Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alas, My Fake Watch

If you want to avoid buying a fake watch in China, learn a lesson from me and don't shop for watches when it's too dark to see what you're buying. Also, don't buy watches when it's bright--at least not if you don't know what you're doing.

China has made serious advances in honoring and enforcing intellectual property rights, including the shutting down of hundreds of counterfeiting operations and many successful lawsuits for companies enforcing patent and trademark rights. I've met the founder of the Chinese IP system. Dr. Gao Lulin, and am impressed with what China has achieved. It's their increasing focus on IP that has brought me to this fabulous nation. In spite of all the progress, though, there are still some issues, like a thriving fake watch business.

When I walk down any of Shanghai's hot tourist streets, I'll be accosted by those psychic Chinese peddlers who can somehow sense that I'm an American. "Buy a watch? Cheap! Cheap!" My response has been to point to my $20 Timex digital masterpiece, complete with an authentic black plastic wrist band, and say (in English or bad Chinese, depending on the situation), "Isn't this a beauty? Don't you think this is good? Why do I need another?" They'll say it's a good (politeness often prevails over honesty), but then kindly remind me that I can get a really good one from them, cheap, cheap! I've resisted the temptation.

Recently, however, I've sensed that my obviously cheap watch is inadequate, in spite of its awesome utility (built in alarm clock that many very expensive brands don't have, not being digital toys). In meetings of all kinds, nice looking watches really seem to be the norm and I've begun feeling that it's time to upgrade my $20 cheapie to something more in the $50 range, if only to not look too out of place. Everyone else has a nice metal band, so I need one too, right? Hmm, see how the lure of the world works here? Can you jump ahead and guess how I lost my soul?

So on my to-do list has been finding a nicer looking watch, cheap but not fake. I went watch shopping a few times in the US before coming to China and couldn't find anything I liked. Haven't had much time for that here (not with all my big adventures like making friends with harmonica players at parks or eating French crepes in the French Concession). But after work recently, I had the bright idea of stopping in at the nearby Dongtai Antique Bazaar, a really fun place close to where I live that I enjoyed when I interviewed here back in May. A good place to practice Chinese and hones one's skills in haggling over prices. With all those antique and used goods, surely I could find an old used watch that looked OK. Then maybe I could get something that was real, in the $50 price range, with basic functionality. I'd keep my digital Timex for its alarm clock function when needed on some mornings, but during the day I could wear something with a metal band instead of plastic. Nice intentions, anyway.

It was dark and most booths were closed when I got there, but one with a few watches and lots of other stuff was still opened, just in the process of closing. I looked over the watches, barely able to see what the man had, but saw a nice looking face with a steel band and asked about the price. 1200 RMB. (About $190.) But for me, he was asking for less. Following the typical Chinese ritual, he typed in a new price onto the standard big LED desk calculator that all vendors seem to use and showed the price to me: 1000. Ouch, way over my budget, sorry. Well, hold one, don't give up, said the man, maybe I can give you a better discount. How about this? He typed in the digits and then showed me the new price 800. I apologized and said I really couldn't afford it and started to back away, waving my hands in apology. No, don't go. Just tell me, how can you afford. No, it's embarrassing to even tell you because it would be so insulting. I'm way out of my price range here and can't afford your nice watches. Well, what is your price range? Well, I'm so embarrassed, but it's just 300 RMB. What? 300 RMB, for such a terrific watch? I know, I know, I apologized, I feel terrible, but then you also have to realize that I don't know if this old watch will even work tomorrow, so that's why I have to be careful and not spend too much. Then I got a lecture on how he stood behind his watches and guaranteed everything, how he had been in business at this stall for years and wouldn't let his reputation be tarnished, etc. OK, that's good to know, thank you. But I really can't afford your price. Well, how about 400, he said? Mmmmm, 350? Deal. And I went home with my new random brand used watch for about $50. Nice band. Price negotiated well. Was feeling rather proud of myself. And definitely, not a fake, right, since it was just some random used watch, right?

