Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ayis: China's Best Kept Secret

Everywhere you go in China, there are women, somewhere between the ages of 40 and 55, who are responsible for a wide range of jobs that influence Chinese living. In fact, I believe that they actually run China, for without these "aunties," nothing would go smoothly.

For example, there are the "public bus" ayis. These women keep all the passengers in line. They sell tickets and make sure that everyone knows which stop is next (sometimes in quite unmelodious fashion). They are some of the most observant people I've ever seen. Even in the crowded te liu lu, they can spot someone who hasn't paid their fare. You can run, but you can't hide from ayi.

Next, the "school bus" ayi. Julie and Z's ayi is top notch. She is responsible for getting the kids on and off the bus, keeping them comfortable and in control, and sometimes even yelling at passing motorists who sideswipe the bus or explaining to police that the bus is allowed to be on the road despite the fact that its license plate is one that is restricted on that day. Never a dull moment for ayi.

Then there's the "child rearing" ayi. Throughout the neighborhood are women who push baby carriages, play with toddlers, or gather with other ayis in parks or public spaces to allow the children, both Chinese and foreign, to play with each other. They carefully attend to the needs of the children, keeping them dressed appropriately for the weather or, in the case of tiny tots, helping them take care of "business" every thirty minutes or so. No diaper duty for ayi.

Finally, there is the "housekeeper" ayi. For an unbelievably reasonable amount of qian, you can hire an ayi to cook, clean, and shop for you. In some cases, they'll even live with you. They will help you learn Chinese and school you in Chinese culture, as well as make sure that you are appropriately dressed to face the elements. We'd all freeze to death without ayi!

The most opinionated, caring, hardest working in China, hands down (or out the window, in some cases!).



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