Saturday, September 8, 2012

To Graciously Receive

I sort of shoved her out the door.  

I had just given our ayi (babysitter) a summer bonus.  We would be gone over the summer, but it wasn't her fault we were taking away her work for almost two months.  I knew she would reject the money if I gave it outright, so I put it in a red envelope, specially used to hold gift money, hearing that it was impolite to refuse a red envelope.

It was the day before we were flying back to America and when ayi came to watch Juliana one last time, I reminded her that we would be leaving tomorrow.  Unfortunately, she looked surprised.  "You will leave tomorrow??"  Hmm, perhaps that communication didn't go through as clearly as we thought.

I knew we had better wait until the last minute to give the bonus since every month she argues about the salary.  When she started working for us and our teammates in the spring, we set what seemed to be a fair salary, the high end of average for this area (about $2.50/hr).  But apparently our children have been such a joy to watch that ayi feels like she is being paid too much.  Or something along those lines.  Though we give her a flat monthly salary, if she ever misses a day (usually if we are gone or have a holiday), she tries to return part of the salary.  It's a very perculiar problem and not quite your usual bargaining!  "Take the money!  We already agreed on your salary!"  "No, it's too much.  Pay me less!"

In reality, she is already getting paid less because she works much longer hours than we hire her for.  Technically she comes to our house 2hrs each weekday afternoon, but she usually arrives about 20 minutes early and leaves 30 or even 45 minutes late.  While the weather is good, she takes Juliana outside every day to play.  The first time she brought her back at 6:40 instead of 6pm, I was a little worried; now we know to expect it.  By the end of the week, instead of the agreed 10 hours she has worked at least 15.

She is a pretty private person so we know very little about her homelife other than she has a grown son.  Perhaps now that her son is out of the house, she doesn't like being home alone.  Her husband must either work long hours or be the one who cooks dinner since she doesn't usually get home until about 7pm (and Chinese people usually don't eat late).  At any rate, she is never in any hurry to get home.

We are certainly glad to have such a willing helper who loves playing with Juliana and tries to help us out however she can.  We wanted to show her the we appreciate her, and we wanted to make sure she would have income to get through the summer.  Thus the money in the red envelope.

I slipped the envelope in with a cute picture of Juliana (a bit of distraction) and passed it off to ayi just before she left.  She thanked me and headed home.  Excellent - our plan had worked.

Not two minutes later there was a knock on the door.  "This is too much money!  I can't take this!"  It had seemed a little too easy.  I assured her that we really wanted to give it to her and this was the point that I more or less shoved her out the door saying, "Take it!  Take it!"  She left, I felt successful.

Of course we did not have the last word.  The next morning, as we prepared for our afternoon flight back to America, ayi showed up at our door with large bags full of presents - local specialties, meat, rice cakes and sweet breads for Juliana.  Between gifts for us and our teammates, she had spent at least half of her bonus.  Foiled again.  But now she was very happy.  Chinese people generally love giving gifts.

It reminds me of Spring Festival when we gave our last ayi a holiday bonus and ended up with a large, expensive toy car (except this time our ayi was happily able to continue working for us).  Sometimes you just can't win.  Sometimes the best gift you can give is to graciously receive someone else's generosity.

Which is why tomorrow, despite our protests, ayi is bringing us a roasted duck.       

1 comment:

Mallary said...

Great post! I am so glad Juliana has such a loving ayi.