The headman told me that they do a lot of money collecting in China but mostly for Hong Kong companies. He told us that we should to be careful doing business in China as some companies steal the goods and do not pay suppliers. Some of the small companies think since they are in China they can get away without paying. Chinese companies are hurting for cash so they will try to avoid paying as long as possible.
The headman called in one of the people from the other room. He looked like the Chinese guy in the James Bond movie Gold Finger who was named Odd Job. The person who threw the steel hat that killed people. I will just call him Gold Tooth because one of his front teeth had a gold cap. The headman told Gold Tooth to meet me tomorrow at 8 am in my hotel lobby and take me to the Foshan Factory to collect the money. He was told not to leave my side and to bring the money directly back to him. We all shook hands again and we left.
I ask Lam, on the way back to the hotel, how he knew these people and are they the famous Triad Gang. He said maybe they are but do not ask them that question as it is better not to know. The most important thing is do not cross them. He advised me that they could be fully trusted to do the job. Lam had helped other people change money over the years. I ask Lam how much did he want for his help. He asked for US$500 and I agreed to pay him on my return from China tomorrow. I would be out $9,500.000 bucks for this job plus my airline and hotel cost, but it was worth getting the money that was owed me.
The next day I meant Gold Tooth in the lobby. He was dressed in a black suit with shiny black shoes and at about 6 foot tall and 200 lbs he was a big Chinese guy. I handed him a copy of the company President’s name card which had the address of the factory on it. We walked to the Ferry boat to go to Foshan as it is a short walk from the Royal Garden Hotel. I walked about a half step behind him and he made a good quick pace. I am not a little person at 5 ft 11 inches, 185 lbs, and in pretty good shape, he made me look small. This man was just a mean tough looking guy. Just looking at him you knew not to mess with him. His facial expression with the fu man chu mustache made him look like he was always frowning. His head was shaved except for a single 12 inch pig tail on the back of his head. You could tell by the scares on his face Gold Tooth had been in more than a few fights in his life.
Gold Tooth did not speak one word on the way there for three hours. He seemed irritated that he got stuck with this Gaijin for the day. He never smiled and spoke to no one. He did buy me a bottle of coke from the girl selling drinks on the boat. I said thanks, but he gave no reply, just a grunt.
Upon arriving at the factory there is a guard office and Gold Tooth said something in Chinese and we went right into the factory. I showed him the way to the President’s office since I had been there many times.
Walking down the hall ways the factory people just stared at us and moved out of the way. Arriving at the office the secretary looked at us and was speechless. The door was closed and Gold Tooth just walked right in like he owned the place. The President of this company whom I call Mr. X did not seem surprised to see me probably due to my faxed letter advising I was coming today, but he was surprised to see Gold Tooth. He asked who the man with me was. I told him he is my protection to help me take the money back to Hong Kong. Gold Tooth started speaking in Chinese to Mr. X which I did not understand.
Mr. X sat down, his face looking somewhat upset and made a phone call right away. Sometimes when Chinese people get upset they make a kind of hiss thru their teeth and he was hissing a lot. I don’t know what Gold Tooth said, but Mr. X told me the money would be here in about a half hour. It would all be in RMB or Chinese money. Then we all had a cup of tea together. Mr. X told me he was very sorry not to pay me but the Chinese government would not let the company transfer any US dollars to pay any bills outside of China. I believed him as when money gets tight the government watches the currency balance flowing outside the country. At this time all companies were government owned and this factory was owned by Foshan City government. He felt very bad and ask me to continue business with him on a cash base. I agreed to this and we were friends again and shook hands. He tried to shake Gold Tooth’s hand and Gold Tooth refused and said something in Chinese, like where is the money? Sitting there for the next thirty minutes was a little awkward. Mr. X made small talk and he offered me an apology again. Within 20 minutes the money arrived in a big paper bag. I did not count the money out. I just took it and put it into my large brief case. Gold Tooth never said another word, it was an uncomfortable situation. I also knew that Mr. X was impressed that I had some type of connections in Hong Kong for collecting money and he knew this guy was some kind of Chinese mafia. I said good bye to Mr. X and told him I hope we can continue business. I could tell Mr. X was happy to see us leave. I got the feeling that without Gold Tooth I might not have received all of my money.
Gold Tooth took the money from me and carried it on the way back to Hong Kong. He took it thru customs. If we got caught at customs it may mean jail time in China for me smuggling Chinese money, but for Gold Tooth who knows. Gold Tooth could pay them off or maybe scare them off. On the way back I was wondering if I had been set up. I was a little scared for sure.
RMB currency was not allowed to leave the country. You were supposed to change it to H.K. Dollars or US Dollars before leaving China. There was a $1,000 limit. When we arrived at customs he went thru first and I followed. I noticed right away the guards did not even take our passports and stamp them. We just held them up and they waived us thru. What a relief that was. I was out of China with my money. I wondered if these customs people knew Gold Tooth.
Back in Hong Kong Gold Tooth gave the money to the three wise guys at the table and they proceeded to count the money changing it into Hong Kong dollars. They then took their 15% and said goodbye to me. They told Gold Tooth to take me to the hotel to be sure I made it there safely. Arriving at the Hotel I said good bye to Gold Tooth and he just grunted. I handed him $400 as a gift which he gladly took. Finally he spoke and said thank you. I watched him leave the hotel and wondered what he was thinking. I then went to the front desk and put the money in the Hotel safe. I ran into Ricky and told him everything went great. I handed Ricky an envelope with his money. I asked Ricky what would have happen if Mr. X had not paid me. Ricky told me a story that he heard was the money collectors would cut off your little finger on the spot to show they are serious. If you still do not pay when they came back you can guess the worst will happen. I told Ricky I would be using this service again and thanked him for this help.
Sitting in my room, I thought back at what had just happen. I was crazy taking such a big risk but it was great getting my money. I needed a couple of drinks to relax after that experience. I slept great that night. The next day I went across the street to the Shanghai Hong Kong Bank, opened an account, and changed the money into US Dollars with no questions asked. Every time I went to Honk Kong I would withdraw $10,000 for expenses to use in China, Korea, or Japan. What cash was left I took back to the USA.
If you go to Asia Honk Kong is a city you must visit. It is the main path into southern China and there is a lot to see and do. To see everything plan on spending three to five days in Hong Kong. Check out the Royal Garden Hotel.
Coming next American Gaijin, Part 13 Korea, Land of Garlic Eaters