A new reality TV show that documents the lifestyle of ultra-rich Asian – mostly Chinese – girls living in Canada has become wildly popular in China and gained a big fan following all across Asia. The series follows a group of girls who are not shy of flaunting their riches onscreen, and very well documents the new wave of rich Chinese migrants in Canada and their growing influence on Canadian culture and society.
Kevin Li, the creator of the reality show, says he is aware of this ‘new culture’ growing in Vancouver. A second-generation Chinese immigrant himself, Li was born and brought up in a more modest and traditional family, which was much the norm till a few years back. Now however, the new rich of China are causing a cultural shift in Canada, and Li wants to document the change.
Li says that while the characters of his show are wealthy and flamboyant, they are also ambitious and want to make a positive contribution in Canada. The burgeoning middle class in China sees these characters as role models to look up to with lifestyles to aspire for.
British Columbia has had a long history of immigration from China and Hong Kong, and Asian investment has played a key role in shaping the B.C. economy. In the past, Asian immigrants would come to Canada looking for work and opening small businesses. Now however, newcomers to B.C. constitute mostly of rich Chinese, who until recently could buy residency through cash investments. According to Statistics Canada, 37,000 high net worth individuals from China got permanent residency in B.C. between 2005 and 2012. Most of them were rich retirees, businessmen, students and family members of affluent people working in mainland China. Arriving under the Investment Immigration Program, they brought much valuable capital to the country which helped create new jobs and support local businesses.
This surge in immigration has inevitably caused a significant change in demographics, with Richmond now having a 41% Chinese speaking population. Certain places in the suburb even have advertisements in the Chinese language exclusively, causing apprehensions among the locals. Richmond counsellor Alexa Loo calls such advertisements ‘ridiculous’ though she maintains her support for inclusivity and diversity.
Another concern among residents of the region is the rising number of Chinese students at the University of British Columbia. At present, the university has 19,100 students from China, which is more than the combined figures of international students from the US, India, Japan and Korea. “It really is a big worry that they’re not going to be fully integrated and they’re going to be separate,” says Anne Kessler, vice president of University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society. And with the university diverting its limited resources to cater to Chinese students, critics are becoming more vocal with their concern.
Rising prices of property in B.C. is yet another consequence of Chinese immigration, though the issue is not openly discussed. According to a survey, the housing prices in relation to income levels in Vancouver are the second-highest in the world, after Hong Kong. Vancouver’s median house price is recorded at $670,000, whereas the corresponding median household income is only $65,000.
It is widely believed that the rising price of real estate in the province is being caused by a stream of wealthy Chinese buyers who have been lining up to buy exclusive properties in the region, making real estate unaffordable for many local residents. Reports indicate that 74% of the 164 houses valued at more than $3 million in the affluent Westside of Vancouver were purchased by Asians.
Some of the Chinese investors who have made Vancouver their home believe that the province is highly attractive to foreign investors because of its economic and political security. Good schools, milder climate and friendly neighborhoods also add to the charm, and has helped the city make it to the world’s ‘top five’ most livable cities list.
Another big attraction is the low investment risk in Vancouver, which implies that capital invested is ‘safe’ and can be withdrawn quickly, as and when needed. “There are now rich people around the word who are looking for places where they can park some of their cash and feel safe about it. …We’re one of the places where people seem to want to park their cash, and there aren’t many of those places,” says Andy Yan, an urban planner based in Vancouver.
“Vancouver lacks the cultural cachet of Paris or Milan. But it does offer comfort and stability — and a place for the world’s super-rich to park sizeable funds in local real estate as a hedge against risk,” states PwC Canada and the Urban Land Institute in a joint report on real estate trends. The report also confirms that Vancouver’s continuing real estate price rise is due to increasing demand from wealthy foreign buyers, most of who are from China.
Property purchases by Chinese investors sometimes has raised questions about the purpose of these investments and their possible impact on the local economy. For instance, it has been found that 25% of the purchased condominiums in a posh Vancouver neighborhood are unoccupied. These homes are very likely “Plan B” investments by Chinese nationals, but contribute to real estate price rises unnecessarily, making it unaffordable for many people to buy houses or even rent them. But these trends help existing property owners (who get richer with the increasing value of their homes) and also the government, which receives taxes irrespective of whether the taxpayers are residents in the country or not.
The stars of Ultra Rich Asian Girls, however, don’t concern themselves with such mundane issues. And with all of China watching, they can well afford to.