Sunday, September 20, 2015


Shanghai is one of my favourite cities in the world.I was in Shanghai for a few days during mid-October 2010. On the third day, instead of accompanying my mother-in-law to the Shanghai Expo together with my husband followed by a dinner with his cousin and his wife to be, I bought myself a ticket to watch the semi-final match between  Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at  Shanghai Masters that was held at Qizhong Stadium. I was absolutely gleeful as I arrived at the stadium  early in the  evening. The match was spectacular and  I was  on an adrenalin high until it was time to leave the stadium when the match ended. As I exited from the stadium and got on to the roadside, it  dawned upon me that everyone seemed to be picked up by pre-booked taxis and cars. A couple of  gentlemen who were in office attire were kind enough to offer me a ride to somewhere in the city where I could catch a cab to Donghu Road where the hotel was. Just as I was agonizing whether to take up the offer, a rather  old and beaten white taxi pulled up and I managed to flag it down. I thanked the two gentlemen in a haste and  got into the cab. The taxi  driver drove like he had to hurry somewhere and I first heard him mutter something when he hit  the lane  that somehow led to a closed road due to road work. He then u-turned and got onto another road and subsequently hit the highway where we came across a long line of traffic. Just as I thought I was going to be stranded in the car for a long slow drive, he overtook cars and somehow took a separate lane  and  ignored the traffic police who was directing the traffic flow.“沒事 沒事“ Mei shi mei shi he kept assuring me that it was nothing to worry about and  it was okay to drive in defiance of the traffic police’s instructions. He zigzagged through the heavy traffic as I  sat tight with my seat belt fastened ( I think the seat belt was working, can’t quite remember)  The next thing I knew we arrived at the hotel entrance. My husband was  surprised that I had got back in such a short time as from what his cousin had told him, the journey would take more than double the time I had taken to get back to Donghu Garden Hotel in the city from the stadium.

I recently read  China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and it is one of those stories that is a perfect fit for a soap opera. It is a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians by the same author. The  respective titles  and bright glossy book covers are representation of the plots and characters you will be expecting in both novels. By the time you reach the end of the book, the behaviour and lifestyle of these super rich Chinese do not  entice you but revolt you. There are not many likeable characters in the book. The protagonist, Rachel Chu is grounded and likeable. Rachel's mother had to flee from her abusive husband and consequently  left China, her home country with Rachel  and  single handedly brought her up in the U.S.  Rachel  is a professor of Economics and she happens to be courted by the most eligible bachelor in Asia, Nicholas Young, a Singaporean law graduate from Oxford who decided to teach History at the university in California . Here is one excerpt on their experience when they were in Shanghai.

Sorry , I just need to get around those trucks. Don’t worry -I’m a very safe driver.”
    Nick and Rachel exchanged dubious looks, knowing Carlton’s recent history. Rachel checked that her seat belt was securely fastened and tried not to look at the zigzagging cars in front of them.

“ Everyone on the highway seems totally schizo - they’re changing lanes constantly,” Nick quipped.
“Listen, if you try to drive in an orderly fashion here and stay in your lane all the time, you’ll get killed,”Calton said, accelerating again to overtake a truck full fo pigs.” The rational rules of driving do not apply in this country. I learned to drive in the UK, and when I came back to Shanghai the first time after getting my license, I got pulled over on my first day driving. The policie officer screamed at me ‘You bloody fool! Why did you stop at that red light?”

“Oh yeah, Rachel and I have almost gotten killed trying to cross the road several times. Traffic signals mean nothing to Shanghai drivers,” Nick said.

“ They are merely suggestions,”Calton agreed, suddenly slamming on the brakes and veering sharp to the right, narrowly avoiding a van in the far left lane.

“Welcome to China,”Calton said nonchalantly.

Shanghai 2011
The other likeable female character  is Astrid Leong who is hailed as the Singapore's It Girl and her wardrobe sounds like a dream wardrobe for those with discerning taste. Astrid is married to Michael who  is a newly minted tech billionaire. There is a ring of truth about such a union as Astrid will soon discover the dark side of her husband who certainly suffers from some complexes  due to their disparate backgrounds. Things become complicated when Astrid's ex boyfriend continues to be supportive of Astrid and his actions seem selfless until he declares his undying love for her. Meanwhile Michael becomes so  overly consumed with his desire to expand his successful tech company  that he becomes vindictive and conceited.

When Astrid had to be in Venice due to her job, she found out that her son had been locked in the closet for four hours after he had accidentally made a small scratch on the door of his dad's vintage Porsche 550 Spyder and then a couple of days before when the boy used a Chinese swear term that he picked up from the kindergarten he was attending, he was sent to bed without any supper by his dad. When Astrid  placed a call to Michael and told him that he was being harsh , Michael explained this is the time for him to learn some discipline. As Astrid tried to reason with Michael , he said,

" You know what the real problem is , Astrid? The problem is that you've never had to worry about money a single day in your life. You don't realise how hard it is to make money - you blow your nose and money comes out ! You've never understood the fear that normal people have. Well, I was motivated by that fear. And I build my own fortune out of it. I want to install in my son that same fear. He is going to inherit a great deal of money one day, and he needs to know that he has to earn it. He has to have boundaries. Otherwise - he is just going to end up like your brother Henry, or anyone of your pompous, entitled cousins who haven't worked a day in their lives but feel like they own the world."

The story is about  opulence, snobbery, the ultimate consumerism and how money can become an obsession and completely mutilate one's behaviour. 

Here is another excerpt from China Rich Girlfriend written in the voice of Rachel who writes in her diary the  remark she heard from Mrs Bing as they shopped around Paris.

I’ve never understood the fascination with Hermès, but I had to admit the store was pretty cool –it’s set in the Hotel Lutetia’s former indoor pool, with all the merchandise scattered around different levels of the vast atrium. Perrineum was indignant that the sotre wouldn’t close to the public for her and decided to boycott the place.She then proceeded to walk around making disparaging remarks about the other Asian shoppers. “Don’t you feel self- conscious trying to shop around these people ? “ she said to me . “ Do you have something against rich Asians?” I joked. “ These people aren’t rich - they’re just Henrys!” Perrineum scoffed.  “What are Henrys?” She gave me a withering look. “You’re an economist-don’t you know what HENRY stands for?” I racked my brains, but I still didn’t have a clue. Perrineum finally spat it out” “ High Earners, Not Rich Yet.”

Are you a HENRY? 
Peace Hotel Shanghai, 2007

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