Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fake Rolexes and the once in a lifetime shopping experience...

I remember my first trip to Hong Kong very well. All the first time sight seeings such as the Peak, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong park, all were conquered during that first time I set foot on Hong Kong.

I was intrigued by the amount of luxury shops where you can buy all the brands like Prada, Gucci, Rolex and LV (that's how they call Louis Vutton here). The shops looked so humongous, luxurious and the most intriguing was that there were huge queues of Chinese citizens waiting to go in and spend their money.

Although I consider myself lucky to have earned good money during my professional career, I have never considered to buy any luxury items like expensive watches. The most probable reason for that is both the Dutch mentality ("Doe maar gewoon" we say, which means "Just behave normal") and the fact that my family (although successful) always have kept both feet on the ground. I always feel that it is insane to spend a huge amount of money on something just because it has a different brand name. Ok, the quality may be better as well, but that is not always the case.

Of course other people may think differently, but this is my own personal opinion. Nevertheless, after seeing all those luxury items I must admit the luxury-goods-virus also struck me, at least a little bit. "How would it be to wear a Rolex? Would people really act different?" I was thinking.

But buying one, no, that is way too expensive.

So what do you do when you want to have a Rolex, but do not want to spend the money on it? (Besides stealing...) Right... You buy a fake one.

Like me, you probably have had the same spam-mails in your inbox as me, saying "Fake Rolex for sale!". Most of these watches for sale on the internet come in different prices and qualities, but the fact is that most of them are originally manufactured in China. The city Shenzhen (which is close to Hong Kong) is famous of it's fake product markers where you can buy any copy of anything you like, from ferrari clothes, DVD's, to watches and handbags. 

But Shenzhen was not on my destination list that first time, so I had to figure out how to buy such fake items in Hong Kong itself. When I was talking to my colleague David about this subject, he smiled and told me he might have an idea. David, (who had been in Hong Kong several times before) took a map and showed me a place called "ladies market" in Mong Kok. Someone told him that if you need fake goods, you might be lucky there. 

Although he knew this "secret" for many years, he never went there before, and after talking some more about the subject, we both felt that it was time to pay a visit to this place. Next evening we took the MTR (Metro) to Mong Kok, and navigated ourselves to the street that supposed to host the "ladies market".  When we arrived we saw a long but narrow street where hawkers and small shop owners had set up narrow bamboo-made shops, selling all kind of items. We passed through the first batch of shops and looked around. "Where are those shiny Rolexes?" I thought, but all we saw were cheap souvenirs, t-shirts and other junk.

After passing another batch, and another batch of these (very uninteresting) shops, we got a little bit disappointed. "I'm not sure if we're going to find them here" David said. "Maybe they are all gone". 

Mong Kok, close to the Ladies Market
"Darn..." I thought. "That would be too bad. Well lets walk a little further, who knows we will find some".

But another batch of shops further gave us little more luck than before, and we decided to turn around and go back.

Walking through the narrow streets, passing by the cheap goods, the tourists negotiating  for 5 Hong Kong dollar discount ( which is 50 cents ladies..), I got more and more disappointed. 

"We're never going to find those damn Rolexes..." I said to David, and he shrugged..

Immediately at that moment we heard someone say "You looking for Lolex??". I stopped, pulled David to a halt, and looked around who said that. In an alley between the shops was a shabby Chinese guy standing with a smoking cigarette still between his lips. "You want fake watch? I have Lolex"
David and I looked at each other and probably thought the same. "Let's try it" David said and replied: "Yes we are looking for Rolex watches, can we see them?"

"Please come, please come" said the Chinese guy, turned around and walked further into the alley without looking back. "I guess we need to follow him" I said to David and off we were. 
Walking into the alley felt a bit uncomfortable. It was a small and dark street, but luckily there were still people. Then the guy suddenly turned right into an even darker alley, without looking back at us. 

"I wonder if we are doing the right thing" said David, "but anyway, we came this far, we should give it a try, right?". I nodded, and we turned right, into the dark alley. 

Nobody was walking here, and as it was evening there was almost no light. Lots of rubbish left and right, cockroaches walking around, and the guy in front of us still walking ahead without looking back.

"I hope we're going to survive this" I said to David with a smile. "Don't blame me, we both wanted those Rolexes so bad.."  I replied, " but I also hope we'll make it alive". 

Finally the guy stopped at the entrance of an apartment building. He opened the door, and waited for the elevator to come down. We followed in, and when the elevator came, all 3 of us went inside without saying a word. At floor number 22 (the highest floor) the Chinese guy stepped out and without looking waved his hand as a gesture for us to follow him. Then he turned around, looking us in the eye, and putting his finger on his lips.

"ssshh" he whispered, and followed his route with very gentle steps. We passed several apartment doors, some of which the owners had open them to get in some cool air. 
At the end of the hallway we moved up to the stairs without making a sound, until we came to floor 23. 

Floor 23 had been installed illegally, and was guarded with a big steel door locked with a chain. The guy reached into his pocket, got the key and opened the lock. After pushing open the gate, he waved at us to go in without saying a word.

"Ehrm, is this something we are going to regret?" David was whispering to me. "Do we have a choice for now?" I replied. "I guess not any more" said David, and off we stepped into the unknown behind a prison door.

The guy followed in and at the end of the hall there was another door to be unlocked by our "friend". He did so, and we all stepped into the final rooftop room. When he turned on the light, we noticed a small room (probably 20 square meters) , with 4 tables and 4 black suitcases. The chinese guy opened the black suitcases, and inside was a fine red cover holding at least 15 watches per suitcase. 

Looking at this we got relieved. "Phew, we are still alive". And after calming down we started to pay a close look at the watches. All were high quality fakes of the Rolex and other expensive brands. Gold, silver, everything was there. (Of course you have to take the words gold and silver not seriously in this case.)

"You want watch for your wife?" The Chinese guy said to David, and pointed out a watch from Louis Vutton. It was silver with a slight pink twitch, and on the glass where shiny glitters. 

"Are those real diamonds?" David asked, while already knowing the answer. The guy smiled and said nothing. "I guess we know enough" said David, "However I don't think we have a choice whether to buy something or not, but this watch looks ok, so I will buy it". 

After negotiating the price (which was probably still too high, as the guy was very happy at the end), we all went out of the room, and after closing the door and the steel fence, we tiptoed our way one level down, and took the elevator until we finally were outside.

"Safe..." we both thought, and smiled.