Chinese Capitalism in Spain

October 21, 2010 By: erik Category: Musings, Photos, Spain 808 views

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Hiper Hong XinIn 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.

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  • I didn’t realize when Paul and Nora and I went into the Hiper Hong XIN last week that it was their grand opening. That probably explains the gaudy plastic pendant and earrings set that they tucked into my bag. Not quite sure what I’ll do with it . . .

  • Oh yeah, we have several of those hiper-chinos around here, and I’m guilty of buying stuff there all the time. Okay, when I want something of better quality I go elsewhere, but for stuff like kids’ school supplies, and miscellaneous odds and ends for the house, these places are great. Probably bad for the local businessmen though.

    And who says Halloween doesn’t really exist in Spain? If it doesn’t then you’d better tell the guys over at El Corte Inglés, because they have a big ol’ Halloween section set up over there. And if it’s in El Corte Inglés, then you’d better believe it exists! 😉

    • Oh yeah. You can’t walk in one of these stores without finding something you didn’t know you desperately needed.

      I’ll believe Halloween exists in Spain when more than five trick-or-treaters knock on my door on the right night.

      • You will, just wait. This thing is spreading. We usually get around 20 to 30 nowadays, while 10 years ago it didn’t exist. We do live in an area with individual houses though, not flats, so I think that makes a difference. And we decorate our garage…and the neighborhood kids know it, so they come to see it, even if it is the same old stuff every year. Last year I even dressed up, so I’m guessing this year we’ll get even more coming to have a look at the crazy American. Maybe I’ll get some dry ice this year… 🙂

  • KP

    We had those in Lisbon. The one below my school was called “Loja de Tentaí§í£o” and my goodness, did it stock CRAP. And I remember ’round Halloween time that some of my students were offended, as they thought Halloween was making fun of their November 1 mourning. I fed them candy corn and they quickly shut up.

    Sadly, whilst in Venice three weeks ago, I noticed that some of my favorite Venetian shops had been taken over by loja de tentaí§í£os that sold the same crap plus cheap porcelain masks.