I’ve begun to realize that my ayi doesn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to negotiate China, and has appointed herself my personal liaison between China and me.
She doesn’t think I’m smart about temperature. If I sit in the study with the space heater shooting hot air in my direction, she’ll tell me it’s too hot, and that’s not good for my health. When the calendar hits a certain date in April, she’ll “retire” my heavier sweaters and sweatshirts, tucking them away high and far far back on a shelf in my closet. When she cleans the bathrooms, she opens the windows, year-round, which I now realize is the reason for the demise of my sad little orchid. A small and sickly orchid with two leaves is no match for winds from Siberia. In the summer, if I try to venture out in the sunshine without any kind of covering, she’ll hand me an umbrella.
She also has opinions about where I store things. In fact, I think she either changes her mind about where the casserole dishes, socks, wine bottles, and framed pictures belong, or she gets bored with cleaning the same thing in the same spot each week and changes it up. This would be fine except that I then have a nearly impossible task of finding things. Right now, I have no idea what she did with my plate that holds deviled eggs or my heavy green sweater. I don’t have enough Chinese to say, “Where did you put my deviled egg plate?”
In the pantry, she moves thing around at random, meaning that yesterday I found the cocoa powder up with the coffee and tea. I usually keep cocoa powder with my baking supplies, but whatever. If items start to empty out of a container, she’ll remove them and put them inside a plastic tupperwear style container. At the moment, we have enough raisins for about a year since we keep buying more raisins when she hides the old ones.
She tries to teach me Chinese. She has a very low opinion of my ability to use tones, and so even though what I am saying is clearly grammatically correct, she makes me repeat it until I get the tones exactly right. I do the same thing with my teacher, Yanfen. I can mimic what they are saying when they are saying it, but once that moment ends, I’m back to what must sound to them like a monotone. Ayi never stops trying though.
When she leaves for the day, she hands me a cup of tea. She knows I like herbal tea and becomes very concerned if I get close to running out of some. I don’t know how to tell her that the teabags in the wax paper bags are my stash of Celestial Seasonings tea I brought from home last time. This week she had to resort to green tea, which I assured her I also like.
When the Wall Street Journal was closing out its temporary apartment and I was called over to see if I wanted any items, she was in a flurry of activity, grabbing clothes detergent and can openers and other items for me as if her life depended on it. “Yao bu yao?” she kept asking. I knew if I said I didn’t want something, she’d be disappointed, so I ended up taking more than I needed.
And I dread getting a cold, because she really goes into hyper-drive with her TCM concoctions that taste funny. I don’t even dare clear my throat these days.
But all in all, having an ayi like her is a comfort. She is a liaison and a good one at that. I wonder what she’d do if I brought her back to DC with me.