The Screening Process
Sofia and Zac Courtney, an Australian couple with a 10-month-old daughter, conducted their interviews for a childcare ayi during Sofia’s pregnancy. Having been in China for six years, Sofia Courtney’s advice was “to spell everything out, even if you think something is assumed knowledge.” Cultural differences are plentiful, she explains, and it’s just important to be very clear in what you want as a parent.
The interview environment is also key, suggested Barbara, who conducted her interviews in the lobby of their building rather than inviting people into the privacy of their home right away. This provided neutral territory in which to assess an ayi’s personality.
Dominika Stefaniuk Roulin came to China with her family from Switzerland four years ago. At the time of her arrival, she had an 8-month-old daughter and zero Chinese language skills. Now she has three daughters, two of whom were born here, and she currently employs two ayis: one who works in the daytime and one who works in the evening.
Without Chinese language skills, Stefaniuk Roulin originally interviewed her first ayi through an interpreter. Last year, she sought a second ayi, one who is gentle but firm, patient, good with children, and able to multi-task. For this search, she invited prospective employees to her home. Seeing how they interacted with her children and gauging her daughters’ response to them was important in her decision-making.
On the Hunt
This is a city of international networks. Ads for ayis abound on beijingkids’ classifieds and Yahoo groups, like Beijing Cafe and Beijing Mamas. People often post there when they’re looking for ayi recommendations, and families frequently post on behalf of their ayi, whom they must regretfully leave behind when the family returns to their home country.
Barbara Chen, an American who has collectively spent over eight years in Beijing, spoke highly of these lists as portals to “pre-screened, reliable ayis.” Mother of a 16-year-old daughter and the primary caregiver for her 16-year-old nephew, Barbara said that finding her current ayi was like “winning the lottery.” In fact, their ayi’s previous employer pre-screened prospective families before giving out the ayi’s phone number.
Nicole Chang-Fasquelle, mother of a 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, has lived in Beijing for over nine years. She has found that in dealing with agencies, their ayis did not have the experience level that the agency claimed or training was incomplete or non-existent. It is also important to employ caution and expect transparency from any service provider, especially regarding the percentage of the ayi’s pay that is taken as the agency commission.
Despite agencies often receiving a bad rap, the Parrott family has had only positive experiences. Jennifer Parrott, an American new to Beijing and mother of a 3-year-old daughter, said that she and her husband found their ayi through the Beijing Ayi Housekeeping Service. Particularly as a non-Chinese speaking family, finding someone with some English skills as well as previous training was key.
Safe and Secure
Nicole Chang-Fasquelle has had the same live-in ayi for the past nine years. Chang-Fasquelle exhaustively interviewed about a dozen ayis before finding the right one, an ayi who was previously employed by a French family that had left China.
She recommends a clear trial period for every ayi. Some families employ periods ranging from three to five days and others extend the trial to a full month. If you know it’s not going to work out, Chang-Fasquelle explains, you can always tell them you “still have a few others to try.”
She also suggested spot checking, or spontaneously coming home when the ayi is least expecting your arrival. In doing this, Chang-Fasquelle discovered that one of the ayis they were trialing was running a laundry service out of her home. She arrived to discover 20 bags of clothing ready for pick up just inside their door. Another ayi was cooking large quantities of the family’s food and packing it up to go. While these kinds of situations are unusual, it’s worth double-checking in pursuit of an honest, reliable employee.
References are also key. As Barbara Chen points out, knowing that her ayi came so highly recommended helped provide a sense of security. “It’s instinct,” she said, “And you have to put your guard down too and be willing to say ‘Okay, we’ll give it a try.’”
Professional injury insurance is something the Stefaniuk family provides for their ayis as a security measure for both parties.
If your ayi is also in charge of grocery shopping or paying the household bills, it’s important to insist on financial transparency through a consistent ledger or the collection of receipts and change.
Finally, Sofia Courtney reminds families to always get a photocopy of the ayi’s identification card. No matter what, she is going to be alone with your child in your private home, she pointed out. Having proof of her legal identity is important for any employer.
Chinese parenting and domestic practices differ from those of other countries. The Courtneys pre-wrote a list of tasks in Chinese that the ayi was expected to do and affixed it to the wall of the kitchen.
Jennifer Parrott opted to train by example. She had the ayi follow her as she cleaned to convey exactly the standard of cleanliness she was expecting. Nicole Chang-Fasquelle wrote out a clear and concise schedule of activities to ensure that the ayi was distinctly engaging with the children.
When introducing a second or a new ayi into the family’s dynamic, Barbara Chen also suggested having the previous or existing ayi train the new ayi. Their experience with the family can help smooth the transition for a new ayi.
