Very comfortable in its excess


From Washington Monthly:

The furniture is, in reality, all very cheap, Yang confides. He bought it from a relative who is in the furniture resale business. Though it may seem a tad gaudy to Western sensibilities, it feels very comfortable to him in its excess. When I and another half-dozen guests arrived for a little party one summer afternoon, we assembled in the gold chairs and on the couch, pulled up a small plastic rubbish bin, and ate watermelon, tossing the rinds in the bin, and lit cigarettes, ash dusting the carpet. Together we watched the Sex and the City movie on a bootleg DVD (it wasn’t legally released in Chinese theaters). The party was a “fruit party,” because neither Yang nor his wife cooks—ever. They eat out every night.

The point, if I may, is simply that the consumer habits of China’s 430-million-strong middle class are ever evolving and continually surprising to foreign observers. For starters, Western ideas of what “goes together” don’t apply: Old European architecture is reincarnated in forty-floor high-rises. You can sit on an overstuffed copy of a Sun King dining chair and spit watermelon seeds into a cheap plastic bin. Everyone looks the other way at mundane contraband, like bootleg DVDs. On the one hand, there is in China a love of ceremony and ostentation and obsession with brands that would embarrass many Westerners; on the other hand, the lure of a good deal and the desire to support the businesses of relatives still trumps most else.

“Inscrutable Shoppers”, Christina Larson, Washington Monthly