|Justin Mitchell||Jun 11, 2007|
Hello, I'm Amy Jiang.
On the surface, I could be a poster woman for the face of modern China.
I am a mostly successful 20-something, savvy English-fluent woman with
international business experience as a buyer and translator. But the
truth is that I'm currently working for shady Russian businessmen
posing as legitimate buyers in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. And while much
of Shenzhen seems occupied with smuggling counterfeit handbags and
shoes to the west, Sacha and Bogdan, as we will call them, are
preoccupied with smuggling more serious stuff. Like buses, among other
This Slavic odyssey
across Southern China is in many ways a microcosm of the way things get
done by hundreds, perhaps thousands of “businessmen” who have washed
ashore to take part in a kind of perfect storm of grey market commerce
— China’s unending boom, spotty law enforcement and lack of government
attention to the finer points of things like smuggling and
My career didn't begin
this way. Following my graduation from university in Dalian in northern
China, I worked for Wal-Mart for three years, though boredom and other
missteps led me to another foreign company and finally to my current
situation. Between trying to untangle their efforts to smuggle
Chinese-made buses into Georgia, Ukraine or Romania, I am also sourcing
asphalt from China for potential customers in Lithuania while
simultaneously arranging shipments of fake Nokia parts stashed under
legitimate Chinese-made underwear to Estonia. We sent one shipment of
vodka bottle caps – called “jar corks” in my bosses’ imaginative
English – to Russia. My bosses will buy anything they can buy and ship
it to anybody who wants it.
I am also trying to get
the Russians’ visas straightened out with equally crooked bureaucrats
at the Shenzhen Immigration Department. I stay on the right side of the
law myself. Maybe it's a good thing, because one of my former Wal-Mart
co-workers is currently doing time in a Shenzhen jail for bid rigging.
That's how business
works for most of China, although I was surprised when I took the job
with this supposedly Moscow-based company that many of my duties would
be, to put it politely, questionable. There's also the communication
problem. I don't speak Russian and my two bosses don't speak Chinese.
All of us speak English – some of us better than others — but it is
clear that the English I learned in Dalian is not the same English that
my managers say they learned at language academies in Moscow and St.
Petersburg, or, more likely, in the bars and tattoo parlors of
The buses pose a
special problem. Two months before I was hired they arranged for four
new buses (or "cars" as my employers refer to all vehicles) to be
shipped from Tianjin port on the Bohai Gulf to Poti, a port on
Georgia's southeastern Black Sea coast. Shortly after I arrived the
Russians decided in midshipment that they could reduce and/or dodge
import taxes and fees by rerouting the delivery north to Odessa in
The vehicles have been
bouncing around the Black Sea for at least two months and are currently
in limbo (minus the proper documents) in containers at the eastern
Romanian port of Constanta (or “Constanza Rumunia” as one boss calls it
in frantic e-mails urging me to straighten out a situation that was not
mine to begin with.)
In an e-mail he sent me
about the situation, I was able to figure out what "Rumunia" was, but
was puzzled about references to “SKG7700CE” and “SKG7700CF.”
"Cars!" he shouted at me when I asked. "Chinese cars! You do not know the cars of making your own country?"
As it turned out they
are actually slightly different models of 18-seat buses, but imagine my
reaction when I received this e-mail:
We have two
cantainers with 2 models of SKG770CE and 2 models of SKG7770CF which
now stay in Constanza (Rumunia). First we wished to send this
containers to the Georgia (Poti). But now we want to change port of
destination and transport this containers to the Ukraine (Odessa ). I
want to ask you such thing. Are you already do anything in occasion of
changing port of destination?
For the four cars
the shipper have no ownership after shippment, why did the shipper take
responsibility? So it's inconsequence, (I know someone will pay for it,
but we can not accept to write sentence: the shipper should take all
responsibility and fee.) Besides port of destination changing we need
to changed komany chop and signatures for this containers all documnets
(for new consignee):
Bill of Ladding (conosament)
-Certificate of origin
-Packing list. I hope to listen to your answer as soon as possible!
