An Encounter with a real Samsui woman

I met a real Samsui woman (also known as 红头巾; Mandarin for “red headscarf”) today, she’s 80 this year she says. (I am going to just believe everything she says, because i don’t know any better and it is a first hand encounter. She’s looks healthy, speaks normally, aware of surrounding, can hold a proper conversation. Sometimes when people are old, they do tend to forget or get facts confused a little.) And also, i was super excited to tell mel because she just did a little people Samsui woman on a little pouch as door gift for some event (Singapore design week or art week last year?).

On Sundays, we usually head to alvin’s mum place and these days i will have the fishball noodles before we go up to her house. Today, just happened that we sat infront of the coffee stall that is always super super long queue and they close very early – sometimes at 1030am because they sell out their coffee. They make the coffee with the socks.

We shared the table with an old lady who sat there very long, there was a few other people that came and left. I wasn’t too interested in talking to her at first, until the couple (husband and wife) acted like they knew her. So I asked alvin – ah.. how does she knows them? then the wife came out and gave her 2 half boil eggs. She bent down and told the old lady something.. And I saw it. They had the same facial features, especially the eyes, face shape and nose. It was like identical, only the old lady was more wrinkled and darker.

I think it is her daughter. Then the old lady said – its my daughter. OHH. So as usual, I am the most kaypo person on earth. I asked, 10000 questions.

She started working as a Samsui woman at the age of 17. She said until 40 plus 50. Then she went on to do work in factory in the assembly line, for electronics – “suck up the dust” . She said it was “very good to do” in mandarin.

She has 6 kids, 4 sons and 2 daughters. the youngest child is 39, which is not that old. So in her span of age 30-40, she had 6 kids. Now she even has great grand kids too – recently a twin (girl and boy). They call it “Dragon Phoenix Twins” in chinese (long feng bao) when it is a girl and boy twins. I asked if during CNY it is very “re nao” / bustling in mandarin, she said yes. Now they will just eat out with 3 tables. She used to cook but it is super tiring that she doesn’t feel like eating after that.

Each day of a Samsui woman (she) earned a starting pay of $4 a day, and every few months the boss increase their pay by $0.50. Until it hit the ceiling of $5.50 and thats it. Bonus was around $100 a year. Lunch was $0.50 and it was like catered for them but they need to pay, she said lunch was pretty good, have this and have that. For dinner, go home and eat.

It is a day’s work and they are given uniform which they have to return if they don’t intend to work any more. So if they don’t go that day, they won’t be paid. Also the pay is dependent on if the person who is hiring you, see if you are competent.

We asked if it was hard to raise 6 kids, she said it was ok.  Her mum helped alot looking after the kids, while she and husband worked. Her husband also worked construction.

She shared that her father and her husband died of throat cancer because they smoked alot. She also started smoking when she started working and stopped when she was around 30 because she started to see people have throat cancer from smoking and she was scared. I asked, isn’t it hard to quit? She said yes at first but it is possible because she didn’t want to have cancer. I said, money is so hard to earn and you would spend on smoking? Back then, she said that cigarettes was super cheap, $0.30 for a bunch of 20 sticks.

She said that  they were also categorized by the boss into 3 colours – Blue (for sure), green and  yellow? I am not too sure on that part, and no idea what they mean as well.

On “life” advice, she said her mum told her to keep money for herself and not give everything to her children. She said some kids will want to take your money. Alvin made a clever guess and ask if its son? unmarried? Yes to both. She has 2 that stays with her. She said daughters are good, they won’t dare to take your money. She said she is close to her 3rd son and she oftens go there to sleep, and his family treats her very well.

She has her own place which she rents out and refuse to sell, because if she sells she must split “cai chan” (property in direct translation, but means $$) and give all her kids. She say when she passes away, then they split themselves, and how they split she does not care. She said now it is good because she gets the rent $ for herself.

Well, i guess i also subscribe to the idea that… why do you need to leave so much money for your kids, they can earn and work for themselves.

So she worked until 60 ish in the factory assembly line, before her children told her to stop. Then she continued working (i don’t know where after) and a year or so ago, she fell when working I think, and hurt herself. Which she needed to go for Op and put in something into her leg/hip area and since then stopped working. But she goes to the coffee stall and help her daughter and son in law – sometimes wash cups, or sometimes just sit there to kill time.

We asked what she was waiting for now, she said waiting for them to pack up and finish and walk back home together – they live just block next to each other.

I thought, how nice.. Mums are always the best isn’t it? Until so old, still accompany you. heh.


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