food / travel

Welcome To 7-Eleven Island: Unpacking Taiwan's Culture Of Convenience

A visitor from mainland China reflects on Taiwan's love affair with the always-open, eternally stocked convenience store.

The almighty Taiwanese 7-Eleven
The almighty Taiwanese 7-Eleven
Zeng Zhen

What is the coolest thing in Taiwan? Most Chinese tourists will say it’s the pineapple cake or the Taiwanese tea. I have a different answer: the convenience store. Whether it’s the goods it sells, its function or its services, no place in the world can beat Taiwan’s 7-Eleven convenience stores.

In urban areas such as the capital city Taipei, there are 7-Eleven stores every 300 to 500 meters. Even on the island’s remote east coast or near the peak of Alishan Mountain — at an altitude of 2,170 meters — it’s never difficult to find one. And they are all open 24 hours a day.

One Taiwanese newspaper reported that there are more than 10,000 7-Eleven stores in Taiwan. That’s one shop for every 2,000 people, the densest network in the world.

Even when waiting in a hospital or queuing at a government agency, it’s common to glimpse a convenience store in the hallway. You can photocopy a document, have a cup of coffee or eat breakfast while waiting to be called. It’s the first time in my life that I have found waiting to be pleasant.

Even more amazing is what these stores sell. With less than 100 square meters of floor surface, these stores very often sell more than 3,000 items, including all sorts of basic necessities. As a friend who enjoys traveling by bike told me, people who want to travel light can just ride along the “route of convenience stores” and eliminate the need to carry luggage or dry rations. If such travelers brings along a tent and a sleeping bag, 7-Eleven can provide for the rest.

The convenience store serves three meals a day. Apart from virtually any snack or drink you can think of, these stores offer many choices of “bento,” or “lunch box.” The staff will heat it up for you while you comfortably settle yourself down and wait to be served. Meanwhile, television, free newspapers and magazines are available.

The only stop you’ll need

For those who are on the road, free Wi-Fi, mobile phone charging and hot water services are available, not to mention toiletries, cosmetics, simple clothing, general medicines and a wide variety of other daily necessities. ATM machines are often also available.

If you happen to be a tourist who loves shopping, you don’t even have to carry your purchases on your trip. The 7-Eleven stores offer postal services, so you can send packages home, including food that needs to be refrigerated and delivered within a limited time. They can also help people find specialized services.

These stores are so convenient that “Seven” has become synonymous with “convenience store” and an integral part of the particularly rushed Taiwanese lifestyle. People can send express mail, fax, pay utility fees or parking fines, make appointments, order pre-cooked New Year meals, and find child care service at vacation time!

But I experienced 7-Eleven’s extreme power when I ran into an unexpected situation with the Taiwanese immigration office. I was applying for a resident card as a dependent when I discovered just as I reached the immigration officer’s desk that I had forgotten to bring a copy of my husband’s ID card. My husband was then in China — along with his ID card — and my unmodifiable flight back to China was the next morning.

Seeing my distress, the officer comforted me. “Don’t worry, there is a Seven right across the road,” he said. “Get your husband to take a picture of his ID card and send it to your mobile so you can print it in the store.”

“But I haven't got a U disk with me, or a data line.”

“That’s fine. Just go there and the shop will help you.”

I rushed to the 7-Eleven worried. The staff kindly guided me onto an Internet site called ibon to register an account first. Then my husband uploaded his ID card, keyed in the secret code, and there and then I printed the photo from the store’s terminal!

I saved the cost of a return ticket and solved my problem within minutes. I cheered for Taiwan’s almighty 7-Eleven.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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