Counting costs

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-02 11:24
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Our reporters started out looking for stories that would tell us how life on the ground is responding to the rising yuan and price hikes. We found tales of courage, resilience and of lessons learned and mastered.

Counting costs

There is no clearer barometer of change than a country's attitude toward money. China is no different. Soothsayers and doomsayers dominate newspaper headlines and television forums with dire predictions and endless analyses of how inflation and a changing yuan are threatening our comfort zones.

There have even been books written about how the economy may soon implode. We decided the best way to find out the truth was to ask those who would really know - the people who have to deal with a shrinking pay check and the rising prices of everyday necessities. China Daily's Sunday reporters fanned out in three cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong -and started asking questions.

In Beijing, our reporter first talked to an 83-year-old retiree who is resigned to the fact that the growth of her monthly pension check cannot catch up with the galloping price of garlic. She also knows her money is not getting enough interest in the bank to offset the rate of inflation. But she is stoic behind her vocal complaints.

At her age, she has weathered worse economic hardships and her pension in recent years has bought little luxuries for her family that would have been unthinkable before. [Full Beijing Story: Changing Values]

On the other end of the spectrum, we also found a young and single corporate executive who hardly gives a glance to the price tags attached to her designer outfits and brand- name cosmetics. [Full Beijing Story:What's the difference?]

She's part of that elite group of high-flyers riding the crest of China's economic boom, and she's the role model of fresh-faced young graduates trying to find their niche in the big city - like the third person we interviewed in Beijing. [Full Beijing Story: Finding her niche]

In Shanghai, a middle-aged single mother told our reporter she learned some hard lessons that will stay with her for life. Playing the stock market was for the professionals, she says, not for mothers. And she is now looking at buying into real estate in second- and third-tier cities. [Full Shanghai Story: Smart money]

Shanghai may have the most expensive property prices in China, but buying an apartment is still a top priority for the young couple we talked to. Both upwardly mobile and enjoying good careers and an exciting lifestyle, they are saving for the marital home, and his parents are going to help them pay it off by selling off one of their three properties. [Full Shanghai Story: Nest Eggs]

So far, it did not sound as if things were getting worse on the ground.

Times were harder, yes, but life was still pretty good and most considered the situation as a temporary setback to be remedied by working harder to make more money.

It was our last interview in Guangdong that had us pondering the broader implications of the Chinese yuan abroad. [Full Guangdong Story: Riding the rising yuan]

We spoke to a young entrepreneur in his mid-30s, hit hard by the tilting exchange rate that has caused so many factories in his area to pack up and go to a cheaper manufacturing base, or to close down.

His dilemma is clear. If he closed operations, he stands to lose almost a million yuan in debts. But if he continues, he desperately needed new markets to sell his sewing machines.

These are real stories from real people, and through them, we can read the hopes and aspirations, the successes and the failures, the lessons learned and being learned.

But one thing struck us. Through it all, persistence and perseverance prevailed - from our 83-year-old's decision to quit complaining and start enjoying life with her money to our Guangdong entrepreneur, who is now weighing the options between farming chickens or raising specialty vegetables to cater to the gourmets of Guangzhou.