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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!how are you doing!
    Nice to see your blog!
    do you use wechat?