In China, waiting in line sometimes feels like a competitive sport. The overnight queue at the launch of Apple's iPad 2 pales in comparison to the epic waits for certain over-subscribed state-run services.
Earlier this month, people waited four days and three nights to register for low-income housing in the central city of Xian, while admission to a certain Beijing kindergarten in Changping last year required a week-long, round-the-clock queue, for which people set up camp beds along the pavement.
But as with most things, one pragmatic Chinese entrepreneur has found a business opportunity out of adversity.
For the past two years, Li Qicai, 28, has made a career out of waiting in line. What's more, he now outsources the waiting to others. He employs four full-time queuers and a host of freelancers, who, for a cost of about $3 an hour, will do the waiting for you.
"I'm just selling my time for money," says Li. "You don't need any skills, except the ability to suffer. For some jobs, you need to look good. If you want to buy things for rich people, you can't look like a farmer or they'll think you're a scalper."
These are the paotui: literally, the "running legs," or runners. Their job: everything from a 26-hour wait for a limited-edition handbag to something as mundane as making an appointment with a famous doctor.
Paotui companies are springing up across China, fueled by what the Chinese media calls a landuo jingji, or an economy driven by laziness. One factor is China's low labor costs, which are driving China's convenience culture, where even fast-food outlets like McDonald's and neighborhood convenience stores deliver to people's homes."An economy driven by laziness"? Why, that sounds positively American!
Awesome. You know, maybe this is the answer to all of our nation's debt and unemployment problems. Since Republicans are apparently entirely unwilling to allow any tax increases on the wealthy, maybe we can just kindly ask our nation's wealthiest to instead hire the poorest of the poor to do menial tasks for them--standing in line, waiting on hold on the phone, sitting in traffic... hey, getting paid just to stand around? It's the American way!
Of course, this time, we'd just be stealing China's idea... but they're making fake Apple Stores, so fair is fair, right? Good talk. Hey, I've got a few extra bucks... anyone wanna go take my car to get inspected? I really don't feel like waiting for that to be done.