Chinese diversity reflected in the country's real-estate buyers

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After billionaire Li Ka-shing bought Vancouver’s former Expo site in the late 1980s, local media outlets were full of reports about a sharp increase in immigration and investment from Hong Kong.

Some stories mentioned that Chinese property buyers avoided addresses ending in four because when this number is spoken in Cantonese, it resembles the word for death. Conversely, the number eight was reportedly cherished because of its similarity to the word for wealth in Cantonese.

There were also tales about how immigrant buyers from Hong Kong were heavily influenced by feng shui, an ancient Chinese system for designing buildings in a way that promotes a favourable flow of energy.

More than 20 years later, immigration from mainland China exceeds the number of people coming to Vancouver from Hong Kong. And according to Richmond real-estate agent Angel Shu, people from other parts of China don’t always share the beliefs of those in the southern part of the country.

Shu was born in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, which is near Shanghai, and her parents were from Beijing. In an interview at a Richmond restaurant, she tells the Georgia Straight of a businessman from Shandong province who was making a large mining investment in Canada. According to Shu, he didn’t buy into any superstitions about numbers.

“He actually liked the number four,” she says.

As for feng shui, Shu says most mainland Chinese aren’t that knowledgeable about this. But they may pretend to be aware of it if it prevents a loss of face.

Shu once worked in finance in Shenzhen, which is in the southern province of Guangdong, where Cantonese used to be the dominant language. That’s changing with the large influx of Mandarin speakers in recent years. Mandarin is the official national language, but there are enormous cultural differences between provinces, which often have populations larger those of many countries.

For instance, she maintains that people from her home province, Jiangsu, are more likely to focus on education. She says that home buyers who come to Canada from this area are likely to be keenly interested in the quality of the neighbourhood school.

She suggests that this is also true for many buyers from northern China, where she says people tend to prefer discussing politics rather than business. Purchasers from southern China—including Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces—are more apt to focus on a luxurious lifestyle, according to Shu.

“You have to study Chinese consumers’ habits,” she advises. “Most Chinese people come to Canada because they think western countries’ lifestyles are better.”

In early December, Shu helped organize an event at Tojo’s Restaurant to introduce prospective Chinese buyers to the new Trump International Hotel & Tower in downtown Vancouver. It’s targeting an upscale clientele; a marketing video links the project with high-profile brands like Mercedes.

Shu says that mainland Chinese are more likely than westerners to appreciate high-profile brands. She attributes this to mainland Chinese immigrants’ willingness to copy others’ choices because they haven’t been exposed to as many consumer goods in their lifetimes. In addition, new Chinese immigrants aren’t always very familiar with western ways, leading them to copy others to avoid embarrassment.

Shu points out that mainland Chinese only started becoming wealthy in the 1990s as the country’s economy experienced rapid growth. She says this explains why most mainland Chinese real-estate buyers in the Lower Mainland are between 35 and 55 years old.

“Thirty years ago, people’s clothes in China only had three colours—blue, grey, and green,” she says with a smile.

Meanwhile, Shu says, a new term has become incredibly popular in China—tuhao—and it mocks those who show off their wealth in vulgar ways. She reveals that mainland Chinese never like to think of themselves as tuhao, which can roughly be translated as “local tyrant”. But, she adds with a chuckle, they’re sometimes quick to label others in this way.

As for her, she says: “I’m not tuhao! People from Jiangsu are not tuhao.”

Comments (12) Add New Comment
Birdman
I guess the Czechs got the same thrill observing the German theft of their country in the late 1930s
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Hazlit
While I have a great love of the Chinese and deep love of Chinese culture (I'm married to a CBC)--in Vancouver they are nearly all "tuhao." Ever get nearly run over by a Beamer or an SUV in Vancouver? Look behind the wheel and it's a tuhao FOB asserting their importance! See those mock McMansions sprounting up in the lower mainland--particularly the ones with the lions in front--tuhao again!

Showing off your wealth is ALWAYS tuhao, and always in poor taste. If you don't want to look like a peasant, learn how to be rich in ideas instead of in money.
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casper
Good one, birdy.

Makes you feel good knowing that your grand-dad gave his life for freedom and liberty for commies to just buy this country.
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tedo
Canada is a self-entitled immigrants paradise... in America you'd get laughed out of town for pulling any of this
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Debbie Atkinson
We all know that our western love of cheap goods gave the Chinese the purchasing power they have today. Aren't we hypocritical to think that capitalism should exclude foreigners the right to purchase our cities, delete our language and then re-brand our culture in a more convenient Cantonese-laden package?

Moreover , why should any one born in Canada have the right a normal manufacturing/research/technology job when our parents decided that made-in-china was more important that to risk appearing protectionist or 'anti'-progress?

In the last few year I've come to terms with the Chinese take-over, simply glad that our new masters of society took a peaceful/ Confucius-style approach to conquering. As any Native-American would tell you, had this been the Spanish or the British, it would have been likely that bloodshed would have occurred during the expropriation rather than the current climate of simply being locked out through economic-warfare.

I only hope I can learn Cantonese fast enough to understand how my new master wants her toilet cleaned.
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frances
Hey Debbie you can clean toilets if that is your ambition. Maybe you should ask people in the Philippines, Vietnam, Tibet, and Sinkiang how they like their "peaceful, Confucius-style" neighbours.
China is destroying itself ecologically and I don't want them doing the same to my country.
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Charlie Smith
The xenophobia in the comment stream is precisely why I wrote this article. I wanted to educate Canadians about diversity within China so more Canadians will look upon immigrants from China in three dimensions.

Some are rich. Quite a significant number don't have a lot of money. They choose to move here, hoping to build better lives. It's appalling to me that that someone would suggest they want to learn Cantonese to clean toilets when most of the people cleaning toilets in our city are immigrants.

