribute positively to the household and to the economy makes staying home an unpopular option for women.

Many of us are women warriors of the nuclear family without parents staying with us to help raise the children. We have to work because we need the income, but we are also the primary caregivers for our children. Snatching a few minutes with the children here and there and calling it quality time is lying to ourselves. Talking to the children for half an hour while driving or supervising homework while doing laundry is no way to attend to attention-deficit children or those with behavioral problems. Stressed parents who are impatient bring out the worst in children.



Some children are naughty, clingy and withdrawn because they are crying out for their parents’ attention. Yelling, punishing or buying toys don’t solve their problems. Maids and neighborhood child minders can’t replace the parents’ care. To fix the children’s problems, one parent needs to spend more time with them. Unfortunately, it is often the mother as no one else can replace her care.

As much as we would like to see fathers staying home, we know that it is difficult for them to do so due to societal prejudices. As it is, women homemakers are facing put-downs and ridicule. We hope that our efforts as a community network will make the working from home idea more acceptable to the public and that eventually, more mothers and fathers will consider it as a way to nurture their families.

Like more and more women around the world, we find that the Supermom image of the 80s – the mother who could be a full-time career woman and a full-time mother - is not feasible. Something has to give temporarily until the children grow up.

Quitting full-time work doesn’t mean that one is out of the workforce completely.

During a visit to Canberra, Australia, I met many mothers at playgrounds. They read books or relaxed under the sun while the children were playing. They looked like serene ladies-of-leisure.

Talking to them, I found that they were professionals who telecommute, or are allowed to have part-time office hours in their companies. It is socially acceptable in Australia to quit full-time careers to become homemakers and Australian companies cater to mothers’ needs.

Another impressive experience came from a retrenched father who attended one of our working at home conferences. He began to see that his retrenchment was actually an opportunity for him to be with his neglected family. Our conference message of turning your hobby into a business opportunity has helped him. He is now a scuba diving instructor for children and adults. When he is not instructing, he is reading books by the pool with his family. He hasn’t smiled so much for a long time.

Other mothers who have turned their gloomy situations around after the conferences are housewives with retrenched husbands. Most of them are now supporting the family with their homebased catering or baking businesses.

And there are mothers like me who see working from home as a way of life since our children’s birth. I see this period of time, working from home as a precious time of my life in which I am loved and pampered. No amount of money can buy this time I have with my daughter. When she’s bigger, she will have her own friends and have less time for me.

It’s also a time in which I have become more whole. I finally have the luxury of an hour each day for myself to exercise or listen to music. I discover that I like being with myself and that being alone doesn’t mean that I am lonely. I have also discovered that I can write thought-provoking stories in English, a creative aspect I never knew I had when I was climbing the corporate ladder.

As for my daughter, I believe that my working from home is the key factor of her cheerfulness and confidence. She has learnt discipline without any yelling and punishment, modeling after my behavior at home. She was taught that I have to work to make money to buy things and she has to work too by learning to read and write so that one day she can buy things for me.

Although I work longer hours than when I was working outside, I am much happier. The feeling that I have more control of my life and time is liberating and powerful. I am not answerable to anyone else except to my family. Besides feeling calm, I am relieved that I am not involved in any office politics that drains my energy.

Is it wrong to share a viable option that brings the best out in a woman - her nurturing capability and her strength?

By Chong Sheau Ching

Learning To Move On

Nobody likes to lose.

What happens when a woman is left by her spouse and has to go it alone with her children? Sadness and loss are universal. In times of stress, self-doubt and grief, some women go into deep depression and never pick up their lives again. Others take a long time to heal, and still never really recover from the traumas. There are also those who achieve one goal after another and becoming better persons.

All in all, they have to go through emotionally trying years after the breakup. The journeys they take, for better or for worse, are etched in their memories for the rest of their lives.

ME, a single mom, now in her fifties, did what she could to clean up her hurt and move on.

