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.

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