Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I came across this title a few months ago and skipped it.  The last thing I want to do is read about any entitled rich assholes no matter what race.  But I discovered in my Facebook feed that it is being made into a movie, so I thought, knowing I’d probably see the movie, to get a head start on the book.  Let us first address the issue of the term, “Asian.”  What the fuck does that mean?  It’s half the population of the Earth.  It’s like saying Southern or Northern Hemispherian, Western or Eastern Hemispherian.  It’s actually like saying North American.  Whenever someone comes out with an Asian awards, Asian magazine, Asian website, etc., they always include Indians.  If you went running to the police and said, an Asian man robbed me, I doubt the police would put an APB out for an Indian dude.  I’m pretty sure, Asian replaced Oriental, which referred to East Asia.  The Asian continent includes Israel, the Middle East, Central Asia of course, so would you consider an Israeli an Asian?  It’s like calling all non-Asians Euroafrinos.  If we must continue being racist, I would simply suggest referring to East Asians as East Asians, with perhaps an even greater refinement of Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians.  To make things clear, this book is about Crazy Rich Northeast Asians and not Israelis.

 I’m not particularly fond of reading about entitled rich assholes, but the prologue captured me.  It covers an episode where a Chinese family enters a posh English hotel, and the manager reneges on their reservation, because they are Oriental.  I believe the English still use that term and actually think of Indians and Pakistanis as Asians.  Confused yet?  The Chinese family then buy the hotel and fire the manager.  This made me think about my recent forays into Vancouver BC.  If you were not aware, crazy rich Chinese have invaded Vancouver and driven up the real estate market from Portland levels to San Francisco levels.  At first, I noticed all the East Asians and just thought they were always ubiquitous in Vancouver BC, but after talking to a few taxi drivers, I learned that while there have always been Chinese people in Vancouver, the rich ones came over relatively recently to place their wealth in safe havens outside of China where it can be confiscated for any reason.  In fact, the native Vancouverites (not to be mistaken with the First Nations people, what the Canadians call Native Americans, confused yet again?) are so fed up, recent legislation was passed to add a 15% tax to real estate transactions to foreign buyers.  And you thought Trump was the only one to throw around trade restrictions.  While I never received any overt or for that manner, any subtle hints of racism, (the Canadians are far too polite), I started to sense a certain unease, and that may have actually been just me.  Knowing now that there was a rich Chinese invasion, I started to become considerably more self-conscious about how people might treat me.  I started to imagine that they all thought I was a rich Chinese dude, unless I had an opportunity to open my mouth. 

 Perhaps it’s not really a racial thing but a, you look noticeably different thing.  What if Vancouver had instead been invaded by wealthy Swedes?  Would Vancouverites look upon all blondes with displeasure?  Oh look, another rich Swede asshole who forced me to live two hours out of town and pay 20% more for rent anyways.  The same can be said of terrorism.  What if most terrorists were Swedes?  Would we be as terrified and paranoid of all blondes as we are of all Arabs?  Unfortunately, the Chinese look very different from most white Canadians, and most don’t speak with a fluent English accent.  They look and act different, and our instincts lead us to believe that they should be considered an invasive group as opposed to a wealthier subset of Canada’s own white group.

 What everyone must keep in mind, however, is unlike the Japanese, Chinese wealth is unevenly distributed.  Back in the 80’s, Americans became hysterical with fears that the Japanese were taking over America.  It didn’t help when the Japanese bought landmark property like the Rockefeller Center.  But, the Japanese tourists who snapped their Minolta cameras at everything were middle class.  The wealthy Chinese in Vancouver are firmly upper class.  They made their wealth from owning factories and companies, many of which engaged in collusive contracts with the government (much like what is happening now in America).  China and America are becoming very similar, just from different sides of the spectrum.  Not all Chinese are becoming wealthy.  Certainly, hundreds of millions are escaping poverty into the lower working classes and millions are entering the professional middle class, but those you see buying million-dollar homes in Vancouver are the upper classes.  Vancouverites may be thinking that the Chinese are all becoming millionaires and taking over Canada, but fact is, over a billion live in poverty. 

 This also leads to the concept of racial illusions.  You see a Chinese person in Vancouver, and you naturally think, okay, this is what an average Chinese person is like.  So they assume the median Chinese person is a millionaire.  You see a Mexican person in America and think, okay, all Mexicans are dark-skinned and poor.  If you ever visit Mexico, you might be shocked to learn that most professional and upper-class Mexicans are fair-skinned and look Spanish.  You see a black athlete on TV and think, okay, all black guys are tall, athletic and muscular.  You forget the countless black dudes who are scrawny, short, and nerdy.  You see an East Asian kid in your college class and think, okay, all Asians are disciplined, smart, and nerdy.  You forget that Northeast Asian nations are sending their best and brightest to American universities.  You forget about the athletic, dim-witted, brawny ones who remain at home.  Unfortunately, it’s just human nature.  So no, East Asians are not all becoming super wealthy materialists who can shop at Gucci and Prada, only their elite can.  This book is about the elite of China, and in case you wondered, the white American and European elite are far wealthier than the rest of the world combined. 

