When “Sister Over Flowers” came to Peru to film, I was the local guide for celebrities like Dandan Song and Zhiling Lin!” Nicolas happily shared a photo of him and Zhiling Lin with us.
He said that things that he never imagined seemed possible abroad.
Nicolas, 34 years old, talked to us about his stories in Peru, from trading, being robbed, meeting his Korean girlfriend to deciding to return to China this year. Fourteen years of experience seem as if they had happened yesterday.
The first time I went abroad, I was taken to the back of the earth
“My family members are conservative Fujianese, they think that playing music in nightclubs and dance halls is not a formal job,”said Nicolas when asked why he went to Peru at the first place. He worked as club DJ at the beginning. However, his parents wanted him to go out and start up a business just like other young people in his hometown.
Persuaded by his family, Nicolas went alone to Peru, a country described by his uncle as “as developed as the United States.”
“As the plane was circling and preparing to land , I glanced out the porthole at Lima, the capital of Peru, and the desolation reminded me of the battlefields of Iraq in the news.”
When Nicolas first arrived in Peru, he could not adapt to this country, which is on the other side of the world.
“I couldn’t understand what the locals were saying, and they used a lot of body language and exaggerated expressions in their communication.”
The cultural maladjustment was the thing that Nicolas mentioned the most.
Nicolas, who went abroad for the first time, started his life in a strange country with altitude sickness in JULIACA, Peru – a city more than 3000 meters above sea level. To earn money, he taught himself Spanish while doing business.
The scenery of Peru is beautiful, with rolling mountains, vast tropical forests, and Spanish-style architectures, all of which were what Nicolas misses.
But when it comes to policing, Nicolas shook his head.
“The policing in the wealthy areas is relatively good, but the security that near the slums remains concerned. Even though I have lived in Peru for many years, I dare not go near.”
Although the public security in Peru varies from region to region, in Nicolas’ opinion, it is not surprising to be robbed.
Nicolas showed us his usual gesture for holding a cell phone in Peru, holding it tightly in both hands.
Even so, he has been robbed of his cell phone for twice, once in an affluent neighborhood.
“I was sending a message when a thief just suddenly appeared from the side, grabbed my phone and ran. I was thinking it was in a wealthy area, so I rushed to catch up, and when I was almost caught up his accomplices dragged him up from behind and drove him away. So, I gave up.” In retrospect, Nicolas was still a bit scared of what would have happened if the thieves’ accomplices had guns.
The Fujianese who has made his way in the world
After living Peru for a while, Nicolas discovered that there were many Chinese businessmen in Peru, mostly Cantonese and Fujianese. There are many legends among them: some brought rice farming technology from China and became local food giants; others sold combs and balloons and made a billion-dollar fortune.
Nicolas was attracted by the stories of successful Chinese-Peruvians and wanted to make a career through business.
As long as he found there are needs, opportunities and resources, he will try immediately not letting go of any business opportunities .
“In Peru, there is a Chinese restaurant called ‘Chifa’, which is the homonym of ‘dining’ in Chinese. The Chinese have influenced the local food culture to certain extent, and Chinese fried rice has become one of the most common fast foods consumed by Peruvians. It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 Chinese restaurants in Peru.”
Like most Chinese Peruvians, Nicolas had opened a Chinese restaurant. But due to a lack of experience and manpower, and the huge knowledge gap from being a “highly popular” DJ to being a cook in a kitchen that is filled with the smell of fuel full, Nicolas chose to close the restaurant, which was still profitable at the time, and moved to the bustling capital to look for new opportunities.
In the next fourteen years after that, Nicolas had worked as a translator, a trade show guide, an owner of a photo shop store, a sale of women’s wear.He even opened a restaurant again with his partner, and did food imports and exports business. He has been involved in a variety of industries and has traveled to almost every corner of Peru. But in his eyes, these can only be considered sideline occupations.
In 2014, A wave of “aca fever” catches on in China. The requirements for growth maca is very harsh — macaonly survives in high-altitude areas and thus they are very scarce. Coupled with its high nutritious content and benefits to human body it is also known as “South American ginseng”. “The more scarce things are, the more people are scrambling to buy,”
Nicolas quitted his previous work and was drawn into the business of exporting maca by an exports and imports businessman.
However, more and more Chinese businessmen entered Peru to find local people to buy maca at a high price, its price therefore rose, to nearly double the speed of a day soared wildly, “the local price of maca at that time is 3 U.S. dollars per kilogram, while these people in the country can bid to 150 U.S. dollars per kilogram or even 300 U.S. dollars.” Driven by the huge profits, some people borrowed money or mortgage the business at hand to acquire maca, and even attracted some Chinese gangs from other countries to participate in it.
