Cruising has come to China, and international ocean liners are hoping to get in early on the burgeoning market. The capsizing of the Oriental Star in the Yangtze adds to evergreen fears about the safety of domestic goods and services—but the tragedy also highlights the phenomenon of pleasure trips by the newly rich. Costa Crociere, owned by Carnival, has been operating in China since 2006, but only a handful of Chinese have experienced this “floating symbol of the leisure-industrial complex,” as Christopher Beam calls it in a Bloomberg story about a Costa cruise he took from Shanghai to Japan in February.
The first cruise to circumnavigate the globe from China set sail from Shanghai in March. Li Meiling, a senior editor for the online news site Jiemian, spent a week with passengers on the Atlantica, observing their interactions onboard and ashore from Athens to Barcelona. CDT has translated her recounting of the experience for Jiemian’s narrative reporting series NoonStory.
Cruising the World: 600 Chinese Taste “La Dolce Vita”
Costa Atlantica is the first round-the-world cruise to set sail from China. Some predict that China will be the world’s second-biggest market for ocean liners by 2017.
It’s dusk on the Mediterranean. As the sky gradually darkens, the Costa Atlantica is docked at the port of Piraeus, in the southwest corner of Athens. The lights of the ship burn brightly against the sky blue sea.
The ship is a 12-story colossus. On board are more than 600 Chinese tourists in the midst of a 86-day round-the-world cruise. The trip began at Shanghai’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal on March 1, and they have since travelled through Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, the Maldives, Cairo, and the Suez Canal. The ship is now about to begin the pinnacle of its journey, a cruise through The Mediterranean. This week, they will tour the birthplace of western civilization: Greece and Rome.
On March 28, I hurriedly take a cab from my hotel to the port and pass through security. The first time I see any of the ship’s Chinese passengers is at a duty-free shop on the pier. At that moment, these Chinese passengers, who have been at sea for nearly a month, are excitedly picking through Grecian olive oil and soap. One middle-aged Chinese woman with a thick accent, in order to make sure she is getting the absolute best price per quantity possible, is speedily crunching numbers on her cell phone calculator, noting the prices for all of the different olive oils on the shelf.
At 11 p.m., the ship, which was scheduled to depart at 10, remained motionless. An ashen man from Hong Kong quickly walks from the stairwell to the reception desk on the second deck. He yells at the receptionist in urgent Cantonese, “I want to get off! This ship isn’t safe! Give me back my passport!”
It appears something is wrong with the ship. A few other Chinese tourists have already made similar visits to the reception desk. “Throw the captain into the sea!” screams one passenger. Rumors and gossip are inevitable on such long journeys. A few passengers quietly inform me that the boat isn’t moving because “someone ran! Illegal entry.” And the number of people who “illegally entered” the current port country rises from one to three.
“The Chinese are too anxious,” says Liao Yaozong, shaking his head. At about 11:30, Liao grabs me to chat with him in La Dolce Vita Atrium. He can’t sleep.
La Dolce Vita Atrium is one of the most attractive locations on the ship. The hall’s lofty ceiling transcends ten decks. From the bar you can look all the way up to the Atlantic Club. On one side of the hall stand three pillar chandeliers, sculpted from Italian Murano glass. The hall is also equipped with three transparent elevators. The sights whisk you away to daydreams of the carnival scenes of Roman high society dance parties in Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita.”
Liao Yaozong is a 51-year-old from Tianjin. He graduated from the Nankai University Department of Philosophy, and he’s now a real estate tycoon. During the first few days of the cruise, a number of Chinese passengers got into recurring spats over taking pictures at the entrance to the Tiziano Restaurant, sometimes even coming to blows. “What are you so upset about? We still have three months!” Liao told them at the time. “Anyone who can take part in this cruise is surely someone who longs for civility. Anyone able to board this ship has already contributed greatly to civilization.”
