Life in a Low Cost Labor World

Living in a world where labor cost is relatively low – especially those low end labor like Ayi cleaning or Express man, is very different from the developed country.

Some people suffer from the absence of effective and secure way to transfer goods. The EMS by China Post Service does not work as I expected. A package from Shanghai to Changsha cost me 3 days. It is not even a guaranteed delivery time, while UPS or Fedex can deliver the same package to any large cities in the world in 24 hours. The surface mail with 0.60 RMB postage is worse. It is something like UDP package in the TCP/IP protocol – you send it but there is no guarantee that the package will be received. :-D

However, other people are enjoying the low cost delivery already if the destination is at the same city. It is called Kuai Di or the Express man. The market price for a common service is 5 RMB per delivery. They ride motor-cycle or even electronic empowered bicycle. They are flexible enough to deliver the good to everywhere – even somewhere without an address – they can find it by calling the recipient. :-) Express man has been the standard department for many organizations, no matter foreign-owned or small private business. The typical scenario is: “Hey. I have the contract ready. I can ask my Kuai Di to deliver it to you or you ask yours to come to my office to pick it up?”

Ayi is another good service that is not comparable in any city in the world. Due to the high demand, the large supply (many woman come to Shanghai and pick Ayi to be their first job), it has been a very powerful business. The standard price for one hour of work is 5 RMB in Xuhui district, and it is 7 RMB in Pudong (Why? I guess more Ayi wants to work in Puxi)

You can ask them to help – from cleaning the house to taking care of the baby, from cooking dinner to doing the repeatable work. It is quite amazing how Ayi changed the life of people in Shanghai.

Ayi as an occupation can be classified as servant in modern terms. But they are more flexible. They are paid by hour and one Ayi can serve more than one family or company at the same time. It is highly commercialized industry. Many companies hire Ayi to keep the office clean, serve tea, and help employees on their personal stuff, like paying the electricity bills or fetch the laundry clothes. As everyone is so busy with their own business, to ask an Ayi to help do the simple work seems to be effective than doing it by themselves. Companies, whether small or large, has find it very effective to hire Ayi.

Many broker help to connect the Ayi and the host together and charge commission. Some professional Ayi or Express man management companies emerge, so it is no longer the personal business of the Ayi or the Express man. It is the same for Safe Guards.

Express man is a frequently used method for e-commerce in Shanghai. Ayi has been a more cost effective way to do many things than IT solution. For example, I once thought of inputting all the ISBN number of the books I have into a database. Besides the system, I need to buy a bar code scanner, which is at least 200 RMB. Later, I found with 200 RMB, I can hire an Ayi to help me do the work. If they are given a computer and 10 minute of training, they can pick up a book, check the ISBN from the book cover and enter the ISBN numbe into my Excel. It only costs several hours. It reminded me the experience of my friend. After he moved to his new apartment, he paid 200 RMB for after-renovation clean up. That morning, 20 Ayi showed up at his door and worked for the whole morning. It was quite amazing.

20 thoughts on “Life in a Low Cost Labor World

  1. “That morning, 20 Ayi showed up at his door and worked for the whole morning. It was quite amazing.”

    Could be a very good movie scene.

  2. i thought this may be a moving description after seeing title. well,it is no good using this kind of tongue to tell us “amazing” story like hiring ayi as code scanner.

    everyone are struggling for living including u. if rich enough, why not donate like ur boss Bill Gates.

    till now every farmer must hand in 79 yuan as tax per year for country construction instead of 35 yuan from citizens. however, most of the fortune flows to cities like Shanghai so that Shanghaiese or Beijingese can live a seemingly better life just selling and buying houses of their own. and the fact is that there is still no inheritance tax in China.

    they especially their children need helping hands but not putting this story into a kidding joke.

    —-a fresh-graduate’s way of thinking

  3. is that wat happen in shanghai? is the express man thing really that popular? that actually sounds kinda risky, if u think of wat happen if that “express” dude just takes ur stuffs and runs off the road. i will stick with fedex or ups when consumer confidence is the first concern. but good to know. thx

  4. That last comment strikes me as a bit strange. Even Fedex planes can crash, and UPS employees are also able to steal. How different is an Express Man really from a big corporation like Fedex or UPS? Of course there is a big difference, size wise, organization wise etc. But in the end of the day only one thing is a relevant. Does the package get from A to B. Apparently the Kuai Di is a reliable, proven form for making deliveries in Shanghai. So why risky, because it’s not Western?

  5. One of the things I miss most from living in Shanghai is my Ah Yi. I had a great Ah Yi. She is Shanghainese, very honest, has a good work ethic, and a great cook. She always think of ways for me to save me money. She became a friend rather than just an Ah Yi.

    I never call her Ah Yi because locals think it’s derogatory. I don’t order her around and instead politely ask her to do things for me. I always tell her I respect what she does and everyone makes a living their own way and that she is filling a much needed service in the city. Because I treated her with respect she went out of her way to do good work for me.

