It took all of one minute after telling a small group of friends that I would be moving to China for me to receive a request for counterfeit goods. Whether pirated DVDs or fake designer handbags, counterfeit goods and China go hand in hand for most Westerners.
During my first visit to China in 2013, I found a large variety of fakes available for sale. DVDs of movies that were still in theaters were available for as little as 2 RMB per DVD (just 33 cents or so). Entire seasons of popular shows from HBO and Showtime were available for a dollar. Many of these are region-coded and will play in a computer but not in a western DVD player without some modifications. Some are excellent transfer quality, and some are just terrible. If you purchase 50 DVDs, you can fully expect that ten of them will not work at all, or will skip so often as to be unwatchable. But someone who pays $16 for 50 DVDs is not likely to complain about a few that don’t work.
One amusing feature of pirated DVDs in China is the cover art. While some discs will actually have poorly copied graphics from a legitimate copy, and some will have a random screen capture blown up and used as cover art, there are some that are just plain weird.
Between the title, artwork, and credits on this particular DVD, I really am not sure what is going on. But I bet it’s exciting!
DVDs and handbags aside, this past week brought an experience that showed just how deep the counterfeit culture goes. I was eating outside at a local chuanr restaurant that I frequent often, and the owner asked me whether I spoke French. I told him it had been many years, but I was confident my French was much better than his English (and far, far better than my Chinese). He disappeared back into his restaurant for a couple minutes, and returned carefully holding a dark wooden box the size of a large shoebox. The way he was carrying it, I would have expected it contained a Fabergé egg.
The outside of the box had the word “Castel” in gold letters. He opened it to reveal three bottles of wine.
Through our translation software, he told me that he had acquired the wine some time ago, but had concerns about whether it was authentic or not. While The Bearded Giant isn’t the biggest oenophile in the world, he’s done his share of wine touring, gets the Wine Enthusiast catalogs, and has a few cases lying around. I took a look at a bottle, and it appeared normal. Wrapped in a protective white mesh. Typical French winery label on the front. A second label on the back that was clearly added later, in Chinese, with importer information. Nothing unusual so far.
I was just about to assuage his fears…
And then I took one closer look.
The Bearded Giant has never visited France. And has obviously never visited the Castel winery. But he is quite confident that this winery, with its 170-year history of winemaking, does not label its bottles with “Come From France”. No matter how pretty the script may be.