Features Published 18 May 2016

Jingan Young: Home is where…?

Playwright Jingan Young’s I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce makes parallels between the harsh realities of buying your first home with the impersonal nature of Chinese investment. As it embarks on a London tour, she discusses the complexities of staging home, the housing crisis and feeling like an outsider.
Jingan Young
Jingan Young's play 'I'm Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce'

Jingan Young’s play ‘I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce’

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

– “The Death of the Hired Man”, Robert Frost

What is “Home”? Home is where one was born and raised, filled with fond childhood memories spent in the kitchen kneading dough for homemade Jiao zi (Dumplings) with a grandmother who spoke barely a word of English, home is a “place of domicile”, the address needed to fulfil one of modern society’s many bureaucratic imperatives. Home is where you eat, sleep, put your feet up, a unit of space that functions as the escape from the relentless slog of public life, the safe haven for one’s thoughts, eccentricities, a place for preserving one’s sanity…

But “home” is also “property”.

Property is investment, asset, possession, bargaining tool, pawn in a game. Property is a commodity you can buy, sell, a hollow empty shell with a worth dependent upon shifting economics. Established by Thatcher and tainted with the residue of the right-to-buy scheme, property is and continues to be perpetuated in the public sphere as a form of power. Since the 1980s, particularly in Britain, in the words of Danny Dorling: “The pursuit of ideals, the idea of social or architectural betterment in the provision of housing, has all but disappeared.”

It is devastatingly evident that the UK housing crisis has reached a breaking point within the nation’s capital. As of May 2016, the average price of a London home is £600,625.

Some of the varying factors contributing to this crisis are a combination of the effects of right-to-buy, astronomical rise in the ratio of property prices to average incomes, a growing population leading to a housing shortage and in more recent years, the unabating enthusiasm of foreign buyers to purchase real estate in Britain, all of which have led the housing market down a ludicrously unaffordable rabbit hole.

Chinese investment in the UK is “expected to reach 105 billion pounds by 2025” with regards to investment in both commercial and private real estate sectors. Forbes satirically calls it part of ‘China’s Worldwide Real Estate Shopping Spree’.

China’s monopoly over the real estate, energy and transport markets in the UK is encouraged by the current government. In October 2013 Chancellor George Osborne relaxed UK visa rules making it possible for any number of Chinese citizens to visit (and invest in) the UK. In 2014 Chinese nationals were granted the most Tier 1 Visas, which fast-tracks the immigration process for those who want to invest more than £1m.

The domination of the London and UK property market in recent years by Chinese investors is most notable as they have become notorious for leaving the property they purchase empty, known as “buy-to-leave.” London then becomes a sort of pseudo-safety deposit box, far from the prying eyes of their corrupt government. But one also notes, Chinese investors similarly leave homes in their own country empty, devoid of any purpose other than to sit there vacant accumulating value. Is this inherent desire to buy, buy, buy simply down to a idealism of practical investment or is there a deeper, cultural significance to their obsession with property?

Despite their billions sunk into London infrastructure, the Chinese remain a point of mockery for the British media, most recently in the form of the footage of the Queen commenting upon the “rudeness” of Xi Jinping’s highly-criticised and highly-publicised stay in the UK. Newsnight later attempted to make sense of this apparently news-worthy topic dedicating an entire segment to deciphering Chinese etiquette. Are the Chinese malicious in their monopoly of the market, or are they just misunderstood? Perhaps they too being taken advantage of?

Incidentally, the play’s title is taken from a Chinese netizen phrase referring to the nonchalance of taking responsibility, a term often used to separate oneself from one’s community and in turn becomes a metaphor for modern society’s severe lack of communication, collaboration and support for one another.

For the past 7 years I have attempted to make London my home. The sprawling metropolis will always be one of the great loves of my life. But I am and always will be a “foreigner”. And asides from the ever-tightening visa rules, I simply can no longer afford to live in London. Like so many, the housing crisis dictates my life in the most heart-breaking way. This led me to writing this play which follows two couples – a pair of cut-throat real estate agents vying for the spotlight as they attempt to sell their latest million-pound property to a Chinese tycoon and a young couple’s journey in purchasing their first home together has left them picking up the pieces of their relationship.

After all, home is also where the hurt is.

Pokfulam Rd Productions in association with Papergang Theatre supported by China Exchange Cultivate, New Diorama BAMER and the Arcola Theatre BAMER presents I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce by Jingan Young. The play tours London from May 18th. For further dates and tickets visit https://pokfulamrdproductions.wordpress.com/im-just-here-to-buy-soysauce/

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