In June last year, while flicking through Google reader, I came across this post on incidence of tuberculosis in Beijing. Something about it seemed a little off, see if you can spot it:
Luckily for the average expat, exposure to TB is fairly limited. Still, we can never be too cautious. “Have your ayis and drivers tested and always keep an eye out,” says Dr. Mahmoudi. “Those who pass the PPD test may have the latent form of TB which can reactivate.
The thing that surprised me wasn’t the news about TB. The fact that it’s endemic among much of the world’s population and can lay dormant for many years must be fairly common knowledge now – I even have a friend who was very sick with the disease. No, what surprised me was the quotation from the doctor – “Have your ayis and drivers tested….” This sentence contains a couple of assumptions – that the readers of this article have ayis (maids / housekeepers) and personal drivers, and that they have the power to send these servants to the hospital to have them screened for diseases.
Beijing is the capital city of the most populous nation on the earth. Naturally it has many embassies, and embassy staff tend to be used to a life of comfort. There are also plenty of rich foreign businesspeople about, at least in certain areas of the city. Many of these may have an ayi or a driver or even both. But assuming that all your readers have servants, servants with whom they have that level of control…. Can they be serious?
Today, scrolling through Google reader again, I found that, yes, they are completely serious. Here is what I read, unedited:
from Beijing > Articles by cityweekend
Date: Jan 30th 2012 1:05p.m.
Contributed by: cityweekend
In my 10 years living in Beijing, I’ve had dozens of ayis. Whether you have a live-in ayi or hire by the hour, I am sure you too have plenty of ayi horror stories. Here’s what I’ve learned about Beijing ayis.
Beware of agencies. They will double-cross you and the ayi. Why? No regulation.
- Don’t hire an ayi in her 20s. She will go home, get married and get pregnant no matter how much you pay her. Tradition trumps money.
- Make sure drivers are not too close to your ayi—safety reasons.
- Don’t use Filipino ayis. Most are on tourist visas and not allowed to work in China. Plus who wants their kids to speak English with a Filipino accent?
- I have a great penalization system. If they make the same offense three times, I deduct ¥5 from their salary. No matter how much you beg, plead and criticize, nothing beats RMB. They learn fast when they see their money decreasing.
- Notorious offences are talking back, blaming others and sweeping things under the rug—literally. Sure, 85 percent of ayis are farmers, but that doesn’t put them above the law.
- Don’t sign a contract. If you do, you have to give them holidays off and they can sue you in labor court. I prefer trust, verbal agreements and red envelopes on the side.
- Slamming doors, yelling, gossiping and comparing salaries are the norm. Set strict rules or pay for it in the end.
- The ultimate sins are sticky fingers and abusing kids.
- Get a copy of her ID card and health card. Usually they are too cheap to go for a check up. If someone is touching my food and babies, I will pay for a comprehensive physical.
- Most ayis don’t know …
The article ended there, so I clicked on the link – http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/blogs-beijing/expat-life/hedy-vs-beijing-how-handle-hired-help/ – to read the rest, only to find a 404 page. Evidently the content had been posted and quickly taken down. But RSS readers don’t forget so quickly.
So, presuming this isn’t some kind of parody, and in case anyone doesn’t realise the enormity of this, let’s take a look and see what’s wrong here.
- Advising readers to discriminate based on age.
- Advising readers to interfere with their servants’ personal lives.
- Advising readers to be borderline racists.
- This one is basically accusing Chinese people of being heartless money-driven creatures, in language last used in the 1930s.
- “Talking back” is an offense here? Are these ayis or slaves?
- Advising readers to break the law and deny their servants basic employment rights.
- Advising readers to treat their servants as if they are their master.
- Yes, but so what?
- Again, treating people who are just doing a job as if they are lesser creatures to you.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries westerners came to China. The country was humiliated in a series of wars and forced to buy shipments of opium from the British. Travellers from Europe and America set up concessions around the coast, treating the locals as if they were no more than uncivilized underlings, taking no interest in their language or culture, barring them from their clubs and restaurants and calling them “coolies”. In 1860, when a handful of Europeans were kidnapped, the British and French retaliated by destroying Beijing’s Old Summer Palace – probably one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in history. This may all seem like ancient history now, but for a culture as old as China it might as well be last week, and people remember.
As a foreigner in China you represent both your country and the whole of the western world, whether you like it or not. If you treat locals like animals merely because they were born into less fortunate circumstances than you, and deny them the most basic of rights, then you’ve let everyone down.
Apparently the article has actually appeared in print – it’s by Dr Hedy W Lee, a local celebrity of sorts. I’d say the rest of the article is even worse, but you can judge for yourself. Thanks to Michel for finding this.