Column response

First off, let me say that this was an extremely touchy subject to write about. Becky was very uncomfortable and made me rein in some aspects. she was probably right. I have been having some really interesting back and forth with friends here about this and i will post more of them. But this is a start.

I understand that this whole subject is sort of embarassing and it seems insane and luxurious beyond belief to people at home. But it is what it is. Having an ayi here is not a luxury symbol.

I call this whole villa lifestyle fake rich and some people really revel in it. we enjoy certain aspects of it while feeling vaguely uncomfortable the whole time.

Someone posted this as a comment.

I wish you would have explained the “Get over it” comment more. Perhaps you didn’t inquire of the speaker.

From the apparent implication, it’s discomforting to see how foreign “guests” in China have adopted a patronizing colonial mentality.

I understand how you might find that this makes you uncomfortable, but at the same time it seems that you aren’t really resisting it.

I’m not sure who, but I’m pretty sure it was before I posted the column so somone who read it online and made their way over here. I sense it was someone chinese.

I am sympathetic to their viewpoint to a certain extent but I really don’t think it is fair to refer to a “patronizing Colonial mentality.” For one thing, Chinese people who can afford it all have ayis and they pay them literally a third of what we do, while having them work many more hours. My sense is pretty strong that if there were no Westerners with colonial mindsets in China, ayis would still exist and their plight would be worse.

Interestingly, my teacher Dong wrote the following:


i never knew you paid so high salary to ayi.

a couple of my friends in beijing , they had diploma from college and works
in office , only can earn 2000 yuans per month, even less. (it depends
degree and working experience in china).

i think your decision is correct.
we can help someone, but shoud be reasonable!

life is uneasy , for everyone.


i still remember i was homeless and slept on chair of GREEN PARK IN


and then the letters from readers started rolling in today:

In reading your article, I found it a bit odd. I am a full time Wall
Street working mom, who wakes up at 4:15 am gets into work at 6am and
leaves at 5pm. My father and mother-in-law watch my 2 year old, I don’t
have a nanny, cleaning lady or a cook and certainly don’t have help on
the weekends. What world do you people leave in???

Please do not publish my last name.




Thanks for the letter. the world I live in is the expat world in China.

My wife has a very demanding job and we did all the childcare dances at home in Jersey.. daycare, nannies, aunts and uncles…

It is different here and what i was trying to express is that for all the advantages it also creates some really odd and uncomfortable relationships.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.

Alan Paul

this guy is a regular reader and correspondent and a former longtime expat.
Hi Alan!

Paying too much and not being selective with staff (just taking them over from the previous renters) is a recipe for disaster. We saw this over and over again (in Africa and the Far East). Expats, like you, always had complaints about staff, and the staff took advantage of the ‘weak’ expats.

Sometimes you have to be hard and start afresh. Fire your current staff and get new ones. There are many others who can use the income and your current staff has had it good for many years. Tell the new staff exactly what is expected from them before they start work, make clear you are the boss, and pay them a little less than what most expats pay but give them benefits (such as medicine, when required). This has worked really well for us. Friends who had problems with staff and followed this tip had good results as well. Staff start to respect you and are much more productive. My wife, who is Bruneian, and grew up with Phillipino staff came up with it. Learn from people who had staff all their life. It may also help you on nights out: do you enjoy the calls from your kids when having dinner with your wife away from home?!

How about a World Cup Story? Guess with China not playing there is not much interest but there must be a German or English bar in Beijing which is packed during the games!


and this…

Dear Mr. Paul,

Firstly, I know how much your children will benefit from this experience unless they are too young when they come back. Secondly, I spent my early childhood as an expat kid in India in the 1950s. In those days, we had “outside servants” – a gardener, guard and driver, and “inside parents” – bearer (houseboy), cook, ayah, cleaner, all of whom had homes on our property. Of course we overpaid them outrageously by local standards, but a pittance by ours. We also had fewer servants than many of my parents’ friends. By the way, they were around all the time it seemed, and thought nothing of coming into any room to do whatever they had to at any time! In a rather sad way, they were invisible. I know that in India today, the staff has typically been cut back a lot.

I enjoy your articles a great deal,

Richard Guha
Pasadena, CA

This is just the beginning of this subject.. More to come.

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