In May, there were rainstorms and typhoons along the South China coast. Just driving through Shaoguan, heavy rain poured down.
The provincial road was not as straight as a highway. Once it was hit by rain, one couldn’t even see the road ahead. Worried about the cargo in the car, Scarface did not force Chen Yuanming to continue driving, but rather found a place for them to shelter from the rain. Of course, he did not notice the pallor on Chen Yuanming’s face.
It was stop and go all the way. A journey that should have originally taken three or four days to travel in one stretch, took six days. It was mid-May by the time the duo re-entered the small hotel in the suburbs of Wuhan. Burning with impatience, Scarface settled down quickly then hurriedly rushed off to deliver the goods, leaving Chen Yuanming alone at the hotel.
It had been more than half a month since Chen Yuanming last visited the small hotel, so when Su Xiao saw Chen Yuanming again, the surprise on her face was undisguised.
That afternoon, the dining table was set up in the living room, but this time there was no steaming food. Instead, neatly lined up on the table was a pile of brand-new electronic watches covered in waterproof packaging.
“This is … pretty good …”
Su Xiao’s voice stuttered as she looked at the table full of watches. The electronic watches Chen Yuanming had brought back this time were very outstanding in quality. They were a little more refined than those her husband had brought, especially the cartoon-shaped models with their bright colors. Their smooth shape was extremely attractive.
It was just … She suddenly remembered what her husband had said last time and her face paled. This young man had a good eye for merchandise but what price would he offer for the shipment? Would he really only pass on 5 yuan of profit?
Wang Haitao didn’t make any overt moves. Instead, he took the watches one by one and carefully checked them. He adjusted the clock, checked the seams of the straps and the buckles, and verified whether the display screen was flat. It took a whole half hour to inspect all the goods on the table. After putting down the last watch in his hand, Wang Haitao pushed up his glasses and smiled at the teenager in front of him.
“Yuanming is very good at picking things up. The watches are all good. How do you intend to calculate the price?”
Chen Yuanming smiled and looked a bit depressed, but overall his expression was very relaxed. “According to the price you quoted the last time, the watches from Zhuhai are relatively cheaper. So, would this work? …. The ordinary electronic watch without any decoration is 10 yuan per piece. The Cartoon watch will be 17 yuan. However, the waterproof watch is too expensive to cut further so that will be 30 yuan for you. “
Su Xiao showed a look of surprise and immediately turned to look at her husband, who hinted at her with his gaze to look away. Wang Haitao gently patted the table twice and revealed a real smile, “Okay, then I will accept this entire batch. But it seems the profit margin can still ……”
Chen Yuanming also smiled. “This is only the beginning. You sell this first, brother Wang. I’ll buy more goods next time after I make more money.”
With this answer, the couple had no further objections and they laughed together. Wang Haitao then took out a stack of banknotes and put away the electronic watches on the table.
Su Xiao then accompanied Chen Yuanming to eat a light homemade meal. After the meal, seeing that he was not really in a good mood, she had no choice but to let him leave. This time, Chen Yuanming didn’t go anywhere but went directly upstairs and locked himself in the guest room.
The rain began to patter once again, outside the window. Chen Yuanming lay stiffly on the hard bed and felt helpless inside.
With his first start-up fund, this business had made a net profit of 980 yuan, which almost 100% profit turnover. Together with the principal investment, he could continue to expand the volume of stock purchased to pave the way for further development. However, because his memories had given him these opportunities, the possibilities also tormented him.
The mattress underneath his body was still so hard. Chen Yuanming closed his eyes and listened to the rustling sound of the rain falling outside the window.
By noon the next day, the rain had cleared. Chen Yuanming was waiting in boredom for Scarface to return when his door was knocked open again. It was Su Xiao, the hotel owner’s wife.
Su Xiao said with an apologetic smile, “Ah Ming, your brother and I have discussed, and it is best if you do not buy ordinary watches next time. There are too many of such goods on the streets, so they don’t sell well. Also, while the cartoon watches are trendier, it is still best to buy more waterproof watches. Your brother knows all the big leaders in the factories, so these kinds of high-end watches will sell better and earn more money than …”
In this long, rambling tale, there was only one central idea. How could Chen Yuanming not understand. According to his observations, the cost of electronic watches in Wuhan was relatively transparent and the prices Wang Haitao had last quoted did not include any major errors.
