Thursday, August 4, 2011

Work in Asia: Smuggling into Taiwan II

A long time after the gigolo work Pierre started his Taiwan import/export business – see, smuggling expensive bags into Taiwan
While it was work, it wasn’t exactly ever going to IPO but at least it keep him in enough cash for a 4 or 5 month stay in Taiwan. However, like all nice little numbers it was destined to come to an end.
He was back in Paris for another bag run. At the start Pierre had showed some commonsense: he went shopping for the bags when he arrived for good reasons – He didn’t spend all the money he had been given and if an item was out of stock he had a chance to get it another day. This time he had reverted to type. The money his buyer in Taiwan had given him was mostly gone – she gave him about half the money – and he had just one day left to get all his bags and scarves.
Still, armed with his father’s credit card, he was sure he could do it all in time.
First stop was a scarf and bag he needed in Hermes. On the way he checked out the pictures he had in his pocket of the items he needed before entering the shop. He didn’t have much time so he just shouted to the shop assistant to get him the items, but this was France not Taiwan so the assistant ignored him, before pointing curtly to a table in the corner.
Pierre sighed, somebody was already looking at the bag and he had a tight schedule. He hovered around not trying to look too interested or pushy waiting desperately for him to put it down. He breathed a sigh of relief as the guy moved over to the scarves and he went to pick it up.
“Hey, what are you doing?” said the guy.
“I am taking the bag,” said Pierre. “You put it down.”
“I put it down because i have decided it is the bag i want and now i am looking at the scarves.”
Pierre wasn’t sure about etiquette here. He had never had to fight to make a purchase. He looked at the sales assistant who just shrugged his shoulders. Pierre snarled and put it down again.
Pierre to shop assistant, “Ok. I want that bag, please.”
Assistant: “Is there anymore on the table?”
“No,” said Pierre. There was a long silence punctuated with: “So can you get me more from stock?”
Assistant: “Is there anymore on the table?”
Pierre turned to the guy with the bag and tried to be charming. “Look, it is my girlfriend’s birthday tomorrow…”
But it was pointless. “Same here,” he replied. “And, no. She didn’t give me a long list of choices.”
Pierre turned back to the assistant. “Ok, can you order me one from another shop?”
“Sure,” said the assistant. “It will take two days to arrive.”
“Never mind,” said Pierre. “He bought the scarf he had to and headed out the door to the taxi.
An hour and a half later after wasting plenty of Euros in taxi he had his bag and he was in Gucci to get a couple of wallets.
There were lots of people there already but he knew the layout of this shop and headed straight to that section. As he approached the glass counter the same guy was approaching from a different angle. Pierre accelerated and grabbed 3 or 4 wallets.
“Don’t know which one i want yet but i am booking them all.”
The guy stared at him but knew he was beaten this time. He headed off to pay for the sunglasses he had picked up, while Pierre stood a couple of customers behind him in the queue. As they waited Pierre began to put two and two together. The guy had sunglasses he had just bought, he was dressed overly smart for someone who clearly wasn’t going to work that day, and now he was double-checking a piece of paper to make sure it was the right item. He guessed they had the same mission.
Once outside he chased and caught up to the guy.
“Ok,” said Pierre. “Who are you getting the bags for?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” the guy replied.
“Stop,” said Pierre. “We are both French. What difference does it make?”
The guy then explained how he got his smuggling job into Asia. He had met a Hong Kong girl in a bar. She had told him a hard luck story of how the racist shop assistants in Louis Vuitton wouldn’t sell her a bag so he had gone and bought it for her. It became a habit and he knew she didn’t have that much money. After giving her the bag and getting the money he followed her a while and saw her meeting another guy. Initially he had been interested in her, so he approached angrily only to see her collecting another bag and handing over cash. He demanded to know the truth and from then on it became a job.
Pierre knew this was kind of work was not limited to Taiwan but all across Asia. It was a smart move and a step up in operations. Usually the Taiwanese and Hong Kong relied on students from their respective countries and air stewardesses, but that was limited: they could only buy one at a time and not so regularly because they didn’t want to get blacklisted by the shops. This way, with a local buying, the bags could be passed on and the hostesses could bring in two or three per trip nicely tucked away in their luggage. It was a necessary move now with the demand for these kind of bags in Shanghai etc.
Can’t anything stay low key, thought Pierre.
“Anyway, do you have to do this today?” asked Pierre.
“Sorry, man. I have a mortgage to pay. Besides the girl said tomorrow lots of items had to go.”
That will be my flight, thought Pierre.
Pierre continued: “So what now?” said Pierre.
“I don’t know, man,” replied the other guy. “I guess you do yours, and i do mine. And let the best man win.”
With that they both ran in opposite directions.

Five hours later the shops were shutting and Pierre was assessing his shopping list of items that needed to be smuggled back to Asia. He was down about half the items. During the afternoon he had only seen his competitor about a couple of times, but he had felt his presence as stock was gone before he got there. But it wasn’t just competing with the other French guy it seemed because the shops with packed with Mainland Chinese guys in bad jackets trying to buy luxury and getting rejected. The Mainland buyers were a hard bunch to pick because the super rich from China also often dressed extremely badly. Picking a westerner faking rich was about looking for a cheap pair of shoes combined with the nice suit; for the Mainlanders spotting someone who was genuinely rich was about finding one extraordinarily expensive item – usually watch – among a bunch of bad ones.
On this smuggling run he knew he would only make enough for a month or so. He also knew that he wouldn’t be bothering to fly back in such a short time. He would have to find other work to do.
He went around the corner to a bar and sat down for a drink. Across the room was an Asian girl sitting across from a French guy. Not extraordinary but for the fact that there were a bunch of name brand bags on the floor between them – and obviously, they couldn’t afford the contents for themselves. The couple got up and left after exchanging bags and the guy gave him a wink as if to say “you too”. Pierre ignored him based on professional pride: he was the original smuggler. He would have some real work in Asia.

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