Counterfeit Chocolate and Disappearing Soldiers

A leisurely day of exploring Beijing? Forget it. After being assaulted for six blocks with in-your-face hard sell, I wear down and agree to look at the young man’s attaché of Rolex watches. Why not? The price dropped from $50 to $10. A few blocks of piece is worth that price alone. He haggles hard but I persist and drive him down to $5. Yes, I’m the man! It’s all about the deal. Now, I can wear my bogus name-brand prestige piece with macho pride.

Then another man with a hungry look sidles up and offers me the matching woman’s watch for $2.50. Once again, I’m set up and slam dunked by the Chinese con.

Street markets in China, with their abundance of counterfeit products, make Wal-Mart prices outrageous. Besides $1 DVDs of new-release Hollywood movies, fashion, purse, shoe, and accessory knock-offs from every haute fashion label go for pennies on the dollar. With such widespread institutionalized fraud, it’s no wonder the Chinese consider tourists as wide-open wallets with no rules of engagement.

Roaming vendors at the Terracotta Soldiers exhibit at Xian, one of the must-see tourist wonders/traps, offer box sets of four miniature soldiers. “Let’s see who gets the best price,” our leader challenges. My self-assigned seller tags along with a starting price of $35. Again I use my “astute bargaining skills” and get him down to $8. Money exchanges hands and he disappears into the crowd. I open the box and discover the reason for his disappearing act. He palmed one of the soldiers.

As we board our bus outside the gate, another wave of vendors assaults us with soldier sets. Prices start at $5 and drop to $1. At least now I can get a full set. On the bus, the  woman beside me says, “Great prices, I got mine for fifty cents.”

For the highlight of our tour, we hike and camp on the Great Wall, which proves the Confucius saying, “No matter how often you tell a lie, it doesn’t become true.” Despite centuries of propaganda, astronauts found that the Wall cannot be seen from space.

We quickly discover the reason for the 4,000-mile fortification. In the distance, a half-dozen raging Mongols, no it’s just villagers, come charging toward us armed with picture books, trinkets, jewelry, handicrafts. The harangue begins before they even catch their breath.

Yeah, like we can’t wait to stock up on books to carry in our packs. Undaunted, the vendors wave their products in our faces and shout relentlessly. They have a lot in common with my neighbor’s dog that barks non-stop all day. After three hours of badgering, a teen girl voices their obvious shake-down strategy. “You buy book, I leave you alone.” She lies.

I finally succumb and buy a small gourd with a carving of the Wall. The kid insists on giving me change for my largest bill… later I discover he gave me worthless Russian roubles. “Nice for wallpaper,” our Chinese guide, a suspected co-conspirator, laughs.

As though to prove that not all of China is profane, we hike to the temple near Hua Shan on one of the five most sacred mountains in China. Now I know what it’s like to climb the stairway to heaven, like 100 times up the Washington Monument. But that’s what religious sacrifice demands, so we trudge upward with all the little old women and star-struck young lovers. 

Back at the bottom, a vendor has a pushcart of ice cream. I point to the picture of a chocolate cone, the most expensive treat she sells, and get a wrapped cone. Yuck... it’s a sugary orange and white concoction. I demand my money back. “No, it’s chocolate!” the grizzled lady insists.

So China even stoops to sell counterfeit chocolate to gullible Westerners. Let the battle lines be drawn and the walls built against the Mongol hoards. We’ll buy their merchandise, whether from a street vendor or Wal-Mart, knowing its bogus and inferior, because we can’t resist the cheap price. But America’s gotta take a stand when they insist that a fake dream sickle is a chocolate fudge bar.


Multiple choice: Bad decisions make travel an adventure.

                              Different cultures make us look stupid.

                          Con artists and crooks love tourists.

China Rip-Offs

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Stairway to heaven

Hua Shan Temple

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