How To Spend Your Cash
Monday, 07 October 2013 Filed in: Buying Things | Shanghai | China
You know, one of these days I might wake up in the middle of the night with an inexplicable yet pressing need to buy an overpriced handbag right that minute. These things can happen. They don’t usually happen to me but let’s not rule it out. If this were to happen, if I were to jolt upright in bed at 3am and start shrieking ‘Guuu-cci!’ at the top of my lungs (so desperate and acute would be my yearning), it is reassuring to know that I would be ok. Help would be nearby in the form of my local Gucci cornershop which is open round the clock - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to cater to all my emergency designer needs. The Chinese Super Rich (they’re a thing - like D4 x 100 to the power of Kanye) really do have more money than sense.
I can’t imagine why one would need a 24 hour Gucci on-hand but clearly there’s a market for it or it wouldn’t exist. Too much alcohol, too many raised emotions, not enough sobering daylight - a €3,000 handbag might seem like a cracking idea one pre-dawn Sunday morning. Needless to say, the presence of such a neighborhood facility was not a deciding factor for us when choosing an apartment. There’s a dumpling bar beside Gucci and I really hope that it’s 24 hour too because I think I’m much more likely to wake up craving pork than bling.
There’s a lot of cash floating around Shanghai and the Chinese are coming up with increasingly more inventive ways to spend it. Shark fin soup is one example. Shark fin doesn’t really taste of anything. It’s kind of ribby, like the inside of a satsuma but fairly tasteless. The Chinese like it because it’s expensive. To kill (or as good as kill) an entire shark just for one tiny, rubbery fin…it is the epitome of decadence. They’ve been doing it for years and the price of shark fin is going up as the number of sharks go down which makes it even more desirable. It’s like the Gucci handbag of soups - tasteless and overpriced.
Sharkfin soup has a long history in China going back to the Ming Dynasty. It’s not very popular with the animal rights peoples because the process involves hunting down a shark, cutting off its fin while its still alive and dumping the rest of the shark back in the water where it’s rendered fairly immobile and dies shortly thereafter. The Chinese say western objections to shark fin soup are Sinophobic and disrespectful to their culture and tradition. I’m not an animal rights person so I have no great thoughts on the cruel vs tradition argument but it just strikes me as bad home economics. It’s so wasteful. Does shark meat taste nice? Could we not keep it and serve seared shark steaks along with salsa verde and a nice pinot grigio?
Shark fin soup is nothing new but the rise of the Chinese elite means that it’s more in demand than ever. Despite the price, there’s only so much shark fin you can eat and really, I would think, only so many designer handbags you can own (maybe not? handbags aren’t really my thing). The Chinese also like to spend lots of money on weddings (don’t we all? *sigh*). The hot new thing is to fly to Europe for your pre-wedding photos. You obviously bring your photographer with you from China - no European photographer could grasp the extent of the fantasy-kitsch-melodrama required to execute a truly desirable set of wedding snaps. Bizarrely, Nazi themed wedding photos are en vogue right now - example of good photo in this genre includes bride (in giant flowy white dress) oozing blood from a chest wound as she ‘dies’ in the arms of her improbably Asian Nazi lover who is decked out in full Nazi military regalia against the backdrop of some stately castle in the Swiss alps. Sometimes I feel that the Chinese are an odd sort of people.
Another way to spend your mysteriously obtained cash is the age-old art of pimping your ride. From observing the type of things that try to run me over several times a day, metal vehicles seem to be hot right now. “Is this not just, like, cars without paint?” I hear you ask. No, not quite. More like cars dipped in gold…or silver. They’ve got a very smooth, impossibly shiny almost liquid look to them - like melted aluminum foil. It is possible that they might also protect those inside from alien death rays as well as looking cool and blinding pedestrians on sunny days. If metal SUVs aren’t your thing, you can also get your paintwork personalized. I saw a Mini the other day with the words ‘Fen Fen loves Ricky’ inscribed within a big pink love heart on the back passenger door. I sure hope ‘Ricky’ doesn’t spook easily.
Although an increasing number of Chinese seem to have an alarming amount of money, most Chinese are still not wealthy. They tend to be the ones we meet most. I’ll tell you about them next time. I’m aware that in the last few entries, I’ve mostly written about the weird, the bad and the ugly in China. There’s lots of good too.