What’s Fair Is Fair
In general, an ayi who works full time (five days a week and eight hours per day) for a family and performs childcare, cooking and house cleaning duties will earn between RMB 2,500 and 5,000 per month. Live-in ayis generally earn towards the top end of that scale. English-language skills also fetch higher fees. Dominika Stefaniuk explained that a good average is RMB 20-25 per hour. For overtime or evening babysitting, anywhere from RMB 25-40 per hour is appropriate.
The “thirteen month” is a policy of rewarding the ayi an extra month of pay over Chinese New Year. This practice is entirely common and expected by most ayis. Raises are generally negotiated around this time as well with requests of RMB 100-200 more per month.
“Before you have the interview with the ayi,” asserts Sofia Courtney, “decide on how much you want to pay and stick to it. There is going to be bargaining, because it’s China. Offer them slightly lower than you’re willing to pay so that you can go up to the amount you’ll pay. Be firm.”
All of the families interviewed adhere to Chinese public holidays. In general, offering occasional time off and/or not expecting the typical Chinese weekend “make up” days is a common practice. Extended journeys back to the hometown to see aging or ailing relatives are special circumstances negotiated with employers and are usually unpaid sojourns.
Keep in mind, however, that if your ayi suddenly doesn’t come back to work after a holiday, or for example, she can’t be specific with you about when she’ll return, it’s quite often a sign that you need to find someone new. In Chinese culture, this is a passive method of ending the relationship.
In addition, if the family chooses to go overseas during the year and are not planning to take their ayi with them, ayis still expect to be paid in the family’s absence.
Learn the Language
Many families here seek to employ a Chinese ayi for childcare, so their children can practice speaking and listening in Chinese. If this is a requirement, it’s important to note that the majority of ayis are not from Beijing. So be sure to choose someone who has a Chinese accent you understand, and one you’re comfortable having your children imitate. For some key vocabulary, refer to the chart on the opposite page.
Many families cannot afford the luxury of domestic help in their home economies, so the opportunity to have an ayi here is hard to pass up. In Chinese culture, people are accustomed to having childcare help from the older generation – literally their “aunties” – Sofia Courtney points out. But, being physically far away from our families, ayis can help foreigners feel more supported and less isolated in Beijing.
Also, being generous with food, time, clothing and kindness can only ensure that an ayi is in turn generous with the care of the family – something the Chang-Fasquelle family finds true. Barbara Chen adds that, while some foreign families may not know other Chinese people aside from colleagues, taking the time to get to know a bit about your ayi’s personal life will seal a bond that, in time, is one of family, rather than one of employment.
Beijing Ayi Housekeeping Service Co., Ltd
(6434 5647, email@example.com)
China Ayi Home Services
(021 2023 5085 / 021 2023 5785, firstname.lastname@example.org,
House Cleaning Beijing
(138 0013 8000, email@example.com)
(5642 9208, 159 1050 7956, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kitchen: 厨房 chúfáng
Bathroom: 洗手间 xǐshǒujiān
Bedroom: 卧室 wòshì
Living room: 客厅 kètīng
To clean: 打扫卫生 dǎsǎowèishēng
Sweep the floor: 扫地 săodì
Mop the floor: 托底 tuōdì
Wipe the counter/table: 擦桌子 cā zhuōzi
Do the dishes: 洗盘子 / 洗碗 xǐpánzi / xǐwǎn
Do the laundry: 洗衣服 xǐyīfu
Please use soap to disinfect:
请用肥皂消毒 Qǐng yòng féizào xiāodú
Please clean thoroughly under and behind things: 请在东西下面和后面彻底地大扫卫生
Qǐng zài dōngxi xiàmiàn hé hòumiàn chèdǐ de dǎsǎowèishēng
To cook: 做饭 zuòfàn
To shop: 买菜 măicài
Please bring me the receipt and the change:
请给我发票和找钱 Qǐng gěi wŏ fāpiào hé zhăoqián
Please buy the higher-quality products:
请买质量好的产品 Qǐng mǎi zhìliàng hǎode chǎnpǐn
Watch the children: 看孩子 kanháizi
Feed the baby: 喂孩子 wèi háizi
Rock the baby to sleep:
哄孩子睡觉 Hǒng háizi shuìjiào
Bathe the baby: 给孩子洗澡 Gěi háizi xǐzǎo
Take the baby outside (to play):
带孩子出去(玩) Dài háizi chūqù (wán)
Take the baby for a walk:
带孩子出去走一走 Dài háizi chūqù zŏu yi zŏu
Please only let the baby watch minimal TV:
请注意孩子少看电视 Qǐng zhùyì háizi shăo kàn diànshì
Please use cloth diapers, not disposables:
请用尿布，不要用尿不湿 Qǐng yòng niàobù, bùyàoyòng niàobùshī
photo by mitchell pe masilun