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Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 18, July 23 - 29

Xiang Qian Kan 向钱看
Money is Everything

The phrase 向前看 xiang qian kan literally means "look forward", or "look ahead." When the Comrade was a boy, it represented reconstructing the Motherland, building socialism and looking toward a better brighter future. Now that most of China is well on the way back to the future, the phrase has taken on another meaning. 向前看 xiang qian kan has become a 双关语 shuangguanyu (pun) because it sounds like 向钱看 xiangqian kan, or "look toward money."

In Chairman Mao's heyday, Chinese people were classified into one of two categories: the "haves" (politicians) and "have-nots" (everyone else). Today, thanks to the 经济改革开放 jingji gaige kaifang (the Opening Up and Reform Policy), the proletariat are more prosperous than ever before. Mattresses from Tianjin to Tibet are bursting at the seams. As a result, stratification of Chinese people has become more complicated with the emergence of many new social categories.

Beggars 乞丐 Qigai
Thirty years ago, beggars looked like they were starving because they were! In those days, beggars had no use for 钞票 chaopiao (cash). They made their way from the impoverished countryside to the city to beg for food. Hence the appellation 要饭的 yaofande ("food-wanters"). Beggars today don't want food. If they wanted to eat they'd simply forage on the mountains of food thrown away by Beijing's myriad restaurants. Beggars require money so that they can choose from the flood of seductive goods and services available to them. Simply put, the term "beggar" actually refers to the lowest level of 消费者 xiaofeizhe (consumer). Theirs is not an act of desperation to save their lives, but rather an act to convince you of what little spending power they have in comparison to you. Chinese beggars don't expect Chinese people to give them money, but they do expect foreigners to give generously. If you don't, they will be disappointed and possibly insulted. By not giving, you also risk being thought of as 小气 xiaoqi (cheap) among the beggar community. Beggars have an uncanny ability to spot foreigners like vultures spotting rodents. They swoop down, thrusting their dirty McDonald's cup in your face. Typical beggar tactics include shaking the change cup and exhibiting a look of suffering and anguish. They cry "hello", or "give me money", or simply "money" in English, and they may call you 老板 laoban ("boss"). Beggars hang out around the 火车站 huochezhan (train station), 地铁站 ditiezhan (subway stations) and outside of restaurants or wherever 老外 laowai congregate.

The Unemployed 下岗人员 Xiagang Renyuan
The term 下岗 xiagang literally means "to leave one's post". Actually it is a euphemism for "get the axe". Chinese people who have 下岗 xiagang are the most 苦 ku (lit. "bitter"; hard-up). They are even worse off than the beggars because their monthly early retirement dividend is less than the average beggar earns in a week!

Many unemployed Chinese people become entrepreneurs, selling 茶业 chayedan (tea eggs), 香烟 xiangyan (cigarettes) or 盒饭 hefan (boxed lunches). Some open a 小卖部 xiaomaibu (small convenience store) out of their bedroom window. Others pretend to be 残废 canfei (handicapped) and charge passengers a fee to ride in their 残废车 canfeiche (handicapped vehicle).

Delinquents 混混儿 Hunhun'r
混混儿 Hunhun'r are people who 混 "hun" for a living. "混 Hun" basically means to do whatever you have to do (usually illegal) to make a living. Typical ways to 混 hun range from simple 黑 - heishi (black market) 交" jiaoyi (transactions) such as 换钱 huanqian (changing money) and selling train tickets to 抢劫 qiangjie (robbery) and 贩毒 fandu (drug dealing). Some 混混儿 hunhun'r are 妓头 jitou (pimps) or 妓女 jinu (prostitutes). Better ways to 混 hun include becoming a 跟班 genban (henchman) for a 大老板 da laoban (big boss).

Moneybags and Their Strumpets 大款 Dakuan and 小蜜 Xiaomi Comrade James Brown observed that you've got to "use what you got to get what you want." Many Chinese girls live by this credo. Aghast at the prospect of a life of toil, they solicit themselves a 大款 dakuan (wealthy man) that can support them and afford the lifestyle they demand. You're probably wondering how these 小蜜 xiaomi (little "honeys") become career courtesans. Many get their start as 卡拉OK lala OK (karaoke) girls. Customers at the karaoke parlor choose a 小姐 xiaojie (girl) from a lineup. The girl must then spend the rest of the night with the guy who chose her-lighting his cigarettes, pouring his booze, laughing at his jokes, etc. At the end of the night the customer is expected to tip the girl up to hundreds or even thousands of yuan! Some karaoke girls make more money in one night than someone with a 大学文凭 daxue wenping (university degree) makes in a month!

Eventually the pretty karaoke girls are discovered and emancipated by a 大款 dakuan. The less fetching ones go on to become a karaoke 妈妈 mama or matriarch of the karaoke parlor. How a 大款 dakuan becomes a 大款 dakuan is anybody's guess. Some invest their 麻将 majiang winnings in 股票 gupiao (the stock market). Others 作生意 zuoshengyi (do business) or 开公司 kaigongsi (open companies). Some 大款 dakuan are crude and vulgar, but since they are wealthy, their crudeness and vulgarity can certainly be overlooked.

The People's Money 人民币
renminbi RMB is also called the 'yuan'. One yuan is about 12 US cents. Appearing on the 100 yuan bill from right to left are Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De-the four 伟大 weida (exalted) founders of the New China. To make sure your bill isn't 伪钞 weichao (counterfeit), hold the bill up to the light and look for the Chairman Mao watermark on the left side and a line from top to bottom on the right side. On the 50 yuan bill are a 工人 gongren (worker), an 医生 yisheng (doctor) and a 知识分子 zhishi fenzi (intellectual). The 10 yuan bill displays 农民 nongmin (peasants). Smaller denominations show various 少数民族 shaoshu minzu (ethnic minorities). Up until 1994, 人民币 renminbi was actually "Chinese people's money," as foreigners were required to use 外汇券 waihuijuan (Foreign Exchange Certificates), better known as FEC. FEC, also called 对用券 duiyongjuan, were of course much more expensive than RMB. Some ungrateful foreigners felt that this dual currency system was somehow "unfair." They alleged that when US$100 could get you RMB1000 on the "black market," it would only buy about 600 FEC in the bank. Imagine the gall-so rich and yet still concerned with such trifling matters!

In closing the Comrade would like to remind his readers that although it is true that 有钱能使鬼推磨 you qian neng shi gui tuimo (when you're rich even a ghost will churn a mill for you), money is not the only thing life has to offer. Don't let the pursuit of money blind you to other, more important things like 黄金 huangjin (gold), 钻石 zuanshi (diamonds) and 劳力士 laolishi (Rolex) watches!


Previous stories

The Comrade's final exam

Wining and dinning out

Pekinese in beijing

Using Your Electric Brain

Traditional Holidays

Little Emporer Syndrome

Henpecked Husbands

To Own Real Estate is Glorious


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