Long time readers of this blog might remember one of my more popular posts from a couple of years ago about my Housekeeper from Hell, Annie. Long story short, Annie came across some very personal photos of mine while cleaning and shared them on WeChat, China’s most popular social network, and called me a prostitute. It was a very shocking incident as Annie was well known in the Shenzhen expat community (so many of our friends saw the photos) and had worked with me for about a year and a half. I fired her immediately, changed the locks on our apartment, and shared my experience widely to help protect other expat families.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to trust another ayi (what we call housekeepers here). I still get upset when I think about what happened. I fired her about a month before we went to America for holiday and after we got back I still didn’t hire anyone for a couple of months, but at the time I was working full time and had a two-hour commute every day and was ramping up my writing career. I simply couldn’t keep up. Also, one of the reasons I live overseas is so that I can afford certain perks, such as hiring people to do the things I don’t want or have time to do. So after talking to other expat residents in my building, I finally hired a new ayi. And she changed my life for the better.
When I hired Li Ayi, I did something I had not done before, I also hired her to cook. This was the best thing I ever did for myself, my family, and my career. I read an article recently about the mental burden that women carry. Even in families where men and women share housework and childcare, the mental work that goes into running a household still tends to fall on women. I didn’t realize until I hired someone else to cook how much of my daily mental capacity was being spent on meal preparation. This is especially true in China, where a lack of processed foods and climate controlled kitchens means that you have to go to the store to buy food fresh almost every day. I was spending a ton of time planning meals, going shopping, cooking, and cleaning every single day.
After I hired Ayi to cook and clean six days a week, I finally was able to finish my first novel, Threads of Silk.
She has always been wonderful with my dog, Vash, who is a handful, and she is so great with the new kiddo. She isn’t responsible for any childcare, but she does play with her and sometimes even take her outside to play.
So what is it really like having a housekeeper in China?
It’s great. I am always telling my friends over here that they should hire an ayi to help them out. Our ayi eats dinner with us every night. She cleans the kitchen, does the laundry, sweeps and mops the floors, and generally straightens up every day. She can’t really do anything about clutter because we are always bringing new stuff home and leaving stuff laying around and if she moves stuff it will get lost. She also doesn’t do any deep cleaning like scrubbing the bathtub or cleaning out the cabinets. So I still have to do some housekeeping every week, but only a fraction of what I had to do before.
While we really appreciate our ayi and are friendly, I try not to consider her a friend. I think of her like an employee. But I certainly want to be a good employer and know that my employee is happy working for me. I’m in a Hong Kong moms group and the way ayis are treated in Hong Kong is horrifying. I can’t imagine treating someone who cooks your food, takes care of your kids, and is in your home every day like garbage.
How much does it cost?
The cost of a housekeeper in China can fluctuate depending on a number of factors. Where you live and whether or not she cooks being the two big questions. Also, nannies will cost more. But just to give you an example, here in Shenzhen, for an ayi to cook and clean six days a week is 2,000RMB per month. That’s about $300.
How to find an ayi.
If you are interested in hiring an ayi, the best way is to ask around. Ask fellow expats or the people in your building. There is also an app you can download to help you find an ayi, but I haven’t used it yet. I don’t know if it is good for finding a permanent ayi or if it is just for one-time help. It is called Ayi Bang (阿姨帮) and you can download it here https://appsto.re/us/OehWO.i.
Li Ayi has been with us for over two years now and has been a wonderful part of our lives. I decided I better share a little about her and our life with an ayi because some big changes are coming soon and she probably won’t be with us by the end of the summer. We will certainly miss her, but we are excited to start this new chapter of our lives (I can’t wait to share the changes with you!) and I am so thankful to ayi for helping me trust again.
Do you have an ayi? Share your experience in the comments.