"I'm a landlord!"

I was in China for 3 weeks.  My kids wanted me to bring something back.   And I think maybe the office wanted something as well.  All I could manage to bring back was a head cold for the ages.
And a very solid impression of how poor I am.

The Chinese want their Face.   I’ll say for better or for worse they got it.

The last day of my trip I rolled into Beijing, already beginning to feel the effects of having most reluctantly shook hands with a germ laden Chinese supplier the day before.  (can’t turn down the handshake of a CEO, right?) He himself had a serious head cold and was coughing and sneezing all damn day.  

Now I’m at Beijing Capital Airport.  It’s in the teens, where it has been all week.   After several minutes I finally find the shuttle to my hotel.  It’s dark.  I find a seat just behind the driver.  He’s a typically weather beaten fellow, like most Chinese not from its proud cities are.    And right away he starts chatting with a lady sitting next to me.  She is also dark, a bit plump, and turns out she works at the same hotel as the driver.

After a few moments he beckons her to move up to the front seat.  

“Isn’t it against the rules?”, she half heartedly gasps.

He waves his hand and pulls the shuttle bus out into the street.

I know the drive to the hotel will be at least 15 minutes.  I can’t explain why this is.  The Hilton is only a mile from the damn terminal.  

One of the reasons I like the Chinese is I find their personality very similar to that of Americans.  They are open, candid, and not fond of beating around the bush.  In short, I find the Chinese very charismatic in conversation.   Sometimes one can’t tell the difference between the CEO and the driver.  The Chinese and Americans are more similar than you would think.  It’s easy to talk with a Chinese.  Even if some of the questions are awkward.

But of course some aspects we are not. 

The Chinese will talk as strangers and within a breath, maybe two, will know all about the financial situation of the other, or at least be able to size the other up financially.   Speaking as a Westerner, I will have a conversation with one, or a group and we will talk about anything BUT our own money.   We understand that talking about money is uncouth, and well, just bad form.   The quickest way to NOT have friends is bragging about what one has financially attained in life.

Back to America, I very much like that.  One can in most neighborhoods never look at a person’s house or car, and truly know if that person has money or not.   It’s just not culturally cool to flaunt it.  Rather, it is culturally cool to keep others’ guessing.  My subdivision has no German cars.  Plenty of Japanese vehicles though.   That doesn’t mean people flaunt.  People show off everywhere, right?
Right now perhaps the coolest way of showing off one’s financial status in America is simply by driving a Tesla. 

I’m pretty confident within my neighborhood of 67 houses, that more than a few are quite well off, and more than a few are on the fringes of desperation. 

But living in China changes everything.  We talk amongst ourselves about how much the Chinese love talking about money.  And we talk about how little we ourselves feel we have in comparison.  

We shake our heads in disbelief.

During my 15 minute trip I learn everything about the driver and the ruddy faced female.

“Do you own a house?”, she asks.

“I’m a landlord!”, he proudly boasts, though with a tinge of modesty.

“Oh, you will never finish spending your money!”, she coos.

They keep talking.

“I have plenty of money.” He casually says, moving us in the black night from Terminal to Terminal.

However, I get the feeling he’s not boasting of having wealth so much simply as much as he doesn’t need much. 

He has a son, who has stayed up North, and a daughter in Shenzhen.  I can’t catch what she does in Shenzhen. 

He mentions he is from Shandong Province.   And his apartment in Beijing is 95 sq meters.  Around 1000 sq feet.  Not bad at all for a hotel shuttle driver. 

Meanwhile the hotel maid mentions she’s from Hubei and is 50.  He mentions he’s 56.   And suddenly I’m wondering if I’m seeing a potential hookup forming? 

She finally mentions she has a house, too.

A lot of laowai at this point would gasp and simply utter “Shit”. 

But let’s keep this within perspective.

It’s relatively easy to own a house within one’s hometown in China.  Not everyone here is from Shanghai or Beijing.  And it’s probably true that these apartments are joint owned.   I readily admit for what I have now I could probably own several houses in my hometown.
Meanwhile the hotel maid is a brutal looking 50. 

There is money swishing around in China.  And even more opportunity. Right?  If only that were true.  If money was so easy to be had, why are there so many people willing to work in factories?  Why did I see so many beautiful women working as airport security inspectors? 

Step up please.

Arms out.

Turn around

Step down.

Thank you

The prettiest of all I saw in Hubei province on a Sunday afternoon in a decidedly third tier city.  It was a new airport and had only one check-in counter in operation for all airlines.   So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that no, this beautiful lady with the porcelain skin forced to work on a Sunday in a forgotten Chinese city most probably does not have a money tree in her backyard.

So no, there probably isn’t that much opportunity in China.   Not relative to the population.  Just people, and one shitload of  ambition, at both the individual and state level.  And more than ever before the willingness of people to spend their money.

China is a “Good News” society.

The Chinese People have no fucking idea how close to the precipice their country is.  These aren’t things people can read in the paper, and if I was to show them an article I’d promptly be labelled 
“Anti-China. “

But I for one do believe that yeah, just maybe it’s possible that Western economic precepts simply do not apply here.  There are just too many people.   And a government willing to prop things up AT ALL COST.

China has a population of around 1.5 billion.  I figure there are tens of millions of people simply not being counted.  If official stats say 1.3 or 1.4, just round up. 

And yet China probably has around 50-100 million millionaires.  

So how are people getting rich in China? Talent right? Ambition and the willingness to take risks?  

