people's republic of desire
Niuniu is dining with an old classmate, Lisa, who is visiting from America. Lisa is complaining about the US economy still being sluggish. It occurs to Niuniu that young people - particularly those who matured in the technology boom of the late 1990s - consider economic growth their birthright, and austerity an undeserved hardship.
Niuniu says she is more of a Taoist in her approach to the pendulous swings of the economy. 'Times of fortune yield to times of hardship, which later yield to more times of fortune,' she says. 'Ask any person who has lived through a couple of these cycles and they will tell you a bear market is nothing to get worked up over.'
It is common knowledge that consumption is a key factor in driving economic growth. Consumer demand leads to increases in manufacturing, more jobs and more money to satisfy demand for consumer goods. Perhaps not coincidentally, consumption is also the key to waistline growth. And as that festive time of year, with its fabulous feasts and sweets, approaches once again, people across the world must brace themselves for the most indiscriminate hazard of the season: weight gain.
At the end of last year, after all the parties she attended and a temporary bout of depression brought on by the on-screen jilting of one of her favourite prime-time TV stars, Niuniu added almost 5kg to her slight frame. It took six weeks of cardio-kickboxing and denying herself such comforts as Sichuan noodles and onion pancakes to recover. This year, she has vowed to engage in a proactive battle with the yearly trend. She has begun her diet early.
So when Lisa asks if she wants dessert, she replies: 'No, I can't. I am dieting.'
Lisa tells her: 'You're crazy, Niuniu! You're so thin! You don't need to diet.'
This was the problem when Niuniu lived in the US: she was constantly told she was too thin. When she complained about her weight gain, she offended whomever she was talking to, making them more conscious of their weight problem. 'When I lived in America,' says Niuniu, 'all I wanted was to have sexy curves. I used push-up bras, did step exercises, I even ate more ice cream to add something to my figure. I felt so inferior to all the curvaceous women around me. But when I went back home to visit, my family told me I was getting too fat. My grandmother even took me to her acupuncturist. She was afraid I would never find a good husband if I didn't lose the weight.'
Weight loss has become big business in Asia, with massage, acupuncture, yoga, calorie counting and exercise all the rage. In recent years, people have taken up bowling, mountain climbing, tennis and many other activities - all in the name of staying thin.
But, just as a burgeoning economy must always give way to a recession, so must the gigantic wheels of the weight-loss industry slow in the path of a season of rest, relaxation, and excess. Stores and restaurants beckon us to close the year with colleagues, friends and family. And when we've started a new year and we clearly have had too much of everything, there are gyms and clinics to help us get back into shape.
'The different standards for beauty in America and China make it very frustrating for me,' Niuniu tells Lisa. 'In China, people say I am fat. As soon as I land in San Francisco, people say I am thin. But I have an idea for making the best of this situation.'
'What's that?' asks Lisa.
'I'm thinking of marketing direct flights to the US as an instant weight-loss plan.'