Ilo Ilo director cried his eyes out when maid left

7 August 2013 / 3 years 2 months ago

His big win at the 66th Cannes Film Festival in May has given him many happy, unforgettable moments.

Yet, local director Anthony Chen, who nabbed the Camera d'Or (Golden Camera) for best first feature film with his movie debut Ilo Ilo, said there is a bittersweet memory that will stay with him for a long time, reports The New Paper.

His recent reunion with his former domestic helper, Madam Teresita D Sajonia, at a small village in San Miguel, Iloilo, a province of the Philippines, was supposed to be a joyous occasion.

After all, they had not seen each other in 16 years.

"I was four when Aunty Terry came and she left when I was 12," Chen recalled, adding that Madam Sajonia had decided to return home of her own accord.

"She told my mum that she wanted to go back for health reasons and my mum agreed, though we weren't sure what was wrong with her. "The day she left was emotional. I remember crying my eyes out at Changi Airport."

Many tears were again shed this time at the reunion, said Chen.

Both parties had not kept in touch, though Chen, 29, found out later that Madam Sajonia had written a letter to them. Unfortunately, the family had moved to a different address and they lost contact.

Yet, when Chen was confronted by her poor living conditions and how old and frail Madam Sajonia - or Aunty Terry, as he affectionately calls her - had become, his heart broke.

He told The New Paper over the phone last Thursday: "I remembered her as this very pretty and fashionable woman who loves to listen to musicals such as Evita and Miss Saigon on her cassette tapes.

"She's only 56, but she looks like she's 65 or slightly older."

He added: "There were so many questions going through my head when I got there.

"How did her life change so much? I remember when she was here, she'd buy hi-fi sets and TV sets and ship them home.

"So the whole idea of her having just one light bulb and a transistor radio, with no proper stove, no proper drinking water... It's quite hard to believe."

"We were all very overwhelmed by our emotions. My brother and I kept asking what we can do to help," he said.

"Aunty Terry was surprised to see us, though she had been informed that we were coming. She kept asking 'why are you doing this for me?'. She didn't feel that she had earned this kind of attention."

Chen said that she refused to accept any monetary help or gifts. Eventually, the brothers did take Madam Sajonia and her husband, Mr Jhunie, to have spectacles made.

"Both of them are not even seeing clearly. The spectacles she was wearing were about 12 years old."

The brothers also opened a bank account for her and the Chen family are looking at ways to see how they can make her life a bit easier.

"We are going to try to get her to go for a medical check-up with the help of our Filipino friends. She hasn't had one in so many years."

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