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.’

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