A proper Tai Tai? 5th November 2014

Tai Tai and laopo are the words for wife in Chinese. Wo shi jiating zhufu is “I am a housewife”. But everyone refers to expat wives that don’t work as taitais, pronouned as tietie. I don’t particularly like it – if I have to have any title I am a “trailing spouse” without any identity myself. I am identified with Martin. Even now at school I have to be careful not to introduce myself as Martin’s wife – I am at the school in my own right. It is like when Eleanor was born and suddenly the midwife would say how is mum doing? or the health visitor would say “what do you think, Eleanor’s Mum?” and I was screaming from the inside I HAVE A NAME. ANYWAY… up until Monday I was doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, school run (putting Eleanor on and taking her off the school bus) and shopping, so I never classed myself as a taitai. Well, for the record, I am still not a tai tai, but Family Crozier now have an ayi (pronounced IE), to do pretty much anything I ask.

In the UK we were blessed to have Mary who did our ironing and cleaning once a week. In all we had her for 5 hours a week, she did an amazing job in that time. Martin and I had our shirts and everything else ironed, and on a Wednesday our home would be beautifully clean. It was a luxury. Both Martin and I worked and it seemed sensible that if we wanted to have a life at the weekend that was not based on housework then we needed help. Mary was it.

In China an ayi is an almost expected “resource” for expats. “Do you have a driver?” “No.” “Do you have an ayi?” Well now that answer is yes, yes I do. When I said that I didn’t have an ayi one day, that person told me that getting an ayi was helping the Chinese economy!!!

Do not get me wrong, I am capable of ironing (almost), cleaning etc but what I cannot magic out of a hat is a babysitter for Eleanor. We have been lucky thus far in getting friends to  babysit, but for the next three years (and possibly more) we cannot rely on friends to look after Eleanor. Family is clearly not next door (and indeed it never was in England either, but we did have lovely next door neighbours and a lovely girl Katie, who Eleanor had lots of fun with. So in a move designed to allow Martin and I to have more date nights and for me to do more exploring, volunteering and blogging, we now have an ayi called Daiyan (Dianne). The task of finding her has not been straightforward, but she was the second one I interviewed.

Communicating with our agent, Ginger, told me that 25 kuai (RMB or yuan) per hour (approx 2.50 an hour) was the going rate. Knowing other people’s ayis told me that they don’t speak much, if any, English and that you would be lucky if there was a separate cloth to clean the bathrooms and kitchens… Armed with that knowledge, the first prospective ayi visited on Thursday 30th October with Ginger (our agent). Martin and I had said we wanted 3 hours a day, 3 days a week for 25 RMB an hour. The first one confirmed that her in expat family in Golden Lough was moving back home and she was looking to start straight away. She could do the hours I wanted – but for 36 RMB an hour! Effectively she worked full time for the other family and wanted us to make up the shortfall in her salary by charging us more than the going rate. So she wass waved goodbye.

On Friday 31st October I was expecting Ginger and the another ayi who I had been told was happy with the hours and the salary to come at 2pm. At 1.40pm a lady turned up on my doorstep, invited herself in and told me she was an ayi. I ascertained that she was early and willing to go ahead without Ginger. How did I know all this? Because she spoke English!!! Another thing that I had been told to expect was to communicate through google translate, I won’t need to do that. I have also had friends who have had ayis turn up on the doorstep on the offchance of being employed – hence my cynacism when one turned up at my door.

After a tour of our modest apartment, which I think you can clean in 3 hours, she told me that she wanted 4 hours. I said no, but that we would review it. Currently, she is here (back in 2014 she was!), this is her second day and she is very thorough. The rugs (our new purchase) are rolled up, she has vacuumed, mopped and quite frankly done more than I did in the past 3 months. Since being here, I have cleaned the mirrors once. They have been cleaned twice this week. The discussion will be had that there are certain things that do not need to be done three times a week – except the white tiled floor that shows up the slightest bit of dirt.

She has given me a shopping list of cleaning products which includes CIF, a scraper to clean the windows with (google translate calls it a window spatula).

Eleanor met her on Monday and is estatic that Daiyan speaks English as that had been on her wishlist. She has not had the greatest experience of ayis to date as at school they kept cuddling and touching her. They have now been told to back off and she is much happier. She got on well with Daiyan and made snowflakes together.

Since the MegaMenger Sponge project has been on TV, several local, regional and national newspapers have been interested in the school and Martin. He is very proud of what the pupils have achieved and the school are very happy to have had the publicity.

Last Sunday the shipping was only 2-3 weeks away. My deduction tells me that on Sunday 2nd November the shipping should only be 1-2 weeks away, but when Martin e-mails Seven Seas, he gets the same e-mail back still 2-3 weeks away. As time goes on, the weather is turning and while it is lovely during the day, the night air is cold. I want my thicker coats, I want my scarves and I want trousers that are not jeans though I can’t remember if I own any nice non work trousers.

I went to the parent/teacher consultation day at DUCKS (Dulwich College Kindergarten Suzhou- I think) on Monday. Eleanor’s teacher told me that she was a sponge, just soaking up everything. When asked about her settling in I was told she had lonely days, but when I went in to help at art day, she was sitting with 3 boys. Other girls were on different tables, but she, Marco (an Italian) and Peter and Nikki (Russians) were having great fun designing and creating their own pots being inspired by a Japanese artist.

We also have our first confirmed visitors to our abode. My parents are coming for March. The shopping list is already being compiled for the things that I won’t have been able to bring back in February.

As always, thank you for reading – until next time.