• Aaron and two of the Ultra Rich Asian Girls, Chelsea and Diana, pose with the show's creator, Kevin Li. (SBS Dateline)
They have all the money they could possibly need and star in a popular reality TV show, but while filming with the Ultra Rich Asian Girls for Dateline, Aaron Thomas finds that wealth can be a double-edged sword.
Aaron Thomas

7 Jun 2016 - 12:09 PM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2016 - 3:28 PM

As a Dateline reporter you get to meet a lot of interesting people. But you don’t necessarily get to meet a lot of rich people.  Not seriously rich ones, anyway.

And there’s a certain fascination around rich people, which I fall for as much as the next person. In our materialistic society, they appear to be the ones holding the keys to Nirvana.

So we wonder how good their lives really are. What’s it like to indulge any and every consumerist whim? To touch, and wear, and own the finest things the world can offer?

So I went to Vancouver both excited and intrigued to meet the young women who star in Ultra Rich Asian Girls and film them for my story China's Millionaire Migration.

And yes, it turned out the rich really are different! But often in ways I hadn’t expected.

The most obvious differences are on display in their cars and clothes – all beautiful fabrics, and top of the line models.

The women tend to downplay their wealth, probably owing to online criticism of their extravagance in Season 1 of the show. They play it down so well that at one point I started to wonder if they really were ‘ultra-rich’.

But when I caught up with a few of them at dinner one night (corner table by the window in one of Vancouver’s nicest restaurants - naturally), I happened to compliment someone’s watch.

She laughed it off saying this was nothing special - just a Hermès - but actually she loves watches and collects them. Her most expensive is $250,000, although most of her day-to-day watches are worth only $30-40,000. *

I laid my doubts to rest.

But there were other differences from ordinary folk which I hadn’t imagined. In this selfie-obsessed era these young women with time on their hands are, of course, hardcore habitués of social media.

But there’s a particular anxiety to it when your wealth means there’s no excuse for not looking great in the perfect on-trend outfit, each and every time. Especially when your posts are being scanned by detractors, eager to pull you down.

The Intern Diaries: China’s Millionaire Migration
The millionaire second generation of China’s rich are known as fuerdai, and few are flaunting their wealth more prominently than Vancouver’s Ultra Rich Asian Girls.

They seemed acutely conscious of their public personas and how each post might be interpreted. For young women in their twenties it seems like a particularly gruelling performance of perfection which they don’t feel they can opt out of.

And as with any migrants, there are also cultural confusions to overcome. But for millionaire migrants, there are additional layers.

It’s often said that new money is brash and conspicuous, but old money learns to keep its head down. And so it is that in China, where the rise of a millionaire class is a recent phenomenon, the moneyed culture has no compunction in conspicuously flaunting their new wealth.

But in egalitarian Canada, that conspicuousness is more likely to be a faux pas which leads to derision. Navigating between these unwritten cultural codes is something these women are having to learn for themselves by experience – some of it awkward and painful.

And then there’s the question of what to do with one’s life. It’s an issue everyone faces, but for young people who don’t really need to work, it’s particularly vexing.

Admirably, many of these young women have started small businesses. But the purpose appears to have more to do with gaining status by showing you can achieve something on your own, rather than any need to earn money.

And the family money that bankrolls your start-up, also drains the motivation to get to the office on time, five days a week. Wealth, I realised, can be a double-edged sword.

So after spending a week with the stars of Ultra Rich Asian Girls I can report that they are all lovely, bubbly young women – far from the highly-dramatised personas of their show – and that they really are different.

Not because they’ve reached Nirvana - they have their fair share of problems. They are just different problems to mine.

See more of the Ultra Rich Asian Girls on their YouTube Channel, and watch Aaron's story in full:

China's Millionaire Migration
Over 100,000 Chinese millionaires have moved to Vancouver, sparking everything from a reality show to a property boom making housing unaffordable. Dateline asks if the millionaire migrants are a blessing or curse.

* All prices in this story are quoted in Canadian Dollars. CA$1.00 = AU$1.06 at the time of writing.