When I got home and looked at it in the light, my heart sank. It was an Omega. Omega--that's one of the old stalwart luxury brands from Switzerland. I remember so well standing in front of the Omega watch displays in Zurich, Switzerland in my first area on my mission and marveling at how much money people were spending on something as minor as a watch. Omega was one of the best ways to spend a lot of money. For a real watch, that is. The fakes are a lot less.

Maybe it's real but old and I just got lucky? I set the time and looked over the watch--it seemed to be OK. The next morning it was already off by 2 hours. A fake watch without the decency to even keep time reasonably well. Sigh. I'll take it back soon and see if I can exchange it for something that isn't obviously fake. But a new friend of mine who works in the Bazaar now tells me that all the watches sold there are probably fake.

Another soul snagged by the lures of the world.

Maybe I'll just go watchless for a while?


proud daugher of eve said...

My cellphone has done watch and alarm duty for me for more than a year and it's not even one of them fancy smart ones. :)

Eric said...

Somehow, that spam (which will probably be deleted, but it was the second message when I wrote this) seems appropriate for the post. It's not often that happens!

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I like that you view the world in such a positive way. I have followed this blog for a couple of years now and I think you are viewing China with a tainted view. Almost like you have a view of how you want China to be and you are determined to see it that was no matter what. The fact is it is far from what you describe. I think I recall in a previous post you compared Shanghai to New York.....not even close. While you can buy a fake watch in both places (Chinatown) the two don't even compare. I think you should see China with open eyes because it is not the place that you describe.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon, I'm sorry your not happy about the magical experience I'm having in Shanghai. I'm not trying very hard to enjoy it at all and am not making up the many positive experiences I'm having. They are real. The goodness of this nation and its people is real. The majesty of Chinese culture, history, and language, in my opinion, is real. The excitement that I experience here is real. I'm not trying to put a positive spin on a bad situation--the positives are part of why are chose to come here and why I fell in love with Shanghai enough to take on some serious risks (yes, there are risks here) and move here. And yes, it was a prayerful decision and my wife and I both felt that this is where we belong now. I hope you'll begrudge us the privilege of enjoying it--and enjoying it wildly.

As for New York, here's what I said. It's tongue in cheek, but perhaps you missed that: "But the chaos at intersections is a reminder that, in spite of Shanghai priding itself on being an advanced and highly civilized place, in some ways it is still a lot like New York City. " Sorry, New Yorkers! Only slight offense intended.

While sharing crazy traffic, Shanghai is certainly much different than New York. Personally, I've enjoyed my time here more than my visits to New York. But that's a personal thing. New York offers a lot that seems hard to find here: Broadway, abundant pizza, great bagels, as well as crime on the street, gangs, graffiti, and drugs. I've been in many parts of Shanghai, day and night, and have always felt safe. I've usually been treated with courtesy. I haven't had to worry about people taking my stuff. There is beauty and adventure and goodness almost everywhere, and a vibrant arts community. But Shanghai also has problems like bad water, food safety issues (beware recycled cooking oil), spitting on the street, some bad odors in some areas at times, and reports of air pollution from the locals but the air has seemed pretty good on most days to me (I think ocean breezes keep things cleaner here). I think air quality here is much better than what people in Salt Lake City and the Utah Valley endure, especially with their inversion layer that traps everything in the Valley.

As for the excitement of Times Square, YAWN! Every few blocks is another Times Square in Shanghai, with crazy lit-up buildings turned into massive TV screens and LED light shows with all sorts of cool special effects. It's a bit gawdy, perhaps, but for geeks like me who appreciate what other geeks can do with zillions of lights, great software, and lots of power, it's fun city.

Shanghai is not China, as the Chinese tell me, for it is a different world than that faced by most Chinese. I recognize that. Shanghai is a unique enclave in Asia, one of the most livable and lovable places for Westerners, and I invite you to come give it a chance.

Of course, one can focus on the problems and find a lot to dislike, or one can be thrilled by the good. I'm in the latter camp.

Darin said...

Don't worry Jeff. You're not the only one getting duped into buying pirated brands: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/07/21/entire-apple-stores-being-faked-in-china/?test=latestnews

Peter said...

Here's a blog post about fake Apple stores in China, with extensive photos:


Kitchen Benchtops said...

This is lone excellent reason why consumer culture is elemental in the struggle against piracy.