Monday, 23 May 2011


Life isn't fair, an obvious statement and one that everyone needs to realise at an early age. We can't all be premier footballers, super models, actors or mastermind criminals. From an early age we have to deal with the boys at school who grow moustaches and muscles quicker, and I guess girls must have had to learn to put up with those girls whose breasts looked more than fried eggs at 13.

Throughout life we have to deal with what life throws at us, we learn to accept that their will always be people who look better, run faster, think quicker or learn to suck up to the boss without a conscience. You come to accept that without the use of major cosmetic surgery, Photoshop and a body double you won't look like Brad Pitt or Diane Kruger. Your hopes to become a major rock star, marine biologist, spaceman or the next Steve Jobs fade as the realisation of mundane, normality and survival are all you can hope for - if your lucky.

I accepted this years ago, im lucky, i am relatively happy. I have a good job, a loving family and enjoy luxuries that I should be ashamed of. Of course I always wanted more; my own personal dream came in the guise of looking like Don Johnson, driving a Ferrari, living on my yacht in Miami and being married to Sheena Easton (yes i am ashamed to admit to having been a big Miami Vice fan!) - now of course pastel suits with shoulder pads are out, Sheena's looking a little worse for wear and having to clean up after a crocodile seems tiring. You come to accept your lot, and whilst still having dreams, they lean more towards long holidays, kids at the grandparents and the next update from apple!

This is all fine - except for one thing.
You expect that now you have fallen into a 'Matrix' style life of controlled turpitude at least your on a level playing field, a place that everyone plays the game and the rules are clear enough for you to at least survive without feeling raped. Well the reason for this blog, was one such incident that made me feel so violated that I again wished I still held out for Sheena and a mate like Tubbs. As usual it starts with me travelling, I wont bore you with how i got there, or even why i was in the most boring place on earth - Brussels. I was travelling back to the UK before flying home to Shanghai, joined by a group of colleagues we all headed for the computerised check-in machines that fill the halls of most airports these days. However in this instance I wasn't accepted on the flight, and had to resort to actually talking to someone and trying a more traditional method of checking in, I was told that I was not booked in on this flight as I handn't made the outward bound leg of my journey.

Now this is maybe something you are all aware of? However as someone who considers himself a 'frequent' flyer, it was something I hadn't faced before. Apparently because I hadn't made the outward bound leg of a return flight, the airline had cancelled the seat on my inbound flight and I had forfeited my return flight, infact worse than that they had sold my seat on the return leg. Luckily for me the people at Brussels airline were very gracious and managed to find me a seat on the plane which enabled me to get back to the UK on time - without any additional cost. This of course is only half of the story, the real story begins when I was sitting in Brussels airport lounge, a place so devoid of character that the people who work there - don't. They talk of places that elephants go to die, a hidden place that is away from the pack and allows them to die in dignity and privacy, Brussels airport is a similar place for tired politicians, business men and airport workers. It was a Friday evening and apart from the credit card sellers the place was desolate.

Having been almost stranded in Belgium, I thought about my flight back to Shanghai. I had had a torturous itinerary, covering 6 countries in 7 days, and because of late changes and airline ticket restrictions, I needed to book an additional single flight from Shanghai to London, alongside my return booking. Having not used the second flight from Shanghai to London, I began to wonder if the same rules as my Brussels flight were in place? Surely not? I had paid the price of a small family car for the ticket, and whilst maybe an acceptable practise on short discounted short hops, they wouldn't apply the same rules on a long haul, stupid price flight - right?

Here's where my allegiance and love, yes love of an airline died. Whilst waiting on hold for 26 minutes, I was abruptly told that as I hadn't used this outward leg of my flight, my inbound leg had been cancelled and sold to another mug. But don't worry, for almost twice the price of the seat you had already brought, they would be able to find you with another seat in order for you to get home. I think I need to repeat this, I paid for a return from shanghai to London, costing around the same as the national debt of Turkey. But because I couldn't change the dates on the outward leg of this flight, I paid for an additional single fair with the same airline a few days earlier - however because i hadnt used the outward bound leg of my original flight to London, they had cancelled my booking, without a refund. Thus a return flight would end up costing me the same as one return and two single flights. This was all with an airline I have shown unfrequented love, desire and passion for during the last 10 years, I was treated with such content that I felt like I had my heart ripped from my rib gage, stamped on, set on fire and the remains fed to pigs.

