In the past here on the blog, I’ve shared some frustrations and challenges with hiring house help, or as we say in China, an Ayi (pronounced, i-e). I had an Ayi last year for about nine months or so, but eventually had to let her go due to a lack of ability to communicate. She didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, but rather a local dialect that neither I nor many of my Chinese friends could understand. She was also a little stubborn to learn to do new things. There are many differences among all cultures in how we approach keeping our homes clean, and she was not very willing to learn how I would like her to clean.
After she left, I went several months without an Ayi, which made me really appreciate having an Ayi. Living in China is full of challenges and cultural stress, and having someone come help clean a few times a week is a huge blessing and something I need to maintain sanity. It feels so petty saying that I need an Ayi to maintain sanity, but you will have to trust me on this. I could write a whole blog post about how quickly my home here in China gets dirty. I will spare you (you are welcome).
In January, I started getting serious about finding an Ayi. My strategy was to find someone who previously worked for foreigners. I had multiple reasons for this. One, they would be used to someone showing them how to clean a different way (most Chinese who hire an Ayi don’t tell them how to do their job, but all Westerners take time to “teach” their Ayi how they would like them to clean). Two, she would probably speak Mandarin, not just a dialect, and would hopefully have practice speaking Mandarin to a foreigner in a way foreigners could understand. And three, an Ayi who previously worked for foreigners would understand that we have cultural differences and would hopefully work with me to bridge the gap in these differences instead of getting upset or moody (like my old Ayi).
My only hesitation in hiring an Ayi that previously worked for foreigners is that they usually expect higher pay. Many foreigners in China are here with a large company (Ford, Siemens, etc) and their companies pay for a full time Ayi for the family. Usually, these Ayis are paid $1-2/hour higher than Ayis who work for Chinese families. However, I was willing to pay that extra $1/hour to get someone who could meet the above criteria. I prayed about it, searched online, talked to friends and finally, I hit the jackpot. In March, I found a post on Facebook from an American who was leaving and wanted to help her Ayi find new work. She came highly recommended and met the criteria I had in my mind for the “perfect” Ayi. I had my Chinese friend call the Ayi and set up an interview.
The interview went so well. I understood her Mandarin, she spoke a little English and she was willing to work 4 hours a day twice a week (originally she had asked for 5 hours a day, but I didn’t need more than 4). She was very nice and even during the interview I could tell she was a fast learner. She couldn’t start for a few weeks yet, but told me if I could find other foreigners nearby where I lived that she would prefer this area of the city better. At the time she was working for two families, one was leaving in two weeks, the other during the summer. She would need to find new work, but would prefer to not travel as far as she was to work for those other families (almost an hour each way).
Fast forward three months to today. I am so grateful for her! She is amazing. Paying that extra $4/day for her is worth it. Not only does she do an excellent job cleaning (which, by the way, she always asks how she can do better - love it!), but it is great language practice for both of us. Many times she’ll stay an extra 30 minutes just to talk about life, culture, whatever we want. It’s been great. My only complaint, and it’s not even really a complaint, is that she really wants to learn to cook Western food. However, I don’t need someone to cook for us. So, anytime I start baking or cooking while she is here, she will stop cleaning and come into the kitchen to watch me. I’ve learned to wait until she leaves or until she’s done with her tasks for the day before starting anything in the kitchen. I don’t mind her watching me cook or even teaching her how, but I hire her to clean and I would really like her to do that!
I feel so thankful to have a good Ayi. Especially with the baby coming in August. It will be great to have the extra help with laundry. And, eventually, I would love to increase her time to an additional day a week so she could help watch the baby (so I can get out!), but that probably won’t be until next Spring. Two of my friends have also hired her and she seems to be getting enough hours to be satisfied. Yay!
Hopefully, there will be no more Ayi searching for a long time. :-)