Ups and downs of ayis and expats


by Lu Feiran
BEIJING, Dec. 15 — Ayis are an indispensable fact of life for many expat families and many have become part of the family. Lu Feiran listens to ayis and expat employers talking about themselves and each other — the good, the bad, the big and little culture clashes, and their bond.

The “ayi” might iron all the pleats out of your silk skirt, or walk in while you’re naked, but these are all minor irritations. The “ayi” might also, and more often, save the day, nurse you while you’re sick, cook marvelous food, and teach your children Chinese.

Ayis are indispensable to many Shanghai expats as inexpensive housekeepers, cooks and child minders. Often, they are much more than that and some have become part of their families.

Almost everyone is familair with the word “ayi,” literally meaning “aunt,” but also housemaid.

Every expat has stories to tell about their ayis — good, bad and often funny and heartwarming.

And every ayi has stories to tell about their employers — some are friendly and understanding, some are from hell.

Around 2000, when an increasing number of expats moved to Shanghai, some Shanghai women, mostly unemployed mid-aged women, started looking for opportunities to work. Working as an ayi became a new option.

Back then there were few household service companies, and ayis didn’t have agencies to find work for them. They found work through friends’ introductions.

“I had just come back to Shanghai from Ningxia [db:内容2]