Tai-Tai Lifestyle

I have long aspired to be a Tai-tai. In Chinese, it means ‘wife’ but it’s so much more than that. It’s margaritas at lunchtime, having people to clean your house and watch your children. It’s Gucci and glamour. It’s my destiny.

I’ve waited a long time to be a Tai-tai. I ruined my chances the whole first year in China by studying. Schlepping a toddler and a backpack full of textbooks across town on a bus and spending the rest of the day sitting in a classroom that smells of cigarettes and pee is not a very Tai-tai vibe. Tai-tais don’t schlep. They don’t study (they do seem to make an exception for Chinese calligraphy classes) and they definitely don’t wear backpacks (Gucci doesn’t make backpacks).

Now I’m free of my educational obligations, the gate to Tai-taidom beckons. I have an ayi - Ayi - who cleans my house which is just as well because I can no longer see the floor nevermind pick things up from it. My lunches are sadly margarita-free but that can’t be helped either. I don’t have a car and/or driver (although I’m not sure what one would do with a driver but no car) so that’s not really working in my favour but I am within walking distance of the Gucci store so probably don’t need one anyway. I suddenly have a lot of free time.

It’s lunchtime in Shanghai. Little A is napping. Ayi is taking her daily shower in our bathroom. I
still think this is weird, although at least more understandable in the sweltering heat of summer after she’s been out picking Little A up from kindergarten. It was harder to reconcile myself to the showering during the mild days of spring when she didn’t have to step outside.

Also, she asked me to buy conditioner for her hair last week. Were it not for the fact that at some point over the next few weeks I may need to ring her at 3am and ask her to come in and stay with Little A while I birth Baby B, I would have indicated to her my firm belief that it is not the role of the employer to provide hair product for their employees. As it was, I bought the hair conditioner and kept quiet. I’m not good with confrontation. Plus, I feel bad because I won’t let her turn on the air-con despite the fact that it’s over 30 degrees outside. I’m not sure why I feel bad though because I don’t have the air-con on either and I’m harboring a human hot water bottle under my ribs. Like many Chinese people though, Ayi appears to be totally incapable of dealing with the heat and now I hide from her so I don’t have to listen to her complaining about how she’s too hot all the time. Oh my god, maybe I am a real Tai-tai - I have, after all, spent most of this post bitching about my ayi. She’s now out of the shower and is napping in front of the fan. I don’t feel bad anymore.

I don’t think she resents me for not being able to turn on the air-con. I told her that Mr Oh was the one who put his foot down. I told her about how I couldn’t sleep at night with the heat and despite being almost 9 months pregnant, he still wouldn’t let me turn it on. She feels sorry for me being married to such a despot. I sighed convincingly. The truth is that it’s just too expensive. Our apartment building is linked to a “hotel” out the back so apparently our building is also classified as commercial property and we have to pay for electricity and gas at 3 times the normal rate. I do question this explanation as a) I’ve never seen anyone stay at the “hotel”, b) the “hotel” is not advertised anywhere and doesn’t even have a sign saying it’s a hotel and c) what kind of “hotel” is located down a residential lane and does not have a breakfast buffet. The kind of “hotel” that is not a hotel, that’s what.

Now don’t get confused, I’m not suggesting that the “hotel” is a brothel or anything. I’m not totally obsessed with Chinese prostitution. Plus, this is a decent family neighborhood. I’m just suggesting that it’s not a hotel and that it’s no coincidence that our apartment building, having almost zero Chinese occupants, has to pay higher electricity and gas costs than other residential compounds. Most of the people in our building don’t pay their own bills anyway as it’s usually included in their expat work package…so no one really complains. I’m not complaining either, I’m just refusing to turn on the air-con and blaming my husband so that the ayi - who I’m secretly scared of - doesn’t hate me. That’s normal, right?

So now it’s almost 2pm. The temperature outside has hit 36 degrees. The pollution level is up to “unhealthy”. I’m starting to get windburn on one side of my face from the fan. Little A and Ayi are fast asleep. My feet are swollen. My hair is sweating. The Unbornicle has the hiccups and with every ‘hic’ I feel a little bit nauseous. This Tai-tai lark is not all it’s cracked up to be. Where are my glamourous lunches? My cocktails? Where is my Gucci?

Fortunately, in 1-20 days, my Tai-tai life will come to an abrupt end. I will throw off the chains of leisure and morph dramatically into a “stay-at-home-mom” which is good because stay-at-home-moms don’t have to brush their hair and the lunchtime margaritas are optional.

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