Having spent a fabulous day at Goodwood yesterday, I was inspired to pen a blog today, sharing a few insights and humble opinions of my own on China in the 21st century.
A few months ago, I read a blog post on China by the Icelandic Crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir: “If anyone has been wondering where all the money went to following the depression in Europe and the US you need wonder no more. It is in China.”
She was spot on. Barely a quarter of a century ago when I left China, my monthly salary as a university lecturer was a measly 55 yuan, less than £4 with the foreign exchange rate back then. Nobody in my family and friends owned cars, and perhaps never even dreamed about acquiring cars in their names. If any of the Chinese educated elite wanted further education overseas, they solely depended on government sponsorship or scholarships from US and British institutions.
Time spins forward and now in 2012, the world has changed and everyone is looking East. Not only do a large number of western institutions now depend on self sufficient students from China to sustain themselves financially, many companies head East, from manufacturers to financial services, not to mention luxury brands of all descriptions.
Each time I go back to China, her changes overwhelm me. I am constantly amazed at how quickly China has developed economically despite its glacial pace of political reform. The kind of wealth and indulgence in material consumerism can be described as shocking, even breathtaking. The desire for the Chinese people to wear super brands and drive luxurious motors seem insatiable and is escalating at an alarming speed.
Yes, I was at the Glorious Goodwood in sunny Chichester yesterday, at an VIP event organized by Rolls Royce, hosting 30+ Top Chinese Entrepreneur Club members and their families. The combined wealth of those billionaires? I think my high school mathematical brain may struggle to count the zeros behind the first digit.
Just to give you an indication, apparently the cheapest standard Rolls Royce “Ghost” costs a whopping £420,000 in the UK. Response from the potential Chinese customer? A CEO whom I accompanied on the test drive in the Extended Wheelbase Ghost commented: “It’s so cheap here. This car will cost me one and half times that price in China.” His only dilemma? Having to decide whether to go for a Ghost Standard issue, the Extended Wheelbase, or an even more luxurious, sold-out model of Phantom. Further more, when asked by the RR driver what car he drives or whether or not driven by chauffeur, Mr CEO replied, a matter of fact: “I have 4 Mercs, 5 BMWs, one Audi A8 and an old-fashioned Rolls Royce. I drive from home to work, rather then being driven by my chauffeur.” I was …. Speechless!
As I sat with my back being gently massaged by the real leather plush seat, being driven by a former racing car driver who informed us that only weeks ago Lewis Hamilton (and many other super racing stars) was at exactly the same starting point and finishing point, during the Festival-of-Speed, I looked out of the window and saw the English Channel just beyond the lush grass, green trees around the country estate, which boasts a fine mansion, golf course and horse-racing, and of course, a race track for luxurious cars and superstars. I surprised myself by actually enjoying the Rolls Royce Experience, “a typical English experience”, the driver commented. Was I tempted to sell our house to swap it for real ownership of such luxury? I must admit that the thought did make a brief appearance but was gone just as quickly as it came. Why would I want to do anything of the sort?
As I finally climbed out of my ride for the day, it occurred to me that times have indeed changed. The once “stiff upper lipped”, reserved, exclusive aristocratic estate for the English upper class, with wealth inherited or otherwise, now flings open its doors to the ‘kings’ of the Middle Kingdom, who have more money than any of us ordinary folks could ever imagine. For them, buying a new car is easier than many of us indulging in a Christmas gift for a loved one. An esteemed RR is just another rich man’s toy.
I don’t know about you, but my brief glimpse of such grand lifestyle only makes my heart ache. Beyond the posh car factories, I see millions of Chinese migrant workers, and their poor children, many of who do not even have a school to go to.