Along with moving into a new apartment comes a lot of cleaning. Even though I'm not really working right now I am busy, studying, attending events, doing research, socializing, etc. so rather than doing the cleaning myself it makes more sense to hire a cleaning woman to do it for me.
The word ayi has several connotations here, but two meanings are most common. One is 'auntie,' or a general honorific used to address any woman of your mother's generation or older. When I smile and wave at children in the park or on the subway their parents tell them to 'say hi to 'ayi,'' meaning me. My landlord also used the term to address my next door neighbor when they chatted through the window. The other meaning of ayi is a female helper - nanny, babysitter, cleaning woman. In China, when we speak about female help in the third person people don't usually use their name, just the word ayi.
The going rate for an ayi is 15 RMB (between $2 and $2.50) per hour. My friend who will be moving into the apartment has a great ayi that her grandmother knows, Mrs. Z, so she is here right now, dusting, mopping, wiping down the wooden furniture and doing other things that need to be done to keep the local dust and dirt at bay.
Now that I am living in my new home it's time for me to get serious about school again. Our next class is Business Statistics and we'll squeeze an entire semester's worth of stats into one week. I want to get the textbook, or at least the chapters that the professor plans to cover, read before class starts. I'm sitting at the living room table with the book in front of me now, as ayi is cleaning.
Most ayis in Beijing prefer to scrub floors on their hands and knees, but I was glad to see that Mrs. Z chose to use the mop that was among the cleaning supplies I bought last week. In the living room she mopped around and under me, with both of us laughing (at least part of my laughter being from discomfort at the idea that it probably looks like I'm being a lazy sod while she's working). After she finished mopping the entire apartment she came back to me and asked me to give her the slippers I was wearing so that she could wipe the bottoms of them - that way I won't track dust through the nice clean apartment when I get up. Then she brought the nicely cleaned slippers back to me so that I wouldn't need to walk around slipperless.
I feel spoiled, and completely bourgeois.