Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, August 26, 2005

Last night I took the subway to Chaoyangmen to meet Lydia. She had heard me talk about an incredibly delicious dish I had had last spring when I was teaching at the South China Institute of Software Engineering. I am not the best at describing the ingredients of a menu item, but basically it involves fried eggs in a sweet and sour sauce. Really good. Anyway, Lydia is a South China girl, and she told me there was a place near where she worked that served this dish.

I went to meet her, and while we were walking to the restaurant, a street-hawker walked up to her carrying a bag of cosmetics. He could tell that she didn't look interested, so he told her they were stolen. When he told her that, she immediately told him that if the goods were stolen, she did not want to buy any. After he left, she explained to me that these guys have a difficult time selling these cosmetics, because most people suspect that the reason they are so cheap is because they are fake. You can sell a lady a fake designer handbag, but fake cosmetics? What's the point, right? So these guys try to persuade ladies that this stuff is the real thing by providing another reason why the price is so low.

There's lots and lots of black market activity in China. Everything from taxis to cosmetics to DVD's. Sometimes people from the West assume that this is just accepted in China. Well, it is, in a way. What I mean by that is that perhaps you could convince me that people are a bit more resigned to it here. But the government is trying to put many of these guys out of business now that China is coming out with its own brands. But there are lots and lots of people in this country. It's not that easy. And there are places where the police are evidently being paid off. Like the money changers. Renminbi is not a convertible currency, so the only way to convert RMB to dollars is on the black market. How do these guys keep doing this right out in the open? Why don't the police stop them? Quite evidently, the cops are being paid off. What it boils down to, is that China is right in the middle of trying to decide how badly it wants to reform the system. And too many of the people involved in making that decision have more to lose than they ought to.

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