The elderly on my roster cannot let me mop, sweep or clean in silence. They must follow me about the small space and keep up a running conversation, one-sided, usually. Never mind that I don't speak Hokkien. They know I understand it and will mumble a reply at some point in either Cantonese or Mandarin. To those who babble on in Cantonese, they know I will also reply when I feel like it. Even though I've largely managed to tune them out, nowadays, I feel like wearing ear plugs.
I'm fine if they drone on about government policies and social commentary, to gossiping about neighbors and friends. Even if they ask about my salary, my 'husband', my whatever, that's okay too. However, it has taken me years to learn to take a deep breath and not let personal questions ruffle me. To the usual, "Have children lah, they're good, they take care of you in old age...blah blah blah", I wisely keep quiet. I'm not about to insult them by either saying "None of your business" or "Having children hasn't done you any favors". It isn't because I'm unfailingly polite. I'm just incredibly sensitive to the feelings of these old folks. To other old folks and random humans, I'm fairly fast, direct and rude in my retorts that usually hold the gist of STFU.
Today is 'cleaning day' at their homes. I hit the last flat and started on the very fast task of sweeping the area. I can't really complain that they don't use vacuum cleaners. It's not a matter of buying one for them; they'll scold me for increasing their electricity bills. :P I already lug around a trolley of cleaning agents. Not about to heave a power generator too.
In the middle of wiping down their ancestral altar, cleaning the ashes off the incense holders and shaping the mound of ashes properly to hold more joss sticks or coils, to the rhythm of a rant (in Cantonese) that covered everything from a 'hi-five president' to 'Fann Wong as mafia boss', typhoons in Taiwan' and 'radioactive cows in Japan', I suddenly tuned back into my surroundings. It was as though a little lightning bolt stabbed me in the calves.
I had been pondering about a job opportunity that arose on Monday night and floated above my head. I met the good people yesterday and promised them a reply by Friday evening. It's very flattering. The scope is tempting. To be able to wear slippers, birkies and dark jeans to work! To waltz in at 10am! To be able to work with very cool and brilliant people! Damn, stars swirled in my subconscious all night as the physical self slept. I woke in the morning, still indecisive.
Unexpectedly, swamped amidst these chores, I found the answer much sooner. The answer is 'no'. I love doing these menial tasks for the elderly on my roster too much to give it up just as I'm beginning to settle into a routine. Very few (full-time) jobs will entice me to re-shuffle this routine immediately. With a decision reached, I smiled and whistled to myself as I gave the altar a final flourish. The old couple stared......wondering what got into me. I gave them a big breezy smile and waltzed out of the flat. Onward for a cup of coffee and to give my honest reply to the good people (no point to wait till Friday), and feeling kinda rueful that I wasted their time.