The airline of course was Virgin Atlantic, an airline I had written and eulogised about in the past. it comes to something when Brussels airways, an airline that has less planes than the Switzerland airforce, and one I fly as frequently as I refuse a free drink, would 'ensure a mutually acceptable resolution was found', whereas one that I had slept with on multiple occasions, allowed to look after my children, massage my back and fly me at 30,000 feet a 1000 times treated me like a thief, a vagrant and a despicable member of society.

I have of course checked IATA regulations, witch turn out to be guidelines rather than rules or laws, and yes they clearly say that this is within the airlines rights. But surely there becomes a point when common sense and loyalty takes over rules and regulations? Whatever happened to customer service, doing the right thing and maybe even 'not taking the piss'. Forgive me for thinking that when I book a flight I book seats on two planes - one to get me there and one to get me back! I guess after all I should realise that life isn't fair.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


When is a fake a fake? When is it acceptable to create, buy or ‘consume’ fake products? Questions I guess people are asking themselves more and more these days? It used to be that you would only ever find copied products at dodgy market stalls, pub car parks or on a Spanish beach? These days fake goods are attainable everywhere, from the billions of products advertised on ebay, Taoboa (China’s ebay – or is ebay, China’s Taoboa?), to the guy you know at work who can get Spiderman’s Pirates of the Transformer Caribbean 3 movie on DVD.

Industry claims that fake goods cost manufacturing $650 billion dollars each year, feeds organised crimes, employs embryonic children and closes more real companies than a country investing all its gold into Barings Bank or Iceland. Whilst I agree that a lot of the proceeds go to people who are organised at creating, distributing and controlling the fake products market, I am sure Osama would have been easier to catch if he was peddling Rollex watches at a local ale house (as long as that ale house wasn’t in Pakistan of course). I guess a bit like prostitution, porn and the drugs industry it is the need that creates and fuels the market, rather than someone waking up one day and thinking that they will produce a million copies of ‘The American’ DVD as a ‘good idea’, and in the hope that a similar number of people had just returned from the moon and missed the reviews.
Where there is a need, where something sells, and where there is money to be made, copies won’t be far behind.

China takes this to a whole new level, the forgery market here probably employs more people than those making, marketing and moving the real products. Copying has lost its illegality, Counterfeiting, Copying, Plagiarism, Stealing, Pilfering, forging call it what you like, its reached levels that are now getting scary. If anyone has ever visited Asia you will have undoubtedly visited one of the many fake markets that are scattered around the major cities? It’s a tourist ‘must see’, ‘must do’, the airports here are filled with people returning back to the West with the obligatory Louis Vuiton Handbag, Omega Watch and Burberry Scarf all brought for $11.50 at the local ‘Pearl Market’.

For those of you who haven’t visited, imagine a 4/5 or 6 story shopping mall, fill it with 100,000 ten meter square booths, cram them with enough product to keep Amazon going for a millennium, and finish it off with a 1000 screaming pigmy girls - who could sell Eskimos their own snow, and still make them think they were getting a bargain. Raise the volume to jet aircraft level and the temperature to around the same, and you will get the picture. These places sell every brand you have ever heard off, and lots that you haven’t. The screams of “Watch, DVD, Bag, you want watch? Bag for the wife? Bag for the girlfriend, bag for both? Manchester United, You from America? You want watch, bag, I give you best price, best quality, you my friend, I do you good deal” will haunt me until the day I die. I avoid these places like I avoid getting into conversations about the legality of murdering an untried man on foreign sovereign soil.

