The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The duties of a domestic maid.

In Singapore, strange things happen. At least, they do from my point of view.

London, where I grew up, is a very different world from the Singapore in which I now live. Sometimes, just how different can be rather surprising.

Last week, I was walking along a quiet, residential road, on a weekend afternoon, when I saw something truly unbelievable, occurring before me, on the front lawn of a detached house.

On the lawn, there knelt a young Indonesian woman. She was clearly a maid. She was bent over, parallel to the grass, her face intent on the green expanse before her. Her odd position would be enough, in itself, to draw notice, but that is not what I thought most unusual. It was what she was doing there that stunned me.

The grass was long and richly green. It was the kind of well-watered grass found in equatorial areas - the kind of grass that grows when both sunlight and water are in abundance.

This young maid had something unexpected in her right hand. It was a pair of scissors. She was cutting the grass with it, a few blades at a time.

Never in my life have I seen anyone cut a lawn with a pair of scissors. Was it her idea? Or was it the instruction of an abusive employer?

I have pondered this moment, somewhat, since, and find it difficult to accept what it most probably says about her employer and their attitude to their fellow human beings.

Had her employer provided her with a lawnmower, it would be but a matter of minutes and relatively little effort, to mow the lawn. Yet, with a pair of scissors, this otherwise simple task, becomes a marathon of back-breaking labour. She would have to spend a day or more bent double over the lawn to have any hope of trimming it. Perhaps much longer: it is difficult to estimate such a task, without timing her over an area (which I didn't hang around to do).

However long it would actually take with a pair of scissors is besides the point. The issue is whether it is reasonable to require a fellow human being to mow a lawn in such an impractical way. It rather reminded me of people being asked to clean a bathroom with a toothbrush, in punishment. It is a similar indignity - though the lawn would take longer.

The saddest thing about this, was what the girl did when she noticed that I had observed her, at work on the lawn. She looked up and smiled, as if utterly unaware that her task was an unreasonable one. She was clearly quite a simple soul and was unable to perceive the essential indignity of her situation.

I didn't say anything. I just felt my own astonishment at the scene.

After the smile had passed, she looked down at the grass, again, chose a blade and gently cut it with the scissors.


(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:07 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is modern slavery and unreasonable exploitation. I'm ashamed to be a Singaporean.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is good to hear a Singaporean perspective on the situation. Thank you.

The only good thing to remark regarding this is that I was surprised at what I saw. That means I haven't seen it before. At least, therefore, it is not common practice to require maids to mow lawns with a pair of scissors.

Best wishes to you.

5:10 PM  
Blogger James Chia said...

You mean the maid was mowing the lawn by cutting the blades one by one with a small pair of scissors?

7:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, James. It was an ordinary pair of scissors like those you find in a kitchen.

I didn't count how many blades she was able to cut at a time - but clearly there are spatial limitations on how many blades might be cut with a scissors at one time.

She was bent over, as described above, cutting blades of grass with an ordinary scissors.

I didn't talk to her, so I don't know how she came to be doing what she was doing. Who knows...perhaps this is a regular practice for her, at that house?

8:33 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

Asians are usually stingy and strict and less humane with their employees.

10:11 PM  

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