Life isn't cheap

09:26, July 16, 2010      

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Parents queue for their children's admission to the State-run Wangjing kindergarten, Beijing, on April 18, 2007. With camp beds and benches, they stay up for all night, struggling to win the only 30 places of a puppy training class. Photo: CFP


Among the robots, teddy bears, and some colorful comic books, 2-year-old toddler Afu was amusing himself. He was trying to take the jacket from a teddy bear, and put it on Bumblebee, a popular member of the Transformers line of robot toys. The queer mixture of jacket and robot made Afu grin, then start to laugh.

Next to him on the sofa, Wang Yang was looking at her son, but without smiling.

"As parents, we are under increasing financial pressure while my son's growing up," said Wang. After arriving in Beijing from Liaoning Province more than a decade ago, Wang got married in 2003. After years of efforts. Wang and her husband bought an affordable car and a small apartment in the suburbs of the capital.

"We knew the pressure of raising a child in China, but the current situation is still far beyond our imagination," Wang said. A week ago, she paid a 1,000 yuan ($147) deposit to reserve a spot for Afu at a private kindergarten in 2011.

A baby boom coinciding with the lucky Chinese year of the Pig in 2007 and the 2008 Olympic year are putting pressure on recent kindergarten intakes in China's big cities. Demand for places is so high that parents have to choose to go to expensive private kindergartens, and even that, they have to put down a deposit a year before actual enrollment.

"Actually I'm lucky to get the spot for next year. I went to three other kindergartens before I got the last position at this one, because all of them were booked out," said Wang. In her mid-30s, her eyes were already wrinkled by the burden of raising a child.

The deposit will not be returned if Wang changes her mind next year, and she has to pay nearly 2,500 yuan tuition a month. Wang and her husband make roughly 13,000 yuan per month in total, which includes the mortgage and the family's living expenses. They also have to support their four retired parents and have to pray that they don't have to pay for any expensive medical treatment.

Though the tuition fee is a large expense for the family, as nonlocals in Beijing, Wang and her husband have no chance to find a spot in a public kindergarten. Public kindergartens in Beijing are only available for children with a local hukou (residence permit).

For children like Afu, there are alternatives: His parents either have to pay about 100,000 yuan so he can "study at a public school on a temporary basis" or find a place with a kindergarten.

School battles

At the public kindergartens, the battle for next year's entrance started earlier this year. At some popular ones, enrollment days see huge crowds that leave parents gasping for air as they press forward to scribble their names down. It looks like a crowd of fans waiting for a pop star, not parents looking for a place for their kids.

At 4 pm, in front of the Blue Sky Kindergarten, considered one of the best in Beijing and connected to the air force, a kind of auto show was going on. Luxury cars lined up in front of the gate and even packed in neighborhood hutongs to pick up their children.

"Every day is like this, the cars block our way and it's very annoying," said a local residence surnamed Zhang. He said most of the cars look super expensive, so "the children in the kindergarten must come from very rich families."

The Blue Sky is famous because many senior officials send their children or grandchildren to this kindergarten, and it is frequently visited by high officials. The kindergarten's children get high priority in competitions to perform at the Chinese New Year Gala on TV, which nearly 70 percent of the population watch.

"Many problems in China were caused by social inequality. The limited resources are controlled by the rich people or powerful groups, and the redistribution of wealth is not fair in society," said Li Shi, director of the Income Distribution and Poverty Research Center at the Beijing Normal University.

"The gap between the rich and the poor is so huge that the poor don't have the same access to education and many other public services as the rich people. The lack of good education will enlarge the gap and cause social instability."

Spartan life

Every weekday, the alarm clock wakes Wang Jiawei up at 6 am. He wakes up, keeps his eyes closed, and washes his face. He then takes a nap for another 10 minutes before breakfast.

"I don't eat any other food than milk and small pieces of bread," said Wang. "This bread is small so I can eat fast, which saves my time. I want to get as much sleep as possible."

After graduating five years ago from one of the best financial schools in China, Wang got married in 2008. He works extra hours all the time, but, like many young people in the city, he can't afford a car, an apartment, or feed a child.

"The cost to stay in Beijing is too expensive. I don't have much savings even though I worked for many years, so I don't want to bring myself any new trouble," Wang said. The skinny young man has small but bright eyes. His parents offered to pay the costs for raising his child, if he has one, but he refused.

"I think it's the responsibility for me to feed my own family. I think my parents already spend too much energy and efforts on me, and I don't want them to waste their time on another child. To feed a child is expensive now. We even can't feed ourselves."

Last year, a record $560 billion of residential property was sold in China, an increase of 80 percent from the year before, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBSC). But the prices have more than doubled in the capital, pushing the price of a regular two-bedroom apartment up to 3 million yuan, while Beijing residents typically earn less than 60,000 yuan a year. At the same time, the price of living expenses has also sharply increased. The price of vegetables, for example, has increased 20 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to NBSC.

"I want to have a child, but I don't know when I can. I heard about the kindergarten is very hard and expensive to get in, and I don't have money to support my kid," Wang said. "Life is already tough enough for our young people, but at least I have the freedom to make my life slightly easier by not having a child."
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(Editor:叶欣)

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