Saturday, February 16, 2008

The AYI business

One of the first thing people told us when we came to China was that we should get ourselves an AYI. An AYI is a cleaning lady/nanny/care taker/house keeper/chef/grocery shopper that most expats get, and then become totally dependant on.

She will clean, cook, shop, babysit and wash (both laundry and dishes), depending on how much you pay her. But quite frankly, you don’t have to pay her that much.

At first, I was completely reluctant to the thought of having someone else touching my dirty underwear and washing my coffee cups. But when we rented our first flat in Shanghai, and our landlord pointed out that the wooden floor needed to be cleaned in a very special way, using floor wax and some other things, and then went on by SUGGESTING us to hire an AYI that previous tenants had been using and who knew the procedure, the thought of getting some cleaning help became quite appealing. Especially when he told us that she charged 10 kuai (less than 1 euro!) per hour, and that she would come to our place once a week to clean for 2 hours. For only 8 euros/month I could escape the floor waxing. It was a deal.

However, I’ve never had any cleaning help before, and it felt quite strange to be 24 and have an older woman doing your dishes. I was a student, for Christ’s sake?! And since when can students afford a house keeper?

(Since they came to study in China, apparently).

The modest salary, however, soon became an issue for me. There she was, all sweet, smiley and helpful, folding my jumpers and scrubbing our toilet, every Sunday for 2 hours, only to go home with 20 kuai in her pocket. It simply didn’t feel right. Tortured by a bad conscious, we felt obliged to compensate her in another way.

We started collecting freebees, buying chocolate, even cooking meals and pass it over to her. One sports bag here, a snickers bar there, some tofu and veggies to go… Our AYI soon had to arrive with a spare bag so that she could bring all of our bad- conscious gifts with her home. During the special Chinese holidays we gave her a juicy bonus, and at least twice a month she’d walk home with double salary. Some weeks we even did the dishes and laundry because she came because we felt so sorry for her.

When we six months later moved out, I felt both sadness and relief when saying goodbye to her. She also seemed quite emotionally moved, but when we gave her an extra 100 kuais for all her good work, she walked off with a content smile on her face.

The first thing we did when moving into our new flat was to buy a vacuum cleaner, a mop, and some other cleaning devices. We sad no to all recommendations of AYIs, and spent the following year living in dust and arguing about who should do the dishes. Just like a normal couple in their early twenties.

Now we’ve moved again, and the new flat came with an AYI. Even though this AYI is way better paid than our previous one (this one gets 400 kuais/ month), we still cannot help sometimes leaving her a box of chocolate or some extra money on the dinner table.

And you know what, it feels quite good.


Anonymous said...

Passa på och njut av "servicen".
Städerskan är säkert nöjd över att ha ett jobb.
Säkert inte det sämsta och lägst betalda jobbet i Kina!


Anonymous said...

Om du inte vill ha staderskan far du garna skicka henne till mig! det skulle sakert losa alla mina brak med Callum!! haha!!!


Anonymous said...

You do realise that the Ayi has quite a few jobs on that day, and that she is maybe earning 60 quai plus a day, which really isn't that bad a wage in China?

Probably not.

Anonymous said...

You seem like a really nice person. Good for you!

I'd probably refuse to get an AYI too because it's just too weird. I don't like the idea of having a "servant". It's just too weird for me. I think i should handle my own mess.