November 18, 2012

Real Smuggling Housewives Of China

Stereotypes and gender roles aside, there is something quite humorous about the headline “China cracks down on iPhone-smuggling housewives.”

Perhaps this could be the next ABC-style sitcom, sort of a modern-day, Chinese language “I Love Lucy.”

The housewife in question will dutifully take care of her family, preparing breakfast and lunches in the morning, sending her children to school before sending her husband to work with a quick kiss. She’ll watch from a slit in the curtains as her husband backs out of the driveway. Once he’s safely out of site, the apron comes off and the scheming begins.

It all started innocently enough. The housewife, let’s call her Mei, went for a day of shopping and found the perfect dress. The saleswoman assisting Mei was giving a hard pitch, but the price was a little more than Mei’s husband would allow. Seeing her disappointment, the sales woman mentioned a cousin of hers who knew how she could make some cash on the side. The dress did fit perfectly and the saleswoman seemed nice enough, how bad could her cousin be?

She met with the cousin at a coffee shop later that day, where he promised her 20 to 30 Yuan (for American audiences, this translates to $3-$4) for every iPhone she could shuffle over from Hong Kong to the Mainland. Mei had never broken a law in her life, but the gray market in China is pretty well known, and oh how she wanted that dress…She decided to do it, just 5 phones at first, just to dip her toes in the water.

Now, Mei is a seasoned pro with a rack full of dresses that she’s been able to purchase all on her own. Sure, her husband get’s suspicious from time to time, but Mei is always able to side skirt the issue, offering to make him his favorite meal, quickly yet smoothly changing the topic, or causing a racket in the kitchen and blaming it on the family dog.

Oh how we’d laugh and laugh. That Mei!

The true story here, of course, is likely less aloof than your common American-style sitcom. Reuters is reporting that 26 “suppliers” are being tried in an Shenzhen court for smuggling iPhones from Hong Kong to the Mainland for the online retailer Of these 26 smuggling suppliers, half are described as “housewives” who took frequent trips into Hong Kong, strapped as many iPhones (and even iPads) to their bodies and casually strolled back into the Mainland. These smugglers were apparently quite busy, and are said to have carted more than 500 million yuan ($80 million) in iPhones over the past 2 years. Just like in the imaginary sitcom, these ladies earned themselves 20 to 30 yuan for each iPhone; not a huge payout, but if one lady could bring in 10 iPhones, that’s an extra 300 yuan (or $40 for you yankees) earned during a routine trip to and from Hong Kong.

That’s not bad money.

Of course, if they’re found guilty, it’s likely these meager payments won’t seem worth it at all.

The company responsible for operating this online retailer has already shut down the site after they launched an investigation into this possible smuggling.

Apple products are no strangers to Chinese scalpers and smugglers. It was the scalpers who made a mess of the iPhone 4 launch in China, snatching up most of the first available iPhones by the armful, leaving other customers empty handed.

With such high tax rates in the Western country, many have taken to smuggling these products into the country to avoid these taxes. These smugglers then pass these products onto scalpers, and thus the gray market is fed.

Keep your eyes peeled to your favorite Chinese language network TV station. Perhaps you’ll see this new sitcom airing in the near future?

Image Credit: takayuki / Shutterstock

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