Rich People Problems

I’m just finished China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, and am about to embark on the third book, Rich People Problems. To be honest, I do not care at all about the problems rich people have. I’m sure they have problems, but I’m also sure that their money keeps them from having most of the problems the rest of us have (such as not enough to pay the rent, not being able to afford child care, not being able to buy a car that doesn’t keep breaking down, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).

The books, short on characterization and plot, are long on shopping and name dropping. I’m mostly reading the books because they were lent to me by an Asian friend who is neither crazy rich nor China rich. She was, however, born and raised in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, a resort area, the site of picturesque tea plantations, and the setting for one of the scenes in the first book.

I got bored with the shopping scenes and descriptions of insanely expensive paintings and objets d’art loosely held together by soap-opera-worthy moments, so my mind tended to wander. I found myself smiling at the vast difference between the Asians portrayed in the books — completely materialistic beings — with the Asians living in my head — Zen- and Dao-influenced folk who are spiritually inclined, love harmony, and eschew material things. (This idea came more from my study of comparative religions rather than any true knowledge of individual Asian people besides my friends.) Adding to the dichotomy, there is the difference between the Chinese in this book and the Chinese I’ve read about in other books who are forced to work in sweatshops.

I suppose the reality of Asian life spans the full gamut of practices and beliefs as it does elsewhere, but although I have been told that the mindset described in these books is accurate, it still rings false to me. But then, my grandparents moved to this country to raise their family away from their own peasant roots, so I identify with neither the peasant point of view nor the crazily rich mindset. (I mostly find my wealth in the true riches of life — plumbing, a nice place to live, enough food, friends, and all the other comforts that make so much of life today a luxury that people in previous eras could not even imagine.) It does seem, though, as if these crazy-rich Asians have much in common with any other crazy-rich nationalities, with their emphasis on generational ties, keeping the money in the family, and finding the proper mates for their children.

Another thing that made me smile as I drifted from the story was a character in this book, a trendsetter with millions of followers on the various social networks. Being what is called an “influencer,” all she has to do is show up at a restaurant (a very expensive restaurant), be seen an exclusive resort, or wear a designer outfit to have her outing comped with her only payment being a photo of herself at the venue posted online. That’s not what made me smile, though. What amused me was thinking of myself in such a situation, and understanding why the number of my followers lags slightly behind hers. Here I am, wearing old dance leggings and a no-name turtleneck, with not a jewel in sight, sitting in a house that would fit in a single room in one of her houses, walls that are bare of any artwork, and hand-me-down furniture. I was rather a gadabout yesterday, met some friends as I was walking, had tea with another friend and dinner with a different group of people. But none of those outings took place in a famous restaurant or a luxurious spa, so even if I were wearing designer clothes, and even if I did live in a designer house, there would still be no possibility of a job as an influencer. (And yet, thinking about this, I bet my day was better than that rich girl’s day. Not only was it a nice day, it was real rather than a made-up fantasy.)

Now I’m heading off to read about Rich People Problems. The good thing about it is that no matter what problems they have, I would never have to deal with, so I don’t need to waste even a second of my life on empathizing with them.


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