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by: Bernard Teo

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List of Categories : Database * Technology * Commentary * Singapore * Travel *

Tue 12 Jul 2005

Bobos in a Flat World

Category : Commentary/bobos.txt

I first saw the word "Bobo" on a column in the Raffles City in Shanghai, whose thick round grey metal-clad columns look exactly like the ones we have in the Raffles City in Singapore, no doubt to make us Singaporeans feel right at home.

I was waiting for my chicken rice and, as usual when I don't have a book to read, I was reading anything that pass my way - the menu, the exit signs, the words on people's T-shirts - but this time I didn't need to bother. I was sitting next to a column that had past issues of the Straits Times wrapped all round it. And right at my eye level was the story of the Bobos in China.

"The term BoBo, short for Bourgeois Bohemian, has caught on in China since David Brooks's book "BoBos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There" was translated into Chinese and published in separate editions in Taiwan and China.

"In cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the word is on everyone's lips - especially young executives and other members of the nouveau riche, known in Chinese as "xiaozi" or "petit bourgeoisie" - a group that was once a target of ideological campaigns.

"Even for a casual observer from Hong Kong, the new social scene is fascinating. For the Chinese BoBos have matched, if not surpassed, their American and European counterparts in the wealth, glamour and intellectual elitism of their self-constructed images."

I didn't write that - it was written by someone called "Leo Ou-fan Lee", evidently for the International Herald Tribune and reproduced in the Straits Times, and I could only find a reference on the Net in, of all places, the on-line version of "The Kathmandu Post" (for the full article, look under the section - "China's BoBos mountain (sic) urban revolution").

Anyway, I made a point to read that book when I got back and I've just finished it and I'm wondering what could have been going on in the Chinese bobos' minds' when they were reading it. It's funny in (increasingly sparse) parts (as you go further into the book). It made some excellent points but I couldn't quite get past the smugness in its tone. I feel more like the reviewer in this critique of the book. The book is sub-titled : "The New Upper Class and How They Got There". And so I'm thinking about trajectory - what could happen next.

A good book to read in parallel (and maybe in opposition) to Bobos is Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat". Both books talk about the role technology plays as the defining element in 21st Century lives. But, while one book talks about the feast, the other has you picturing the hungry hordes that are about to eat the Bobos' lunch.

I don't know. I'm still digesting it - both of them. But it's one past midnight and all this talk about food and chicken rice is working up an appetite.

Posted at 5:40PM UTC | permalink

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