Last updated on Feb 28, 2012

Many foreigners who live in Suzhou hire a maid -- locally called an "Ayi" -- to take care of their houses, children and pets.

Ayis can be 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 their daily housework. Some full-time Ayis may live in your house.

With an hourly pay from 13 yuan (US$2) to 17 yuan or more (prices can differ from place to place) you may find a dutiful part-time Ayi to accomplish most of your daily housework, and even prepare a delicious Chinese dinner for you every day.

In general, if you stay in an apartment that has two or three rooms, a part-time ayi for two or three hours a day will suffice. However, if you have a villa or large house and stay with your 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 2,500-6,000 yuan a month, depending on their roles.

Normally, Ayis may have one or two rest days in a week, no matter whether they are part-time or full-time. If you have a party or any event on their rest day, especially at the weekend, most Ayis will help you. Don't forget to thank them for their help, because it's not their obligation.

Both part-time and full-time Ayis may have holidays at least once a year -- usually during Chinese New Year or holidays in May and October. They may have a weeklong holiday during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and two or three days off for May Day and National Day in October. As most of the Ayis are from rural areas, they will return to their hometown during their holidays. If you hire a Suzhou Ayi, she may be willing to shorten her holiday. However, it's not her obligation, so don't forget to reward her.

Most Ayis are unable to speak any English. An English-speaking Ayi, who 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 from the Ayi, especially the dialect from her hometown, than you.

You should be patient and teach your new Ayi how to clean vegetables, operate washing machines and cook in a Western way, even if she has years of working experience, as her methods may not meet your demands.

It will be better to write a work 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, ask them to assist establishing an understanding with the Ayi.

You should establish whether your Ayi is able to tackle emergencies or accidents. If she has no idea about it, you should draft an emergency plan for her, which contains hospital contacts, your insurance cover, the correct way to deal with fires or other emergencies in your house and how to take care for your family if they are ill or are involved in any accident. If you have a pet, you should also tell your Ayi which vet you prefer.

Write the plan in Chinese. You may need help with this from your Chinese colleagues or neighbors.

Ayis' jobs should be covered by workers' compensation insurance or you should compensate them for lost working hours. Many insurance companies in the city have Ayi insurance.

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