    By comparison, the domestic help in Hong Kong sucks! Expensive, spoilt, and dishonest a lot of the times. The Hong Kong government should allow much more workers from China to work in Hong Kong, especially in the area of doemstic helpers. This will definitely help alleviate the unemployment problem in the rural areas.

    Currently the minimum pay for domestic helpers in HK is about HK$3,270/month versus HK$800/month that I paid my helper in Shanghai. This will also help China as the money earned will be sent back to China to help families live a better life.

  6. When comparing FedEx to Express Man, there is one big difference: accountability. I doubt Kaui Di would be compensate you for a damaged or missing package. It’s all automated with FedEx as far as tracking it online to filling a claim. But within Shanghai Kaui Di sounds like a great idea.

  7. How much basic medical insurance cost in Shanghai? Can Ayi afford to buy medical insurance based on 7 RMB an hour pay? Does government provide basic medical service to low income people like Ayi? I think this an universal problem around the world, some countries are doing better than others, there is no right way to solve the problem, however as an individual, the awareness of this inqulity and the willingness to make the voice heard eventually lead to the policy change hopefully.

  8. What can be done if we buy such a kind of MEDICAL INSURANCE? I am a foreigner, from another province, that means I can only buy 1 kind of insurance—commercial one—158 Yuan only(per month) and will be blanked out if I am safe in the whole year. I am young and without weakness. :(

    There r so many problems and differences between Shanghainese and outlander. I wonder how, I wonder why, but no one will give me an answer. If I get a F* Hukou, I can delete the difference . Thank god I am not a Min gong. 

    God helps those who help themselves, I hope I am the Mr.God and I am.

  9. This time I’d like to criticize you, Jian shuo. I think we should treat those low end labour workers better. Think about how hard they have to work and their burdens. They have to do house clean for 5 yuan per hour so as to give their children money to buy the lunch. I once hired an ayi to clean the house for us. She worked 2 hours everyday and she worked for three homes at the same time. And I found she is very tired sometime. Everyone who hired her wants her to work at her best, but how can she manage to do so? So after a while she just mark around the house to let you feel she is busy. I know that and I told her to have a rest but she relunctant to do so. She told me it is hard to get a job and don’t want ot lose the job. What a pity. So I just let her act in her way, mark around to be “busy”.

    I really think China has to redesign the resource redistribution system. Otherwise there will be huge problems.

  10. Well. It seems I need to clarify the reason I posted the article so Jimmy and Kevin won’t have the impression that I am making fun of the Ayi or something.

    There are very serious problems in the way we treat people without a city Hukou here. As everyone here mentioned, they don’t have medical insurance; they don’t have much protection by the society; not many people care about their lives; and they are leading the miserable life. That is the dark side under the sunlight of the city.

    However, if donation can solve the problem, we all donate. But it does not, Kevin. Let me tell you why.

    If you go out and see the long line outside any Ayi service broker these days, and look at the faces of them, you’ll know personal donation cannot help them all. Even if there is enough donation, you can help them today but not tomorrow, not to mention their lives in the long run.

    I talked with an Ayi with surname Zhang when I went to hospital the other day. She wait at the gate of a service broker at Hua Shan Road (near Huai Hai Road). She has been there waiting for someone to hire her since the 4th day of the Spring Festival. More than two weeks past and she still didn’t get a job. She worried a lot about her future. She may not survive in the city. She has child with her and they were feeling hungry. She refused to go back to the village she came from because she don’t have much money to pay the train ticket.

    Well. At that time, I thought of some ways to help. To give money to her is one choice, but not the best choice. If I did help by giving money, well, look at the other 30 people in line – how can you help. Even you can help them all that day, but how about their lives tomorrow, and the next year?

    So I thought of promoting the service of Ayi. I have made up the mind that if I have any chance to tell people, I will convince people to hire some one who badly needs help so they can make a living. The world is harsh for them, and what we can do it to help them to survive in Shanghai. I know there are some readers of my blog, and I want to say: If you have anything you do traditionally, like my scanning job, instead of paying more for equipments, give the business to those poor people so they can find the job. Post Spring Festival is a hard period of time for most of them because most of them are returning to the city and to find job is not easy.

    OK. There may be better solution to this, like remove the Hukou system, or increase the basic salary of Ayi. But I don’t like to just talk about something without action. You may find it out in my previous blog entries. I know what we are proposing is more complicated than what I think. What I CAN do is, give more business to either Ayi or Kuai Di or those who need help. Remember, they are not beggar. They don’t want your easy money. They just want a chance to work so they can raise their child. The solution I am proposing is, visit a Ayi Service broker, call them – I have some phone numbers – and hire an Ayi. Giving them more business and mean time, you also save time and money – that is a win-win situation. It helps them today, and help them to build a future.

