“Virus got you down, try a great book”
The Chinese Nanny - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - 2020 - from her marvelous debut collection The Heartsick Diaspora
Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life
If you are quarantined or self isolating, you can travel to Singapore, London or New York City in the stories of Elaine Chiew.
The Chinese Nanny is the 12th of 14 stories in The Heartsick Diaspora upon which I have posted. This story explores another aspect of the life of Malaysia-Chinese immigrants to London, that of a nanny to the child of a rich.
For numerous reasons in Manila middle class people often have full time live in help. What the English call a nanny we call a Yaya. Most helpers are from rural areas, with little education. They are normally paid maybe $100.00 to $150.00 a month plus room and board. In addition to cleaning and cooking they function as personal servants, getting coffee etc. There was once a popular TV comedy treating a Yaya as a comic figure. Some are treated with respect and kindness, some parents stand by as their children order about helpers. Employers worry about Yayas stealing. In our community complex, helpers cannot leave the secure area, guarded by armed security with sawed off shots guns , without a note saying they can leave. When a helper is found to have stolen, the comment is often “We treated her just like family.”
“The Chinese Nanny” launched my thoughts on household help in the Philippines and how my family treated our help.
The story is brilliant,it is a story of a truly heartsick incident of diaspora. In London it has become “trendy” to have a Chinese Nanny, the idea being she can teach your children Mandrian. Our narrator is not from China but a third generation Malaysian with Chinese ancestors. Agencies import Nannys. Londoners also find Asian employees more deferential than Nigerians or Zimbawns, as the racist agency placement agent tells the Nanny.
The Nanny does not live in. Her employer Fiona, a single mother with a successfull busuness has a four year old daughter. At first the daughter wants no part of her Yaya, speaking out against her. Then over time they became very close. We also get to know Fiona. Gradually the Yaya becomes essential. She stays overnight when Fiona is on a date. She comes to resent unpaid work out on her.
I Will tell no more of this story as i want you to feel The power of this work.
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well by Penquin Books.