Friday, January 27, 2006

I spent a recent evening with a Chinese friend whose down-to-earth college roomate and husband are addicted to a popular Thursday night TV show about how to be a TV host. Three young Chinese guys competed before a studio audience which voted one the winner. All had perfectly coiffed and spiky hair and dance moves influenced by the latest hip hop videos. Two professional commentators dished out sharp opinions ("when you're not dancing you look like you're incapable of thought") and the contestants were given the opportunity to respond in kind ("you have a nice voice but you're too fat.")

One of the first questions my hosts asked me was how much their apartment would cost in America. I had never met them before, but like many other Chinese I've met, asking total strangers direct questions about personal real estate seems to be a favorite hobby. The husband worked in insurance, the former roomate was an editor in a publishing house. Their two bed one bath apartment was about 100 square meters and would cost US $200,000-$300,000 if located in downtown Beijing's central business district. But in far west Haidan it was more likely to have cost about $80,000-$90,000, they said. Only theirs had been heavily subsidized by the government and cost them about half that.

A bi-lingual sign in the lobby of their modern highrise read: Welcome to our community. Foreigners here for more than 24 hours must report to the nearest police station.