Andy Guo, an 18-year-old Chinese immigrant, loves driving his red Lamborghini Huracán. He does not love having to share the car with his twin brother, Anky.
“There’s a lot of conflict,” Andy Guo said, as a crowd of admirers gazed at the vehicle and its vanity license plate, “CTGRY 5,” short for the most catastrophic type of hurricane.
The 360,000-Canadian-dollar car was a gift last year from the twins’ father, who travels back and forth between Vancouver and China’s northern Shanxi province and made his fortune in coal, said Andy Guo, an economics major at the University of British Columbia.
The car is more fashion than function. “I have a backpack, textbooks and laundry, but I can’t fit everything inside,” he lamented. And that is not the worst of it. “A cop once pulled me over just to look at the car,” he said.
China’s rapid economic rise has turned peasants into billionaires. Many wealthy Chinese are increasingly eager to stow their families, and their riches, in the West, where rule of law, clean air and good schools offer peace of mind, especially for those looking to escape scrutiny from the Communist Party and an anti-corruption campaign that has sent hundreds of the rich and powerful to jail.
With its weak currency and welcoming immigration policies, Canada has become a top destination for China’s 1 percenters. According to government figures, from 2005 to 2012, at least 37,000 Chinese millionaires took advantage of a now-defunct immigrant investor program to become permanent residents of British Columbia, the province that includes Vancouver. This metropolitan area of 2.3 million is increasingly home to Chinese immigrants, who made up more than 18 percent of the population in 2011, up from less than 7 percent in 1981.
Many residents say the flood of Chinese capital has caused an affordable housing crisis. Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada to buy a home, according to a 2016 survey by the consulting firm Demographia. The average price of a detached house in greater Vancouver more than doubled from 2005 to 2015, to around 1.6 million Canadian dollars ($1.2 million), according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Residents angry about the rise of rich foreign real estate buyers and absentee owners, particularly from China, have begun protests on social media, including a #DontHave1Million Twitter campaign. The provincial government agreed this year to begin tracking foreign ownership of real estate in response to demands from local politicians.
Young buy fancy cars
The anger has had little effect on the gilded lives of Vancouver’s wealthy Chinese. Indeed, to the newcomers for whom money is no object, the next purchase after a house is usually a car, and then a few more.
Many luxury car dealerships here employ Chinese staff, a testament to the spending power of the city’s newest residents. In 2015, there were 2,500 cars worth more than $150,000 registered in metropolitan Vancouver, up from 1,300 in 2009, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
Many of Vancouver’s young supercar owners are known as fuerdai, a Mandarin expression, akin to trust-fund kids, that means “rich second generation.” In China, where the superrich are widely criticized as being corrupt and materialistic, the term provokes a mix of scorn and envy.
The fuerdai have brought their passion for extravagance to Vancouver. White Lamborghinis are popular among young Chinese women; the men often turn in their leased supercars after a few months in order to play with a newer, cooler status symbol.
They don’t work. They just spend their parents’ money.
David Dai, founder of Vancouver Dynamic Auto Club
Hundreds of young Chinese immigrants, along with a handful of Canadian-born Chinese, have started supercar clubs whose members come together to drive, modify and photograph their flashy vehicles, providing alluring eye candy for their followers on social media.
The Vancouver Dynamic Auto Club has 440 members, 90 percent of whom are from China, said the group’s 27-year-old founder, David Dai. To join, a member must have a car that costs more than 100,000 Canadian dollars, or about $77,000.
“They don’t work,” Dai said of Vancouver’s fuerdai. “They just spend their parents’ money.”
Occasionally, the need for speed hits a roadblock. In 2011, the police impounded a squadron of 13 Lamborghinis, Maseratis and other luxury cars, worth $2 million, for racing on a metropolitan Vancouver highway at 125 mph. The drivers were members of a Chinese supercar club, and none were older than 21, according to news reports at the time.
On a recent evening, an overwhelmingly Chinese crowd of young adults had gathered at an invitation-only Rolls-Royce event to see a new black-and-red Dawn convertible, base price $402,000. It is the only such car in North America.
Among the curious was Jin Qiao, 20, a baby-faced art student who moved to Vancouver from Beijing six years ago with his mother. During the week, Jin drives one of two Mercedes-Benz SUVs, which he said were better suited for the rigors of daily life.
But his most prized possession is a $600,000 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster Galaxy, its exterior custom wrapped to resemble outer space. A lanky design major who favors Fendi clothing and gold sneakers, Jin extolled the virtues of exotic cars and was quick to dismiss those who criticized supercar aficionados as ostentatious.
“There are so many rich people in Vancouver, so what’s the point of showing off?” he said.
Wealth less questioned in B.C.
Asked what his parents did for work, Jin said his father was a successful businessman back in China but declined to provide details.
“I can’t say,” he stammered with evident discomfort.
In Vancouver, there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials.
Shi Yi, owner of Luxury Motor
Because of high import and luxury taxes, supercars are often 50 percent cheaper in Canada than in China. And in Canada, Chinese immigrants said, people are far less likely to question how they obtained their wealth.
“In Vancouver, there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials,” said Shi Yi, 27, the owner of Luxury Motor, a car dealership that caters to affluent Chinese. “Here, they can flaunt their money.”
Some Chinese immigrants think a supercar is a poor investment, because its value decreases over time.
“Better to spend half a million dollars on two expensive watches or some diamonds,” said Diana Wang, 23, a University of British Columbia graduate student who said she owned more than 30 Chanel bags and a $200,000 diamond-encrusted Richard Mille watch.
Wang, a star on the online reality show “Ultra Rich Asian Girls of Vancouver,” normally drives her parents’ Ferrari or Mercedes-Maybach when she visits them in Shanghai. But in Canada, her parents gave her a strict car budget of 150,000 Canadian dollars ($115,000), so she drives the less-flashy Audi RS5.
“I could be in danger if people saw me in a supercar,” she said, her Breguet watch, worth more than a BMW, glinting in the sunlight as she drove the Audi through town.
Four years ago, to learn the value of money after her friends criticized her spending habits, Wang spent three days on the streets of Vancouver, playing homeless. She said she had left her mansion with no phone, identification or wallet, wearing Victoria’s Secret pajamas and $1,000 Chanel shoes.
While in voluntary poverty, she lined up for donated food and felt the sting of humiliation after she was kicked out of a Tim Horton’s fast-food restaurant for falling asleep at a table. The experiment, she said, gave her a new appreciation for her parents’ financial support.
“Before that experience, I never looked at a price tag,” she said. “Now I do.”