No money, no honey

Updated: 2011-10-18 09:55

By Hao Xijia (China Daily)

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No money, no honey

Chinese students in the US today are increasingly splurging on a lavish lifestyle and the reasons range from impressing girls to being the center of attention. Hao Xijia reports.

A generation ago, most Chinese students who went to the United States had very little money from home and had to earn to cover their tuition and living costs, while juggling the heavy workload at school. Nowadays, many come from newly affluent families. They have little need to worry about tuition and indulge in an expensive lifestyle.

Take Han Lu (not her real name). In her tank top and ripped shorts, the 18-year-old freshman at Pennsylvania State University looks like any other typical Asian American. She has made several shopping trips to New York City, where she has purchased, among others, a $5,600 Louis Vuitton bag, far exceeding her budget.

"I've never had such a thing," she says. "My family is actually not that rich. My dad would kill me if he finds out how I've been squandering my money."

Among all freshmen at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Wang Xingchi is the only one who owns a car.

Although freshmen at this college are not permitted to register a vehicle or park it on campus, Wang bought one regardless. He has to pay a parking fine of $20 a day. "I have my own reasons," he justifies. "Girls tend to go out with those with cars because they want free rides to the supermarket or the restaurant."

"Everyone knows it," Wang says. "Honestly, I think I have greatly increased my chances of getting a girlfriend, by driving."

In the US, annual tuition and fees for public schools such as the University of Maryland is about $25,000. Private schools are much more expensive, at $40,000 or more. Added to that is the cost of living: On-campus housing ranges from $8,000 to 10,000. Off campus can be cheaper at $4,000-$6,000, depending on location and amenities. Dining in school is $4,000-$5,000 a year. Cooking your own food costs less but involves more work.

To cover a part of the tuition or living expenses, some students work at school dining halls at the state minimum wage of $5-$7 per hour. The maximum number of hours allowed every week is 20, but most of them don't have time to do so much. Those who work at local Chinese restaurants earn $8-$9 per hour, making about $500 each month, but the workload is heavier.

However, students from wealthy families usually do not take on part-time jobs. They do not have a sense of personal finance. There are also those whose allowances from home are not that generous yet they want to catch up with others in reckless spending.

When asked why she spent a small fortune on a bag, Han Lu replies, "All my friends around me have nice stuff. I want to be like them. It doesn't feel good when no one pays me attention."

After a year of study in the US, Han's command of English is still limited, but it doesn't bother her. "I hang out with Chinese people all the time. I don't even have a chance to use English," she says.

Wang Xingchi, the Binghamton student, lived in his dorm in the university residence hall for only two months before he moved out. He didn't feel comfortable sharing it with a roommate.

"This roommate of mine kept bringing all his friends, and they were very noisy." Rather than requesting a room change, Wang chose to find an apartment off campus. However, freshmen are required to live on campus, which means he has to pay for his room on campus while renting another one elsewhere. As for the extra expense, he shrugs, "Compared to living with someone else, a couple more hundred bucks is really not a problem."

Xue Yong, a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, writes in China Newsweek. "This generation is called 'the generation of the entitled'. They grew up in an environment where everything was handed to them. They tend to take everything for granted and feel they deserve the good things in life without earning them."

Some of the big spenders do, however, eventually realize the pitfalls of their reckless habit, usually after a renewed understanding and appreciation of their parents' hard work that made it possible for them to get a higher education in a developed country. That becomes the beginning of personal maturity.

Zhang Chi, 22, studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He used to be a spendthrift when he first arrived at the US three years ago.

His parents back home had no idea about his improvidence until their credit card account was frozen.

Even then Zhang didn't change his spending habits. Every time his parents sent a check, he trifled away the money in no time. "I stopped talking to my parents because they later refused to send me more money. I didn't pick up their calls, until my cousin told me they had been borrowing the money they sent me. It took me a while to break the bad habit."

Recalling his early behavior, Zhang is embarrassed at how puerile he was. "Fortunately, I came to know I was wrong. I have friends who party all night and flunk every class. I'm glad I don't follow their lifestyles."