Taibei underworld

(this is an old post from when we were teaching in Taiwan that never made it to the blog, but it’s kind of funny, so here it is.)

Funny (and slightly disturbing) experience today. A friend took us around to help with some errands that require Mandarin: wiring money, exchanging money, and getting vaccinations. We had to exchange several thousand dollars. He said the bank’s exchange rates weren’t that great today and he knew a better place to exchange the money.

Ok.

So we went to this popular, busy shopping district kind of like a big outdoor mall. There was an eyewear store. Our friend walks in with two white people in tow and says in Mandarin to the lady at the counter, “I have $300,000 I need to exchange” (that’s about $9k US). A woman immediately goes to stand lookout at the store entrance. Two guys appear from the back as ‘security’ (later he told us they thought he’d said $3,000,000 – that’s $91k US!). They directed us to a set of stairs going down at the back of the store in the corner. Halfway down at the landing there was a big Chinese dragon relief covering the wall, just like in a kung-fu movie. In the basement there were several unmarked doors. A woman standing in one doorway pointed us to another door behind which was a cashier counter. Turns out their exchange rate was the same as the bank’s. I suggested we go back to the bank then, since it’s the same rate and, um, legal. So back up past the big dragon relief and out past the eyewear.

Apparently this sort of thing is like driving 8km over the speed limit back home, from the way he described it. And these places are everywhere (our friend knew of several just in that area). And, for those of you who may or may not be interested, if you ever needed to launder money, this is the place you’d go. Good to know!

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