 Interesting that I read this book right after reading about the Rothschilds.  The Rothschilds are an interesting case, because while you may think of them as Jewish and they still practice their Jewish religion, they have more European DNA, and if you think people worshipping a Jewish religion makes them different from you, you might want to look up the history of Christianity.  You also need to understand that the entire human race bottlenecked down to a few thousand humans.  We are more inbred than chimpanzees.  There is more genetic diversity in a group of chimps than the entire human population.  We just look more different, but the ability for a single species to develop outrageously different appearances is easily proven by how different dogs all look.  In other words, if you took a few thousand black people, you could breed them in such a manner that you would once again have humans that look white, East Asian, Arab, and Latino.  Our concept of race itself is an illusion.  Have you noticed that people with Downs syndrome look similar regardless of race?  If you look carefully, you will also notice that people of different races look rather similar too.  There is a recent meme comparing the similar faces of Jay Z and Troy Aikman.  This points to the fact that we have similar DNA and internal physical features that manifest themselves externally in a similar way regardless of race. 

 The concept of race wars was really the product of the late 1800s.  While the Europeans were certainly racist, they were more just elitist and considered their own white peasants supremely inferior and even considered royals of other races more on their level than their own peasant race.  Modern racism was the product of the Industrial Age which brought huge racial diversity to cities and with exploitation stoked scarcity and racial entrenchment.  The English in American cities looked down upon Germans who looked down upon new European immigrants like Italians and Irish who looked down upon Jews and blacks.  The eugenics movement further reinforced racist sentiments. 

 With all that said, this novel indulges in a culture that is vapid, asinine, materialistic, shallow, and every bit as pretentious as you might imagine.  At one point, a character laments that the new Chinese wealthy were so hellbent on assuming elitist airs that they bought up modern European and American art instead of buying back all the Chinese ancient art that was taken from their country.  This book corroborates what everyone assumes about the rich East Asians.  They don’t really think much about anything outside their work, family,  getting hooked up so they can have a family, and materialism.  No discussion of politics, science, or culture outside of what they think is high culture like opera and fine art.  But you can’t blame them entirely.  Of all the non-European people of the world, the Northeast Asians have done the best job of competing with the Europeans instead of just being exploited by them.  Major energy corporations and banks can go to South America and Africa and impose their will on some corrupt government and basically rip off the locals.  They can’t be so brazen in Northeast Asia.  And I must emphasize here Northeast Asian.  This is the culture that wants all their kids to study hard, go to the best schools, and make a lot of money.  I’ve known many Southeast Asians that were not raised that way. 

 Northeast Asians were smart enough early on to realize that Europe was a far greater power, and if they didn’t quickly copy them and catch up, Europe would simply impose their will upon them.  Unfortunately, the Northeast Asians didn’t discriminate much about what needed copying.  They copied everything including art, music, math, science, law, medicine, politics, you name it.  China and North Korea embraced Marxism more than any other country.  Japan and South Korea embrace materialistic Capitalism more than any other country.  Perhaps fortunately, I feel that the Northeast Asians will eventually copy America’s new hipster culture which is less materialistic, less corporate, less brand, and more individualistic, independent, and natural.  Ironically, a lot of hipster culture is rooted in Buddhism and the Japanese philosophy of simplicity, humbleness, and harmony with nature.  What the new rich Chinese are doing now is simply following 80’s American culture.  You can imagine the Chinese who were in their formative years followed American 80’s culture on TV, so now that they are older and wealthy, they are simply playing out their 80’s fantasies, the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach.  I have to believe that many Northeast Asians who visit America today are being heavily influenced by hipster culture if they venture outside of their brethren Northeast Asian social circles. 

I can’t blame the Northeast Asians for wanting to copy and catch up to the West, but this also means that they’re almost robotic in copying everything and don’t really think independently or creatively.  This is a very broad stroke, but I’m talking about the average, rich Northeast Asian.  And you can find the same kind of robotic thinking and lifestyle of the rich, elitist Westerners.  Just look at Donald Trump.  Although, he’s a world traveler, he lives in a sheltered world with a very narrow perspective of everything.  He hasn’t read enough or mingled enough with the masses to understand concepts like liberty, freedom, choice, independence, and equality.  These are meaningless, vague, abstractions to him that are easily dispatched to expedite whatever self-promoting plan he concocts.  While his mind is sharpened and developed to master real estate deals and promotions, he has very little left for truly independent, creative thoughts.  So when you get a peek into the minds of these crazy, rich Northeast Asians, what you see is very little that is novel, interesting, or meaningful.  It’s almost just noise, like an annoying, one-note, one-pitch buzzing from a fluorescent bulb.  I wonder if the author is aware of this or just some poor sycophant who wishes he was a rich Chinese dude.  The novel mentions shark-fin soup and dog-fighting.  I wonder if the author has any self-awareness and questions the morality of these sick indulgences in animal cruelty and waste. 