Liao is taking his wife and father with him on this trip. “The price for tickets for the three of us is like throwing a house into the ocean.” The market price for a ticket is about RMB 200,000 ($32,271). But Costa gave them a discount, bringing the price down to around RMB 150,000 ($24,203) per ticket.
One of the world’s slowest modes of travel, a round-the-world cruise is costlier and more time-consuming than a flight. Before embarking from Wusongkou, Costa held a press conference about the voyage, which Liao Yaozong attended. A foreign reporter asked him: Why choose to cruise? His answer was a poetic one. “The sky is not where humankind can relax. Humankind should be close to the sea.”
When you first board this ship, you might feel like you’ve arrived in a little town somewhere in Europe. The Chinese on board are gentlemanly and polite. Even though they are complete strangers, they nod their heads to each other in the elevator like Westerners, and even proactively greet you with a “hello” in Chinese and a “morning” in English. Some of the men even go as far as to hold open the elevator doors for women they don’t know.
But when they boarded on March 1, being greeted by strangers made the Chinese tourists uncomfortable and nervous. To prepare for their voyage into the unknown, some brought washing machines, hotplates, juicers, and wash basins. Some brought 15 kilos of Maotai, and one girl brought several suitcases filled with snacks. Another person prepared over 100 movie posters and stamps related to their upcoming ports of call, and some of the older people secretly brought on big bottles of mineral water to save their kids money.
Now that over a month has passed, the guests have enjoyed a spectacular pool party, a Latin dance party, an “Arabian Night,” a 70s party, and even a classic Western musical in the Caruso Theatre. They seem to be getting used to, even accepting, the Western way of socializing.
The inspiration for the design of the Costa Atlantica comes from the Italian director Federico Fellini. It is a mix of dreamscapes and Baroque art, and every floor is named after a classic Fellini film. Going from the first floor to the twelfth, they are: Luci Del Varietà, La Dolce Vita, La Strada, Roma, I Clowns, Amarcord, Intervista, 8½, Ginger & Fred, E La Nave Va, and La Voce Della Luna.
Even though Costa only sold 600 tickets, this vessel has the capacity for 2,680 passengers. Still, Costa is satisfied. Today one of Europe’s largest cruise liners, Costa was founded in 1854. In the beginning they shipped cloth and olive oil between Genoa and other Mediterranean ports. Now they’re going after the mainland Chinese market, which is why they’ve spent nearly three years organizing this single trip.
The cruise industry in China is still relatively small. Around 700,000 Chinese passengers took cruises in 2014, whereas in America and Europe the numbers of passengers reached ten million and seven million, respectively. But in China this number has increased by 79% over the past two years. Some predict that China will become the second largest cruise ship market in the world before 2017, and that eventually it will overtake the U.S. as the largest.
When the first cruise ship arrived in Tianjin seven or eight years ago, all the locals crowded around to enjoy the spectacle. Nobody had ever seen a ship so large before. Liao Yaozong was in the crowd that day. A vice president of the Chinese real estate company Golden Era, Liao recalled, “When I saw it I thought to myself, someday I have to take my dad for a trip on a ship that big.”
“For Chinese people, cruises now are like Western-style button up shirts were back in the 80s—expensive, so not many people wore them, but you knew that one day you’d have to buy one,” Liao continued. “It’s just like how Chinese people only want to buy Mercedes and Porsches. Even if other cars are more expensive they won’t buy them, because people don’t know what they are, so nobody will know that you’re rich.”
Liao Yaozong is among the first generation of Chinese real estate investors. Back in the 90s, only a few years out of college, Liao wanted to give himself a wedding that would impress his guests. To his parents’ generation, young people back then were all a bunch of “petty speculators,” coming up from the south to resell clothes, electronics, melons, fruit, and other things to make money. But Liao’s father, who came from a military background, thought this kind of work was below his son. So Liao went into real estate instead.
