October 10, 2013

Reading Crazy Rich Asians

This debut novel by Kevin Kwan has been in the bestsellers list for sometime already. From what we could identify from the book's title itself, as well as the reviews found online, this novel is about the different stereotypes of rich Asian families, their lifestyle and their behaviors.
I decided to pick this up since I'm an Asian and Philippines sure has its share of Chinese millionaires. If you'll bother to look at our 50 Richest guys, it's the Filipino-Chinese getting the top three thrones.
Plan #1: marry myself into one of their sons and shit
Anyway, I'm several pages in it now, and it's actually hard to read to be honest. Especially with the places they were going and the things the filthy rich characters were buying. How am I supposed to know what a Poltrona Frau leather is? What is the taste of an Iranian beluga caviar? Thus Wikipedia became my best friend. The book also mentioned a few establishments that I know nothing about, so here is what I discovered about them:
  • Parsons The New School For Design is a private art and design college and is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious art and design universities in the world. 
  • Cambridge Judge Business School which is consistently ranked as one of the world's leading business educational institutions. 
  • The best thing I learned about was the elite British stockbroker and investment bank Cazenove. This bank is rumored to be the appointed stockbroker to Her Majesty The Queen and that despite its 'blue-blooded' reputation and its complete aversion to publicity, it is still one of the most successful brokers and corporate advisers in London.
Back to the main subject, Kwan sure made a long list of Asian stereotypes, just take your pick. I can't possibly list them all here, but despite their differences, I found a common denominator that is applicable to the daughters of the wealthy Asian families:
For the small group of girls growing up within Singapore's most elite milieu, life followed a prescribed order: Beginning at age six, you were enrolled at Methodist Girls' School (MGS), Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS), or the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ).  
After-school hours were consumed by a team of tutors preparing you for the avalanche of weekly exams (usually in classical Mandarin literature, multi-variable calculus, and molecular biology), followed on the weekends by piano, violin, flute, ballet, or riding, and some sort of Christian Youth Fellowship activity.  
If you did well enough, you entered the National University of Singapore (NUS) and if you did not, you were sent abroad to England (American colleges were deemed substandard). The only acceptable majors were medicine or law (unless you were truly dumb, in which case you settled for accounting).  
After graduating with honors (anything less would bring shame to the family), you practiced your vocation (for not more than three years) before marrying a boy from a suitable family at the age of twenty-five (twenty-eight if you went to med school).  
At this point, you gave up your career to have children (three or more were officially encouraged by the government for women of your background, and at least two should be boys), and life would consist of a gentle rotation of galas, country clubs, Bible study groups, light volunteer work, contract bridge, mah-jong, traveling, and spending time with your grandchildren (dozens and dozens, hopefully) until your quiet and uneventful death.
Spoon Feeding. Seriously, their lives are already planned out in such amazing detail it's like reading a script. The same thing goes for the hilarious way some characters view marriage. There's this funny scene where a girl named Isabel was confused whether to marry a certain guy or not since she's in dilemma since her boyfriend is just a commoner. Then a 'good' friend Francesca decided to narrow down things for her:
"Let's be generous and assume that Simon is making a measly eight hundred thousand a year. After taxes and CPF, his take-home is only about half a million. Where are you going to live on that kind of money? Think about it, you have to factor a million dollars per bedroom, and you need at least three bedrooms, so you are talking three mil for an apartment in Bukit Timah. That's a hundred and fifty thousand a year in mortgage and property taxes. 
Then say you have two kids, and you want to send them to proper schools. At thirty thousand a year each for school fees that's sixty thousand, plus twenty thousand a year each on tutors. That's one hundred thousand a year on schooling alone. 
Servants and nannies, two Indonesian or Sri Lankan maids will cost you another thirty thousand, unless you want one of them to be a Swedish or French au pair, then you're talking eighty thousand a year spent on the help. 
Now, what are we going to do about your own upkeep? At the very least, you'll need ten new outfits per season, so you won't be ashamed to be seen in public. Thank God Singapore only has two seasons: hot and hotter, so let's just say, to be practical, you'll only spend four thousand per look. That's eighty thousand a year for wardrobe. I'll throw in another twenty thousand for one good handbag and a few pairs of new shoes every season. 
And then there is your basic maintenance  hair, facials, mani, pedi, brazilian wax, eyebrow wax, massage, chiro, acupuncture, Pilates, yoga, core fusion, personal trainer. That's another forty thousand a year. 
We've already spent four hundred and seventy thousand of Simon's salary, which leaves just thirty thousand for everything else. How are you going to put food on the table and clothe your babies with that? How will you ever get away to an Aman resort twice a year? And we haven't even taken into account your membership dues at Churchill Club and Pulau Club! 
Don't you see? It's impossible for you to marry Simon. We wouldn't worry if you had your own money, but you know your situation. The clock is ticking on your pretty face. It's time to cut your losses and let Lauren introduce you to one of those eligible Beijing billionaires before it's too late." 
Isabel was reduced to a puddle of tears.
I still have a few pages to read but the theme is already obvious: How a Rich Asian family would accept a mere Cinderella-like mortal into their lives.

The sad thing is I've actually heard similar stories in real life, and usually the ending is either having the child of the rich Chinese family disowned or in some fortunate cases, forgiven but not forgotten. He/she won't be allowed inside the family business anymore and the commoner wife or husband will have a lot of catching up to do. Quite dramatic but stupid. But I guess if you came from an old successful clan, family traditions and heritage are taken seriously.

1 comment:

  1. woa, I want to read the book for myself. That is some crazy social standard for the rich.



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