The Fake China

One thing about living in Shanghai that has been a surprise to me, is how expensive it can be. Certain things are cheap – vegetables, taxis – but almost everything else is more expensive than it would be in the US. They are probably feverishly making iPads 100 miles from here and yet they are nearly double the price of one bought in the US (which raises some questions about the value of importing and exporting goods, transportation costs and the subsequent environmental impacts but alas, I am not qualified to answer those…) So, like so many Chinese, we have embraced buying designer fakes from popular markets.

These are not a couple of sketchy looking guys on a street corner with easily collapsable blankets. You don’t have to follow some guy to a back alley, into a dark garage, in the hopes to not get caught. They are well established, busy, readily accessible stalls. They are overtly described in guidebooks and local magazines. So, why not?

Haggling here is actually kind of fun. Vendors, for the most part, aren’t overly aggressive. They start with a ridiculously high price and you give them a ridiculously low price and then you both laugh. They tell you, “but it’s all real! See?” and show you some label or mark and you shake your head and say you know it’s not real and you both laugh some more.

“For you, I make special price,” they tease.

“You say that to everyone.”

“No, no, it’s true. I make special Tuesday price for you.”

I’ve read that it’s better to go in the morning because they will offer low prices for the first customer of the day. Supposedly, it’s good luck for them to make their first sale early.

The market closest to us is underground, next to the futuristic looking Science and Technology Museum. The metro stops right in the middle of the sprawling market. In addition to hundreds of shops, selling everything from purses to electronics to toys, there are a couple of restaurants and convenience stores. You could spend the entire day haggling away. We’ve bought a few things there and each time I feel accomplished. Who really needs to spend $300 on sunglasses that could be destroyed in 23 seconds by a 2 year old? I don’t feel guilty, not even a little bit, that I bought a Mulberry bag for $15. (To be honest, I had never even heard of Mulberry bags until a couple of months ago.) But should I? Should I feel guilty that I am doing something that is illegal where I am from? Is it cheating? Immoral? After all, I am cheating a billion dollar company out of a few hundred dollars.

I know, that’s not really the issue.

On the surface, I get that there are patent laws to protect innovators and the like but really, what’s so illegal about a knock off. I buy generic drugs and some generic groceries, so why is this so different? I know when I purchase these goods that I am buying lesser quality but if I’m only paying $15, I don’t care when my sunglasses get lost or maimed by the little monsters. So then why don’t I buy some no-name $15 glasses? Because, here in China, the name brand knock offs are easier to find than the cheap no-name. At least, that’s what I tell myself so I don’t have to admit I am a shallow, brand name, whore.

So then there is the argument that by buying counterfeit goods you are destroying jobs and depriving the government of tax revenue. I have convinced myself that the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of vendors I’ve seen at just the one fake market I frequent, would be jobless if it weren’t for my loyal consumption of their goods. And as for tax revenue, like a good American, I’m always trying to get out of paying more taxes so still no guilt.

I’ve also read that by buying counterfeit goods, you are perpetuating the growth of sweat shops and organizations that care little about basic human rights and labor laws. Maybe. But buying Benetton (and other name brands) does too. This issue goes deeper than any of us would like to know. And it’s just so easy to say, “Of course this was made in a well run, clean, factory with well rested workers who get adequate time off and wages. Anything else is illegal and would obviously be shut down.”

I’m also a little hung up on the idea that buying fakes could stifle innovation. I talk myself out of this though, by saying Louis Vuitton is doing WAY better than anyone who is making LV knock offs so clearly the innovators are still winning. And what’s that they say about imitation? It’s the highest form of flattery? So then, Mr. Vuitton, you take the cake in flattery and for that, you should be very proud.

So, okay, maybe now I feel a little guilty but probably not guilty enough to not go back. Does that make me a bad person?

While these photos are not fake, I wonder if they are much like me carrying my Mulberry bag, trying to look the part. The landscaping around touristy areas is amazing.

Outside the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Across the river looking back at our neighborhood. Notice the landscaping on the wall on the opposite side of the road.
Across the river looking back at our neighborhood. Notice the landscaping on the wall on the opposite side of the road. Those are thousands of flowers carefully arranged in wavy lines.
Flowers line the street that is next to the Bund.
Flowers line the street that is next to the Bund.
They even decorate the light posts.
They even decorate the light posts.


And then back on the ferry,  we're reminded there is no spitting.
And then back on the ferry, we’re reminded there is no spitting.
And no bringing explosives on board???
And no setting fires or bringing explosives on board!

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