IT'S Monday afternoon and I'm in the office, admiring my colleague Anna's new phone. It is beautiful, but she tells me that buying it nearly ended in disaster after the electronics store tried to sell her a fake.
"I handed over 3,000 yuan (US$476) and when the box came back, it was all written in Chinglish!" she said. "Chinglish!"
The presence of Chinglish, or "Chinese English," on an American product is usually a good indicator of whether something is fake or not.
My colleague immediately asked for her money back. "This is a fake phone! It's not even written in proper English!" she complained to the phone salesman.
The salesman carefully examined the box and delivered a surprising conclusion. "Ah, no, that's not it," he said. "You see, the phone is real, but it is the box that is fake."
After half a year in China I have come to the conclusion that there is in life nothing, nothing that cannot be faked.
The favorite among foreigners is, of course, the fake handbag. In my first week in Shanghai I was tickled to find that the maker of a 50-yuan replica of a US$10,000 Hermes Birkin bag had included an envelope with a piece of fake leather inside, proclaiming that it was the real thing. "This bag genuine product. Make France," the fake certificate said.
Everyone who lives in China has a favorite fakes story to tell. For a long time I thought the best I'd heard were the fake Apple stores in Yunnan Province, complete with blue T-shirted employees selling what appeared, bizarrely, to be real Apple products. "Even the staff thought the store was real!" I recount. "The only giveaway was that they had written 'Apple store' on the windows!"
Then I heard about the fake IKEA stores, also in Yunnan. "Now I've heard it all," I think in amazement. "It takes dedication to fake an IKEA store. If I were IKEA, I'd just buy them out and pay them to work there."
There are undeniable benefits to living in a country where many things are not real. Films magically appear in shops, weeks before they are in the cinemas back home. Books that are banned from sale merrily change hands in the street. One friend was even paid a large sum of money to pose as a fake professor at an academic conference. "Maybe the whole conference was fake, it's hard to say," he said.
Sometimes, though, the fake thing gets annoying, from the DVDs that stop five minutes before the end, to more extreme deceptions such as fake alcohol. "I've heard some bars even use meth," one friend warned me dramatically over cocktails one night. "Two Tequila Sunrises, please."
Later that night, I have my own unpleasant experience with fakes. I hailed a taxi and vaguely noticed that the driver didn't have the licence displayed and that he took an unusually long route home.
"That's strange," I thought. "Perhaps he's a new driver."
When I went to hand over the money, the taxi driver told me that my banknote was fake. Confused, I opened my bag and scrabbled around for another. It was only when I got out of the taxi and he raced off that I realized I had been mugged.
When I got in my building I was in a rage with myself for being so stupid. "A fake taxi driver used a fake banknote to steal my phone!" I toll Mr Wang, the kindly doorman.
The price of an iPhone has not got any lower since I've been in China, but I feel bereft without mine. "I guess I'll just have to buy a fake," I think with a sigh.