Last night we went out with a friend who we spent lots of time with in an earlier phase of our then mutual lives. That stopped when she began living for the most part in Asia about 2003 -- we literally haven't seen her since then, though there is e-mail, etc. She's been back here this fall for the process of selling her condo. She reports.
"We all are serfs of the 1% now. Those of us who are lucky are existing on the drippings left over from the 1%, who now and again throw us some largess because we're among that tiny percentage of the 99% who happen to have skills and abilities that the 1% find useful or amusing at times. We're the court fools."
Her supposedly counted on income is from a Big Internationally Distributed magazine, in print and online, to report on the culture and cuisine of southeast Asia. Every year the contractual situation is up until the last moment -- will it be renewed or not? They say they are paying her too much. She's still getting what she got back when she began working for them in 2000. Accounting 'forgets' to pay her some months, and so on a so forth.
Our friend has been a freelance journalist, and a successful one, much of her professional writing life (before that she was a singer), starting long before the internet, before blogs, and e-publishing. She's never seen it this bad in all the years she's been a journalist. There are no gigs .... With over 17000 professional journalists let go by magazines and newspapers ten years ago, suddenly there were 17000 new, professional, competitors out there for the number of freelance jobs that shrink every months so. Additionally there are all the graduates since then from journalism and other writing programs ....
If you do have a job, you are obliged to spend hours and hours twitting, fbing, blogging, e-mailing, linked-inning, etc. about it because the beancounters back at hq -- i.e. accounts payable, are counting every hit you get. So you have the added job that you didn't used to have of being your own PR person. Sounds famiiar doesn't it?
And after all that the employer doesn't want to let go of any money, particularly to PAY YOU THE WRITER, even though contractually obligated to do so. The attitude is that you are taking advantage of them by bugging them about getting paid for work of yours they published six months ago.
She's started a personal Edith Wharton / Henry James gig of her own. She speaks Chinese fluently by now -- and more to the point can read it. Fujian Chinese in particular is two different languages: the spoken language and the written - read one, and they are not the same. So you hear a pop song and if you can speak Chinese you can't track it because songs are 'written,' so the singer's singing in that language. (Our friend's intonation is gorgeous, and she can sing and she has a beautiful voice -- she sang some ballads popular in Hongkong last night when the karaoke kicked in, so I enjoyed hearing her - unlike the others who got up to sing there last night -- shuddersome!) She also can get around in a number of other Asian languages too -- and her Spanish has long been fluent, which is also useful with as many Filippinos as there are in these cities. Anyone from Goldman Sachs is far too important to learn a language or figure out how to do anything for themselves, so they pay her thousands. She see first hand that the obscenely wealthy are more wealthy than ever, as the poor are more poor than ever.
She says that you may think you know how much money is in Asia, but until you live there you have no idea at all. It's drowning in money.
So that's the report from an expat in Asia.