（Contributed by Rintaro)
What it Means to Be in the Middle
Disclaimer: The following is solely based on my casual observations. Please refrain from making any sort of judgment about any individual or culture in general from my hearsay only.
The other day, I was at an upscale shopping mall, sipping on a double espresso, just watching the people walk by. As is the case in India and Singapore, this kind of shopping complex is reserved for the middle- or upper-middle class (and up) who can afford decent clothes so that they would be admitted inside without getting harassed by the entrance security. This alone says a lot about how differently a same middle class person is treated here in the Southeast as opposed to if you were in Japan, say, shopping in a posh establishment somewhere in Tokyo. Omotesandō, perhaps.
It’s to show the world that you’ve made it, having successfully climbed the socio-economic ladder high enough. Whereas if you step outside onto the street, you would see vendors of all sorts; some selling cell phone accessories while some others are specialized in everything to do with motorcycles, all occupying space that can be best described as a “hut”. Their shops are barely lit, usually illuminated by a bare fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. Shop owners would be seen either sitting on the ground or on banged-up chairs.
Back inside the mall, you often run into women wearing what resembles a 割烹着 or “cooking apron” from the olden days in Japan, accompanying small children. They are professional nannies, in charge of looking after their masters’ children while they indulge themselves in a shopping spree. The first time I learned about them, I was utterly astonished. I had not heard of such a profession while growing up; I had assumed that nannies usually work for a handful of uber-rich families. As it turned out, it isn’t so.
As much a cliché as it may be, the rich are getting richer and the poor are…well, “staying poor for the most part”, as one of my friends said. In my neighborhood, I see a number of mansions (no, you cannot call these residences houses) often three-story high, right next to a building that’s not so different from the afore-mentioned hut. To me, the disparity is so stark that I have yet to know what to make of it. I have driven from a rich neighborhood to a not-so-fortunate one in a matter of a few blocks in the United States many times, but this is in another league. Very humbling indeed.