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Jew in a China Shop

Aharon Granot, Hong Kong

Turning a profit in the Far East is a bit more complicated than just booking a flight to China and picking up some cheap brand-name knockoffs or novelty items to resell. Still, more Jews than ever are staking out their parnassah in this corner of the world, and have discovered a network of like-minded souls to keep their spirits up so far away from home.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Many centuries ago, the Silk Road of old opened long-distance political and economic relations between the ancient civilizations of the Far East and the closer Mediterranean lands. But as hours-long flights have replaced months-long land and sea travel, and as all roads seem to lead to China today, a modern-day Silk Road has opened for Jewish entrepreneurs who’ve staked out their corner in the Middle Kingdom. Enterprising businessmen have been finding their way to Hong Kong and mainland China for years, but in the last decade, as China has emerged as the world’s manufacturing leader and the country has become a hub of international trade, overseas commerce has changed for Jewish businessmen as well as for everyone else. We embarked on our own “Silk Road” journey to learn firsthand what brings so many Jews to this Land of the Red Dragons for their parnassah (and maybe even pick up some tips for ourselves). Doing business in China isn’t for the fainthearted, says Barry Bressler, a Montreal importer who’s been dealing with the Chinese for over 35 years and is on the road about 25 to 30 weeks a year. “The Chinese have this word, koye, which roughly means ‘yes, we can do it,’ but that’s not always the case,” Bressler says. “I remember I once I ordered 10,000 garment bags, half of them one length for men’s clothes and half of them longer for women’s. I’d already sold them to a major chain store but when the goods arrived, both sizes were about five inches shorter than ordered. I think I’m still sitting on them.” On the other hand, he’s made some very lucrative deals too. “The factories don’t deal in ready-made products, but make everything to order and insist on getting a deposit first,” Bressler says. “A few years ago, I was in a small town in the south of China and stumbled into a Chinese fellow at my hotel, who asked if I was there to buy toys, which indeed I was. He told me he had produced two containers of stuffed animals (a massive amount) for a company in Turkey and had received a 50 percent deposit when the company went bankrupt. I bought the goods for the balance owed, which was only 50 percent of the actual cost. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you know you were in the right place.” We met Bressler at the Kowloon Chabad House north of Hong Kong Island, run by Rabbi Itzik Eisenbach. It’s near the hotel that he always books for Shabbos so he can take advantage of the “very warm minyan and great seudos, filled with lots of singing and inspiration, where I meet interesting people from all over the world.”

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