I want it all, I want it for free, and I want it now.....
One wintry day in Hangzhou I decided I needed a haircut. I walked behind the dorm, past the pile of coal dust to what apparently was the campus barber. My cut was rather cheap. I think it was 5 yuan. But having lived long enough in China, and coming from a society that just doesn’t brag about how cheap haircuts are, I simply sauntered back to my dorm room. Upon reaching the top of the stairs I came to our gentlemanly “gate keeper”. He who ensured our guests were all signed in. As well as responsible for our comings and goings.
Unlike my previous year in Guangzhou, where I was constantly trying to sneak my girlfriends in without having to sign away their educational future, there was nothing of the sort like this in Hangzhou. I was already in love with a local girl and though we must have had close to twenty or so male laowai students on that campus not a one had a Chinese lover.
No one to smuggle in. No one to sneak out in the dead of night.
So our elderly, grandfatherly “gatekeeper” really didn’t have much of a job.
Yet as I reached the top stair I can tell he had been waiting for me. A wry, slight smile on his face.
He was really a nice guy.
“你付了多少钱“， that smile on his face was quite amusing. He rarely spoke to us, because quite often, none of the young laowai had any real interest carrying on a conversation with him.
With all the cool persona I could muster, I kept a straight face. I knew I had gotten a great deal. I was proud of the fact I was the only student “ballsy” enough to go to a “Chinese only” barber.
Except it wasn’t “Chinese only”. Anyone could go. There was no sign on the door. You simply had to know where it was, and you simply had to be able to speak Chinese. And that was the catch.
While most of us had learned the basics in class(courtesy of Gubo and Polanka, shout out if you know who I mean, future post in the making), for some damn reason there was never a chapter on “how to get a haircut” in University.
As such, knowing how to properly speak the haircut lingo was a major flaw none of us had mastered, and as such, almost all the laowai went outside the gates to either a hotel or just took along a translator to some salon in town, getting stared at all the time in the process by gawkers peering through windows on the street.
Going to the University Barber was a source of pride for a laowai. It showed he could speak Chinese!
All the same, it was quite the letdown. I was the only damn guy in the place, and my barber hardly said a word. He was a gruff old man with a buzz cut himself. It was over in minutes.
Alas, I could still claim to having had the nerve not only to go to a barber without need of a translator, but to having by far received the cheapest cut of any of the laowai. Just another notch in my “why I’m more of a badass than any of you” belt.
Today it’s all the rage to be “McQueen cool”. But I’ll be honest. There was no such phrase in the Western World to my knowledge in 1991. But I was “laowai cool”. Because I knew what the Old Man was gonna say, I mean he just couldn’t wait to let it out,
And Boy oh Boy was I tired of hearing Chinese throw that phrase in my face.
Because the meaning was clear, oh so clear.
“You are no ‘中国通！’”.
That aura of superiority all Chinese have over the non suspecting laowai would never fade. As long as you paid more for something than a Chinese did, you were nothing but a 2nd class citizen dude. A wimpish amateur that still hadn’t figured out how to get the same price for the most basic of commodities!
But not today. Not this day, grandpa. Sorry, because…well you want to know why? Because as soon as I turned to reach the top of the stairs and I saw that thin smile on that kindly face of yours I knew what you were gonna ask. And you know what? I wasn’t gonna rub it your face! You see, it’s bad form to make a nice man like yourself look bad. So I was just gonna give you a casual wave, glance at the floor, wear a stoic look like “been there, done that!”, and cool as a cucumber just glide back to my room with the moldy walls, thin mattress, and squeaky box springs. But you were not gonna get the better of me today. No fucking way, Kindly Old Man. You can ask that shit to some just off the boat laowai, but not to the baddass laowai I damn well know I am.
“五块钱 “I mutter without breaking step. About .50 cents at the time.
Grandpa breaks into that smile, and flashes five fingers.
I knew exactly what he was gonna say….
Something along the lines of,
He’s flashing those 5 fingers. That smile on his face as broad as Westlake.
His gaze is steady, his smile true.
And that folks is what I want to talk about today.
This driving cultural need to not only get stuff for free, but to brag about it afterwards. And if you can’t get it for free, than to simply try and get it for a lower price. And then brag about that, too.
My inlaws finally moved into their HUD apartment.
For those of you outside the United States(Cambodia, Peru, Bahrain etc…)
HUD stands for Housing and Urban Development.
It is “America speak” for housing for “poor and old people”。
If one is elderly and wants to move into one of these apartments there is usually a two to three year wait. There is no such thing as simply walking into a government office and signing up. The HUD apartment my inlaws live part time in(they are still here on weekdays) is probably 75% Russian and Chinese. I only occasionally see a person born and brought up in America living there.
My inlaws both have a pension in China. They own a fully paid for 1700 sq foot apartment in China that is worth probably just south of $1 million. They recently paid $120k in cash for a condo near my residence, which they promptly put in my wife’s name and which they rent out for over $1000 a month to a retired teacher.
Their rent with HUD is $150 a month.
The metric in case you are asking is one third of one’s “declared” monthly income.
Meanwhile, what proof does one need if you are a green card holder? A signed affidavit will suffice.
My wife takes a simple one paragraph document to the local bank certifying her parents’ income. She signs it. The bank notarizes the document. Done. No pay stub, no need for “verified” source of income.