"My ex left me for a younger woman with long hair and long legs. After the separation, nobody in both families was concerned about how I might fare. All that was heard was, ‘Will he make it with the new woman?’ Accusations were piled on me for not being a good wife. Even my parents and siblings had misgivings about me."

"After 17 years' of marriage, I found myself single again. Although I had a job and was independent, the breakup was terrifying, absolutely terrifying for me. The emotional shock deeply affected my children's school performance and my job performance. I was demoted. My children were playing truant and the two boys were involved in fights."

"My world was totally upside down. Sometimes I didn't know who I was and why I was who I was. I was a very confused person trying to be a woman and a mother."

"I went through a period of depression during which I was constantly sick. Happiness, I found, had nothing to do with money or material ownership: it has to do with the state of my soul. Extreme loneliness turned me to the dark side of my soul: I wanted to kill myself so I didn't have to face everyone. But my children's sweet faces stopped me from sliding into insanity."

"When it is dark, it is very hard to believe that there will be light some day. I was extremely vulnerable physically and emotionally. Even walking was painful. I couldn't raise my voice above a murmur. Everything I heard, read, see or touch told me that I was a failure."

"I was like an invalid, a zombie or a corpse. When I was very low, I cried in front of my children but I told them I would be fine and that it was good for me to cry and got their hugs. The realization that my daughter and my sons were more matured than I had ever imagined was a comfort."

"When I got over the depression, a high level of anger took over me. I wanted to slap my ex and scream insults at him in his office. I wanted to sleep with any man to get rid of the anger I had for myself. At times, I thought about playing with men's emotions to take revenge over my hurt. But I did none of these - instead I focused on my children and my job."

"There was a period I pretended that the divorce didn't happen by staying real busy, and numbing myself through liquor and drugs. Then, I sought answer from God about why it happened. I carried on by telling myself that God gave me the sufferings so that I would be born again as a new person. My love for my children also gave me the determination to go on."

"Unable to withstand gossips about my single status, I went to a city to start a new life. I had no friends in the strange place. There were countless of nights when I faced four walls in a strange room. I cried, for I missed my ex."

"Eventually I got counseling from a women's hotline. I decided not to cover up the hurt but try to bring as much healing into my heart as I could by reaching out to others. Whenever hopelessness came upon me, I reminded myself that 5 to 10 years from then, what I was feeling would no longer be my reality."

"Still, I was out in the wilderness alone with my children, how I reacted to people and the surroundings determined if we had a chance to survive. Fear often gripped me. I was scared to death about being alone with three kids in a strange city. Every night I lay on the bed wishing that it would not turn daylight again for a long time. I thought I would never make it."

"As the only wage earner of the household, I had to manage my finance carefully. I had to sacrifice my personal wants and saved every single cent for my children' needs. One time, I wanted a dress so much that I bit my fingernail off so it bled and I had to go home without buying it. I wasn't punishing myself but holding off all temptations to make a better future. Every time I thought I wasn't going to make it, I repeated this in my mind, "I will strive, I can and I must."

"I did not allow myself to lapse into a state of vulnerability with raw, naked emotions just like what I had right after the separation. I read self-help books and worked on my emotions. Women friends who have positive attitude about life changed me. One woman showed me the value of solitude, one got me into a regular exercise regime and another one showed me meditation. Each friend gave me a piece of herself to help me heal. Each forward step I took became a stepping stone to another step."




"Like a coma victim returning to the world after a long sleep, I could not remember my hurt even when I tried to recreate the pain. I began to reevaluate my life. I saw that the divorce was like a death, and that sufferings and deaths are part of life. I congratulated myself for having experienced love, lost love and knowing how to love."

"I began to live my life differently: use time productively, treat friends with kindness, look for love differently by volunteering my time for disadvantaged people instead of looking for dates with men, and become more assertive in all aspects of my life. These new revelations transformed me."

"I don't distort the children's view about their father even though he sees them only periodically. He is preoccupied with his young wife and young children. My kids have graduated from university and they are now professionals. Most of all, they love me very much and speak highly of me in front of their peers."