 One nice insightful part comes at Chapter 11, Part 2 when a character is talking about how quickly you can go through half a million a year.  In order to fit into your crowd level, you simply have to spend more money on fancier things.  You need nicer homes for entertaining richer friends, maids, nicer cars, expensive private schools for your kids, expensive nannies, more expensive clothes, and then a whole coterie of amenities like the best Pilates, yoga studios in the nicer parts of town, personal trainers in nicer clubs, country club dues, etc.  In the end, the character wonders how they will be able to afford to feed their kids.  It’s beautiful irony.  I have a rich relative who is just like this.  She spends thousands of dollars on handbags and tens of thousands on vacations and cosmetic surgery, but then she has no money left over for a nice meal, so she finds a Chinese restaurant with a $5 lunch deal.  You would think rich people have wads of cash lying around, but the scary, crazy reality is that so many are in debt and are cash poor.  They may have million-dollar homes and properties and stocks, but they’re scared to death of selling them so they actually live in poverty and put every luxury expense on credit cards.  Their cash is always tied up in investments, and when these investments are growing at 20%+ per year, it seems almost criminal to cash out. 

 I read a great article in the Atlantic Monthly where they asked people at different income levels how much more money would it take for them to feel comfortable and secure.  The dude making $10K a year would say $1K.  The dude making $100K a year would say $1 million.  The dude making $1 million a year would say $10 million or something like that.  It just goes to show you that every time you step up in wealth, your appetite for wealth increases, so it’s a never ending trap.  I’d love to win $1 million in the lottery.  I’d retire.  But sure as shit, in a few years, I’d keep playing the lottery, because I’d want more, I’d want $10 million.  The moral of the story is, if you make $100K a year, hang out with people who make half that much.  You’ll never feel pressured to spend more than you can afford.  Living in Reno, there is absolutely no pressure to spend money.  In fact, even if you tried, you’d find it difficult.  I’m at the point where I can afford a nice $60 grass-fed, hormone-free steak.  They don’t sell them here in Reno, so every time I travel now, that’s what I look for.  I know there has been at least one billionaire who visited Reno, and I’m sure there have been more, but you don’t dress up in Reno.  Then I go to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and the second I step out of the airplane, I can feel the pressure to dress up, look fancy, and buy a ton of shit I don’t need.  I used to visit Vegas a lot, and I learned that it’s all a façade.  The poorest visitors are the ones who look the richest.  Any dude can buy a suit for $85 at H&M and look rich.  Certainly, there are multi-millionaires who flaunt their wealth in Vegas, but the vast majority of people in suits, sport jackets, and such are people like me, middle or working class stiffs just playing dress up to fit in. 

 The only caveat to hanging out with people who make half as much as you is that you can’t be buying them stuff as much as it’s tempting.  It will make them feel inadequate, obliged to return the favor, and resentful.  You just have to keep it low key when you can splurge.  But I’ve also hung around richer people, and it’s always nice when they buy a VIP table and a round of drinks.  The trick to wealth is living modestly but then having these lush, lavish, splurge vacations.  By living modestly, it makes the vacations all the more exciting and different.  If you ate $60 grass-fed steaks every week, they wouldn’t be special, and you’d also wind up poor.  Perhaps it’s comforting to know that rich people don’t feel rich.  The richer you get, the more you hang out with richer people who make you feel inadequate, and the more you feel obligated to spend to fit in, the more you wind up poor.  Then when you get old, all your investments pay off, but you still don’t splurge, and even if you did, it’s pathetic being an old, shriveled man trying to splurge and for what?  To impress whom?  You don’t have friends.  They either became poor, died, or moved on.  Your sex drive is dead, so it’s not like you care about impressing hot, young women.  And if you have kids, they’re now all rooting for you to kick the bucket so they can spend all your money. 

 I quit after Part 2.  There is nothing compelling about this novel.  There is no character interesting, no plot to note, just a bunch of privileged assholes complaining about petty shit.  What did I expect?  The story of the parents or grandparents might have been compelling, the rags to riches story, but the kids are just spoiled, soulless, crustacean shells floating to the top of their hierarchies.  They say there are only a few kinds of stories, man finds love, man finds man, man struggles against odds, man goes on adventure and grows, etc.  There is no story called rich assholes talk about petty trivialities.  Okay, perhaps there is.  Here’s the story.  You imagine being rich solves all your problems and your life is glamorous and wonderful and exciting.  But after mostly skimming this novel, you realize that being rich actually empties you.  You take an insecure person, and give them money, and they will do their best to buy away their insecurities whether in cosmetic surgery, fancy clothes, or memberships to country clubs to feel important.  But the root of their insecurity lies in their lack of meaningful relationships and sharing.  In other words, you’ve now trapped them into taking as a means of trying to find meaningful relationships and sharing.  It’s actually a tragedy, but I can find better things to do with my time and better books than perching by the side of the road to observe this car wreck and waste of life. 


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