They poked me with a stick because they wanted to see / If I was alive or just pretending to be

With an hour of the first morning in China this week someone had tried to lift my camera from my jacket pocket.

It was my fault of course – I’d taken my hand off it to hold myself steady on the overbridge stairs as the other was occupied with the wheelie bag full of laptops that we had decided not to leave at the hotel.

The hotel had been booked online and smelled rather badly of cheap tobacco – and worse – when we arrived at midnight. The man standing in the corridor in his socks and underpants really didn’t help.

When you book online, I guess you always take a risk. Sometimes it works out well – and it has in NYC and Hong Kong in recent times – and sometimes you end up in the reality of the  non-photoshopped version of what was on the website when you booked.

Dubai and Singapore – perhaps the two most overpriced and under delivering hotel destinations on planet Earth – spring to mind.

However, there is something about encountering a grossly overweight man in his jocks with a fag in his hand when you are vaguely jetlagged in the middle of the night.

It was the first time I’ve ever used one of those door chains at night, and the first thing I looked for – in vain – was the in-room safe.

I’d argue that you get what you pay for, but those grossly over-priced dumps in Orchard Rd and the UAE would put the lie to that cliché.

China fascinates. Mostly I love and hate it in two simultaneous but parallel mental streams which rarely cross.

I wander, obsessed/gob-smacked at the blistering fast maglev trains as I sidestep the pools of offal in the street.

As I grabbed – successfully – to retrieve my camera from the pick-pocket in Shenzhen I worried about the images of the towering neon-lit Shun Hing Square I’d tried to take the night before as we drove in. They were all unusably blurred anyway from the motion and the reflection on the bus window but I didn’t know that at the time and had high hopes.

In the markets the salesmen and women, in perfect English, offer you designer items unbranded. I bought a quite handsome leather satchel that was sold to me on the understanding that I could if I was willing to wait a few minutes, have Prada, Gucci, Armani or any other brand of my choosing pressed onto the flap and sewed into the lining.

I chose: none. Brandless. Nude.

The bag was quite fine and perfectly designed in its own right without need of any faux brand to boost my public ranking. I would, truth be told, have preferred to have had the name of the anonymous Chinese designer who had actually crafted it stamped on the side.

I was offered an iPhone. $30. It had the shell but the screen offered up some sort of crazy paving themed local version of iOS.

I demurred.

For $60 I was then offered another, unbranded – they would stamp Apple on the back for another $2.50 – but with a fully functional operating system that I was assured would connect to the Apple App Store without issue, and behave exactly as the ‘real’ one would.

Copyright issues aside, I didn’t believe him, but Felix, who’s lived in China and Hong Kong for twenty years and always takes us to interesting places, told me two days later as we ate prawns and Calamari in the New Territories, that this was not only true but perhaps because common wisdom, and his personal experience, says that all Chinese factories, including Foxconn, usually find a way to run a shadow factory to slip a few extras into the production schedule.

Given the $100 iPads that were doing the rounds here in Bangkok last year it makes sense.

And as I was about to be given the pitch on that, there was the fluster and a dash as they all rushed to hide the fake bags, wallets, gadgets, phones and anything else.

The intellectual property police were coming we were told.

Americans cracking down? I asked.

‘No, Americans are no problem – this is about the Italians.’

Share your thoughts