Furthermore, there are very few Cantonese speakers even moving to B.C.; the vast majority from China and all of them from Taiwan are Mandarin speakers.

Where's the curiosity about our neighbours?

China is not perfect--it's gone through stunning changes in the past three decades. I would argue that its leaders are more concerned about climate change than are the party governing Canada. This is obvious from its efforts to electrify rail transport, to cite one example. They know that climate change could have a catastrophic impact on China's ability to feed its population.

Keep in mind that Canada is far from perfect, too. Are we destroying ourselves ecologically by utterly ignoring international efforts to combat climate change and by our port's efforts to rapidly increase coal exports from the Lower Mainland?

Charlie Smith
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Irony and Bitterness
@Charlie

I think you missed the irony in Debbie's remarks about cleaning toilets.

I also think you missed her bitterness at the hypocrisy of many Canadians who would support "globalization" when it benefits Western business, but then complain about Chinese immigrants buying Canadian real estate or Canadians being unable to find well paid work because that very same globalization also works to the benefit of the Chinese.
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Debbie Atkinson
Charlie,

I re-read the comments and I honestly don't know where xenophobia comes into play. I would argue that the comments made thus far do not reflect a fear of foreigners. Why would a xenophobe choose to live Canada, let alone Vancouver? I would imagine the xenophobe you imagine of would not have been brought up in a multicultural city like Vancouver, but a more homogeneous country that does not permit immigration at all (unrelated, but such as it is today in China).

I also noted you tried to spin this argument to suggest that Mr.Harper's distasteful treatment of the Canadian environment over the last 5 years even marginally compares to the black hole that is Linfen and Tianying. Anyone else remember the air pollution during the Beijing Olympics? Can't remember that during Vancouver 2010. Again , this was not related to my argument.

Now that we've extinguished the racial inferences and environmental spin, I want to reiterate that it's the ECONOMIC context of the real estate article you wrote that creates a need for discussion.

I live in a Vancouver where today I can no longer afford the same house I grew up in, despite my husband and I having better-than-average paying jobs with multiple masters degrees. I doubt I will ever become a Vancouver real estate buyer as a result, even if the real estate agent knows what provincially - relevant conversations to have with me.

It is somewhat a given that the economic prosperity of China's manufacturing sector over the last 30 years has been the catalyst to the new-Chinese wealthy elite. Accordingly, I look around and see this new elite immigrating to Vancouver. Where did the money for that million dollar condo and $200k sports car come from? As I pointed out earlier, cheap goods came at price, usually off the sweat of the poor or at cost to the environment.

As irony and bitterness pointed out, I am simply saddened that the global capitalism I was forced to embrace has created a new paradigm where I am soon to be unable to work or live in the city I grew up in because I don't speak Mandarin (thank you for correcting me Charlie).

Oh, and yes, the toilet comment was a metaphor , I am aware that the is poor who do this job. I am soon to be the same.
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Charlie Smith
You make good points, Debbie. I just got really ticked off when I see immigrants from China basically compared to Nazis (in the first comment), and then saw a reference to Canadians becoming toilet cleaners when every janitor I've seen in this town over the past 10 or 15 years has been an immigrant from Asia. I also think it's brutally unfair to hold individual immigrants from China accountable for their government's sins when they have zero control over their government. Should American immigrants be condemned for every sin of the Bush administration?

I decided to rant because I've seen this movie before. Angel Shu was trying to educate people in Vancouver about the diversity of China. It came as a result of me asking her to do this. It struck me as rude that the commenters had zero interest in what she had to say, and instead went on diatribes against the government of China.

I never saw that in the past when I would interview Fred Bass or other American immigrants to Canada. It never turned into a rant about the Bush administration's crimes in Iraq.

Frankly, I've had enough of this stigmatization, especially when I suspect that some of it is coming from people who've never had the curiosity to indulge in a single conversation with a former resident of the People's Republic of China who decided to move here.

Finally, if you and your husband have better-than-average paying jobs and multiple master's degrees, there's no chance you'll be a toilet bowl cleaner. By the way, I cleaned toilets when I was a young janitor many years ago. I survived.

One reason why people grew up in relative luxury here in comparison to the rest of the world was because our colonial past provided us with untold riches, which were stolen from the First Nations without treaties and taken unfairly from developing countries. Now, the pendulum is swinging the other way, and many of us look back with such nostalgia to the good old days. But the reality is those good old days were built on exploiting others. We rarely hear that discussed when these types of conversations arise in neighbourhoods across the city.

Charlie Smith
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Happy New Year
I’m not so sure that this is about nationality.

Our housing boom came from cheap money, which started with US govt policy and low interest rates, not with China getting its own house in order and finally competing in the global economy. Rich Chinese buy here, but if they didn’t buy here it might be the Russians or the Saudis who buy in London, or the Europeans who buy in New York. The global elite shops where it wants - and there are plenty of rich Vancouverites, Albertans, and Americans shopping here as well.

Thanks for the article, Charlie. It’s a pleasant eye opener.
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Hazlit
I moved here from New York City, via Toronto. All the whingeing about real estate prices in Vancouver drives me crazy. You want to know what it costs to live in Brooklyn, to say nothing of Manhattan. Yet artists--who I'm sure make less than Debbie and her husband--still find a way to live and thrive in the Big Apple.

As for Vancouver yes, if you need a lot of space downtown a lot of people are being shut out. But honestly, how much space do you want? There are one and two bedrooms available in New West and Surrey (on the Skytrain I might add) for around $200 K. If a couple (no kids) makes 80K (let's say 60K) and they can't put away 10K a year for 5 years for a down payment--what are they spending all that money on?
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