Monday, December 23, 2013

Hired Help in Beijing (Driver)

This is part of my two part series on Hired Help in Beijing.  You can check out the first part in the series here: Hired Help in Beijing (Ayi).


Most expats that are not living in downtown Beijing have a driver. Others in town, have a driver or even share a driver with another family.  Other options of transportation are taxi, subway/train or bus.  None of these options appeal to us and I don't like to take a taxi unless I have no other option because taxi drivers speak no English and I don't like the safety risk of a child in a taxi without a car seat going up to 100km/hr.

Our driver takes my husband to work and occasionally takes me into the city when needed.  We have our driver's licenses so while we don't NEED a driver, Beijing traffic is dangerous and drivers are crazy, getting around is difficult, China has a 0 alcohol policy, parking is IMPOSSIBLE inside Beijing, and my husband gets extra work time on his commute.

Most drivers work 5-6 days a week, and while some do stay with the working spouse at work, others work primarily for the trailing spouse so he or she can run errands, and other various things.

Hired Help In Beijing

I sense an expectation of the "rich" expats helping the locals and supporting the community by hiring these low wage workers.  This may not be true, but I have heard that this is the case, that it is expected that you "give back" by hiring Chinese.  While this doesn't affect my decision to hire locals, I can see some people being swayed by this pressure.

Luckily, the drivers and ayis are able to make a living wage, it may not be first world standards, but on average with wages increases these workers are making as much as some college graduates in entry level positions with companies working 60-70hrs a week.  Now don't get me started on what this says something about how little companies pay college graduates starting out, that is a whole other post.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa in Beijing

Kiddo didn't want to see Santa this year, but we did see this guy parading around in one of the malls, Indigo, as Santa for a train ride.  I think he's wearing the beard wrong but none of the kids seemed to notice. :)

Beijing has a lot of decorations and music for Christmas.  While most people in Beijing don't identify as Christian, they seem to enjoy celebrating the materialistic part of the holiday versus the religious side.  I see lots of Christmas decorations in our neighborhood.  Not sure if the Chinese actually give gifts or just enjoy the decorating and music.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hired Help in Beijing (Ayi)

This is a two part series on hired help in Beijing.

This has taken me a year to write because I feel so uncomfortable with the idea of hired help.  In Beijing, the majority of expats (read ALL, or at least 99% of the ones I know) have both a driver and an ayi.  I don't know a single expat that doesn't have an ayi.


An "a yi" (阿姨), it is pronounced like "i e," which translates into "auntie" in Chinese is someone
who does housework and helps with kids, or does just housework or just helps with kids. I've also notice the kids call a lot of the Chinese cleaning or cafeteria staff at school, ayi.

When my husband first brought up the idea of having an ayi, I was totally against it, he forced me into it and I still have feelings of being ashamed at having hired help, it often feels like an uncomfortable superior, imperialistic power role.

We are lucky because our ayi speaks English, most ayis don't, or expect to pay more for one that does. We managed to fit an affordable ayi would speaks really good English.


There are some down sides though for me personally.  One hard part is that I am rarely alone in the house.  I enjoy being able to be alone in my house to do whatever.  I don't get that here, except for an hour in the morning.  If you want to lie down and take a nap, you worry about how you look to the ayi, such as lazy.  I tend to work out in the evening because I don't want my ayi to watch me work out.

Another concern is stealing.  I know a few people who have had things stolen or go up missing, I've heard of ayis moving their families into their employer's home when they are on vacation to live, and I also know someone that fired their ayi after coming home and finding the ayi wearing her clothes.  It isn't all rainbows and lollipops.

Worker dissatisfaction is another common complaint with expats, as the ayis when unhappy with their job or pay can get surly and passive aggressive.  This part of this is lack of communication since most ayis don't speak English and most expat don't speak fluent Chinese.  Also the Chinese  often seem to communicate by beating around the bush versus being up front.

I think one of the worst parts though for me is worrying if your ayi thinks you are a filthy slob.  I find myself rationalizing our habits similar to watching Hoarders and feeling better about your own cleanliness.  I especially laugh at myself when I find myself cleaning on Sunday evening just so my ayi doesn't quit at 9am on Monday morning when she shows up and sees the weekend mess.  It always seems to look like a tornado went through the house come Monday.


I can now say I am glad I have our ayi. Our ayi helps with the housework, she does laundry, ironing, food prep and also helps with the dog and kiddo if needed but most importantly she helps me communicate with the maintenance workers and others. It really helps with the stress level to be able to communicate better with everyone.  Also, once a week she cooks us a yummy authentic Chinese dinner.

With the pollution and dust it is hard to keep things clean, she helps me keep the house dust and dirt free.  Our ayi has become a part of our family. She treats my kiddo as her own and my kiddo loves her and misses her when she isn't around.  It will be a sad day when we have to leave ayi and go home, but I am sure we will stay in touch.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Movie Theaters in Beijing

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to my first movie in Beijing.  Catching Fire!

I'd wanted to go to a movie for a while, but unfortunately none of the theaters in Beijing have websites in English and even with Google Chrome, it is really hard to get any good information. You either have to show up at the theater to read the movies/times or you have to find someone who can read or understand Chinese to look up the information.  I chose to go to a new theater in Indigo Mall (颐堤港) called CGV Theater, it just opened a year ago, so I knew it would be nice.

China has a lot of movies that are made and produced in China that are HUGE blockbusters.  But, they also get the world favorites.  This weekend three imported movies that were playing were Epic, Gravity and Catching Fire.  They played in English with Chinese subtitles.

First surprise:

Seats are reserved, so you can show up just before showtime and snag your reserved seat.  I have no idea how I'd go about doing this online, but I was row 7, seat 4 when I went.

Second surprise:

You can go in and buy concessions without buying a ticket to the movie.  The food is separate from the tickets and the theaters, so anyone can walk up and buy a popcorn or soda.  

Great idea, I wish the local theaters in the US would do this, some days you just want good popcorn or soft pretzel without seeing a movie.

Third surprise:

My popcorn was sweet like kettle corn, not buttery and salty.  It was good, and luckily, I'd had advance notice from a friend, otherwise I would have been very surprised at my first bite.


My theater experience was really nice. I loved the reserved seats and the theater was really nice.  Seats were on the small side for as luxurious as the place was but they didn't build the seats for me, this is my problem for being almost 6' tall in China.

I didn't even notice the subtitles after a while and the only thing that made me chuckle a few times was the difference in laughter between people reading versus people listening. A couple times I felt like the only person laughing for a second before everyone else caught up with reading.

I'm excited to go back again, now I just need to find someone to help me book tickets!  I'm hoping Frozen comes before Christmas and we can watch it over the holiday break.