Saturday, 25 April 2009

Kimi's Got a New Car

Welcome to the mean -- and quite frankly terrifying -- streets of Wenzhou

Kimi is now in possession of a brand new car, a Skoda Fabia. Skoda used to be an embarrassing brand to own and I remember many jokes being told about them when I was at school. Since Volkswagen bought the company a few years ago things seemed to have improved immensely. Kimi's car is no exception, some even say VW built a better Polo with the Fabia.

Kimi's mother has recently retired from her job, and with some of the money she was given she decided to buy this car for her daughter. This seemed outrageous to me, but I have been continually told, "this is how things are done in China". I can't comment on all of China, but in Wenzhou it's quite true. The parents buy a home for their child and then their child will buy a home for their child etc. Very few people get mortgages here because they simply don't need to, but they still need to save for 20-30 years so that they can give their child the home they so obviously deserve. In some ways this way of living is great, you don't owe any money to a bank and you don't pay any interest. On the other hand, this tradition is part of a long list of other traditions which completely control the lives of the sons and daughters of Wenzhou (especially daughters). In a very generalised nutshell the trend is this:
  • School - as normal as ever. But if your parents want to you to go to a good kindergarten/primary school/middle school/high school, then they will probably have to pay money for it (under the table). That is unless they're best buddies with the headmaster.
  • University - it's quite possible your parents have told you what course to take. Usually it's business-related. In one year of working at Web I've only met two students who are studying Music. Most creative subjects are red areas. Maths, business, foreign trade = good.
  • Job - again your parents have probably lined up this career path for you. They might have even paid a substantial amount of money to get you the job, or they may have taken advantage of a family relationship inside the company. With the right kind of relationship (Guanxi) you will get the job regardless of your qualifications and skills.
  • Marriage - if you haven't already found the love of your life then you'd better get a move on, especially for the girls. Most people leave university at the age of 24 and parents expect their daughter to be married by the age of about 25-27. For the boys it's much more flexible, you can be a bachelor in your 30's without too much stress from mama and baba. If you're single after university then your parents will arrange "suitable" blind dates for you (whether you want it or not). One of Kimi's female cousins went on a some of these blind dates a few months ago. She was engaged to a man within a month and married within four. The other criteria for marriage is that the spouse should be local, no Hangzhounese here please.
  • Home - once you're married your parents will have bought the house you will start a family in and a car that you will drive to the job they gave you.
  • Baby - as soon as your married you must have a baby, and it must be before you're 30 if you're a woman (I won't even go into the "tradition" that takes place once you've had the baby, I'll leave that for another blog).
  • Now it's your turn - yes, now you can control every millisecond of your babies life.
As I said earlier, this is a very generalised description, but it is what I have heard from countless numbers of people. Tradition plays an incredibly important role to so many people's lives, and it's a continual cycle that never stops. In this respect freedom of choice is severely limited, and that's why I know so much about this, because so many young people have complained to me about how their parents pressurise them into following the cycle.

It's strange how Kimi's mother has not followed the norm. I was trying to think why, maybe it is because if Kimi was with a Wenzhounese boyfriend she would probably be married by now. Or maybe she has just given up all hope because of me (I'm not Wenzhounese).


Sunny Sweet Pea said...

I find the chinese culture fascinating. Thanks for sharing this.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I'm like you, amazed every time one of my Chinese friends tells me that her mom & dad just bought her a 'house' (funny as well that they always say 'house' even though it is a flat). And then in the next sentence my friend goes: 'yeah but I am not spoiled!' And I am just like 'mmmmm, OK...sure'.

At the same time, most f my Chi friends and teachers thought (before I told them) that I was a spoiled brat who came here to study Chinese... 'oh your parents paid?! Lucky you. So many more possibilities in the west'. And I was just like 'ehhhh no... I worked and saved up the money myself. My folks got 4 kids. They would never be able to support us all financially... also, none of us would want them to!'

I sometimes feel that they don't even believe me, or, that they think I am somewhat 'stupid' for earning the money myself, but well, what can I say.. culture differences big time!

Good on Kimi for getting a new car, though! now u guys can do road trips and stuff -awesome! Will she let u drive it -and will u dare to?! (I know I wouldn't).

wind said...

I came across this blog when using I read some of your diaries, and already find this blog interesting as you observe China from a foreigner's point of view, and your writing style is pretty solid and down-to-earth. I love your blog almost instantly!
The Chinese tradition you talk about in this diary is mostly true, although I don't follow the norm. I didn't count on my parents to buy me flat or car, or arrange blind date. I found my true love during university and I find job by myself and live independantly, etc.
I have subscribed to this blog through Google Reader. But why only part of the diary shows in Google Reader, while other bloggers' diaries are completely shown? Is it because of some setting? Wonder if it's convenient for you to modify the setting to benefit those who use Google Reader? Thanks

Chris said...

Thanks Sunny Sweet Peat!

Jonna, I sometimes have similar comments made to me. People tell me how lucky I am to be a foreigner in China because we get paid so well. But then I am paying for everything out of my own pocket just to stay here. When I tell some people that my parents wouldn't pay for me to buy a car or a house they think they must be very mean, but just as you said, even if they could afford it my sister and I certainly wouldn't want them to.

I'm looking forward to some road-trips soon, I think I'd be far too terrified to drive though!

Wind, thank you for your nice comments. I'm very happy to hear that you enjoy reading, it gives me the confidence to write more (which I haven't done for a few days). About the google reader thing, I do remember playing with some of the settings a while ago, I will change it back now so you can read whole articles on there.

wind said...

Chris,it is a big surprise that you respond so quickly. The diaries now come in full length. Thank you so much!
You are a wonderful writer, so please keep writing, I will be your loyal reader. Look forward to your new piece of artworks!

Chris said...

Thank you so much Wind! You caught me just as I was online for a few minutes (in between classes). Back to another one now....

Anonymous said...

Asians (not just chinese) pool their family money together. There is very little concept of individualism or striking out on your own here. I have a friend in Hong Kong, almost 26, and he still loves at home with his mum and dad, and they don't care.

Spoiled is just one term I could use....

The culture looks down on people without money, uneducated but got money, no problem....

Nice guys finish last in China, money comes first, especially for the women in Zhejiang.