"When I saw my ex the other day, I didn't feel any resentment, anger or hurt. He is more like a stranger than a man with whom I shared my life with. The past 15 years have widened the differences between us. He is still the same happy-go-lucky person, but I've become a new woman."

"Like a piece of fine glass that has been through the fire and comes out more transparent but with a keener edge, I'm much stronger than before the divorce. Although I've just been diagnosed with cancer, my future is still bright. I am not ready to die as there is so much in store for me. Soon, I will totally shift gears and move into a new direction."

"However, I cannot forget the past fifteen years for they were THE MOST PAINFUL YEARS OF MY LIFE. My heart breaks whenever I hear other single mom's stories. If it was hard for me - a woman with an independent income and a promising career - it must be even harder for those who do not have what I have. I want to tell them that no mater how difficult it is now, it is never too late to start all over and it's never too late to be happy again!"


By Chong Sheau Ching

Accepting Terminal Disease

When M learnt that she had Parkinson's Disease, it was the most shocking and depressing news she ever had to handle. She felt as if a wall crushed her, and that her life just ended at that moment. It took her several months to accept the fact that the disease was here to stay. Then, an ovarian fibroid was discovered and she had to go for a surgery. We, as her friends, felt very sorry for her, as she had to deal with two blows simultaneously. We thought that she would be even more devastated after the surgery.

However, we were wrong.

M had a complete attitude change while she was at the hospital. She saw how fortunate she was compared to some other patients. Most of all, she realized that her life would be full of anger and grief if she did not start looking at the good side of everything around her. The realization was empowering. She began to appreciate every little thing she saw, heard and touched, no matter how small or insignificant it seemed.



Until now, she still enjoys telling the story of how her mindset was changed by an unexpected event: A few days after the surgery, she was feeling restless and gloomy on the hospital bed. A nurse asked her if she wanted to see the fibroid removed from the surgery. Stunned, she was about to refuse. "How could I look at the ugly thing that was bothering me?" Then she thought, "What would I lose if I took a peep at it?"

The fibroid was duly brought to her in a Milo tin! The hospital staff was quick to tell her that it was the biggest fibroid they had ever seen and that was why they had kept it in the tin with preserving solution. They were so excited that they gathered around her bed commenting about the fibroid.

"It has shrunk to half its original size!" M thought this comment from them was the funniest. She started to laugh for she never knew until then that a fibroid could generate so much excitement.

"The staff crowded around, waiting for me to be impressed with the fibroid. They pointed out to me that the bit sticking out at the side was twice as big while it was in my abdomen. I told them that this explained the sexy bulge I had on my belly and why I could not wear tight dresses for years. They laughed. One of them turned the tin around for me to have a good look. I asked, "Was this cute, round thing really part of me?"

"The way I asked must be really funny for the staff had a good laugh."

After that day, M felt as if a burden had been lifted off her. If she could enjoy looking at the fibroid, she could enjoy other things too. The change in her outlook began to make things easier for her.

When she had to be shifted to a less comfortable room, she did not complain. Instead, she learnt to enjoy the people and the surroundings.” I loved the noise, laughter, giggles and instructions! Six of them got into the tiny room with me. I laid on my back, looking up at six exuberant, beautiful young Indian women chattering and laughing in Tamil and English."

The new room was on a busy floor. M remembered fondly, "It was the floor where all the action was. I knew when the shifts were changing as there would be a sudden swell of cheerful exchanges around me. When I started walking around, I would go to the nearby maternity ward to look at the babies. Several times people asked which was my baby!"

To keep herself further amused, she looked out of the window. "I could see the street activities. Just across the road, a new building was going up. The workers liked to eat their lunches at a specific spot. Two women washed their clothes every morning over that tap." She managed to find stories, humour and inspiration from simple, mundane happenings.



She saw that the world outside of the hospital was a world away. If she did not go out to explore the world outside because of the Parkinson’s Disease, she would turn into a recluse, knowing only the limited space in her self-made cocoon.

