Revenge of the Ayis

May 4th, 2011
Location: Coffee Bean, Wuzhong Lu
Time: 12:33 pm

Some people have yoga. Others have boxing.  For Oedipus it was attempting to gauge out his eyes.  We all have our methods of catharsis.  Mine is cleaning.  It’s rather fitting, since the word literally means to cleanse or to purge - from kathairein  "to purify, purge," from katharsos  "pure" (Aside: Hi, Frank Fredericks – Mrs. Dowd’s AP English, anyone?)

Friday is the one day of the week that I can legitimately justify not breaking out P90X or trudging over to the gym. It’s the day I pour my tension and anxiety into a bucket of soapy water and scrub it out of my system.

This last week found me with more than my average share of cathartic exercise.  The previous Friday I’d missed my usual cleaning, and within a mere 14 days my apartment had turned into a den of inequity – cleanliness = Godliness, etc., etc.

Here is why: Shanghai is the dirtiest city known to man.  Okay, so Manshiyat Naser may own that one, but with an air pollution level of 5, on a scale of 5 – severe (thanks a lot, sandstorms), it’s not like I’m living in a Mr. Clean commercial.  I feel like Billy Mays could have made a fortune in this country.

I started the day out in my bedroom: organizing, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, laundry and then moved onto the bathroom, rinse and repeat, the living and dining area, and then on into the kitchen.  Six, count ‘em, SIX mother f’ing hours later I collapsed onto my sterling white tile floors and melted into a puddle of exhaustion.

I have got to hire an ayi.

Besides the utter filth I encountered on the soles of my feet from a simple stroll from my bedroom to the kitchen, my exhaustion could also be attributed to the implements used for removing said filth.  For God knows what reason, the good people of China refuse to produce brooms with handles that reach above waist level.  I have a theory on this: it’s how they keep the ayis from getting too uppity.  Know your place, Ayi! Stay low to the ground and break your back for that 15 yuan an hour! And now that you’re crippled for life, continue to shuffle around, eyes downcast and back horizontal to ground, keeping out of the line of sight for all of us upwardly mobile citizens.

But I swear the people of Shanghai with their noses in the air are getting their comeuppance – and it’s literally hitting them in the nose.  All those stooped ayis you can spot at any metro or street corner may appear to be cleaning but I like to think of it more as dirt displacement.  Walk past any one of those mopping women and you’ll notice that her bucket of water is opaque with sludge and grime.  She dips her already blackened mop into that cesspool and then swirls it across the pavement – spreading the muck far and wide.

Every time I enter the hallway outside the elevators in my building, I know the ayi has recently “cleaned” because it smells like urine.

Sooo , maybe I won’t hire that ayi after all.  In the meantime, my lower back is becoming freakishly strong.

This is me standing over the broom and the mop - flat-footed.

14 days of accumulated dirt.

Just wanted to show you exactly how small the brooms are in relation to a door.  And don't be fooled by that mop.  It looks tall, but as soon as you use it, the handle sinks to the same level as the broom.


  1. Nice use of upper level vocabulary words! Mrs. Dowd would be proud!

  2. try twisting the locking ring half way up the handle on the mop, perhaps it won't 'shrink',....
    the broom definitely needs an extension. Buy a second one, remove the bottom portion and duct tape the two together..... presto chango longer handle !
    now, what other problems do you want me to solve oh darling daughter of mine !!!

  3. Problems with this:
    1) China does not have duct tape. Period.
    2) B/c I wouldn't have tried that already . . . there is no locking mechanism. If there ever had been, it's completely stripped.

    Why do you assume you raised a child so completely unaware?