60 or so years before Asians became apparently crazy and rich, some better-off families hired female helpers from China as live-in nannies or daily helpers. They were called ma-jie or mother-older sister, a respectful term that combines two salutations for elder female family members.

Ma-jie were typically dressed in a white mandarin-collared loose top over loose black pants. They usually had their hair neatly pinned in a bun, or in a single long plait. They were loyal, dependable and, in many instances, integral members of the families they worked for.

Many took vows of celibacy, and never returned to China. They remained with their employers or shared accomodations with fellow ma-jie until their retirement or death.

In the above photo, you can see a ma-jie washing clothes. A lady’s Peranakan attire is drying on a clothesline; not an uncommon scene in an employer’s courtyard.

But here’s the full picture.

This is a mural I came across in Singapore. It was so realistic I stood for quite a while just admiring it.



12 thoughts on “Elder

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