But China’s real estate market has just plateaued, and Liao is worried. He’s afraid that the cost of government demolitions is going down, meaning that real estate prices will be going down, too. The cost of land, steel and other materials, and labor are all rising, and when you add in inflation, the market is weak right now. This has held back the rate of development further and made it increasingly difficult to do business.
Especially so during the six-day voyage to Athens on the open sea. “There’s nothing else to do on board. How can I help worrying about my business?” Liao continues, “These past three years I’ve basically used up all of the money I made the three years before that.”
Costa has organized all sorts of activities for their Chinese passengers: dance lessons, art classes, Italian classes, folk performances, pool parties, magic shows, and more. There are cards and board games, an arcade, and karaoke to pass the time. If that’s not enough, the ship’s cabins have been divided up into 50 “neighborhoods” with the head of each putting on dance competitions, mahjong matches, ping-pong face offs, and talent shows.
Full of energy and enthusiasm, Chinese aunties are the main fighting force behind these activities. They’ve succeeded at moving their public dances to the cruise ship. Every night on the dance floor of La Dolce Vita they perform “Little Apple,” and every time the band asks for requests they all shout, “Play ‘Little Apple’!!!” After two weeks, Liao Yaozong has had it. He goes up to the front desk to tell the clerk, “You can’t play ‘Little Apple’ anymore. I can’t take it anymore. ” It’s his only complaint during the whole trip.
Actually, there is one other thing getting on Liao’s nerves. In the dining hall on the ninth floor, there is a Chinese passenger with a patch of ringworm on his scalp. It must really itch, because sometimes while they are eating he uses a fork to scratch his head. It makes Liao and his fellow passengers rather uncomfortable.
On this massive vessel, more than half of the passengers are over 70. The oldest is 88 and the youngest is 12 months. They’ve worked in some of the most eye-catching professions in China: retired employees of state-owned enterprises, owners of private companies, doctors, poets, photographers, authors, entrepreneurs, artists, singers, antique collectors, financiers, famous musicians, models. Businessmen make up the majority, and the majority of those work in real estate.
“There are too many petty people on this boat,” Liao says with contempt. “A lot of them just want to tack on the title of ‘global.'” He leans over the table and narrows his eyes, assessing the ship. It’s almost midnight, and the hall is empty. The boat hasn’t set sail yet, and it rocks gently, like a cradle, with the waves at the dock.
It’s already 9:00 a.m. when I wake on our second day. I open the curtains to see that the boat is still docked in Athens. Voices bounce around the second-floor lounge in La Dolce Vita, while the couch in the lobby overflows with people. The mood is a little tense. Eight attendants with stiff backs and nervous expressions stand at the reception desk, telling the rush of passengers that the ship is having “technical difficulties.”
“What kind of ‘technical difficulties?’ Tell me straight!” an older gentleman says, shaking his finger almost close enough to hit the nose of a Chinese attendant. The young lady instantly turns red, and a fine bead of sweat pools on the tip of her nose. There are 833 staff members on the boat from 29 different countries, including 160 from China. Several Italians in staff uniforms are standing by the bar anxiously discussing something.
To assuage the passengers, Costa has arranged an on-shore tour for the Chinese passengers. At 10:30 a.m., the guests get on a bus from the dock to downtown Athens.
Since this plan is spur of the moment, the young tour guide doesn’t speak very good English and is rather underprepared, and she is ill at ease the entire trip. On the bus, a male Chinese tourist has a printed guide and keeps interrupting her to correct her small mistakes.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” a short-haired, middle-aged woman from Shanghai suddenly stands up and cuts off the guide, then says to everyone else, “The tour guide is sloppy! She hasn’t translated everything.” She walks to the front of the bus, points one finger at the local guide and another at the young Chinese guide and says, “Like this. You say one sentence, and you translate one sentence.”
