One of the things that attracted us to the house that we now live in is the three-storey-high tree in the garden. Although we did our home search on a wintry March morning, the tree was then leafless hence we were only left with our imagination as to how the tree would flourish in the summer and shed in the fall. Moving to Beijing from a picturesque lakeside town in Europe, we knew we wanted as much foliage as we could possibly get.
We eventually moved to Shunyi in the summer of that year and the tree leaves did full bloom but were accompanied by crickets and horrendously hairy, creepy caterpillars. That first summer, we did what we needed to do to exterminate the caterpillars, or what my sons took to calling “woolly worms”. As we marked our second summer here, the tree grew taller, leafier, and yes, more infested with woolly worms.
This year we passed our third summer in Shunyi and the tree continues to grow. Our ayi, who has been with us for the pervious two, quietly reminded me in June that the tree was in need of de-worming but did not get around to it. The woolly worms had made their way over to the neighbors’ house,rendering their garden useless as their children and dog could no longer go there. Understandably, they didn’t want to get a bad case of the itchies. I was also properly mortified that my neglect of our own living space had caused inconvenience to the neighbors.
I proceeded to write a note to the neighbours, primarily to apologize for the presence of the worms. And then to give my phone number to say would make arrangements to get rid of the worms and if they had any trouble with the worms, to feel free to call me. It seemed like a good plan. Except that I realized I did not even know my neighbors’ names. We have seen each other often, and we always greet each other and exchange a few comments about the pollution or the weather. I know where their children go to school. Our dogs are friends. But we never got around to asking their names!
So the note addressed to “The Neighbors” got sent anyway, and soon enough I had a very friendly text message from the lady of the house. She assured me that they were not bothered by the worms in the way that I may have thought, given the call from the management office. She then said that her ayi was very on top of things, and it was her ayi who had made the call to the management office. I then assured her that my ayi had also tried to get my attention on the matter but that she, sadly, failed. The best part of our text exchange was not so much being told that the issue of the worms wasn’t an issue at all. It was that I managed to finally know my neighbor’s name!
And it was also in realizing yet again that we both have our ayis to thank for helping us run our households. In a city where both my neighbor V and I are foreigners, and where I can never emphasize enough the difficulty that not being fluent in the language poses, the help we get from our proactive ayis is quite invaluable because they help us get things done.
They remind us when things need to get done. They pick up the phone when we can’t manage to make ourselves understood about what needs to get done. And they have a way of taking the initiative — appropriately — when they need something to get done.
And, once in a while, when we forget to properly introduce ourselves to the neighbors, in their own way, our ayis inadvertently enable us to get that done, too.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado
Dana is the beijingkids‘ Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.