/ Opinion

Ayi Rant

Being a bit of a self confessed ‘champagne socialist’ living in China, I have to deal with moral dilemmas almost everyday – and to be honest, the perceived immoral usually wins. The most common retort is the clichéd ‘this is China’ that a lot of expats seem to use as gospel, but for me that’s a bit of a cop out.

Some of the dilemmas are quite tin-pot and don’t really affect anyone but myself, but others are pretty big things that are hidden under the pretense of, ‘it’s just how it is’.

Should I bargain to get the cheapest possible price in the fake market when I know that the people selling me the goods work their arses off and could do with the extra money?

How do I deal with working in a school that pays Chinese teachers less than a third of of my salary, despite their longer hours and harder work? Do I drink this alcohol even though it’s probably fake? Do I watch a blatantly pirated DVD of this low budget Indie-movie?

However, the one I have struggled most with is, do I hire an Ayi? Now, first of all I should admit that in my year and a half in China I have hired 2 Ayi’s for around 6 months of my stay here, the first got sick and quit and the other we let go after moving house.

At first when I arrived with my girlfriend we decided to hire the same Ayi as a friend who lived in the same building. At the time my moral standpoint was, ‘she can do both jobs in one sitting and she is getting some much needed extra work’. When we moved and we hired our friend’s new Ayi for the same reason - plus we had gotten pretty used to having our laundry done for us.

Still, this ‘they need the work to survive’ attitude somewhat appeases my guilt; at the end of the day these women need the money and, although 30RMB an hour is a pittance to us expats, it is the Ayi’s bread and butter.

Anyway, enough of me fighting with my own conscience, regardless of my decisions in the past I think that there are some very important questions that need to be raised around the Ayi issue. As people from mostly ‘civilized’ countries, we should know better when it comes to employment.

Take this article for example,

http://www.smartshanghai.com/askmatsume/ask-mats-oh-god-i-screwed-my-ayi

Ignoring the relatively racist headline (WHAT? Westerner sleeps with Chinese cleaning scum!?) this article highlights one of the biggest problems.

Do I tell my girlfriend or fire the Ayi?

For a start, learn her fucking name mate. You banged her for crying out loud; time to stop referring to her as your Auntie, for more than one reason. Secondly, NO, you really shouldn’t fire her because you had your dirty way with her. Imagine if someone in the West was fired because their boss got the horn and mounted her?

The tendency for people to refer to their Ayi’s as if they were general annoyances as opposed to real people just trying to survive in a highly classist and, let’s be honest, pretty fucked up country, is frankly disgusting.

Take this article as another example:

http://www.shanghaidaily.com/Vibe/people/Ups-and-downs-of-ayis-and-expats/shdaily.shtml

Replace the word Ayi with ‘slave’ in that article and you can really see the blind way in which people talk about their employees. It’s the way that I would imagine people in the deep-south discussing how well their African field workers and cleaners were doing in the 1840s.

The fact is, if you have an Ayi, you should be grateful to have someone who is willing to clean up after your lazy arse for such a cheap rate.

You should be ready to praise her at every moment, not bitch about her behind her back, or in front of her face in a language she doesn’t understand. So what if she misses a spot every now and then or doesn’t use enough washing-up liquid? How hard would you work for 30RMB an hour? Not very, would be my guess.

A retort to the pay of Ayi’s is, I suppose, quite relevant. If people pay their Ayi’s too much the inflation may have an effect on others in China. True. However, we are all coming over here in droves being paid a ridiculous amount of money for dolling out English lessons despite some of our complete lack of qualifications, among other grossly over-paid jobs in comparison with the average worker in China. By doing this we are already adding to this inflation ourselves, and paying your Ayi an extra 10RMB an hour really won’t make that much difference.

So what’s the conclusion of this confused and at times, hypocritical rant? I don’t think there really needs to be one, but for the sake of trying to make this in the least bit readable I will try.

My conclusion is, get your head out of your arse expats (myself included)! If you hire an Ayi, fair enough, but don’t bitch about her not doing enough work or walking in on you in the shower. Don’t speak about her like she’s a naughty kid. Treat her like a human being. You never know, one day they might be allowed to unionize and then you’ll be glad that you were nice to her!

WORDS BY PETER DIXON