A bit embarrassed, the young girl nervously translates “basketball court” as “football stadium,” and just as before the male Chinese tourist loudly corrects her. “Wrong again!” The bus bursts into laughter, and even though it is at the expense of the man, the young lady becomes even more embarrassed, subconsciously shrinking back a step and hiding her face behind a seat back so the passengers can’t see her face.
At the foot of the Acropolis, a different group of Chinese people are stumped by a simple math problem.
Liao Yaozong chose to travel unguided, and after disembarking ran into a group of five fellow Chinese passengers. The six of them cram into a taxi to go sightseeing, coming to 70 euros ($79) altogether, or 12 euros ($13.50) a person. Just before they take off, another aunty from the cruise decides to join, so now they are seven. The driver raises the price to 80 euros ($90).
Here’s the problem: how much is each person supposed to pay? Eighty euros divided by seven comes to 11.4 euros ($12.80), right? Wrong. The auntie comes to a different solution. She figures, since it was originally 70 euros for six people (12 euros per person), you now need to simply add another person, but not increase the cost per person. The price increased by ten euros, so she’ll pay ten, and everyone else can continue paying their 12 each.
There are two solutions to this. The aunty is only 1.4 euros short of her assumed responsibility—less than RMB 10 ($1.60)—but the seven spent half an hour solving this math problem. In the end, Liao Yaozong and the others concede.
Upon returning to the ship at nightfall, I receive a notice in my room: the ship had been fixed, and in the morning we’ll be leaving for Santorini. The little tempest has finally blown away.
Onboard, you frequently hear conversations such as these: “The loose diamonds we bought in New York were so cheap!…” “My family has quite a few Omega wristwatches. Just taking one in to get fixed costs a hefty penny…” “Originally we wanted to bring a nanny onboard with us…”
There’s a constant, unspoken competition going on among all the “new money,” like in the film “Titanic.” Who’s bar tab is the highest? Who gambled the biggest at the casino? Who has a Leica camera? Who is staying in the most luxurious terrace suite with the panoramic ocean view? Who bought which luxury item onshore today? It’s as if there is an invisible scoreboard. Which miserable wretch will be wiped off the board today?
The RMB 150,000 ($24,165) each person paid for the cruise is merely their ticket onboard. Everything else they consume is extra, including any onshore excursions, bar tabs, Internet service, as well as the cafe, the duty-free shop, the casino, the exercise facilities and spa, and so on.
Though they are always eager to spend competitively, the Chinese passengers seem just as committed to thrift. The cruise offers several wifi packages. The Chinese all quickly choose the cheapest package, around $100. In order to conserve their data usage, many are willing to wait to use the Internet until the ship pulls into port.
The bottled water in the rooms cost about $5 each, so Chinese guests generally bring free water from the buffet back to their room, or else come up with ways to bring back water from onshore trips. The cruise held a wine tasting for about $15, and hardly anyone went. But every time there is a free activity, it’s filled to the brim. If you forget your cell phone or umbrella while watching a show in the Caruso Theater, you will never see anyone bring it to reception.
Most complaints are about bad food and poor service. The reception desk at La Dolce Vita has become the staging ground for conflict.
But there was a complaint that surpassed all these. Twenty-four hours ago, an 80-year-old retired teacher from Shanghai, Mr. Yan, rushed from his room to the reception desk in righteous indignation. What upset him was that the TV on board the ship had broadcast a foreign talk show which attacked the Chinese system of government and the state of affairs.
“I won’t stand for it!” Mr. Yan and his wife tell me as they pull me into Caffe Florian on the third floor. “What qualifies them to criticize China? We now have the money to tour the world. Isn’t that because China’s economy is prospering, and the motherland is strong?” Mr. Yan was agitated, his voice rising.
The real Caffe Florian opened in 1720 in Venice’s Piazza San Marco. It is said that Hemingway once lingered there. “Quiet, quiet.” Mr. Yan’s wife, 76 years old, tugs at the hem of her clothes. She warns her husband, “Speak quietly in public places. Don’t disturb others.”