However, Wang Haitao’s sales channel were the internal relationships and related households within the state-owned enterprises thus his actual selling price had to be cheaper than the goods sold in the mall. As a result, the profit margin of the most common wristwatches was too low. It could probably only earn him a difference of 1 or 2 yuan and cartoon watches could earn at best 4-5 yuan. On the other hand, waterproof watches would have better profit margins because of their good appearance.
At the same time, Wang Haitao’s sales channels were not subject to the usual capital constraints. He may even have made promises to his customers in advance whereby payments will be made after a pre-ordered watch was delivered. So why would he care about Chen Yuanming’s capital limits?
Wang Haitao had been dazzled by high profits and only wanted to sell the waterproof watch that was most beneficial for him.
However, none of these thoughts appeared on Chen Yuanming’s face and he flashed a smile of approval. “Yes, currently I just want to make some more money in order to get better watches.”
After smiling and sending away the now even more enthusiastic boss’s wife, Chen Yuanming chuckled softly. For now, the initiative was not in his hands, but he will be back soon …
After the rainy season, Chen Yuanming returned to the outskirts of Wuhan for the third time at the end of May. This time, the 2,000-yuan principal had bought more watches.
However, instead of entertaining him at home as they usually did Wang Haitao and his wife chose to invite him to go eat at one of the long-established restaurants in the city that served Wuhan cuisine.
Laochengtong’s San Xian Dou Pi, Tan Yanji’s Dumplings, Fuqinghe ’s Beef and Rice Noodles … This was the beginning of the 1990s, and these time-honored restaurant brands had not deteriorated due to the pressures of the market economy. Their ingredients were real and and genuine. The tofu skins were thick, and the fillings were delicious. The soup which had been simmered for a few days was so tasty it could make people swallow their tongues.
In the crowded storefront, the taste of the food was more wonderful than Chen Yuanming remembered. The three of them ate and drank until it got dark before returning to the hotel.
After making a pot of tea to aid digestion, the smile on Wang Haitao’s face never faded. Chen Yuanming touched his slightly swollen belly and grinned at him.
“Brother Wang, if there is something you want to say, you can just tell me directly, there is no need to go to all this trouble.”
Wang Haitao smiled softly, “Look at what you are saying, how can you come to Wuhan without tasting food from these famous brands? As hosts we are just extending our friendship. As for the future business …”
After muttering to himself for a while, Wang Haitao still decided to speak. “Brother, it’s not a secret. To be honest our electronic watch business is not going to last long. Now that the best period for the popularity of electronic watches is over, profits are very thin. There would be day when the market for electronic watches will be over saturated, correct? So, I want us to do some really profitable business. I have inquired in the shopping mall and recently, quartz watches have become popular. They look high-end and stylish and unlike electronic watches they do not resemble children’s toys. Several leaders I know are thinking about buying quartz watches, like Shuangshi, Citizen …”
“Oh, Japanese watches?” Chen Yuanming smiled casually. “What models do you want? There are a lot of models from these two brands, as well as Casio, Tissot, Longines … there are many famous watch brands in the world.”
Shocked by this remark, Wang Haitao could not help but pause awkwardly. He was a little bit wrong about Chen Yuanming. Wang Haitao had wanted to lead him towards a more favorable direction but who knew that Chen Yuanming was more proficient than him, and may even have already explored the quartz watch market. If he hadn’t said anything, would this boy have found an opportunity to drag him into the water?
In just an instant, Wang Haitao’s expression returned to normal, and he assumed his standard grass-roots work instructor smile again. “Look at what you are saying, we are not rich people, so the Japanese brand watches are enough. The other brands are too expensive to afford.”
“I have two models of the same brand here, one shows the date on the dial and the other does not. At the mall, the women’s version of these brands is out of stock so while I don’t really know the specific model the leaders were referring to, you see … “
Looking at the face of this man who was now suddenly polite, Chen Yuanming’s expression did not change. He just listened to the recital. “Brother Wang, you know the market for quartz watches now. The ordinary model of a Shuangshi watch is at least 1500 yuan. Citizen is more expensive and can go for at least 2,000 yuan. Besides these watches cannot be imitated. If we want high profits, we must take smuggled goods from Hong Kong. The risk is high, and the principal required is also high. Look at my small body …”
Understanding the subtext of Chen Yuanming’s words, Wang Haitao smiled brightly, “If we really want to do this business, why would your brother let you carry all the risk? I think smuggled goods will be cheaper than those sold normally on the market so I will pay half the original price of the goods as a deposit and pay you the remainder when the goods arrive. Would that work?”
