Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Life of the Rich in China

Solar Eclipse 2017
My family is well-off. My parents are closer to financial stability than most retired Americans are at seventy. And considering that over 65% of all Americans have little to no savings, becoming financially stable before retirement age is an achievement most people never accomplish.

I envy my parents, especially my dad who owns a small accounting firm and has saved his money since the day he understood what he wanted in life. It’s amazing to think that my parents could retire today, but they don’t because my dad refuses to stop doing the things he loves. I can’t even imagine not working on something and having years to figure out activities to keep me occupied.

Host Family

I was lucky with who I was paired with when I lived in Beijing. My host family is one of the few Chinese families who are fortunate enough to afford to live in inner Beijing. Even though the housing market is booming in China right now, housing is expensive, especially in Beijing.

Dora’s Spanish teacher, Anna, who is from Portugal works with Dora’s dad as an architect. The company Anna works for pays for part of her living expenses. Her tiny apartment, just over three-hundred square feet, is over 15,000 RMB a month or $2,163.15. Anna’s apartment has two rooms, one specifically for the bathroom and the other for the bedroom, kitchen, and living room. Anna doesn’t have a stove, microwave (I didn’t see one microwave in China), or any place to make a meal. Anna journeys out every day to buy food, but not from grocery stores because she doesn’t have a refrigerator. Every day, Anna goes out to eat.

The Poor

There is a striking difference between the wealthy and the poor in Beijing. I saw the poor living on the streets as I walked to the subway in the morning and saw the poor begging on street corners for spare change, so they could eat.

Unlike in America, where people sometimes lie about being homeless and sit on busy street corners and intersections begging for food, rides, or money, the poor in China do something for you when you give. I don’t know if this is normal, but I saw an elderly woman sleeping on one of the streets I passed every day to the subway. I was cautious as I’ve been warned in big cities in America about the homeless, about how they could get violent, attack, or steal from me.

This Chinese woman was almost always sleeping on a dirty blanket with numerous holes larger than my fist. Many people ignored her and one time I even saw her crying as she was saying in Chinese that she was starving.

This woman was most likely one of the Lost Generation. The Lost Generation is unique as these people lived through one of the most horrific massacres in Chinese history because of the cultural revolution. Once upon a time, knowing how to cultivate the land and to be a worker in agriculture was the only way to be successful. Yet, as times have changed, the agriculture business has declined. Many children from rural or the mountainous regions leave their hometowns to find work in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. This woman was either one of these people who tried to find work in the big cities but found out she didn’t have the skills to do any of the jobs or she was already living in Beijing and was forgotten. There is a reason this woman’s generation is called the Lost Generation.

After seeing this woman for several days, I decided to buy her some food, but not fast food. I bought a couple of apples and peaches from some street vendors I saw by one of the Ring Roads. I also bought two bottles of water and dried meat. As I walked up to her, she gave me her usual smile, but this time I did more than just smile back. I handed her the food and water. I sat down by her for a short period of time and just talked. She couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand her, but we both understood life. Before I left, as she tried to give some of the food I just gave her, I handed her 500 RMB or $72.11.

The Rich

On my twelfth day in Beijing, China, I got to see what it is like to be rich. I experienced what rich people did for fun and learned that I absolutely hated it!
A clock made out of jade.

My host mom is an editor for Elle magazine in China. In one of her articles, she was required to go to a Jewelry Exhibition. The timing was perfect as it was a Saturday and Dora’s dad had to work. Dora, Vera (Dora’s mom), and I all tagged along to experience the rich life.

The jewelry exhibition was run by high ranking Russian officials who have collected the jewels of past Russian rulers. Dora was separated from her mom and I as she was guided through the exhibition with other young children. She got to color several look-alike jewels and to make her own jewelry bracelet and necklace.

I was completely lost when I went through the tour. The Chinese tour guide spoke Chinese and every listed jewel was described in Chinese. Luckily, my host mom translated many of the descriptions and told me stories about each of the jewels after listening to the tour guide.

I helped my host mom by taking photos of the jewels so she could use them in her article. Many of the photos you see in this blog post are the ones I sent to my host mom and may have been used in Elle magazine.

Both of us, my host mom and I, hated going through the Jewelry Exhibition. My host mom and I are alike. We don’t like high-maintenance products or understand what the appeal is of looking at shiny, immensely expensive, jewelry that no one will wear. I still don’t understand why people would spend an entire day walking through the exhibition. It was pretty to look at as all art is, but there are a certain time and place for situations like these.  


After returning home after living in Beijing for what felt like a year, I felt lost. Instead of being surrounded by car horns and the hustle and bustle of inner city Beijing, I was surrounded by the sounds of crickets and the occasional coyote.

Beijing is a beautiful and vibrant city. It’s growing and will continue to grow for some time. I’ll never forget the people I’ve meet. I never forget the culture shock or the food. I’ll never forget my host sister or host parents. And I’ll never forget the city that became my second home.

There’s a reason why I write about my trip. I feel connected to the people I left behind when I returned home by writing about the situations I lived through.  I hope these blog posts help you better understand what China is like. The media only tells you what the big corporations and government wants you to know. And even with the scandals that rock China, China is still an amazing place to visit.

Please share this article with friends and family so they can too learn the truth about what it is like to be an expat in Beijing, China. 

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