Mr. Yan allies with a few old comrades and complains to reception several times. “China can’t be bullied by foreigners,” he says. A few hours later, the program is finally taken off the air. “We won!” Mr. Yan and his comrades shake hands excitedly and celebrate in the hallway.
After Mr. Yan and his wife retired, they always longed for travel. They are now seasoned cruise aficionados. They can compare at leisure the merits of Princess and Costa cruises, down to the finest detail.
Mr. Yan and his wife visited Hong Kong in 1998, the year after the city was returned to China. They found Victoria Harbor ablaze with light, a world utterly apart from their own. But when the cruise passed through Hong Kong this time, Mr. Yan had a new experience. “Victoria Harbor isn’t much, you know. It looks so small. Our Bund in Shanghai is certainly not inferior.”
Mr. Yan seeks out a woman from Hong Kong who owns a noodle shop. “What will you do when you get back to Hong Kong? Do you support Occupy Central?” he asks. “I don’t,” she replies. “The kids are listening to other people and going out to stir things up. I’m worried to death. The restaurant has also suffered—we’re at the brink of closing down.” Mr. Yan is gratified by this response.
In 2006, limited by salaries and vacation allowances, there weren’t many Chinese traveling abroad. Mr. Yan was even mistaken for Japanese by the staff at a hotel in Paris. In 2012, when Mr. Yan first applied for a visa to take a cruise, the process was exceedingly strict and cumbersome. Not only did he have to produce his marriage certificate, he had to have it notarized. At that time, China didn’t have any long-distance cruises. Mr. Yan and his wife had no choice but to fly to Europe and the U.S. to embark.
“All European and American drivers stop for pedestrians. They’re not at all in a hurry. They never take over the road,” Mr. Yan notes. His wife adds, “And Europeans don’t save money. Their social security system is guaranteed.”
From the churning gossip on the ship, two love stories have emerged.
The first concerns Ms. Summer and an Italian pianist named Luciano. A little girl on the ship swore to me that she saw them holding hands on the sunlit deck, but the man and woman themselves vow that no such thing happened.
Summer is 52 and from Sichuan. Her hair is curly, and a smile is always on her face. “How poetic, to cross the globe at leisure on a boat.” She crinkles her eyes as she gently draws a circle in the sky with her finger.
In 1978 she was among the first batch of students to enter university after the reinstatement of the gaokao. When Hainan became independent from Guangdong in 1988, Summer abandoned the comfort of her monthly salary of 100 yuan ($27) and her housing allotment and joined her boyfriend and 200,000 college students in their migration to the new island province to seek their fortune. She and her boyfriend made a pact: “until death, never look back.”
Summer witnessed Hainan’s frenzied land speculation in the 90s. Even the old women selling betel in the street could produce a red diagram (the official document for a building lot), hawking parcels of land that had changed hands five or six times and were now worth millions. Whenever someone came to look at land, they would take that person to the shore, gesture towards the open sea, and say, “This is where they will reclaim the land.”
At last Hainan’s real estate bubble burst. Some people made money, but most left the island in dejection. Summer was among the 30,000 university graduates who stayed in Hainan. In 1991, she insisted on buying her husband’s original issue stock in a construction company. Her foresight was repaid. Two years later, the company went public, and the several tens of thousands of yuan Summer had invested grew to several hundred thousand. Another two years on, Summer used her first pot of money to invest in a real estate project. In 2006, Summer and her husband divorced, and she used the money earned from real estate to begin investing in organic farming.
“After two weeks on the ship, I got really fidgety,” says Summer. The Sichuanese prefer strong flavors, and the food on the ship, while adjusted to the Chinese palate, is still rather insipid. There was nothing to do, especially during that endless week on the open sea. It was hard to endure. Summer decided to take the Italian course offered on the ship, and after class she would find Luciano to practice what she had just learned.
