An American in Chengdu

Facts of life | September 13, 2009

Yesterday morning I met Cecilia* for a shopping and sightseeing excursion. She’s a student of English and quite fluent, Starbucksso I didn’t get much Chinese practice in. She took me to Chunxi Road, an area rife with malls full of tony shops with Western names.

I’d been eying the dresses I saw some women wearing around campus, and tried on a few at the first mall we went to. I liked them, but was horrified when I belatedly looked at the price tags: upwards of 800 yuan (about $120). It turned out that most were on sale for about 50% of the marked price, but still, if I were to spend a significant percentage of my salary on a single dress, it would have to be a very special dress. Cecilia asked me later what I spent most of my money on. It was a good question–where did all my money go when I lived in the States? Rent, restaurants, and traveling, I guessed. Cecilia said that single women in Chengdu thought nothing of spending 70% of their money on clothes.

“What about men? How much money do they normally spend on clothes?” I asked naively.

“They spend most of their money on their girlfriends,” she said.

In the end I did find a dress I liked–in size XL, of course–for 260 yuan. On the way out of the mall Cecilia asked how much I make (not an impolite question in China). When I told her, she said that her mother makes less than me and thinks nothing of spending 1300 yuan on a dress that she’ll only wear a few times. It really astounded me that middle-class Chinese women routinely shell out $200 for a dress, but why? Apparently I’d adopted the simplistic view that conspicuous overconsumption is a American problem, and that while we’re buying up their cheap goods, the thrifty Chinese are saving for retirement.

*I’ll be using English names for those who have them.



  1. Don’t we get to see you in the dress?

    Comment by Sarah — September 18, 2009 @ 1:47 am

  2. I believe that single folks in China (and most of Asia, really) either still live with their parents or are heavily supported by them. Hence, no need to budget for rent and food.

    And I thought you spent most of your money on cheese.

    Comment by Terminus Est — September 23, 2009 @ 6:59 am

    • I managed to scale back my cheese budget by getting other people to cook party foods when I hosted. And in Chengdu I haven’t been overly tempted by the highly packaged, over-priced selection at Carrefour, but it’s good to know it’s there.

      Comment by americaninchengdu — September 24, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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