Union external affairs minister Salman Khurshid was so impressed with Beijing that, after his recent visit, he gushed to reporters, “I’d love to live in Beijing.” Beijing is a world-class city, and maybe he was only complimenting his hosts. But what would happen if he really had to live in Beijing? Assume that Khurshid, who is 60, manages to land a job. His Indian and Oxford qualifactions would be useless, and as he doesn’t know Mandarin, he may only get unskilled work. The statutory minimum wage in Beijing is 1,400 renminbis. If his wife also worked, they’d earn 2,800 renminbis. What could they do?
They wouldn’t be able to live in the city centre, paying 4,455 renminbis (the average figure) in monthly rent. Living in the outskirts, paying 2,650 renminbis in rent, they’d be left with 150 renminbis for everything else. This won’t pay even their utility bills, at some 400 renminbis per month for an 85 square metre flat.
For eating out, they’ll have to explore the cheap restaurants flanking Beijing Central railway station. Even that would leave them poorer by 30 renminbis each. A three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant would be 150 renminbis per person and, therefore, out of bounds. A combo meal at McDonald’s, however, would be 25 renminbis. Domestic beer at 10 renminbis a pint or a cappuccino at 25 renminbis would be best avoided.
Should they cook at home, they’d have to pay 13 renminbis for a loaf of bread, seven renminbis for a kilo of rice, 10 renminbis for a dozen eggs, 30 renminbis for a kilo of chicken breast, 5 renminbis for a head of lettuce, nine renminbis per kilo for tomatoes and eight for potatoes. They’d find it difficult to buy fruit—apples are 12 renminbis a kilo, oranges 14. They can forget about wine—a bottle of mid-range...