Luciano is from Rome. He is about 60, with a head of silver hair. When he plays piano at the Dolce Vita bar, he talks and sings. The rhythm of the songs is upbeat, and when Luciano sings he always turns that statuesque face of his to smile on the crowd. He has countless fans.
“Summer picked up Italian quickly. She’s very smart,” says Luciano. “I like chatting with Chinese people. There are always genuine.” Luciano showed Summer videos of his earlier performances, and has plans to learn Chinese songs from her. Summer reviews her new Italian vocabulary with him. During breaks in his performances, the two sit on the sofa and chat.
But the other love story is a small tragedy.
On March 1, the very day the ship embarked, Yuan Ye bumped into the Sicilian musician Mauruzio at the Dolce Vita bar. They took a picture together, as if they were already old friends. The two had never gone on a date, but they would always run into each other at tourist spots. “Perhaps he doesn’t know how much delight and sorrow he has brought me,” Yuan Ye says.
Though they couldn’t speak each other’s languages, the two slowly became familiar, and their photos became more intimate. They would sunbathe together on the deck and greet each other at parties. The attentive Italian would serve as Yuan Ye’s shopping guide onshore. Although she couldn’t understand him, he would fill a page with prices and brand names. Once, on the beach in Marmaris, Turkey, Yuan Ye made a motion of jumping into the ocean. Mauruzio was so startled he rushed to hold her.
Yuan Ye is among China’s first generation of real estate sales girls. In the mid-80s, selling houses was an embarrassing profession. “It showed you couldn’t get placed in a national work unit,” Yuan Ye says. In 2002 she moved into the real estate business. Yuan Ye married her former husband in 1983, at the age of 21. She was introduced by her boss. The two had known each other for less than a month and had only hit it off 48 hours prior to their marriage. They had never dated.
When the Atlantica reached Santorini, that tiny island covered in romantic blue and white houses on the azure Aegean Sea, Yuan Ye once again found Mauruzio. Santorini’s hillsides are filled with yellow flowers. The two wandered the hills and took photos. The romantic Italian sang “Everybody’s Changing” to her and gathered a bouquet.
But that was the last time they saw each other. On April Fool’s Day, Yuan Ye sat alone in the cafe. Mauruzio had disembarked in Sicily. Because of the language difference, Yuan Ye didn’t even know if he had said goodbye. But Mauruzio left her what looked like an Internet username. I help her search Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, and other networks Westerners use, but we can’t find him. I ask every musician on the ship I can find, but since Mauruzio didn’t have a contract with the cruise company, no one has his contact information.
“That bouquet is still in my room. We live on the same planet, but I may never see him again,” Yuan Ye muses bitterly.
On the morning of April 2, the Costa Atlantica finally arrives at a harbor near Rome. We join a tour heading downtown. Most of the people on the bus are elderly. One uncle wearing a peaked cap records the scenery and tour guide’s lecture with a video camera.
One lady, a Taiwanese property developer around 50 to 60 years old, occupies two seats. She wears a bright red wool cap and the bathrobe from her room. “I’m old, and it’s freezing,” she says. When the tour guide tries to put someone next to her, she blocks the seat with her hand and says, “Have them cram in with someone else. I’m old and don’t want to be crowded.”
The guide starts to introduce Rome’s ancient architecture. The Taiwanese lady says to a few mainlanders nearby, “I don’t care about going to see all these old buildings. They’re a waste of time. We’d be better off shopping.” Further down the road, she starts talking to a few other guests about how to appreciate lobsters according to terroir.
“Do you have any other questions about Rome?” asks the guide. The bus is completely silent. After a moment, a Chinese aunt sitting near the back asks, “Are housing costs high?” Hearing the guide’s reply, she thinks they’re not so bad. A while later, she asks, “How’s the social security system?”
