Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Selling In Taiwan

Bill Kling was assigned to an Army unit in Taipei for two separate two-year tours, and he has graciously offered to share some of his memories of what it was like to be a service member in Taipei during those years. Today he writes about the common (and legal) practice of selling certain items to the local citizens:

I was fortunate enough to serve two separate tours on Taiwan as an American Serviceman. As such, I had the ability to actually live well during my two, two-year tours and then sell many items at a good profit when I left the island.

I seem to remember that as an American serving in Taiwan we were allowed to bring into country, or purchase via the PX, items that Taiwanese could not normally obtain, such as American cars, washers & dryers, stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, etc.

It is often expensive for service personnel to move because they often have to buy or replace many of the items listed above. However, I was able to buy new appliances, use them for my two year tour and then sell them for a nice profit. One example is a Whirlpool in-window air conditioner that cost $220. Upon leaving the country in 1975, I was able to sell it for $450. This is quite a deal when you consider it was then two years old and well used because of the sub-tropical climate.

The reason I could do that was because Taiwan had a very large luxury tax on such items. While I don’t know the exact percentage, I was led to believe it was over 100% and there was a quota on the number of units that could be imported into the country. That, combined with Taiwan becoming an Asia Tiger as their economy was really booming, meant that there was a big demand but very little supply.

The way the process worked (again, to the best of my recollection) was that shortly after an American serviceman moved into a Taiwan house or apartment, he would be approached by people who wanted to “chop” these items. This means that they would make a deal to buy your goods upon your departure, give you a deposit (10%), get you to sign a contract and then when you were ready to leave, they magically appeared, paid the balance owed and took possession of the goods.

While this was a great thing for the Americans, sometimes it got to be annoying as there were many of these chop people. Where I lived in the Tien Mu area in Bank of Taiwan housing, they used to go from house to house in this almost American type neighborhood. Some were very devious and even if you told them you already had a deal they would try to pay you a premium to get you to sell to them anyway. You had to be careful and luckily for me I was introduced to a very ethical and fair businessman the week I arrived on the island by my military sponsor. I was lucky and tried to help other new people as they arrived, but still many people had issues when they left the country due to disputes, sometimes real and sometimes imagined.

It was required to fill out an official CHOP form from your personnel office which included the terms, item description, and serial number of each item. When you processed out of Taiwan, all of those documents had to be submitted to the Provost Marshal’s Office (PMO) for review.

The hardest thing to dispose of was a vehicle. You had to return your license plates, registration, and have it inspected by the PMO prior to turning the vehicle over to the Taiwanese. I remember very clearly that during my second tour in 1977 the vehicle which got the best return would be a black or silver Ford Granada sedan. I was able to get $12,000 for my car in 1979 and it cost about $3,800 new in 1977. Another key piece of the process was getting approval to deposit large amounts of money in your Bank of America account. Since there was a black market and all transactions were paid in New Taiwan Dollars (NT) it was necessary to get approval to deposit these monies from your personnel office and the PMO. Once again you needed to take your completed contracts with the approvals to the bank for review before they accepted and converted your NT dollars to US dollars.

I think the opportunity I had to serve in Taiwan, doing a job I enjoyed, learning and soaking up a different culture, completing my college education, and making life-long friends, made my tours in Taiwan some of the most important and memorable periods of my life.


Anonymous said...

Bill's story is right on target! Selling appliances, stereos, and cars were commonplace at the end of a tour in Taiwan. Another twist to selling all your stuff was to 'bundle' it, which was to tell the chop man he had to buy your washer and dryer (which didn't usually sell) if he wanted your Sony TV (a very high demand item).

As to vehicles, during my first tour, I bought a 1972 Datsun stationwagon for $1950, then sold it 15 months later for $2100! On my second tour, I wish I had known about the demand for the Ford Granadas, but alas, I just had a standard Chevy Vega, which I sold for a $800 profit, not nearly as good a deal as Bills!


John Hurst

Don said...

Yeah, and I don't even want to talk about the small, portable, black & white Sony TV that I decided to buy. No resale value there!

Anonymous said...

I left Taipei in 1968. I sold my car when it first arrived on island in January 1966. There was the usual Bill of Sale drawn up by the Navy Legal Office at the HSA compound. I forget the circumstances, but I believe I may still have the document some place in my "stuff." I do have a copy of the rental agreement for my apartment.

I like most other folks had to ask permission to purchase an air conditioner, It was a Fedders brand, with both heat and cooling. The heat really came in handy in the Taipei winter weather. As I remember, when you got the OK to purchase your unit, you could sign-up for installation by the Navy Exchange. They could do everything from knocking the hole in the brick wall to bringing in 220 voltage. I also purchased a refrigerator when I was living in my apartment. Some time after moving into my apartment, I was married. We used the a/c and refrigerator while living there and when we left the island we gave both of the appliances to my wife's sister. As I remember it now, 40 years later, it seems like my sister's husband gave my wife some cash. I can't ask my wife as she passed a few years ago. But the unbelievable reward of selling something for more than you paid, was something I had never experienced before and it was like Christmas and your Birthday all rolled into one when you got the big sack of $NT before you left the island. There are so many stories to tell, and so little time. I encourage anyone reading this to contribute your story. Someone will really appreciate your story. I want to hide this remark in my comments, this Christmas season, Google or search for ICRT. Then click on the "Listen to ICRT" and enjoy the English Radio Station. They are playing Christmas Carols from an older recording made at the Taipei American School, could we hear such a recording today from an American School in the United States? Merry Christmas.......

Don said...

Thanks a bunch for mentioning ICRT Radio. I've added a link to their website under the "Links of Interest" heading to the right of this blog, just above the news headlines.

Do you know if this was once the old AFNT station?

Oh yes, and MERRY CHRISTMAS to you as well!