Since I had kind of a windfall recently I decided to do three things: pay off my credit cards; get LASIK for John, and build a house for our maid Tena on the land she owns in the Philippines. Today I waited in a looong line at DBS bank to do a telegraphic transfer to Allied Bank, Mangaldan Branch. (I could have waited in a different, shorter line, but I didn't know that.) Everyone in Singapore needs to get even numbers of fresh, clean bills to put in the hong bao or red packets given out to various people during Chinese New Year. As a result, the sound in the bank was an extraordinary, crisp, swish-swish-swish magnified many times, as ten tellers counted out cash cash cash. A sound like that is liable to put thoughts of bank robbery into a girl, but there was a serious looking young man with a gun there to ensure cooler heads prevailed.
Tena has owned the property for some time; when her father died the land was divided into three plots, one for each daughter (there were no sons.) The whole piece is pretty small, about the size of my mom's yard in Takoma Park (she has a big yard, though). There are two houses on it now, one that her mother lives in (technically Elsa's), which is nice enough, and one for her sister Cora. This one has the dirt floors which made such an impression on Zoe. (You can read more about our trip in 2006 here, here, and here.)
Tena paid to fence in all three houses, which has slightly mitigated the fact that her sisters are jealous, and annoyed that she isn't hiring her layabout brothers-in-law to do the work (I have to say I was totally with her on that one). Well, she's hired a real contractor and instructed him to employ them as part of the crew, which, at one point they were refusing to do out of pique, but I think they've come around. It's just going to be a simple four-room house (plus bathroom), with a wet kitchen outside as well as a "dry" kitchen inside. She's having wardrobe/storage cabinets and kitchen cabinets built in by the contractor, which is not the usual thing to do there, but she has been inspired by various places here in Singapore. Corrugated tin roof, masonry walls, tile floor; pretty much the usual thing.
The girls and I are going to visit the Philippines again with Tena--and, hopefully, my mom!!!--in May, so we can see the splendor for ourselves. Tena says she wants to put a plaque outside with my name on it, but I told her we should put "Henrietta Waring", my grandmother's name. She was a kind person and a great employer, and helped her maid Annie Washington build a house in Savannah that's still in their family, flanked by her grandchildren's houses. My brother Ben is visiting both their graves in Bonaventure this weekend, and leaving flowers for me.