Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Filipino Maid and the Cantonese Cobbler

Macau, China

PART ONE: The Filipino Maid

"She's pretty," I thought, as I noticed the Filipina out of the corner of my eye.

She was sitting alone on a park bench, talking on her mobile phone. She was about 20, with long, straight black hair. She wore blue jeans tucked into black pleather boots, the mandatory fashion for stylish young women in southern China, and a light blue windbreaker over a dark blue blouse. She was giggling and speaking in a rat-a-tat rhythm that I presumed was Tagalog.

"She's probably done working for the night," I thought, since it was about 9 p.m. The well-to-do of Macau and Hong Kong employ Filipino and Indonesian women as "amahs," a Portuguese word for "wet nurses" that is used to describe maids and nannies. The amahs live with the employing families and are free later in the evening (after the kids are asleep) and on Sunday, which is called "Freedom Day."

The park was small, about half a block. On one side was a tiny Confucian temple. Surrounding the park were soot-caked apartment buildings. The park abutted a market district, and, at that time of the evening, shopkeepers were lifting their wares off the sidewalks and placing them into the shops, preparing to pull down the ugly metal security grates and close for the night. Chinese men and women walked by, some as couples, some alone, a few sitting on other benches in the park.

"I'll walk by and try to catch her eye," I thought. "Maybe say something silly when she's off the phone. Most Filipinas speak decent English."

I made a long loop and chose a route that would allow me to walk in front of her. As I approached, she was deep in conversation and didn't notice me.

As I walked directly in front of her, she looked up. I thought, "Yes! I should --"

The sidewalk slammed into my right palm and hit me on the right cheek. I was lying flat on the park's cement surface, confused. Beside me, an old Chinese man, walking with his wife, said, "You OK?"

I wasn't sure. I slowly stood up, facing the old man, my back to the Filipina. I had stumbled over a small step running through the park. I hadn't seen it in the dark, and I had tripped and laid out my length on the ground. My right ankle hurt, and the sole of my right shoe was ripped halfway off.

"I'm OK," I said to the old man and limped toward my hotel.

I didn't look back at the Filipina.

PART TWO: The Cantonese Cobbler

The cobbler's shop was in an alley off the main street. The shop was a tin shed lashed to the side of a concrete building. A counter faced onto the alley, and the cobbler sat behind the counter with his equipment and solvents.

He looked like he was in his 70s, with white hair in a buzzcut, thinner and darker on top than on the sides. He spoke no English and was polishing a boot when I arrived.

I held up my right foot so he could see the dangling sole. I pointed to it, and he nodded.

I took off my shoe and gave it to him. He reached into the darkness at one end of the shop and pulled up a grey plastic stool, handing it to me. I accepted it, placed it on the side of the alley and sat down to watch.

The cobbler picked up a pallette knife and vigorously scraped the top of the sole, called the insole, and the bottom of the body of the shoe, called the vamp. When both the insole and the bottom of the vamp were smooth to his satisfaction, he poured tan glue into a small glass jar.

Using a paint brush with an inch-wide set of bristles, the cobbler applied lots of glue to the edges of the insole and to the bottom of the vamp. He also glued down a tattered piece of insole cloth that tore when I tripped.

Finished with the jar of glue, he pulled out a skinny length of wood, about six inches long, and placed it at the point where the insole met the vamp. The wood prevented the two glue-covered surfaces from touching; then he propped the shoe up next to a rusty electric fan, which he turned on, so that the air from the fan began to dry the glue.

We waited. He returned to polishing the boot. I read my copy of Macau Business magazine. About four minutes passed.

The cobbler picked up the shoe, removed the stick and turned off the fan. He lined up the insole and the vamp and squeezed them together, aligning them perfectly. My shoe was whole again. The cobbler picked up a hammer and pounded around the edges of the sole.

He inspected the alignment again. He reached under the counter and retrieved a small plastic container of glue, with a pointed tip. He used this tool to inject additional glue along the horseshoe line where the insole had been reunited with the vamp. He put the needle-nosed bottle underneath the counter and used his hands to press the shoe together. He pulled a rag from his pocket and cleaned away excess glue.

He handed me the shoe. I handed him the grey plastic stool on which I had been sitting. I put the shoe on.

I pulled from my pocket a note for 10 Macau patacas, which is about $1.30 in U.S. money. He took the note and smiled.

"M'goy," he said in his language.

"Thank you," I said in mine.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't really see too many good looking maids. But I did see a guard force lady that was working at St. Pauls that I fancied. No guts, thus,no glory

7:25 AM  

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