When she got out of the hospital, she went on adventures in town and overseas trips on her own. She walked, took public transportation and spoke patiently to people from all walks of life. Many good things about people were revealed to her. She found that everyone and everything contributed to her enjoyment of being alive.” In a sense, I'm living my life fuller and knowing more than before," she concluded.

We believe that her positive attitude has delayed the onset of certain advanced symptoms. She is still keeping herself very busy through gardening, writing, painting and travelling. Parkinson’s patients at her stage of the disease usually stay home and quietly reconcile themselves to a reclusive lifestyle.

"I don't know how long I'll be around. But while I'm still breathing, I'll laugh, dream and do as many things as I can." These were her last words before she went on another long tiring journey.

Help Them To Stand Up

“Yah!!! Wah!! Aaaaah!!!” Loud and shrill screams rang eerily through the neighborhood for more than ten minutes.

It was past midnight. I went up to the window to see what was going on. The street was quiet, not a soul was seen. A few other neighbors were also standing by their window sills trying to see what was going on.

Another loud scream came through the house opposite mine.

It is her.

She is a young woman who has mental illness. Over the years, I have seen her throwing ceramic dishes onto her next door neighbor’s compound, throwing her brother’s toys onto the street and screaming at passer-bys.

The ambulance was rushed in once because she cut herself. The family’s maid jumped over the fence several times, screaming for help, because she was chasing the maid with a knife. Once, she walked into my house uninvited and tried to push me to join a multi-level marketing scheme. When I politely refused, she was so angry that I thought she would hit me.

I am only her neighbor. I can avoid her when she screams and throws things at me. But not her family. They often look tired and harassed. When I walked past and said ‘hi’, they lowered their heads and pretended that they do not see me, then they hurried into the house.

In a society filled with prejudices about people with chronic illnesses, I can understand how they feel – embarrassed and ashamed – about the havoc the young woman causes in the neighborhood.

In contrast, my late brother who used to have Down Syndrome, was much easier to take care of. He occupied himself with his drawing and piano-playing. He rarely got angry. If he did, he expressed his emotions with a few loud mumbles. He was only difficult to take care of when he couldn't walk due to swollen legs from his weak heart. Two people were needed to lift and carry him.

At that time, we were all families with dependants who needed medical care constantly. Expenses were high because our dependants did not have health insurances, or rather, no health insurance company would insure them. Taking them to government hospitals was not a choice sometimes when one had to work and had no time to queue for hours.

My brother who didn’t know how to talk also needed rehabilitation to learn how to communicate his suffering when his health deteriorated. There is no Down Syndrome center for people over 40. I had to pay for a private practioner and there is no insurance scheme for this. And no tax-break either.

When I read about how rich businessmen avoid paying taxes and top-notch company directors driving luxury cars bought under company expenses, I find myself asking, “How does this happen? The rich get the tax breaks but not all those who need it!”

A friend once said to me, “Life is never fair. What are you complaining about? You have more to be thankful for than many people!”

I know. So does every middle-class family who have dependants with chronic and acute conditions. I have known of middle-class families who sold their houses, cars and jewelleries to treat illnesses. Often, the family houses that they have lived in are the only assets the entire family has.

One such family has two adult children inflicted with a nerve disease that has rapidly degenerated over the years. Click here to read about them - http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1855 and http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1854. The elderly parents’ savings have all been used up in treatments over the last ten years. They can’t afford to send the siblings for the operations and rehabilitation they need.

Harsh words from their brother make them depressed – If not for you, our parents would have a nice life! He has a good job but he feels that he has helped his siblings enough over the years. He needs money for his own growing young family. There is no tax break to motivate him to help out either.

As the siblings' condition worsens, one of them is contemplating suicide. The other has been admitted to a home for the disabled. The future is bleak if the elderly parents leave this world. Who is going to ensure that the children are well taken care of?