    I talked about the great contribution of Ayi, Expressman and other people who come to Shanghai to help build the city in this article: when they leave the city to go back home. You don’t need to worry that I have the feeling to be the RICH and look down upon them. I am more concerned with the status of this unique group of people that the lives of so-called white collar (which I am part of). That is the reason I talk with them, and I write about them. The first step to help is get people’s attention to them, I believe.

    I am sorry I have to say I feel bad when people think I am happy about hire some one for a very cheap price. I enjoy the fact that I can create a job opportunity for someone better. If we go to gym, the 100 RMB per entrance is not so critical for the business owner of the Gym. But if you call an Ayi and say, help me on this and I pay 7 RMB for you. That 7 RMB means a lot. Is there anyone here proposing me to call an Ayi everyday and say, “Come here and I give you 7 RMB for free”, I believe it is insulting them and I refuse to do it. You may feel comfortable to do it, I don’t.

    When I helped those five cats in my garden, and people criticized me “Hey! Why help those cats! I’d rather help more human being”. When I am working on the personal funding proposal to personally donate money to the fund every month from my salary, someone argued: “Why help those people who are rich enough to go to college? Many people in China villages are starving now.” Well. It seems whatever I do, someone will guide me to do some more meaningful things. So I learnt that no matter how small the good deed is, just do it. One personal cannot make an impact to the world, but at least can help one or two other people. Help people one by one.

    Of cause the reason I didn’t put the reason behind this in the article directly is, we cannot ask people to do something only to HELP others. It is not the way the world works. We need to explain it in a way that people find it beneficial for themselves. So I used the relaxing tone and samples to tell people – Hire an Ayi, hire an express man – it costs little but help YOU a lot. Does it make sense?

  11. People in Shanghai are so contended with their life just because the other people surrounding them are so poor, people from rural area are mostly illiteracy and cannot compete with the elite class of China. To be employed as house maid and street paddler are inevitable.

    Would the elite class in Shanghai help these unfortunate majority to acquire better skill to improve their future life or to exploit and suppress these working class in order to maintain the superiority complex status.

    It is a matter of sharing!


  12. The going rate for hiring an Ayi in the Los Angeles area is $1,700 US per month, or $10 US per hour, all cash deals. That is far more than majority of the white collar workers can make in Shanghai. As a result, 95% of my friends in the US cannot afford to have help. In some aspect, the quality of life is not so good here.

  13. If the majority of people in a country is poor people, struggling for living. don’t you think this country’s system has problem? thats not a place with hope.

  14. Kevin, don’t worry. I didn’t mean to complain about your comment. As you mentioned, un-precious expression may cause trouble. This is an example.

  15. There is a major difference between EMS and other parcel services such as Fedex, DHL, UPS. EMS relies on the post office, while all the others are standalone logistics company. On top of that, price for UPS, and etc are much much more expensive than EMS. It’s just , EMS are not on the same level as others. Therefore, comparing it to the others is not justifiable.

  16. Hi, JianShuo,

    I had mixed reaction reading this thread. The dark side is this reminds me something about the street girls in China, people’s say the same “Help them by doing their business”. On the other hand, it is quite understandable that offer them business is indeed the best way to offer help.

    China’s majority of farmers remains poor, this is the sad story hehind the dazzling economy achievement in big cities like Shanghai, the Chinese government is doing little to help them out of their unfair situation, and crazy enough to keep the most notorious Hu Kou system. I am a Chinese and really feel ashamed of this government, not people like you.

  17. for global delivery, EMS actually costs as much as Fedex, with a much longer and extremely unpredictable delivery time.

    my advice is: never deal with the China Post Service when you have a second choice.

  18. Except for some western countries where all pay is hammered into legislation, it’s the way it works in most countries in this world. If many people can do a job, the pay is lower and with respect to the RMB 7/hr for the ayi service: in a city where decent breakfast can be found for RMB 2, lunch for RMB 3 and dinner for RMB 5, food for the day costs a little over 1 hour of ayi’s salary……you can’t eat 3 meals of one hour minimum pay in either North-America and/or Europe. Of course the comparison isn’t completely fair, especially when you look at housing costs and health insurance. But what choice would you make: provide the opportunity to make a living or not, that’s the whole question. And if you want to hire an ayi ….. you’re not obliged to pay the minimum…..if you want to pay RMB 10-15/hr, please do so!

  19. Hi Jian Shuo,

    If you do not mind, can you post some contact numers of companies that I can call if I need a part-time AYI for specific cleaning jobs.

    I like your comment and understand the fundamentals of your argument and agree that such people should be given a chance.

    I just happened to have a need and was talking about it with my husband last week when I saw your blog today. Winter has been very long and cold this year (we are expats and are not used to such a chilly winter). As a result, we avoided cleaning our yard (open-air). It has become quite dirty and we are thinking of installing windows to solve the problem and minimise the dirt.

    The contractor is scheduled to come in next week and we hope to arrange for an AYI to come and help us too. So it was good timing to see your comment about this topic.

    Thanks in advance !


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