With best regards,
believes that despite the fact that he ordered the buses and arranged
for their shipment, he has no responsibility for making sure the
paperwork is correct. He cannot understand why the Chinese bus
manufacturer was furious when, per Bogdan’s orders, I phoned to ask him
to pay for new, probably fake, documents. He was also upset when I
accidentally discovered that the same buses are currently being
advertised for sale by him on a Russian website, despite the fact that
they have already been promised to buyers in Ukraine.
“How do you see this?”
he asked when I asked him about the website, which, thanks to Google,
was automatically translated into passable English. “It is not me!" he
said. "Not our Chinese cars. Other false cars.” What are the odds of
four other 18-seat Chinese buses with identical model numbers also
sitting in crates in Constanta? I wondered. But I did not ask any more
buses-without-a-country are the least of their problems. Another
shipment of Chinese-made cars, in this case trucks bound for Georgia,
was recently rejected upon delivery by the buyer. In another
linguistically challenged e-mail, Bogdan described the situation and
forwarded photos of the offending vehicles.
I want to tell you problems which was with (Chinese company name) cars which come to Georgia.
1)in all 12 tracks accumulators didn't starting.
2)don't work charging relay in all vehicles
3)don't work all gadgets in dashboard
4)If speed 100km/h the fifth gear is beaten out in a neutral position
5)The system of locking rear dorrs has rusted (look in attached foto)
6)on two vehicles left and right boards are different colours (blue and red).
It is necessery to make new order. We need 2 cars GDC-1030 (with boards) and two cars GDC-6030 (with box).
Boxes for GDC-6030
must be with doors on right back side (not in rear of box as we order
last time). Colours of all cars -- White!
And more! Please check on what advertising material more they can provide us (boards, cloth which is stretched above road...)
With kind regards,
Oddly, he does not want
me to ask the manufacturer for a discount due to the previous
shipment's broken dashboard gadgets, malfunctioning accumulators and
faulty fifth gears. Maybe the fact that the trucks are dirt-cheap
100,000 yuan has something to do with it. But I just received another
e-mail asking again if "more free advertising cloth which is stretched
above the road" is available. I'm guessing he's found a buyer for
surplus Chinese advertising banners, but I really don't want to know.
Ongoing sagas regarding
smuggled vehicles aren’t this company’s main business, however. Some
get resolved more quickly, like the legitimate end of the company.
Officially I work for a textile exporter that supplies a distributor in
St. Petersburg with cut-rate Chinese lingerie, swimwear and sportswear.
But even that side of the business gets complicated when Bogdan and his
partner delay payments to the Chinese textile sellers in order to
juggle the wobbly finances fueling their major unofficial business —
shipping Shenzhen-manufactured counterfeit Nokia, Motorola and Samsung
cell phone parts and accessories (cases, chargers, batteries, head
sets) both in crates of Chinese-made clothing or simply the parts
themselves in boxes marked with Cyrillic letters as “anything a
customer wants to say it is,” according to a Chinese co-worker who
handles the bulk of the several thousand phony phone parts shipped to
Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Georgia per month.
Am I paid well? It’s a
very slightly higher than average wage by white collar Shenzhen
standards (about 6,000 yuan a month, minus the social security payment
that Bogdan routinely “forgets” to pay). But it’s not nearly enough to
handle the stress when Bogdan tells me he’s also once again “forgotten”
to pay the company phone bill and yells at me because angry Chinese
vendors complain that they haven’t been paid.
“Those Russians never
keep their promises!” is a frequent refrain from my irate countrymen
wondering when they will be paid for the US$50,000 worth of sportswear
shipped to St Petersburg. I can only sympathize and stall while
simultaneously trying to keep my professional poise and surf the ‘Net
for a new job. This time, I’m in the market for something legitimate
and if it’s a foreign business, non-Slavic.
No more “to Russia (or Georgia or Ukraine) with love” for me.