Princess Maid (2020)
As part of a communications class assignment, student teams retold common fairy tales by questioning the original's assumptions and applying critical thinking skills. Our rendition of "The Princess and the Pea" talks about two Singaporean women trying to reconcile their life goals with the prospect of marriage.
I would like to thank my teammates Jian Wen, Jun Hong, Shan Rong, and Yida. This project would not be possible without them.
Princess Maid Official Video
Princess Maid (Short Story)
In a quiet neighborhood in Singapore, there sat a bungalow with a garden. Two girls left the house on a grey morning to admire the spring blossoms. Thick clouds smothered the bright sun, so they abandoned their UV parasols at the doorstep. White, the homeowners’ only daughter, refused to rest on the floor, lest dirt stain her dress. Instead, she asked family maid Green to lay out a picnic sheet. They sat together in the grass, admiring the jasmine flowers.
White sighed. “I will not get to see this place as often once I am married.” Not long ago, White’s parents betrothed her to the eldest son of a wealthy family.
“Don’t be sad,” Green said. “Your fiance is well-to-do. You’ll live in a big, beautiful house with an even bigger garden. You can hire someone to take care of it too! Wouldn’t that make you happy?”
White paused awhile and with a sullen face, she said, “No.” She laid back on the checkered blanket. “Once I’m married, I will spend the rest of my life serving my husband’s family. First, it’ll be my husband himself, then my husband’s children. When his father and mother are old, I must look after them as well. I’ll attend his family’s gatherings instead of my own, and listen to his relatives gossip about me with their forked tongues and lecture me on this or that.”
Green, who had been serving White’s family for years, thought the miss sounded childish and spoiled. Helping around her husband’s house seemed like an excellent trade-off for a life of security and prestige. Of course, she dared not say that to her employer’s daughter. Green smiled and plucked a jasmine flower. She held it out to White. “You are like this jasmine flower. You're the daughter of a well-off family who’ll marry the son of another well-off family. As long as you look pretty and behave yourself, you will always be well cared for.”
Green tore out some grass which was crowding the jasmine plant. “Otherwise, you’ll be like grass, something people crush beneath their shoes.” Green tossed the shoots onto the driveway, leaving them to shrivel on the concrete.
“Jasmine flowers are just decorations to be discarded as a gardener pleases,” White said. “I rather be like grass. No one cares about the grass which lines the city streets, but the grass will thrive regardless.”
White flung the jasmine flower into the air. “I worked so hard in school. I grit my teeth and suffered through so many subjects I hated. Why? So I could teach my children? So my children can teach their children? What’s the point in the end?”
“White, since you oppose this marriage, why don’t I pretend to be you and marry in your place?” Green asked.
White’s eyes widened and her face lit up. “I’m supposed to meet the groom for the first time this weekend,” she said. “I will lend you a nice dress so you can go instead!”
That weekend, White’s parents went to the groom’s house. White had told them she would travel there on her own. Half an hour past the arranged meeting time, White still had not arrived.
“We’re sorry our daughter is late,” her parents said. “She’s a busy girl.”
Excuses, the groom’s mother thought. She must be a spoiled little princess who has no respect for her elders. Is she even worthy of marrying my son?
Just then, someone knocked on the door. The groom’s mother went to answer. A young woman in a jade dress smiled up at her. She stood in the rain, holding an umbrella over her perfect updo.
“Good afternoon! I apologize for not being punctual,” Green said. “I am White.”
When Green took a seat at the living room table, White’s parents nearly fell from their chairs. They were so shocked and embarrassed, they dared not reveal the truth.
This was not White, their only daughter.
This was Green, their only domestic worker.
She certainly looks like a pampered daughter, the groom’s mother thought. But I need to make sure she does not act like one!
“Daughter-in-Law, what do you think about spending the rest of the day with my family? Just you and us,” the groom’s mother suggested. “I’d love for us to get to know each other better.” Green agreed with a smile.
“I better start preparing lunch,” the groom’s mother told Green after White’s parents left. It was the perfect opportunity to test her skills and temperament. “Would you like to help me, Daughter-in-Law?”
“I would love to help you, Ma’am!” Green said. “I mean… Yes, Mother!”
Green helped the family choose the freshest groceries and carried the heavy bags to the car. When they arrived home, Green whipped up an eight-course meal for five people complete with dessert and garnishing. She washed the dishes, swept the floor, and folded the laundry into perfect stacks sorted by size and color. She watered the plants in the garden, walked the dogs, lifted the groom’s grandparents into the shower and bathed them, and still had time to clean all three bathrooms... and make dinner.
Green did everything by herself.
The groom’s mother thought, A wealthy daughter could not do all this so effortlessly. She had an idea. The real daughter is knowledgeable about all sorts of problems and worldly issues. An imposter couldn’t fake her intellect!
“Daughter-in-Law,” she said. “Can you help my youngest son with one of his homework problems?”
“Of course, Ma’am-- Mother!”
“The queen from Princess and the Pea wants to make sure her daughter-in-law is a real princess,” the groom’s mother read. “She has one hundred mattresses and wants to stack twenty of them over a small pea at the bottom. In how many ways can the queen arrange twenty mattresses over one pea?”
Green’s heart sank.
Many years ago, White struggled with this exact same problem while studying for her exams. She cried and cried and cried.
Back then, Green just patted White on the back, puzzled as to why a rich girl with everything she could ever want, was left in tears by a single question. If Green had paid more attention, would she remember the answer?
“I… I don’t know…” Green said.
“You don’t know!?” the groom’s mother asked. “How can you not know such a simple problem? You’re the daughter of a well-off family. You received a good education and went to a prestigious university. How can you not know? Are you stupid?”
Green broke down in tears. “So what if I don’t know? So what if I’m not smart? If I was someone who could answer that question, would I be trying to prove that I deserve the privilege of cooking, cleaning, and caring for people who will crush me under their shoes at the very first chance they get? What’s the point in the end?”
Suddenly, the groom’s mother remembered the days when she stood in Green’s place, when she first married her husband. “There, there. Please don’t cry anymore.” She went over and gave Green a hug. “It’s going to be alright.”
In a quiet neighborhood in Singapore, there sat a bungalow with a garden. Green scrambled to pack food for her husband and two granddaughters. Green sighed, swept the floor, and went to rest in her garden. Someone knocked on the gate and Green realized it was her new gardener. She hobbled to the door and gasped. It was a woman about her age. “Green?” the woman asked.
“White? What are you doing here?”
“Why, I’ve come to take care of your garden,” White said as she limped inside. “I need to feed myself, you know.”
“What about your husband?” Green asked. “Don’t you have some children to look after you?”
“Of course not,” White said. “I never married.” She plopped down on Green’s picnic sheet.
“White, do you regret it?” Green asked.
“I don’t know,” White said. “Do you?”
“I don’t really know either.”
They sat together in the grass, admiring the jasmine flowers.