The Determination of Giving up the Breakfast—Marissa who Would Give Everything
林楚軒LAM Choi Hin
It has already been three years since Marissa left home. She has completely adapted to the new life in this strange land, but she still occasionally recalls the memories of the old days when she had time for a leisurely breakfast.
Filipinos consider breakfast an important morning ritual that a good day starts with a nice breakfast.
In the past, Marissa had to go to school on weekdays. She enjoyed the garlic fried rice prepared by her mum at home, and then she walked to school. On Saturdays, the time she could rest at home, she woke up as early as six in the morning. She went to the stall at the nearby crossroad and bought a pack of pan de sal. She then stayed in her room and consumed the bread as she did revision. It would be almost lunchtime when she finished half of the bread. She would eat the remaining for lunch and this saved her plenty of money. She would go to work after lunch.
Pan de sal is a “national bread” in the Philippines. It is easy to make, and the price is low. It has a plain flavor with a hint of sweetness. It is very popular among the Filipinos. They usually eat it with a cup of coffee for breakfast or afternoon tea, and this is what makes a perfect day.
Pan de sal is a small round bread that all Filipino women know how to make, and Marissa is no exception. If her mum was too busy, she would be responsible for her younger sister’s breakfast. She would prepare the dough the night before. She would cut it into ten more smaller doughs the next morning and put them into the oven. The pan de sal would be ready in fifteen minutes, but Marissa never ate it.
“Most pan de sal has a sweet flavor of milk. It is soft but too sweet. There are many breakfast shops in Cabuyao, but only that stall I visited sold the pan de sal with garlic and basil. The scent itself is already refreshing. I like that stimulating flavor.”
Of course, apart from her favorite scent of garlic, she liked the bread because of the cheaper price.
“You easily feel full eating bread, and a pack of pan de sal costs below PHP 10 (around HKD 1.5). You can cut a lot of daily spending relying on it.”
Marissa lived the lifestyle of only study and work during her three high school years.
Marissa’s family could be considered middle class in the affluent city of Cabuyao. Her father had a logistics company, and her mother sometimes worked as a shopkeeper for her friend. However, three of the four children were still in school. The eldest brother ran his own restaurant, but the business was not mature yet. The whole family had to rely on the father’s income. It was tough for him to be responsible for all three children’s school expenditures. Marissa worked once a week to sustain her through the last year of high school, but a crisis appeared in her peaceful life after she had been admitted to the university.
Brilliant Marissa gained excellent results in the entrance exam, and she was always the top three students all through the three years in high school. With these achievements, she was admitted to the University of the Philippines. She completed the first semester with much anticipation, but her family could not afford her tuition fee anymore.
“I cried every day in my room after receiving the university suspension letter. I blamed the world, my brother and myself. I thought to myself, ‘I was given this valuable opportunity of attending the best university, but I had to let it slip away. What did I work so hard for?’ I hid myself for a month, and then I decided to shake off the despondency. I took a part-time job for a month. I met a few girls at the workplace. We planned to work abroad.”
With her new friends’ encouragement, Marissa contacted the agency in their company. Her mother did not support her, but facing Marissa’s determination, she could only remain silent and do some preparation for her daughter.
“Now when I look back, I admired the me back then. I came here knowing not a thing. My friends said I was lucky. Some uninformed girls found the fake agencies, and no one knows where they were sold to.”
Marissa was surely lucky. Not only did she arrive Hong Kong safely, she was also hired by a good employer. Marissa’s employer has been the same old lady since six years ago. She described her encounter with her employer “the Lord’s mercy”. Many of her friends were envious of her.
“At that time, several employers were not satisfied with me, and I could not understand why. My agent comforted me, saying people only wanted a domestic helper who could take care of their daily lives. I was only nineteen and with a good academic background. Many of the employers misunderstood me as a girl who wanted a chance to get a Hong Kong ID card. I waited another month, and the agency informed me there was another interview given by the current employer, the old lady. She asked me a few simple questions, and finally she asked, ‘Do you like reading?’ I replied, ‘Yes. I have been unemployed these days, so I read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl at home.’ Then she immediately decided to sign the contract with me.”
This employer is an educated lady. She hired a domestic helper because her husband had passed away, her children were living overseas, and her health deteriorated. She respected Marissa. She explained Hong Kong culture and traditions to Marissa to avoid conflicts. Marissa could not be more satisfied, but of course, nothing is perfect. Her employer needs to have a massage and do some light exercise downstairs every morning due to her health problems. Marissa must do these with her as she is the old lady’s domestic helper. Besides, the lady’s diet has to be light as she aged. She cannot consume too much MSG and simulating food. Hence, Marissa’s rich and full breakfast is now reduced to a cup of coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich. No garlic has ever appeared in the kitchen.
“Happy are those who are contented. I am very grateful meeting this lady. She offers me a lot of support. She told me once I have enough money, she will let me return home and go to university again. She allows me to read in her study. Every July, she arranges holidays for me, so I can travel to the Philippines and gather with my family. I cannot repay her, so these small sacrifices are actually nothing.”
Marissa has a day-off per week. On that day, she always reunites with her friends in Central. All of them bring snacks to the gathering. They talk about what happened in that week. She always brings the least food, which makes her look a bit stingy. An “old girl” once accused her of being mean and socially inept. Sometimes the new friends also thought of her as miserly. Marissa confessed that she felt wronged, yet she rarely explained herself.
“I think it is actually better for me to live a different life in Hong Kong. I spend less time thinking of my family. At first, I was not used to this. I was hungry every morning, but then I gradually stopped eating bread. Even if my employer wants some dishes with stronger flavors, I intentionally avoid using garlic. Once I mention garlic, I will think of it. I would rather forget about it, so it is easier to endure the days without my favorite food.”
Marissa said with a smile on her face. On her phone screen was the photo of her younger sister posing with the V-sign in front of a tray of pan de sal. Her sister is now in the third year of high school.
Translated by YIM Yuen Hai, Carolina
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