Before I get into the story here, you sort of need to know some background.
The background goes like this:
When we first got to post, we didn't have an ayi. An "ayi" (pronounced like the two letters: i.e.) is basically a household helper who can do a huge variety of things, such as tidy/clean house, shop for food or other needed items, cook meals, watch young children, etc. I wasn't even sure if I wanted an ayi, though most people at post had one.
As time went on, I realized that I did want/need an ayi. And yes, I can use the word "need" here as we have no car here (so it's hard to buy food), and as I have no CLUE how to cook most of the food that is sold in the markets, etc. (I honestly don't know what most of the vegetables/meats even are.) So I had my eye on an ayi in the Consulate community that was totally awesome, and we waited for her to become available. For a long time, we waited. And the minute she became available, we snapped her up.
I have heard many stories about ayis being stolen from one family by another, or ayis voluntarily jumping from one family to another, or ayis even quitting and walking off the job, etc., and since this ayi is quite possibly one of the best (if not THE best) ayis at post (she certainly has a huge hand in my still being sane), we do everything we can to make sure that she is happy working for us.
We pay her a salary that is, at this point, 50% more than we were initially asked (and which is much more going rate compared to ayis that work for families outside of the Consulate community). We pay her medical expenses, since she, like most ayis, has no health insurance, and since I am her employer. I am very, very mindful that inflation here in China is literally making the cost of living rise dramatically even from one month to the next, and I'm making sure that I am mindful that I adjust her salary periodically as well in order to keep up with the rising cost of living. Because in China, having the same exact salary for two to three years can be brutal when the inflation rate is going so high so fast. I could go on, but you get the gist.
So there, now you're caught up on the background. Now on to the story.
~ ~ ~
So the other day, James was talking to a person whom I shall call "Person." Person might be a female... or a male. Person might be new to Chengdu... or might have been here for a while. Person might be an expat outside of the Consulate community... or might be within the Consulate community. You get the gist. I am totally masking Person's identity in order to protect the guilty.
Anyway, Person currently has no ayi, and was considering getting one, and was asking James about our ayi, etc. (I will also include that Person doesn't know James/us very well, as probably becomes more obvious the further you get into the conversation.) And here is a snippet of the conversation that was had:
Person: So what's the deal with your ayi? How did you find her?
James: Well, we waited for her to become available, and when one of her part-time families rotated out of post, we were able to hire her. She works for us part time, in the afternoons, every day, M-F.
Person: What does she do for you guys?
James: Um, well, she shops for vegetables/meats for us since we don't know what most of the local stuff is or how to cook it, and she makes dinner sometimes, and she cleans sometimes - those sorts of things.
Person: Wow! Your ayi sounds awesome!
James: Yeah, she is, we're really fortunate. We waited a long time for her.
Person (starting to walk into dangerous territory, and not joking): I think I might just steal your ayi away from you. Then I'd be set! How much do you pay her? I could offer her more...
James (isn't EVEN playing with this crap): You're not going to go anywhere near my ayi. Don't even think about it.
Person (hemming and hawing): But... but... maybe your ayi could just work for me a few hours in the afternoons? Like, she works for you a couple of hours after lunch and then works for me a few hours before going home?
James (stern): NO.
Person: But that would be a great compromise! Ha ha!
James (not even remotely laughing): ::Stony, unsmiling silence::
(::Conversation dies, of course::)
~ ~ ~
And so, there you have it.
Person has behaved themselves and has not approached my ayi thus far. At least I'm pretty sure my ayi would have told me if she'd been approached. But the whole ayi thing can be pretty darned emotional, let me just say. And I'm going to keep being mindful that the cost of living is skyrocketing month by month here in China, and making sure that I'm matching my pay to both inflation and what ayis are paid outside of the Consulate community. And if some vulture does try to come and steal my ayi (it happens, trust me, and it ain't pretty), I'm hoping I will have given her every reason to stay right where she is. We'll see...