Tentacled soothsayer is cash cow

08:35, July 19, 2010      

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Paul the octopus, the unexpected champion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is helping to create millionaires in China among sharp-nosed Chinese business people who have smelled the aroma of cash around him.

Workers process octopus food at a seafood factory in Shandong province. The price of fresh octopus is about 60 to 65 yuan per kilogram at Lishuiqiao Seafood Market in Beijing's Changping district. A vendor surnamed Fang said the price used to be around 40 yuan per kilogram and only a few stands at the market were offering the delicacy before the 2010 World Cup. Paul, the unexpected tentacled champion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, has become very popular among Chinese football fans as he correctly predicted the outcome of eight world cup matches, including Spain's 1-0 win again the Netherlands in the final game. Chen Weifeng / China Foto Press

The three-year-old octopus, who lives at Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, has become a sensation by correctly predicting the outcome of eight world cup matches, including Spain's 1-0 win again the Netherlands in the final game.

Although the tentacled soothsayer has gone back to his former job, namely making children laugh, the commercial opportunities surrounding him will not fade, a fact that brings smiles to the faces of many Chinese merchants who see fortunes in his four pairs of arms.

Wang Shu, a vendor of creative products in daily use at Taobao.com, China's largest e-commerce site, said: "Since Paul became extremely popular among soccer fans as well as some stylish young people, I have sold more than 50 octopus-shaped tissue boxes a day, each priced at eight yuan," said Wang.

"Many other products printed with octopus patterns have also proved be a craze, for example tablecloths, tableware, cushions and so on."

Ferry Li, a merchant specializing in plush toys at Taobao.com, was pretty surprised by the booming sales of all kinds of octopus toys at his store in recent days.

"I'm illiterate about soccer and didn't realize there was any difference between Paul and other seafood," he said. "I've got many plush toys of different animal shapes in my store, but in the past octopus-shaped toys used to be put in the slowest-moving category."

The reality was totally the opposite when Paul the octopus showed up. Li said the retail prices of octopus toys have doubled or even tripled. "Very few toy manufacturers were offering octopuses previously, so that now it is very hard to purchase them," he said disappointedly.

Searching for "octopus" or "Paul the octopus" at the eBay-styled site produces about 45,000 related items that are available for sale, ranging from clothing, food and toys to fashion accessories and electronic devices.

Paul the octopus products have also been listed by Taobao as one of the top 10 world cup souvenirs along with the lucky blue sweater worn by Germany coach Joachim Loew and the ubiquitous vuvuzela trumpet.

Some Taobao store owners have even changed their store names to Paul or other octopus-linked words in an effort to be more easily found by e-shoppers on the site.

Song Wen, a 35-year-old owner of a do-it-yourself T-shirt outlet in Beijing's Dongcheng district, was printing octopus patterns on T-shirts day and night while his wife Wang Li also burnt the midnight oil drawing new patterns using artificial crystals or embroidery.

Over the past week, Song has sold more than 500 such T-shirts priced from 50 to 200 yuan. He said they must work as fast as they can because no one knows when the Paul phenomenon will fade away.

Xiao Ya, a customer of Song's boutique, has just graduated from university and is job hunting.

Xiao, like many other fans of Paul, has been collecting Paul-related products because she believes the cephalopod would bring her good fortune.

In addtion, some Chinese travel agencies are also considering using Paul as a new publicity stunt on the back of an outbound travel boom.

A trip planner surnamed Zhu said his agency has been working on adding the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen to its package tours to Europe to lure more fans of the eight-armed wunderkind.

Zhu said the new package would be named "Discovering the Secrets of the 2010 World Cup" and cost travelers about 13,000 to 15,000 yuan. The price is comparable to other trips to European countries.

Not everyone is in love with the meaty mollusk, especially fans of teams he correctly predicted would lose.

At the popular Dongdong Kebab in Beijing's Dongcheng district, nearly every customer ordered grilled octopus. A waiter surnamed Sun said they sold more than 30 kilograms a day during the world cup.

Liu Qibin, a 28-year-old shopper at Lishuiqiao Seafood Market in Beijing's Changping district, said: "I never tried octopus food in the past but as a soccer fan supporting Germany and soccer star Miroslav Marian Klose, I really want to put the little devil into my stomach since his prediction destroyed the career of my favorite team in the world cup."

The price of fresh octopus at the market is about 60 to 65 yuan per kilogram. A vendor surnamed Fang said the price used to be around 40 yuan per kilogram and only a few stands at the market were offering octopus before the football tournament.

Tu Bing has been selling seafood at the market for years. He recently added octopus to his daily purchasing list because of the buzz surrounding Paul. He said: "I can sell at least 50 kilograms in a day. There are some customers buying octopus for pets.

"They asked me how to raise them but I don't think they can be easily taken care of like dogs and survive."

Scientists said that the average life of an octopus is about three years and four years at most. With a facility to remember, its intelligence is regarded as equal to that of a two-year-old child.

Amid the gloomy property and stock markets, many Chinese investors are praying to the "Octopus Big Bother" in the hope of some inkling about their fate.

Source:China Daily


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