Meanwhile if my father wants to get a HUD apartment it is two parts both painful and yet easy to verify. There is no notarization necessary. They simply track his Social Security. As such, he would pay triple my wife’s parents. An American citizen would pay more for rent with the HUD than somebody that can’t even speak English and maybe has lived here off and on for a few years. Their only connection being that they have relatives here. But make no mistake, they are neither in body nor soul “American”. Their just here to take advantage of all the free stuff.
One set of elderly Chinese parents don’t even have children nearby. Not even in the same state. Rather, they are “floaters” who simply found that the South is less competitive ie less Chinese competing for “seats” at the gracious table of The American People’s Ignorant Generosity”.
The apartments have new carpet and a fresh coat of paint. They have central air(of course). They are one bedroom setups with a living room and a full kitchen with both oven and refrigerator. One has to pay for laundry. These apartments are unfurnished. Still, I think its a pretty good deal.
But some are simply never satisfied when they hear of somebody else‘s deal.
A few weeks ago an elderly Chinese fellow appeared at the front desk and asked for a cut in his rent. He claimed his monthly stipend had been cut and he could no longer afford the $120 monthly rent he was currently paying.
Instead he wanted to cut his rent to $40 a month. Why that number you may ask?
Another tenant rubbed it in that was what he was paying.
What are the odds if we were to follow this elderly man's own son home to his house it wouldn't be a penny less than 700k USD? Too many Chinese urban professionals simply use HUD as a dumping ground for their parents. It's win-win. Either the wife or husband gets rid of the inlaws, and the elderly parents get to live in what has basically become an urban Chinese Senior Living Community where they get to play mahjong all day. Who loses in this arrangement?
Oh yeah, my dad does. And every other American that has to wait in line.
Afterwards to my extreme disdain my wife’s parents insisted they apply for food stamps. The ones with the million dollar apartment, don’t forget, and money to spare to pay for a condo in full. If you recall from a post I wrote a year ago my response was basically along the lines of “I’m not fucking taking your parents to apply for food stamps!”
So my wife did it.
She understood the sentimentality of my thoughts. But she was under great pressure to do so.
All the other Chinese tenants had food stamps you see, and well, they were pretty much rubbing it in China Wife’s parent’s faces.
Just like the grandpa and his wumao haircut.
They had to have those damn food stamps.
What irked me(though I shouldn’t have been surprised) was that China Wife’s parents showed no shame, remorse or even tinge of embarrassment asking, applying for and receiving food stamps.
Now why is that? How can it be a family so obviously not short of money would have no qualms whatsoever taking something free from Uncle Sam?
Because that is “The Chinese Way”, friends.
Elderly Chinese…children of the 60’s, have grown up under the thumb of the government. The Socialist, maternal hold of the government still reigns supreme in many of their minds. It is the Government’s responsibility to take care of them, even if the reality Today is so much different.
The greatest Irony today is that these benefits are simply not available to China Wife’s Parents today in China.
Remember, they come from a society where jobs were assigned. Majors were not randomly chosen. One’s apartment was not “bought” but the work unit assigned one a place to live. The government gave one ration coupons. People simply could not live without the Hand of Government involved.
And now they’ve found that even as the hand of Hand of Government slips away in China it is still strong in the West. I am almost positive the same thing happens in Australia and England, etc.
Why? Because civilized People’s are not prone to let people live on the streets and go hungry. But surely there is no trend anywhere as prevalent as “Here” in America.
China Wife’s Parents receive $300 a month in food stamps. On top of that I was surprised they receive more free food from the local food bank. All willingly and happily taken by the inlaws not with shame or sense of inadequacy but rather as recipients of what a just and proper government should naturally do towards its citizens.
Except these folks are not American citizens.
China Wife was quick to counter my scorn.
“Americans were there waiting in line, not just Chinese”, she said. As if I was the one out of touch.
She told me of all the other Chinese grandparents that were living in HUD. All of whom had sons or daughters living in spacious $700 or $800,000 homes with 4000 square feet.
None of whom show any concern about the social conflict of living Monday through Friday in one place and yet spending the weekend in another. Sometimes I think the Republicans are right; it’s not about “needing more” housing as much as it is about simply “governing better” with the housing we do have.
More, now than ever before, the people living in HUD are not “desperate people”. Rather, the inlaws and children simply agree they cannot live together. We recently had friends from Shanghai come and pay us a visit. The wife is Cantonese. A stay at home wife. She constantly bemoaned how she could not get along with her inlaws(I’m not the only one)。
Then there was the “Obamaphone”.
“What’s that?”, I asked the social worker in the HUD building. I could sense her mentally rolling her eyes at me.
“It’s a free smart phone with 300 minutes a month”, she replied.
The Grandparents wanted one, I was told. I told China Mother in Law she already had an Apple 6+. So did China Father in Law I pointed out.
“Yes, but it’s free and the others have one too”, she countered.
The Chinese are at times nothing but a bunch of 5 year olds. Bragging about what they have while dissing those who don’t have the same thing they have as “just too stupid” to go out and get it. So of course those lacking what others have, like any typical 5 year old would do, rush out to get one themselves.
My inlaws even get discounted satellite TV. Yep. To better watch their Chinese programs. My inlaws currently pay $9 a month. My know it all Chinese Mother in Law promptly bragged about what she got to her neighbor, an elderly Chinese lady with no one to help her out and thus stuck with $40 a month cable.
Once again I have China Wife’s voice ringing in my ear,
“What a Great Country for the poor, rich and elderly……” knowing full well how her sentence will end…
“but a terrible place for the Middle Class.”