What does one do during this ECQ? My husband and I belong to the age group forbidden from going out. So we simply stay home. Do we just stare into space?
Sometimes it feels like that for a few minutes but then there are a million little things I have to do. Make rosaries. I need to make many, so my prayers will be answered. At the end of every day my hands hurt. My veins pop out in blue-green patterns that tell me I have to stop. Now I must find other things to do that do not require the use of my hands.
So I watch Netflix. I know I’m watching a good show when I postpone doing many of the things I should be doing just to continue watching the series. This happened to me with The Kominsky Method and most recently with Last Madame, a Singaporean series that won the Asian Academy Creative Awards for 2020.
This series introduces you to the culture of Singapore, what life there was like in the 1920s and ’30s, as discovered by a young lady named Chi Ling, who reminds me of Kris Aquino.
Chi Ling now works as a banker in Hong Kong and is engaged to the man who hired her. But suddenly she inherits her great-grandmother’s estate. She returns to Singapore with every intention of selling the property before her wedding.
As she sorts through her great-grandmother’s dusty things, a clean-cut young man named Lao Seh knocks on her door. He is connected with a historical group that seeks to preserve buildings that represent an era in Singapore’s history. He is amazed at the antiques he finds inside this house.
This is the scenario through which we find out that the property once belonged to Fung Lan, Chi Ling’s great-grandmother, known as the last and most successful madame of Singapore. “Madame,” in this context, means the head of a house of ill repute or prostitution.
Now we switch to what we in media call “intercuts” — when the film cuts from the present to the past, from Chi Ling’s life that unrolls itself at the dilapidated home of her great-grandmother back to the time when it was the classiest house of ill repute in Singapore. It was run by Fung Lan and the characters that surrounded her.
The Last Madame is in Singaporean English. I will admit some of the dialogue is hard to understand as some of the actors seem to swallow the words. But the main characters are easy to understand and the story is fascinating.
Some of the characters reminded me of our 1950s local villains. They were overacting and didn’t come across as the hero, Inspector Mak, who was the best looking of all the Asian men I have seen onscreen. His English was flawless.
Sometimes I am tempted to tell the full story. Inspector Mak falls in love with Madame, who is suspected of being a murderess. He finds her beautiful, intelligent, and brave. It doesn’t bother him that she heads the most successful house of ill repute. He tells her that, as his wife, she can do and be anything she wants. She says nobody should manage her life. No woman should ever allow anyone to manage her life.
That statement — no woman should ever allow anyone to manage her life — rang true for me.
Of course, I belong to another generation, the generation that took off during the ’70s with the Woodstock concert in the US, the generation called the hippies that upset all the previous traditions. The feminist movement there resulted in housewives hanging up their kitchen aprons and walking out their backdoors to find themselves. It resulted in women burning their bras in Washington, DC.
It crossed over into the Philippines not quite in the same way. But it also changed women’s culture here. We also began to find our voices and lead our own lives. We stopped following the traditions. We created our own independence, discovered ourselves profoundly, and positioned ourselves as equal to men. In short, we realized that nobody should ever tell us how to manage our own lives.
Now look at us. Once, you couldn’t get separated from a husband who kept telling you how to live. You had to go abroad to get a divorce and cross your fingers, hoping the Philippine government would not notice. Now we can get annulments more easily than before. We still have no divorce because the government is still largely run by men who are not attracted to the act of paying alimony. But change does not stop. It will continue.
One day we will awaken to find all people — men and women — thinking nobody has the right to run their lives. Now I wonder: will that be the end of marriage? Will the males not learn the words of Inspector Mak who will allow his wife to be what she wants to be and instead decide they don’t want to marry brave women?
I genuinely wonder what the answer to that question will be.
Photo by @joannepeh on Instagram.