"My Chinese colleagues asked how much my dress, my watch even my house cost."
Chinese people like to talk about money and talk about it openly. Questions about cost come up automatically and ‘naturally’. To most Chinese people, it’s just another topic to chat about. The motive can be curiosity or information gathering. If you get a good bargain, you may share where and how you got it. If not you may smile and say friendly, “I won’t tell you”.
This social behavior may be associated with the Chinese people’s blatant desire for wealth, which is a bit of tasteless to most westerners. The possible reason may come from history, in that most overseas Chinese people began their working life as coolies and later started their own businesses with the belief that money was essential for good lives and social status. While in China back to 30 years ago, when everyone is equal and equally poor, it is not a big deal to ask about income and cost.
The west is also surprised by Deng Xiaoping’s quote, “To get rich is glorious.” It is understood that Deng Xiaoping said that in late 1970’s, when most Mainland China leaders and the masses believed that money and capitalism were devils and it was shameful, even a sin, to be rich (different from the overseas Chinese’ convictions) and the rich and the once-was-rich were persecuted.
30 years passes and Deng's quote is no longer apostatical. Chinese people now check around for others' income and life to make sure they are not too far off. It is a source of motivation for hardworking and a source of frustration too. The Chinese may need a different quote now.