Hard work?
Of course not! 

Housing.  People are getting rich mostly on the never ending wave of housing appreciation.  Simple.

And it makes me jealous. 

I’ve owned my current house for close to a decade.  Cul-de-sac, pool, tall trees.  Best school district in the State.  Fantastic, educated neighbors.  I am surrounded by ambition.  It’s in the air when I wakeup.  Did I mention I have a Jacuzzi?  I feel part of a community here.

And yet my house has only gone up 20%.  And frequently falls to as low as 10%.

It’s hard to accept.  It makes one angry really.

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  One is supposed to go to school.  Study hard.  Get a job.  Work hard. Learn.  And maybe twenty or thirty years later have some money.  One is supposed to leverage hard work, talent and sure some luck, too. 

Nobody ever mentioned or brought up “housing appreciation”.

The smart and hardworking get ahead.  Period.  No shortcuts.  No magic.  No tricks.
Now one see’s a hotel driver or a maid owning property and if waiting long enough maybe, just maybe seeing their wealth after a few short years equal my lifetime worth of sweat. 

And it’s demoralizing.

People with a grade school education or maybe not even a high school degree simply aren’t supposed to get rich.  Not unless they invented the internet, or found the cure to cancer, right?  Or find an easy pathway to riches unrelated to talent, or smarts, or level of education.

(Wait…that’s exactly what happened!)

The main reason I got an MBA was I saw it as a pathway to financial success.  Simple.  I didn’t get an MBA in order to figure out which house in which neighborhood to buy.    Rather, I saw it as just checking off another box.   Something to give me an edge.   

And yet now we have a whole culture on the planet playing by a separate set of rules.    And it’s a morally, perhaps even culturally destructive time as a result.  

We at MyChinaKanfa know our history, right?

We know what happened to Japan in the 80’s?  all the Japanese corporations coming to America, buying up Rockefeller Plaza, etc.   Really flaunting their new found financial superiority over us “lazy ass, Americans”.   Than in the early 90’s, the world’s largest splash was heard around the world.  That was the sound of the Japanese economy crashing into the Pacific.   And it’s been treading water since.

We know how important the Imperial Exams were in China.  For centuries a learned man in China was held in the highest esteem.   They were called scholars.  These were corrupt free exams.  The Emperor’s closest advisors were scholars.  All of whom attained their station by passing a test.  This scholarly class was the invisible hand, the secret sauce of China’s dominance, and yeah, maybe a cause of China’s Fall as well, (to be saved perhaps for another day).

One worked hard and either passed or failed the exam.  There were no shortcuts.

Well, today does anyone really care how you did on the Gaokao?  Or do they care more so what your salary is?  Oh by the way do you own a house and in what part of the city is it?

Is China Girl gonna choose a PhD from Fudan or BeiDa?

Or is she gonna choose a guy with a house and car that never graduated from high school but who has a factory making teddy bears? (never mind she gets neither in a divorce)

Don’t forget most China Girls are peasants.   Their ancestors most likely weren’t scholars.  And they probably aren’t fond of reading.  But they all have extraordinarily high EQ’s and know what they want.  Being a PhD isn’t on their checklist, dude.

Being a scholar today, or from a good university will get you less prestige than ever before in the history of China.   Did you study abroad?  Great…..do you have a house? 

More Chinese women today think less about the educational achievement of China Guy than they do about his family background(money?), or his job and what he makes.    Sure most countries are the same, but no social class has fallen faster and more steeply in social status than that of the Well Educated Chinese Man.  

Here’s the catch:

The rules as we learned them still  apply in America.  And probably France, and Belgium, and every other law abiding society on Earth, where rules actually mean something.   But while the rules remain, the payoff is gone.

The payoff was a good job.  And well those aren’t as abundant as they used to be.   We’ve all heard about the decline of the White American Male(our minorities rejoice, “it’s about fucking time!”).   
 The Great White American Man is killing himself now more so than ever before.   His life span is decreasing(yep, no more depressing stat than a decreasing lifespan to destroy the myth America is “great country”.  We might be first amongst the pack, but great countries don’t have declining lifespans sorry.)

Now the Western Social Contract is at stake.   Work hard and be successful and buy a house and two cars.   Don’t know about you but no one ever told me,

“Work hard and study so someday you can grow up and be an Amazon warehouse worker!”

Now the news is American men simply are not that marriageable anymore. They’re not as highly sought after as before.   WTF?  The reason is simple enough:

See above;

Who wants to marry an Amazon warehouse worker?

Men in China and America(and everywhere else) are increasingly being judged by their income, and material possessions.  Nothing else.  

QingHua grad?  How many houses do you own?

I was at a supplier in Guangdong province a few weeks ago.  As I’m wrapping up the visit, another Saleswoman I’d barely spoken with during my factory tour walks up to me, and simply asks what my salary was.   Nevermind we hadn’t spoken ten words in 3 hours.

“How much does the average American earn?  Is it $20,000 a month?”


“Well, how much do you make?  I bet it’s a lot.”

Let’s stop here.  I can see this is gonna be a two parter.  Back in a week.


  1. Great post.

    Could you write something about the end-game for the professionals who work in China? Possibly a piece of advice for younger audience (20-30+ y.o.)

    Going back to a western country - where Chinese language and China skills are not always so sought after;


    retiring in South East Asia?

  2. I would be very happy to do so! It might be a few weeks out, but I will definitely do that for you....

  3. to much great post. please enjoy my cctv page


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