Don’t get me wrong, I have previously sinned. I gave into sparkly watches, shiny belts and Abercrombie sweaters right up until the moment they started going backwards, snapped and discoloured in the wash. I still buy fake DVD’s, but before American Seals burst through my windows and ‘double tap’ me. What else I am I to do? During my many years of travelling to China, and the last 5 years of living here, I have only once seen one original DVD on sale. It was at Toys-R-Us, they had an enormous display and special area set up for the launch of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets DVD, and alongside the full size cardboard cut-outs of Dumbledoor and Hagrid, plastic figures of Harry and Hermione, Quidditch lego sets, magic kits, wands, and invisibility cloaks was what looked like an original DVD on sale for 200 RMB ($30), amazed, I stood starring at it, at one point I even leant forward to inspect a copy – the security guard standing next to it checked me up and down as if he was protecting Justin Biebers virginity, before nodding approval. It was a small shelf with only about 10 copies, but they looked real enough, watermarks, holograms the lot. Just below this shelf was a much larger one that contained around 1000 copies of the same DVD, only this time they were being sold for 20RMB ($3), copies the store manager probably ‘ripped’ the previous evening and seemed to be selling far more copies than the original thing – surprisingly!

That was the last time I saw a real DVD in China, and I don’t suppose I will see another one for a while either. When a nation has been so used to paying 10 RMB (The ones in Toys-R-Us were over priced!), how will they ever get into the swing of paying 10X or 20X street prices, or god forbid waiting for the official copy to come out?
Whilst this is all deplorable, and taking the food off Brangelina's table is not something that should be condoned, its nothing compared to the latest trend is China. Over the past 3 months I have heard of 4 fake products that have made me seriously question my reasons for staying. Recent press reports have cited the forgery of Meat, Fruit, Vegetables and Drink (Not sure what is left?), this you must remember has been reported in newspapers that have a reputation for hiding anything that may insult, unnerve, worry or slightly question China’s dominance in everything. So when it tells you ten people died, you think 10 thousand, a government building project cost 10million, read 10 billion, and so on.

The next question I guess is why and how the hell do you fake meat? Well the forgery in question is turning cheaper pork into profitable beef (instructions here), dyeing old peppers in carcinogenic paint to make it look fresh, injecting under ripe melons with coloured sweetened water, and of course the horrific lethal babies milk products that have so far murdered 6 babies and hospitalised 300,000.

The one story I did smile at simply because the biggest drinkers of this product are the government, and the police force who should be controlling it, was the forgery involved in the drink of choice Bei Ju, and one brand in particular, Mao Tai. I have written about the properties of Bei Ju before, like most spirits/liquors it has a multitude of uses, namely, as an alternative to paint stripper, petrol or arsenic. The most expensive brand is Mao Tai which enters the market at around 1000 RMB ($150) and can cost 10 times that for a more select year. The price is governed by its brand, but theoretically by its controlled production volumes. Its exclusivity means that it is not only the drink to win you business and show off with, but it is also being copied in vast quantities. So much so, that you can sell empty bottles for 700 RMB! The factory where it is made, only produces 20 million tonnes per year, however over 200 million tonnes are thought to be consumed on an average year. So the chances of actually drinking a real, authentic Mao Tai are pretty slim, you wont tell by its price either as its sold as the real thing, and you cant tell by the taste as your sensory organs are destroyed on opening the bottle. The only time you will realise it wasn’t the real thing will be when your eyes bleed and your liver finally explodes.

So back to my first questions, “When is a fake a fake? When is it acceptable to create, buy or ‘consume’ fake products?” Well in my book, copy what ever you like as long as the person buying it knows it’s a fake. The ‘Pearl markets’ in China are perfect in that from the moment you step in, you know everything on sale is fake and will probably disintegrate before you step back outside, and if they don’t then well done you.
When its not acceptable is when you think your eating beef, munching on some crispy vegetables or fruit and washing it all down with a glass of alcohol only to find out that you glow in the dark, possess x-ray vision and have the ability to lose weight quicker than a Victoria Secrets model who just gave birth. The pinnacle of this deplorable practice is the poisoning of babies milk products, which has led to an outcry and a number of high profile arrests and convictions,, however in a country where people are willing to spend time and energy in turning pork into beef I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg.