Monday, December 12, 2005

Shipped to Shanghai! Vol. 9 -- Undercover with the Fashion Pirates

"Good drums do not require hard beating."
--Chinese proverb

"Where can I buy fake goods?" Rose asked me.

We'd met on the subway when she asked if we were on Line 2. She had wanted to see the Bund. Rose came from Istanbul, Turkey. Ah, yes. I'd go there for the kebabs alone. The Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace would be a bonus.

Back to her question. That was easy to answer: the Xiangyang Fashion and Gift Market at the corner of Huaihai Rd. and Xiangyang Rd. Take the subway to Shanxi Rd. station.

As we got out of our taxi, hawkers besieged us with offers. They all shouted the same thing: "Watch? DVDs? Bags?" Any white person has to fend off armies of hustlers looking to sell to the rich foreigner. Since I look Chinese (read: poor), I can walk through a gauntlet of them without that much hassle.

Rose had fair skin and brown hair, so she was a prime target. There were so many of them that we couldn't even walk all the way to Xiangyang Market. She chose the only hustler wearing a suit and tie. He wanted to take us somewhere else.

"C'mon, let's check it out," she said.

"Uh, I don't think that's a good idea."

She won, so we followed the hustler into the underworld. He took us behind the Mason Hotel Shanghai into a maze of dark alleys. No people, no lights.

"Is this safe?" Rose asked.

I wish she had thought of that sooner. "We'll see."

The hustler unlocked a door that looked like a rusty bank vault. He led us into a dingy apartment complex. Inspired by Soviet architecture, circa Cold War. Grim gray concrete and cracked walls.

Far away, in a backroom, was another world entirely. Soft lighting emanated from the ceiling. Polished wooden shelves gleamed under the burden of so much merchandise. We could have been in any designer store on Nanjing Rd.

Mountains upon mountains of handbags! Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, all of them were represented. The hustler said that the LV bags were the most popular. He said I'd even see the poorest woman on street, wearing tattered clothes, but clutching an LV bag.

Rose dived into the fray, shuffling through the bags.

I walked over to the Prada shelf. To my untrained eye, they looked real. There was a tag dangling from a bag. I flipped it over: "Certificate of Authenticity." They get it down to the last detail, these Chinese bootleggers.

* * *

Later on, I checked things out with my class. They wanted to know what the hustler said the Prada bag cost. I conferred with one of my students, who's an expert on handbags. She's the housewife of a rich man. Here is the price breakdown for a Prada handbag:

Hustler's price for a fake: 300 RMB ($37)

Fair price for a fake: 70-100 RMB ($9-$12)

Price for a real Prada: 8000 RMB ($1000)

Chinese for Shopping

Rose asked for some useful phrases for shopping in China. Here's what I taught her:

How much? = Duo shao "dwoe shau"

Don't want it! = Bu yao "boo yow" = use this to fend off vendors

Too expensive! = Tai gui "tai gway"

I want one = Wo yao yi ge "woe yow ee guh"

When you ask them the price, they'll answer in Chinese. Make the motion of pressing buttons on a calculator. The vendor will punch the numbers into a calculator and show it to you.

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