In 2015, influenced by the national policy and the rise of Yunnan’s maca industry, the price of maca fell by the thousands, and many Chinese businessmen lost money as a result, and some people lost their families.
After accumulating some capital through the preliminary work, Nicolas turned his attention back to the pastry business. “The planning was so pie-in-the-sky that many of the supporting equipment, including refrigeration facilities, were not yet in place, and the business was started in a hurry.” Nicolas bought production machines from China that could produce tens of thousands of noodles a day, but the improvised refrigerator he purchased could only store a few hundred at most. He had no choice but to produce one day and drive himself out to sell two days.
Not only that, but because the flour in Peru is different from that in the country, Nicolas used hundreds of kilograms of flour before finally debugging the buns. “This business is only for the landlord, and the two Peruvian workers we hired to earn money.” Nicolas says bitterly. After a few months of barely hanging on, he sold the machine at a low price and lost all his money.
This year back home, Nicolas heard that most of the shoes in Peru are from Putian, tens of thousands of pairs exported every day at the peak, and thus he began to do footwear exports with friends.
“When I first started exporting shoes, I heard from other colleagues that the earliest pair of Putian-made sneakers had a profit margin of at least several hundred dollars. ” Nicolas found that these shoes from Putian are very popular in Peru. Some Peruvians love to dress up, and even though some cannot afford to buy shoes of famous brands, they still want to keep up appearance. Hence, these low prices with high quality’s Putian shoes became their best choice.
“Now it’s different, because there are too many people doing this business and vicious competitions, the profit margin of a pair of shoes may only be less than 20 yuan.” Because he just started to get involved, quality, customs and other issues have cost Nicolas quite a lot.
“Business is not going well. There are Chinese who can’t make it every day.” Nicolas said helplessly.
In order to make a living, some Chinese also began to do whatever they could.
“I know some Chinese gangsters. One time we went to a restaurant together and in the middle of the meal they suddenly said, ‘I’m going out to do something, wait a minute,’ and later I found out they went to trash a nearby rival store.” In retrospect, Nicolas found it a bit unbelievable .
Epilogue: Chinese boy and Korean girl communicating in Spanish
Just 12 hours before Nicolas met with me, the Congress of Peru initiated the impeachment proceedings against President Biscara, leaving the future of the political situation in limbo.
Encountering the 2020 pandemic, poverty, politically chaos, Peru has become one of the countries with the highest mortality rate of COVID-19 in the world.
“It has been fourteen years.I’ve stayed long enough, It’s time to come back.”
As for future plans, Nicolas said he intended to seek new development opportunities in China.
He doesn’t think he has successfully worked out his career in Peru, but the adventure he has gained is indescribable.
Opening a WeChat video call, Nicolas said good night to his Korean girlfriend onscreen in fluent Spanish. Two people from two different countries were communicating in a third language – a scene that may seem a bit weirdto an outsider, but it’s the most normal thing the two of them do every day.
Nicolas met his Korean girlfriend in Peru in 2018. At the time, his Korean girlfriend was on a study tour in Peru, and the two quickly became acquainted after meeting a few times. “At the time, both sides felt like a good fit, so they wanted to try it out together.” Two years passed since then, and his girlfriend stayed in Peru for him.
“She works very hard in the company, and she can speak English and Spanish. She also has a good personality too! In January this year, she officially become a full-time employee of Samsung in Peru.” Nicolas’ eyes were full of fondness when he talked to us about his girlfriend.
“It kinds of feels likeI am not good enough for her.” He said half-jokingly.
In January this year, the two went back together from Peru to firstly Korea, then back to China to meet their parents, and spent the New Year together in China.
However, due to working holiday restrictions and the epidemic, the original plan to get married was disrupted and his girlfriend had to return to Peru early, leaving them separated.
At the moment, Nicolas’ Korean girlfriend is working from home in Peru, while Nicolas is China looking for new business opportunities. “We have video call every day, but we don’t know when the outbreak will be over or when we will see each other again. We miss each other a lot.”
“Back home again, I find myself could not adapt to my own culture . For example, I find myself not being able to keep up with the living pace. During the pandemic, my partner cheated me selling the shoddy goods; also latter the shoes business which was a loss… Anyway, it was a lesson for me.” As we were talking, Nicolas picked up his cell phone and found that there were only high-speed train tickets back to Putian from Shanghai was tomorrow. After a while he said to us, he would have to go around Yiwu again.
Soon, he immediately picked up his black backpackfull of luggage, shook hands with us, and set off on a new journey.
In Yiwu, the “world commercial center”, what kind of business opportunities the young man who has traveled half of the world will find? Perhaps that could only be known by the next encounter with him.
Translated by: Yipin Feng, Zimo Zhu, Yifei Zhu