Many foreigners who live in China hire a local maid -- or ayi - to take care of their homes, children and pets.
Ayis can work either part-time and full-time. Part-time Ayis may work for several families a day while full-time Ayis work five to 10 hours a day, depending on the amount of housework and may live in your house.
With an hourly pay ranging from 7 yuan (88 US cents) to 15 yuan or more (the price may differ from place to place), you may find a dutiful part-time Ayi to accomplish most of your daily housework, and cook good Chinese food for you every day.
In general, if you stay in a two- or three-bedroom apartment, a part-time Ayi for two or three hours a day will suffice. However, if you have a villa or large house and have a family, one or two full-time Ayis will be necessary. Some people may even hire three -- one for cooking, one for cleaning and the other for children and pets. Those full-time Ayis will cost you 1,000 to 2,000 yuan a month, depending on their roles.
Normally, Ayis should have two rest days a week, no matter whether they are part-time or full-time. If you have a party or special event on their rest day, especially at the weekend, most Ayis will help you to prepare for such an event. Don't forget to thank them for their help, as this goes beyond their usual obligations.
Both part-time and full-time Ayis may have holidays at least once a year -- usually during Chinese New Year or the golden weeks in May and October. They may have a week-long holiday at Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and two or three days off for May Day and National Day in October. As most Ayis come from rural areas, they will return to their hometown for their holidays. If you hire a Shanghai Ayi, she may be willing to shorten her holiday. However, again, this would go beyond the call of duty.
Warning! Some Ayis have been known to use fake ID cards and commit crimes ranging from petty theft to kidnapping in some very rare cases. Thus, you should ensure your Ayi is qualified by using a reputable agency or by a recommendation from your close friends or colleagues.
Most Ayis are unable to speak any English. An English-speaking Ayi, which is not easy to find, will cost considerably more. So, you should know how to communicate with your Ayi. Learning some useful Chinese phrases or sentences will help. By the way, your kids may learn more Chinese, especially her hometown dialect, than you from your Ayi.
Generally, Ayi are skilled and competent but you should be patient if teaching her to meet specific demands.
It would be better to write a schedule for your Ayi every day. However you should make sure your Ayi understands your instructions and rules. If you have a Chinese assistant or secretary, who is willing to be your part-time interpreter or translator, use this.
You should be aware whether your Ayi can handle emergencies or accidents. If she cannot, you should make an emergency plan for her, containing the contact numbers of the hospital, your insurance cover, the correct way to deal with fire or other household emergencies and how to take care for your family if they are ill or meet with an accident. If you have a pet, you should also tell your Ayi which vet you prefer. Write the plan in Chinese.
Ayis should be covered by workers' compensation insurance or you should compensate them for lost working hours. Many insurance companies in the city have specific insurance for the service industry.
(Shanghai Daily November 3, 2006)