The portly Wang Dong Qing sat in his office facing a wall stacked with toy fighter jets and military tanks. On his desk, a “platinum” membership card of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club. Down in his parking lot, an eight-metre long Cadillac stood in a 40-vehicle fleet of Mercedes and BMWs rented by Chinese businessmen to impress visiting clients. “Ride my Cadillac,’’ urged Wang, waving a wrist circled with plump Buddhist beads. “For five minutes.”
The ceremonial limousine of American presidents — and lately Chinese magnates — is too long to manoeuvre the back alleys of Sanya where the only industry is luxury with Chinese characteristics. So the millionaires of the economy with a three-trillion-dollar stockpile land their jets land directly on the tropical golf courses of this southernmost island where they gamble away a fortune.
“Last month, one Chinese golfer lost 20 million yuan here,’’ Raymond Hau, general manager of the Sun Valley Sanya golf resort, told with a hearty laugh. “In one day.”
On the trail of the spendthrift habits of the world’s new rich, we took a four-hour flight from smoggy Beijing where everyone’s talking about the rich-poor gap and unaffordable housing, to a former fishing village being marked up as the ultra-capitalist beachfront of communist China.
On this, Beijing wants to beat Bali and Monaco strip of half a million people (but eight million affluent Chinese tourists). This reporter took a spin inside a limo, scrambled aboard yachts and saw blueprints for floating villas and the costliest holiday homes in China. Officials were reluctant to discuss a Chinese media report that Asia’s largest hotel is being built here — with a greyhound racing stadium.
We wandered into the resort with China’s only par-6 golf course where Chinese billionaires are known to spend the wealth they made since the last three decades when it became officially acceptable to get rich.
We asked Hau what sets apart the Chinese tycoon from his western counterpart. “Since the last year and half, people show us wads of cash and demand to play golf right away without reservations,’’ Hau said. “Golf will not develop in China without gambling — up to 500,000 yuan per hole. When Beijing golf courses close in winter, they all come here.’’
China is a developing country, its leadership repeats in every global negotiation. It is also the fastest-growing economy and the second-largest luxury market where foreign designer stores post higher profits in upwardly mobile second and third-tier cities than Shanghai.
The ‘developing country’ slogan is misplaced in Sanya where the ragtag fishing boats and imported yachts sail on separate sides outside China’s largest yacht club.
Wang Dafu is not available but his Lamborghini is parked at the entrance of the Dubai-style Visun Royal Yacht Club. Da fu aptly means big fortune. “The reason you earn money is to spend it,’’ this owner of a 72-foot Pershing yacht told NYT last year.
Private yacht racing in the southern sea is getting so popular that this club has raised its membership fees and started expanding the port for hundreds more berths.
“The fishing boats will be moved out,’’ assured the club employees. We took off our footwear and climbed aboard yachts whose owners or renters are spread from Shanghai to poorer provinces like Shanxi. The interiors were plainly furnished with no signature statements. It’s the mere ownership of ‘Monte Carlo’ that matters.
Chinese eaves were the tradition of the first rich generation homes. The current second-rich generation shops for beachfront Spanish villas and bedrooms bordered with plunge pools.
“We call it oriental Hawaii,’’ said Xu Guorong, executive director of the Yalong Development Company. This Goa-like strip of silky white sand named Yalong bay — meaning Asian Dragon for its shape — was wetland 15 years ago. Few foreigners except Russians flock to this elite hideout, but every official who spoke to HT said that India – where Forbes estimates that the 100 richest have comparable wealth to China’s 400 richest — is their next big market.
We asked Xu to describe the taste of the affluent spender. He pointed his laser to the ‘dragon’s head’ on a Florida-inspired blueprint of villas and a floating five-star resort. “Hotel guests and villa owners will take yachts directly to the lobby or villa entrance.’’
“ The new generation of wealthy Chinese consumers loves boating and private jets” said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a specialized agency for VIP events targeting wealthy Chinese travelers.
State-owned companies are shadow owners in flagrantly lavish property being designed for China’s cash-rich underbelly and communist officials with a prerequisite for 170-cm hotel hostesses.
Our taxi zoomed down an empty highway with lamps powered by white windmills. The migrant driver from central China rubbed his fingers to indicate he moved here for the money.
“In the global travel industry, the community everyone wants to cater is the Chinese,’’ said Raj Mohan, the month-old Renaissance hotel’s food and beverage director.
On the eighth floor Presidential suite, we wandered into four bedrooms, two private pools and meeting rooms that look like Beijing’s great halls that await the Chinese mogul. The tag: 88,888 yuan ($13,700).
“Ninety per cent of our tourists will remain mostly Chinese for five years,’’ said tourism official Tang Sixian as he dialed a developer of an upcoming artificial island. The island will have only one oversize landmark. A row of four luxury high-rises and a luxury hotel with 360-degree sea views and balcony baths.
“When Sanya was a fishing village, I visited the developed world and saw its lifestyle,’’ Cadillac-owner Wang told us. “After many years, Chinese rich people have the ability to spend like that.’’