Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ah, those rich people!

Earlier this week I learned with a shock that by no means are we (we, meaning the foreigners with international jobs) the upper class in town. Wow. This is of course shocking on two levels. First, that we (the four of us) would even be in a place where we can feel so rich. And second, that in the end we are not.

On the first point, I have to admit that compared to the average Beijing population, we are in good shape. The fact that we live in a big house, employ two people, and put our kids in expensive international schools, sort of gives it away. (People at the markets seem to clearly know this, and usually offer me a "best price" ten times higher than a Chinese person might be offered.)

But, as it turns out, we are no match for the rich Chinese around us. When I was at a doctor's office recently (nice, Western-style doctor's office by the way), I was paging through a glossy magazine about all kinds of fancy items you don't need, but most certainly must buy, should you ever find yourself having a lot of money. Like what, you wonder? Well, how about this tag (picture on right) that covers your pet's unsightly butt. (Never thought of that before? Clearly, you are soooo middle-class!)

The magazine also helps you with such life-or-death questions as what 3D television to buy for your children (picture below). I mean, that is the kind of question we all would like, rather than the "I wonder how I am going to do my school work, while taking care of mom and grandma" question 8-year-old Zhang Chengcheng is trying to answer every day.

So I bet these rich Chinese -- The "one million most rich Chinese families" to be precise (see magazine cover) -- would not bat an eye at the entrance fee of 450 RMB to enter a certain fancy indoor play area in Beijing. Granted, it is a gorgeous play area, but really, 450 RMB (about $68 and €50) for an afternoon of play? I was at another indoor play area myself, when some other moms and I were discussing this exorbitant fee.

Apparently too, the managers at this fancy play center have no problem at all filling the space. It’s just a really exclusive club for really exclusive kids. (Mind you, the fact that most Chinese families have only one child, does make it a little easier to cough up the entrance fee. The fee covers one child and two parents. If you go with two children and one parent, you pay double the price).

I won't dwell much further on this rich-poor discrepancy, but if you are interested, this NY Times article is a nice one to read: A China Newly Rich and Still Quite Poor. The article states that while "[o]fficial data put the richest 10 percent of Chinese at 23 times richer than the poorest 10 percent”, a recent study indicates this number is more likely to be 65 rather than 23. (By comparison, the same number is 15.9 for the United States and 6.9 for Germany.) China of course is not the only country with very rich and very poor, but it might not be the first thing you think about when China comes to mind.

With that, I am going to have to write an end to this post. My ayi is busy in the kitchen, my driver is on the way, and I am going to check out one of the local markets with a friend. Seriously. I couldn't make up this new life, even if I wanted too.

Lame old regular indoor play area for regular kids.

The question Zhang Chengcheng would like to ask himself.

A regular boy doing a regular kind of activity (such as flying a chopper in an indoor play center).

A "Villa Life" Magazine, with news-breaking items like the butt-covering tag.

Doctor's office.

Regular boy waiting for his medical treatment.(DC readers: Notice the Murch Puma soccer shirt - now in fashion in Beijing!)

If I was a very wealthy Chinese, I would actually buy this piece of art created by Jean Luc Cornec. It was the best page of the whole magazine.

Friday, November 5, 2010

One, two,... 1.3 billion

Everywhere in Beijing you now see these big bulletin boards announcing the current Census. Yep, that's right, "China [just] started to count its one billion+ people". (The short article explains why doing a census in China is not easy, as not everyone will gladly share information about their whereabouts, in particular if they are illegally living and working in cities, away from their rural home towns.)

Photo on right: Will this house be included in the census? (Local statistics: Four people and three gold fish.)Local statistics: 4 people and 3 gold fish

Back in 2000, China had 1.29 billion residents, and in April 2011 we'll know the current score. If you can't wait till April, try this Website of the "China Population Development Research Center". After 30 seconds or so, the green clocks on the left will start displaying estimates of the current number of Chinese (top clock), and the number of Chinese born this year (bottom clock). (The Dutch site has a clock also, though I didn't see its population counter move :-))

According to those up-to-date population estimates, China has--not surprisingly--still the largest population, with about 1,340,500,000 people who together form 19.5 percent of the world population. The United States is third, with a feeble 310,659,000 citizens, or 4.52 percent of the world population; and The Netherlands comes in at 61, with a grand total of 16,656,950 kaaskoppen(about the same number of people that cram into a metro here on a random Monday morning I think).

To make things worse, this year, for the first time, China will also be counting its foreigners. I suppose we just arrived on time. Next time you see those startling statistics, you can just brush them off and say: "Oh, but Paul and Anna were counted as well, so it's really not that bad!" (Incidentally, we were also counted in the U.S. earlier this year: Global numbers will be disastrous for 2010.)

I took this picture below last week, when I visited a temple close to the third ring road. The English text reads "Census benefits all".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010



I can't believe I actually forgot to mention that last weekend we celebrated Halloween! (For the Dutchies: Halloween wordt in Amerika elk jaar op 31 oktober uitgebreid gevierd. Iedereen gaat dan verkleed de straat op en kinderen gaan de deuren langs om snoepjes te verzamelen.)

On Saturday, the boys and I went to a local farm, the Green Cow Farm, for their annual harvest festival. Well, I felt like I was back in the States, at one of the many Pumpkin/Halloween festivals that are always held around this time of year. The boys decorated pumpkins, tried some farm tools, did a sack race (zaklopen), ran through a corn maze, and just had a whole lot of fun (while Mom sampled the latest harvest wines! :-) )

Then, Saturday evening, Paul and I went to a Halloween party in the neighborhood. Paul dressed up as Van Gogh (why did we never think of that before? Just a bandage on the ear and a trickle of blood!) and I was a "Desperate Housewife of Beijing Riviera", just like on TV!

On Sunday it was really Halloween. The boys got dressed up in their pirate costumes ("Arrrr"), put on an eye patch and a hook, and at 5pm (just before dark) we hit the street. China obviously does not celebrate Halloween, but I have to tell you that outside the U.S., Beijing Riviera (our neighborhood) must have the biggest Halloween celebration ever. I've never seen so many people, let alone witches, vampires, skeletons, and pirates mob the neighborhood. At our own house, we ran out of candy in one hour.

On Monday, Halloween was over. The boys went to school, Paul dressed up like an office worker, and I entered my real life as a (not so) desperate housewife. It's funny, now that we are in Beijing, we have to keep up with three sets of national Holidays: the Dutch, the American, and the Chinese. I am starting to look forward to July 4!