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A Dispatch from Vienna

By Chip Tsao | Feb 24, 2011

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Huge swarms of Chinese consumers unleashed on shopping sprees are not only looting Rolex watches and LV handbags in Hong Kong and Paris, but they’re also snatching up trivial daily products at supermarkets and department stores on a global scale probably unseen since the Mongolian invasion.

A Hong Kong friend of mine spent his family holiday in Vienna shortly before the Chinese New Year. He took a brief window-shopping tour at a high street department store. A Chinese tourist was examining a pair of nail clippers displayed in a small corner of the fourth floor. Satisfied with the tiny product made from immaculate German steel after a quick scientific trial right then and there on all of his long fingernails, he ordered the blonde shopkeeper to pack up a total of 50 pairs for him.

It took the mind-boggled shopkeeper quite a while to work out the quantity of the order after struggling with the customer’s broken English, and with my friend nearly offering himself as an interpreter. The shopkeeper told the Chinese customer that she had to go to the warehouse on the top floor to fetch up such a huge quantity as the mass purchase of such a trivial product was rare.

Given the efficient European work ethic, it’s not surprising that the shopkeeper went away and disappeared for nearly an hour, while other local customers began to queue up waiting to pay for their products. The Chinese tourist, meanwhile, was examining other hardware gadgets on the racks, and became interested in a multi-functional Swiss army knife. The exhausted shopkeeper came back with the nail clippers but was then entreated to wrap up 100 Swiss army knives for him.

The shopkeeper had to leave her counter for a second time to dig up more products. At this point, the local customers could take no more and started mumbling complaints about why the Chinese needed such things in such huge quantities. Some amateurish economists in the queue wondered why inflation in Austria had become worse, and put the blame on the Chinese, as always.

The middle-aged cropped-haired Chinese tourist was provoked, and gave an angry lecture on the global economy on the spot to the Austrians—your economy was in deep shit, because of the crisis of the Euro and US dollar, and we came to your rescue by doing our shopping. Gone are the days when we used to smuggle ourselves as illegal immigrants into Europe on trans-Siberian cargo trains. We are your Savior. So shut it.

With emotional words like these, the war that followed in front of the counter before the shopkeeper came back with the knives after another half-hour in the back was thus imaginable and needs no description. As China becomes the world’s second-strongest economy, trade wars like this breaking out everywhere around the world make us all feel proud.

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