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?
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