The zipper was slowly tearing out of one of my favorite dresses (you can always tell whether a dress is well or cheaply made by how the zipper is set). I tried to sew it myself last night, without a machine, and just made it worse. So today I took it to the dry cleaners across the street, figuring they might also do small repairs. The cleaners were relaxing in their imposingly air-conditioned store along with an older woman and a female parking attendant.

The cleaners - two cheerful and ageless women who recognized me from my last cleaning run - explained that they couldn't do any sewing. The older woman piped up and said that she could easily re-set the zipper. Or at least, I thought that's what she said. She spoke rapidly in a sort of heavily accented Mandarin that veered from time to time back to some other dialect. As I understood it, she explained that she (lived? worked?) nearby and could mend the dress. I assumed she was a tailor, and asked where her shop was so I could bring the dress there. This caused some confusion. Where was her shop? Was there a shop? At last I understood that it was her plan to take the dress with her to the shop while I (waited there? came to pick it up later?)

Before I could really understand what I was agreeing to, she had taken the dress, carefully wrapped it in plastic, tucked it into the basket of the bicycle she'd parked outside, climbed up onto the seat, and taken off. Since I didn't know what else to do, I stood there and smiled stupidly at the two cleaners and the parking attendant.

Ten minutes later, she returned with the dress, perfectly mended. I tried to ask for her store's address, or for her card, but one of the cleaners explained that she was an ayi who was finished with her day's work and was just relaxing in the dry cleaners 'store, enjoying the air conditioning. The cleaner mimed ironing as she said "ayi."

I tried to offer the ayi 20 RMB to thank her, but she would only accept 10. "Ten," everyone in the store repeated, nodding, as though that was the right and obvious fee.