Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Copy watch? Copy watch?"

I was in wandering the Kowloon shopping district a bit before the shops opened at ten.  I had a Starbucks cup in hand -  even in Hong Kong there is a Starbucks on every corner - and was enjoying the cool fall morning.

I had a list of things to get in Hong Kong, and one of them was a fake Rolex.  Not for me - I don't want a real or fake Rolex - but wanted one as a gift.  And I knew Kowloon was a place to get one.

Now you can't just wander into a store in Hong Kong and ask for a fake Rolex - the authorities have cracked down on selling knock-offs of all kinds - so enterprising men (always men) approach potential customers on the street, muttering "Copy watch? Copy watch?", just loud enough that you can hear them, but not so loud that a wandering policeman can. 

The second man to approach me was looked Thai and was less than 5 feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, so I figured he was my man. Copy-watch proprietors take you into back alleys to get to their "shop", away from the prying eyes of the law, and it is the perfect set-up for a mugging.  So if I was going to be led into a dark alley by a copy-watch salesmen, I figured I was relatively safe with a guy I had ten inches and 70 pounds on.

"Maybe..." I replied. "Where's your shop?"

"Vely close.  Light over there."  His Engrish wasn't bad.  He pointed to the building across the street.  I nodded and followed him.

Of course it wasn't exactly that building he was pointing at, but in that general direction.  He led me behind it and down some back allies.  Right, right, left, right...I tried to keep my bearings as I was led away from Canton street, becoming an easier mark the further away he led me.  I wasn't worried, however.  I figured if he or his friends jumped me, they jumped me.  I had only a few hundred dollars on me and decided if it happened it was my "Jos", the Chinese equivalent of fate and luck and the art of accepting whatever befalls you.

Then I realized the most valuable thing on me were my kidneys.

We finally got to his "shop", which was an apartment in a back alley.  There was an iron gate and he brought out a key, led me in, and locked the gate behind me, pocketing the key.  I still wasn't worried, but did figure he just put a floor on the negotiation - I couldn't leave until I made a purchase.  But I was there to buy and didn't let this phase me.

He led me into his "store" which was a small room in the small apartment.  There was a jewelry display case, two chairs and some catalogs scattered about.  He asked me what I was interested in.

" I need a blue Rolex as a gift for my brother-in-law."  Not exactly the truth but close enough.

"Ah, light here", he pointed to two in the case, one blue, the other black, along with some other knock-off brands.  I was interested in both, but said I wanted the blue one.

Then we started haggling.  The opening bid was $200, which is ridiculous, and I told him so.  I countered with $35. He rolled his eyes.  I asked how much if I wanted both, and we started the back-and-forth, me asking for a single watch at one price, then two for a discount, then pushing that price down, then going back to one for half that, then getting that price lowered, then again asking again for both watches at a volume discount to the single price.

Back and forth we went.  While we both enjoyed the negotiation I didn't want to waste all day on it.  In China - as well as most places in the East and Middle East - negotiation is something of a hobby.  Americans are impatient and want to get to the bottom line, and I am no different, but I do know the rules for negotiating and went along with it for a while. 

But eventually I got bored and wanted to go. I knew I could have brought him down another 20% if I took more time, but I decided to let him "win" and capitulated, getting two for $120.

He seemed happy and I was okay with the price.  He opened the gate, led me out, and escorted me about half-way back until I knew where I was, my prizes in hand.

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