American in Spain

Chinese Capitalism in Spain

October 21, 2010
Hiper Hong Xin

In Spain, when you say, "Voy a los chinos" ("I'm going to the Chinese.") you're usually referring to a special kind of store, almost always owned and operated by Chinese immigrants, that contains a vast array of small, often plastic, supplies for everyday life, e.g. a bucket, some batteries, a broom, blank dvds, some tape, a bowl, a rubber ball, a shower curtain, a gift card, some plastic flowers, etc.

We've had two similar, Spanish owned, "cheap, but useful, shit" stores in town for the five years I've lived here, but we just got our first authentic Chinese store. They bought the whole ground floor of an apartment building and spent several months fixing it up, during which I overheard several, "Man, those Chinese are hard workers," comments (is it racist if the stereotype is complimentary?). I took some photos of the outside of the store just before it opened a week ago, and I have since been inside to see what kind of selection they have. It's unbelievable! Hiper Hong Xin

Clothes, handbags, jewelry, umbrellas...

The local shopkeepers feel about the same way a typical Main St. American shopkeeper feels when the first Walmart opens in town, except, in Spain's case, there's an added not-like-us foreigner racism aspect to it. The fact that the Chinese shops open on Sunday when almost all shops in Catholic Spain are closed makes them stand out even more.

Hiper Hong Xin

Lamps, decorative boxes, pet beds, pet carriers, nails, screws, tools...

And for their grand October opening they have really embraced that king of "cheap plastic shit" holidays, Halloween, which doesn't really exist yet in Spain. If you care to view this photo large, you'll see some bare rubber boobs for wearing to your favorite costume party. Not a lot of those in Walmart!

Hiper Hong Xin

Stuffed animals, picture frames, school supplies, plastic storage crates, small furniture, trash cans, globes, board games...

Exactly how they can supply their stores with so much varied stuff is a mystery to me. There must be some corporate supplier that specializes in importing small cheaply manufactured products from China and then distributing it to stores around Spain. The Chinese are known for having a fairly cohesive expatriate culture (how many cities have a Spaintown neighborhood?), but it's still odd that they would all choose the same business model throughout the destination country. Well, maybe it's not that odd; a lot of early stage immigration happens like that: you hear that Cousin Bobby is making a pretty good living on the other side of the world doing X and you decide to give it a shot yourself. As widespread as this phenomenon is across Spain, it mostly seems to be the work of first generation immigrants so far.

The supreme irony of the whole situation is that it's China's Communism that allows them to produce exports so cheaply, which, in turn, undercuts foreign Capitalist markets, forcing people out of work and onto the socialist dole, meanwhile giving Chinese immigrants in Spain the ticket to a successful Capitalist business venture. Rube Goldberg Economics 101.