So last week we became cliché and hired an ayi (ā yí 阿姨)
(Say ah-yee and you’ve got it).
I’d heard about how magical ayis were long before we’d moved to China. To me they sounded too good to be true…like Nessie…except less terrifying.
Ayis (ayi literally translates to “aunt” in English) are the most amazing meld of domestic worker; in a general sense, they’re housekeepers, but–as I discovered after becoming quite educated on ayi repertoire–they do much much more.
Most expats who move to China hire an ayi (hence why we are now cliché) to help out in some capacity, 1. Because they’re amazing and 2. It’s actually affordable compared to what you’d pay back home.
We have friends here who have a cleaning ayi that comes just once a week for a couple hours, while others have a half day ayi. We also know people with ayis who clean, cook, do laundry, grocery shop and babysit upwards of 12 hours a day, and others who have one live-in ayi for general what-not, and different ayis for cooking and babysitting.
The arrangements are endless and can be tailored to fit virtually every need, budget and family situation.
I won’t lie, there’s a part of me that feels very strange having someone else clean up after me; I’ve always been independent and never in a million years would have considered hiring “help.”
(I occasionally have visions of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer pop in my head warning me to never become a Miss Hilly Holbrook…)
The thing is, I’ve never been able to keep up with how filthy our house gets and I loathe the never-ending list of chores, so to be completely honest,
It didn’t take that long to get over.
The first hour or so was somewhat awkward and uncomfortable (ie: I kept picking up and rearranging random things because I felt if ayi was cleaning my house, I should be cleaning my house), but after she left that first day I looked around my dustless, crumbless, streak-free, organized apartment and thought
How did I ever live without her?
She even watched the kids while I went to the gym and got a workout in…hallelujah.
Zhou has only been with us three days but I’m sort of in love. She’s kind and has a very funny, charming laugh, but in typical Chinese fashion she can also be brutally honest (ie: calling Tom “pàng 胖” (a.k.a. “fat”)) in a genuine and endearing way.
She also LOVES sweets (as in we slammed a whole sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies together–I guess we’re all pàng 胖 ), which is how I knew we were kindred spirits.
In some ways, it’s also comforting feeling like there’s a “mom” in the house–she’s about the same age as my mom, and while my own mum certainly can’t be substituted, it’s nice having someone older and wiser than me around.
Most people say their ayis eventually become a part of the family, which is a lovely thought.
But, hands-down, one of the greatest benefits of having Zhou around will be the constant and informal daily Chinese lessons for the kids and I (having clean and folded laundry in my drawers is a close second…). She speaks about as much English as I do Chinese, so when we’re not communicating in broken Chinglish she’s teaching me how to say everything in Mandarin; she’s been unbelievably patient and willing to teach.
She even spent an hour yesterday answering all of Cruz’s “How do you say [fill in the blank] in Chinese?!” questions (whoever said toddlers ask 300 questions a day was low-balling it…)! It’s been awesome seeing his interest in all things Chinese (I think he would subsist solely on jiăozi 餃子 (dumplings) if we let him).
It still amazes me when I see these tiny Caucasian toddlers speaking to their ayis in Chinese; the thought of our kids leaving here fluent in Mandarin is incredible to me–you can’t put a price tag on that.
So far she’s been a great sanity-restorer and tutor. I couldn’t ask for anything more.