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Chinese New Year travel and ayi's

Chinese New Year is rapidly approaching, and people start preparing for the trip back home. Yesterday morning I saw a huge line for a travel agent close to my office, at least 40 people were waiting to get in. Especially train tickets are hard to get, but plane tickets are still widely available. You can even get discounts on some of the major routes like Shanghai-Beijing, also for the days right before Chinese New Year. Flights to smaller cities are full-price, however, according to my colleagues. The holiday season affects business quite a bit, and most offices, including Spill Group Asia, will close for a week. Also most domestic helpers will leave the cities to visit their families in the countryside. Our ayi told us yesterday that she had waited in line from 3 AM to 8 AM to get tickets, but just when she was at the ticket counter they were sold out. She will now need to find overpriced tickets on the black market.

It is quite amazing to which length urban Chinese families go in order to cope with the temporary absence of their ayi during Chinese New Year. For us it is a nuisance that our ayi will go back to her hometown, but it just means doing a bit more cooking and housework ourselves. Some families, however, seem to rely a bit too much on their ayis and cannot live without them anymore.

My wife was reading a story to me from a Chinese newspaper that had some good examples of this. One family did not want their ayi to queue for train tickets to her hometown, because then she would not be able to do housework during that time. Therefore the husband of the family decided to do this for her. He waited in line for four days in order to buy her tickets! I like my ayi a lot, but I would never imagine waiting in line for her so she could do our dishes.

Another family will go even further this Chinese New Year, literally further: their ayi will go back to her village and they have rented a room in a hotel close to her home so she can still take care of their baby. If I would be the ayi I would not be too pleased with that, having just one holiday per year, and then still having your employer around all the time. Or maybe it actually gives her a lot of face, because it shows her fellow villagers they cannot live without her.

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  1. yeah, i think it must be true that she would get lots of face by doing that, villagers always like to brag about this sort of things to their fellow farmer friends