“Well …”Chen Yuanming thought for a moment, “Though the investment is still quite large, it’s a good idea to try. However, my main business is still driving long distance, and this depends on my cousin’s schedule. Moreover, this time I’d have to talk to my boss about the smuggled goods, so you may not be able to get the shipment immediately. With such a big deposit, aren’t you afraid that I will run away?”
“Haha, I’m really not afraid of this.” Wang Haitao laughed twice and patted Chen Yuanming’s shoulder. “This deposit is just a small amount of money. How can it compare to the profit you will receive after the transaction is completed? Brother, you are so smart, don’t tease me.”
Chen Yuanming also laughed, “Then it is better for me to accept deferentially than to decline courteously.”
Because this was their first attempt, the next day Wang Haitao only gave Chen Yuanming a deposit of a little more than 4,000 yuan. At a price of 700 yuan each, it could buy a total of six watches. 4 men’s watches and 2 ladies’ watches. Holding on to his handbag, Chen Yuanming leaned comfortably in the driver’s seat.
How could he not have been prepared? Even before his second stock purchase he had inquired with the owner of the watch store about the prices of these quartz watches. Currently, the price of a smuggled watch was between 650-730 yuan. With this deposit, he did not even need to add any principal and a single watch could be resold for 2,300 yuan. More importantly, high-end watches were just the start.
This was the beginning of the 1990’s, and China had just opened its country and was facing the world again. The gap between the rich and the poor was beginning to widen. For reasons of vanity and to simply flaunt, people were desperately in need of money.
Though many people could not yet afford a car or luxury goods worth tens of thousands of yuan but watches and cameras costing a few thousand yuan were not a problem. How could people let go of this status symbol? In addition, such small items were always good gifts to be used as bribes. In fact, they were even in short supply.
Further, these kinds of purchasing channels were not easily accessible in the mainland cities. Thus, they were not only status symbols but will gradually become an indispensable part of fostering networks and relationships.
For people like Wang Haitao, this was a highly desirable market. Now that there was a deposit and a strong demand, all that remained was for Chen Yuanming to open his wallet and wait for money.
“Yo, Ah Ming, you look like you are in a good mood!” Scarface who sat on the side saw Chen Yuanming flash a rare smile and joked, “Have you run into a beautiful girl? Hubei girls are fierce, so you have to be cautious ~”
” Qiang ge, What are you saying? No matter how good-looking other girls are they are not as not as beautiful as a clear sky. I hope it stays sunny all the way.” Chen Yuanming hit the steering wheel and answered with a smile.
“That is it! A sunny sky is the best!”
A few days later, a postal money order remittance slip left the Zhuhai Post Office and floated to the mainland.
At this time, it had only been a month and a half since Chen Yuanming had left his hometown.
The author has something to say: I almost died from crunching a bunch of numbers. I am so moved after finishing I could cry …
Hey ~~ The first bucket of gold is already in hand, let’s slowly start to cut into the main story line.
 Shaoguan, city, is in northern Guangdong sheng (province), southern China
 Proper translation for the San Xian Dou Pi in the previous chapter. (Also known as three delicacies tofu skin)
 Note that Laochengtong, Tan Yanji and Fuqinghe are names of famous traditional restaurants. Fuqinghe, situated at No.855, Zhongshan Avenue, Hankou, vicinal to Liuduqiao, is a restaurant famous for beef rice noodles of Hunan flavor. The noodles are well known as soft, smooth and delicious. See http://english.wh.gov.cn/Tourism_1/DelicaciesinWuhan/202003/t20200316_950664.shtml
 Shuangshi Translates to Double lion: Oriental Double Lion ORIENT was founded in Japan in 1950. Because its LOGO was two lions, it was commonly known in China as the ‘double lion’ brand and known as ‘the king of wear-resistance. See full history of the brand here https://www.czwatches.com/2010/08/
 This is a well-used phrase when accepting gifts from one’s elders.
 Hubei province is situated in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and to the north of Dongting Lake with Wuhan as the capital.
 Ge (means older brother) I decided to retain the use of the Chinese titles and appellations in some cases to show the difference in sentiment. From the context he views his relationship with Wang Haitao as strictly business so although he also calls him ge it felt more accurate to call him “Brother Wang” because in English ( at least) to me that does not necessarily imply a true brotherly sentiment. With Scarface he would have a more brotherly business relationship so I retained the ge which to me implies a closer brotherly/friendly sentiment.
T/N NOTE: I am finding translating this novel a refreshing change of pace so I can’t help but to post more 🙂