They are not the only ones who need help - there are so many others out there. Not hardcore poor. But trapped in a helpless cycle of illness. And there is no end in sight.

A group of us has been trying to raise funds for them but the progress is very slow. Sometimes we feel discouraged but we remind ourselves of what Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

By Chong Sheau Ching

Inner Strength from Fairy Tales

Snow White sang lovingly, “Some day the prince will come, some day my love will come.” My then five-year old daughter, Little R, was mesmerized by the animated movie, “Snow White.”

“Mommy, I want to grow up like Snow White! I will have many friends!” I caressed her forehead, thinking that it was alright for a little girl to want to sing and dance and be happy like Snow White.

Then, I saw her playing with some neighborhood boys. Little R laid on the floor, pretending to be asleep. A boy rushed inside the room, yelling, “I will save you from evil!” He then had a sword fight with two other boys and he hit them with his sword. They pretended to die. He knelt down beside Little R and said, “I have saved you, wake up! I am your hero. Telephone me if you see any more evil!”

“Who are you?” Little R asked after she opened her eyes.

“I’m a Prince!”

Little R smiled, “Thank you for saving me.”

Then, they hopped onto his horse, went off together to his castle and lived happily ever after.

That night, I asked Little R why she needed to be saved by the prince. She said as a matter-of-factly, “Boys save girls like me and Snow White from bad people.”

I pondered about what she said for a long time.

Is this good for my daughter? Waiting for others to save her or for bad people to turn into good people?

From childhood, girls are groomed to think that they need a prince to rescue them and take them to fairy land. But the boys grow up seeing themselves as heroes, rescuing women and taking proactive action in everything they do. When the fairy land turns out to be a nightmare land for the women, they feel paralyzed, unable to move forward.

The realization led me to think about Little R’s problems in kindergarten and primary one - boys bullying her, calling her names because she didn’t look like a typical Malaysian.

Are the movies teaching my daughter to wait for someone to rescue her?

So I started giving Little R ‘mommy’s movie lessons.’

For Snow White, I explained, “Don’t eat anyone’s apple just because it is free, buy your own apples! If you grow your own apple trees, you will not have to worry about bad people giving you bad apples!”

When she watched Cinderella, the lesson was “Don’t leave your shoes everywhere and then wait silently, crying for the Prince to find you another pair. Learn to earn money and buy your own shoes. If a good Prince comes along, you can still marry him with your own shoes!”

For the animated movie, ‘Mulan’, I told her, “Use your brain to get out of something difficult, don’t be scared and don’t wait for people to save you.”

After that lesson, she saw the movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. The robots tried to kill Jason with swords, but he figured out how to beat them instead. The robots synchronized their attacks together, but it took them several seconds to react to new changes in his postures.

If he stood up, the robots would swing their swords at him. So he ducked quickly after standing up and the robots ended up swinging their swords at each other and killing their own kind. When the robots saw him ducking, they swung their swords at him. However, Jason did a somersault in the air and the robots ended up swinging their swords onto each other’s legs, thus maiming themselves.

Both ‘Mulan’ and “Jason and the Argonauts” taught her not to wait for anyone to rescue her. She warned the boys, “I’ll tell the teacher.” But the boys would tease her for being a pansy, telling on them. So she learnt to defend herself by frightening them.

In one particular incident, she chased a boy who had pulled her hair earlier. She pulled the boy’s hair as she demanded he answer her question “Does this hurt? Don’t ever do this to me again!”

After a while, the boys learnt to respect her and no one bullied her.

One time, she managed to teach a lesson to six boys who had been teasing fat girls. She told them, “Catch me. If not, I will tell the teacher.”

She ran in a zig zag pattern, ahead of the boys who were chasing her from behind. They followed her to the right and to the left. The boys thought that they were going to get her as they were closing in on her in two groups - from the left and from the right. She suddenly spurted off in a straight line. The two groups crashed onto each other.

The crying girls cheered.

















Now, this is my daughter.


By Chong Sheau Ching