As we approach our destination, the tour guide tells everyone we will get off here and meet again in five hours. The man in the peaked cap is upset. He turns off his video camera and fumes, “I can’t speak English. How can you throw us out here?” The guide hurriedly explains, “The onshore tour you purchased is self-guided. There’s another fully guided tour for people who can’t speak English.”
“Then take us to see the sights! Or else you won’t have any business.” An old man next to the man in the peaked cap yells. Several older men clammer after him, “Yes, we don’t know the way.” The whole bus erupts in chaos, and several of the old men get excited. The voice of the man in the peaked cap rises, his face flushing red.
All of a sudden the Taiwanese businesswoman stands up and throws a jumble of English and Chinese names at the young Italian guide. “Hermès, Kelisiting, LV, Xuenai’er, Prada…?” The guide is perplexed. The Taiwanese women quickly turns to the Chinese guide and asked, “Help me ask her where I can buy brands from local designers? They must be from local designers.”
The younger passengers do nothing to hide their disdain for the whole scene. Mr. Y, a Beijinger sitting beside me, flips the bird towards the older group. The last time he showed his middle finger to someone, he and his target nearly came to blows. “Come over here! I’m not afraid of them!” He shouts at the top of his lungs. Mr. Y was born in the late 60s, but on this trip, that makes him relatively youthful.
The Chinese guide begins to compare Rome to our next destination, Barcelona. An older man grumbles, “You haven’t finished with Rome and you’re already moving on to Barcelona.” A middle-aged man two rows ahead cranes his neck back and retorts, “If you think you’re so hot, why don’t you just buy Rome then?” The old man says no more.
“Young people ought to be on this cruise,” says Mr. Y. “They should see the world. Only they are China’s hope for the future. It’s too bad they’re all stuck in the cities as mortgage slaves.” He tears up the map of Rome in his hands, gives the older folks a ruthless glance, then puts in his earbuds and turns to look out the window.
The night before I leave the ship, I run into Liao Yaozong at the Winter Garden on the third deck. He tells me that he had also decided to disembark before the cruise leaves Europe. “I’m anxious to get back and make money,” he says, half-jokingly.
After he gets back to China, Liao wants to change professions. “The times have changed,” he says, looking out the window at the dark expanse of the ocean. When he first entered the real estate industry, Chinese were particularly respectful of “rich people,” even if they wore sneakers with suits or colorful nylon pants with leather shoes. But now, Chinese people call those with more money than they know what to do with tuhao, the nouveau riche. Liao fears nothing more than this label.
“I don’t want my daughter to one day say to people, ‘My dad is one of those nightclub owners.'” In order to avoid this designation, he bought a Leica instead of a “rifle” camera, and a British-style Buckingham camera bag to go with it. He doesn’t buy Mercedes or BMW, and he reads Ouyang Shanzun and Wang Dulu.
“The real estate business is too boorish. It’s not something to do your entire life.” Liao plans to get into culture and education–vinyl clubs, art salons, horsemanship, and other quality endeavors. “For the Europeans, it takes three generations to produce a noble. We need to hurry up on that,” he adds.
On April 4 the ship arrives in Barcelona. I have spent a week onboard. During those seven days, I conducted an experiment. I asked the same question to every person I met: “What do you think China’s future will be like?” Their answers were astoundingly similar, including Liao Yaozong’s. He told me, “I’ve never thought about this before. I feel that this isn’t a question for me to think about. Thinking about it wouldn’t be of any use anyway.”
I disembark at noon. The fickle Mediterranean weather suddenly turns to a light rain. Standing at the port of Barcelona, I look back at the gigantic letter “C” on the Costa Atlantica’s bright yellow exhaust chimney. Carrying over 600 Chinese passengers on the journey of their dreams, the ship sets sail from the spring toward the summer.
(Some names were changed.) [Chinese]
Translation by Nick, Josh Rudolph, Little Bluegill, and Anne Henochowicz.