Monday, April 23, 2007

New rich

Today I was walking along the street and I heard drums behind me. A large group of people were marching along the sidewalk, banging large drums. They wore vests with flower patterns, red sashes around their waists, and they twirled red and green flags. There were thirty or forty of them. I thought it must be some Chinese festival I hadn't heard of. Or, I thought, it might be a wedding. I knew that Chinese weddings were loud and colorful; beyond that, I didn't know much about them. Most of the people in the parade were young: were they the bride and groom's friends?

The parade came closer to me, and I stopped to watch it. Ahead of it, three or four people were handing out flyers. I took one. On it were pictures of wine bottles and a big building. It was an advertisement for a restaurant.

In the US, gimmicks are easy to spot, but in China, they often become spectacles. Partly this is due to the abundance of cheap labor: if you want a parade of forty people marching down a busy sidewalk waving flags, you can make one yourself. But it’s also due to the business mentality that has taken hold of China's urban areas--the frenzy to become part of the new rich.

Signs of this frenzy are everywhere. There's a building going up nearby, and judging from the signs outside, it will be called B&W. At first I assumed the initials were two people's surnames--Bing & Wang, or Bu & Wu, or something like that. Then I saw the caption: B&W stood for Boss & Winner. I suppose the implication is that if you live or work in that building, you'll not only be a boss, but you'll be a winner, too.

On the cover of my notebook, which I bought for about 20 cents and which consists of about 50 pages held together by a cheap plastic spiral, it says: "Gambol notebooks, made with future technology, for tomorrow's most outstanding achievers." I'm certainly glad I bought one!

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