Sunday, 21 April 2013

Trying to Turn Ambition to $$$

At the gym I watched a BBC documentary as part of the series My Country: All About My Friends.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to watch the entire 50-minute show, but it profiled 31-year-old Liu Wei, a very ambitious young man in Shanghai, whose only drive is to make money - loads of it. Everyday.

He looks older than 31, as he only sleeps four hours a day and claims it's enough otherwise he doesn't have time to make more money, and like practically every other mainland Chinese man, he smokes.

He lives with his girlfriend, a 21-year-old, who lives like a kept woman, but her patience for him is thinning fast because he's hardly around to spend time with her. When the interviewer asks her if Liu has ever bought anything for her, she says, "No... I buy it myself. He gives me the credit card."

Then we meet Liu's parents. He bought them a noodle shop, and instead of enjoying their retirement, the elderly couple wake up everyday in the wee hours to buy produce and get their shop ready for customers. We watch them lift very heavy pots and at dawn the lights aren't turned on as his mother washes trays.

His mom claims Liu doesn't respect them, and doesn't even call. He will periodically drop by the shop, but only when he can stand listening to his mother berate him.

She tells him to make sure he eats breakfast every morning, but he claims he doesn't have enough time, nor does he eat lunch and so dinner is their main meal.

Liu seems like a hot shot, but he only acts it -- he works for a kind of travel agency, trying to make money off business tour groups by taking them to three- or four-star hotel restaurants but charging them five-star prices.

He thinks he's very clever, creating a fancy-looking brochure, but in reality it's the only thing he can do to make money for his company. Profit margins are thin and the pressure's on from other competition.

Liu loses a big client at work and then he and his girlfriend have a fight about the meaning of their relationship. She claims she was stupid to be with him, and adds he was smart to take her.

Then one day without telling anyone, she buys a flat, and the couple have to figure out how to finance it, even though they'd been talking about buying one in the next two years...

The documentary clearly shows the drive of some young people in China -- Liu seems keen to live like the rich and wants that dream desperately, but at what cost?

It also seems like Liu wants to distance himself from his parents, keeping them busy so that they don't have time to nag him more often, and so that he doesn't have to financially take care of them at the moment. But the shop isn't exactly a money maker, but to Liu every bit counts.

Perhaps he will burn out in the next few years and then realize that money isn't everything, but more importantly, making money -- lots of it -- isn't a game everyone can play...

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