All of my client students are well-off enough that they can afford private, out-of-school language classes and can also live in the most expensive areas of Beijing, which is saying something. Many of them are the children of university professors or scientists. Still, there’s a socioeconomic spectrum that I’m vaguely aware of though mostly removed from, so it was interesting yesterday in one of my classes get a rare hint of just how different backgrounds can be, even among the upper-crust.
One of these students comes to class with a gold-plated watch, a gold-plated (its a few years old at least) cell phone, and a pair of Beats earbuds (you can see the internal workings) that cost more than 1,000 dollars, along with two different iPhone models and his gaming laptop. In Beijing alone, where rent prices compete with New York City and London in some districts, this student’s family owns at least half a dozen homes. One of them is a traditional courtyard home in the lakes area; it is worth at least a few million U.S. dollars. He has traveled all over the world.
His father and older cousin are the two founding partners of a China-based law firm that has dozens of branches all across the world, including one in America’s Silicon Valley.
The other student lives in the dorm at his middle school. He was born in Beijing, but because his parents migrated here from Shanxi province — one of China’s poorest — he will not be able to attend public high school and instead will have to go to an international school. His mother is a housewife, he said, and he doesn’t know what his father does for work.
He does know that both of them grew up on Shanxi farms, where the rest of his family still live as peasants. His father didn’t finish high school. His mother didn’t finish 7th grade.