A Chinese luxury designer bag
I work for a multinational corporation that has offices around the world, and even though I don’t have a very high ranking job, over time I have managed to work very closely under the direction of my demanding boss and she truly appreciates my work —and the fact I always work overtime whenever she wants me to—. Therefore, when it was time to choose a travelling partner to accompany her on a business trip, she came to my cubicle to ask me first. New York city, being so close to Toronto —our hometown—, is where my boss conducts most of her business abroad, so if she wanted to take me along with her this time around, I definitely was not going to turn her down! I am a young professional girl with a superb taste for anything fashionable, so a trip to New York is right up there on my ideal things-to-do list, right beside attending a Dior show during Paris Fashion Week, if I could ever afford such a thing. Before she even had the opportunity of saying anything else, I had already said yes. “Don’t you want to know where we’re going before you accept? she asked. “Well, are you not going to New York, as usual?” I inquired. “No, darling, this time I am travelling to Beijing!” she responded, and I swear to god, I nearly fell off my chair. “Beijing! How wonderful.” I replied. I did not tell her out loud, but deep inside I was like... “You must be kidding me! There’s nothing fashionable about China!!! I have no desire to go there, none, zero, zilch, nada. No, thanks!”. To be honest, the prospects of having to endure a fifteen hour flight each way, just to be able to spend a few days working in an office in a big smoggy uninteresting city, sounded totally unattractive to me. You could not pay me enough diamonds to accept. Because I am a polite person I told my boss I was going to think about it, but I was positive I had no intention of going. On my way out to catch the subway, to go back home, I happened to run into Yasmine, an old acquaintance from a different department. As we were going in the same direction, we decided to walk together. I hadn’t seen her in a while and she was looking very trendy, I must admit, especially due to the fact that she was sporting a very beautiful Fendi Baguette bag in her hand, which I noticed right away. She was talking non stop about one thing or another but I wasn’t really paying much attention; I was mesmerized by her beautiful bag, wondering how in the world she could possibly afford something so stunningly beautiful on a salary like ours. It was of a rich burgundy colour, and because she was wearing all black, the Fendi stood out like an exuberant oasis in the desert. Just swell. When I asked her about it, she replied, seemingly embarrassed: “Oh, this old thing? I don’t remember where I got it!” And she laughed. I quickly snatched it off her hand to take a closer look and then it dawned on me: “Is this a knock- off, Yasmine? Get out of here! No way, José! You can’t be serious!!!” I yelled, deeply flabbergasted. After examining it for a few minutes, in the middle of the sidewalk, I was totally floored by its fake “authenticity”. It was indeed beautifully made, like the real thing, and there was no way to tell the difference under the naked eye. If she hadn’t reacted weirdly to my first question I would have never suspected a thing. “Where did you get this Fendi, girl? You gotta tell me! It is such a stunning luxury bag!!” I said. I had actually seen some fake bags being sold by illegal vendors on the sidewalks in Madrid, during my holidays, but they were always horribly made, of poor quality, and hideous as heck. But this was not the case. I had to ask her several times how she came to own this beautiful piece of replicated art and, as we were getting to the subway entrance, she finally confessed: “My aunty Liz got it for me during her wedding anniversary trip. They went to China, but that’s all I know”.
By the time I got home, an hour later, I had already made up my mind about the trip and I called my boss right away: “Beijing is in China, right? Well, I have given it some thought and I am happy to inform you that I would love to go with you! I hear it’s a country of millenary culture and awesome sights. Could you please tell me the dates again?”.
The day of our trip was a beautiful spring day and the snow was finally starting to melt on the
ground. Assuming that my boss had purchased two tickets in Business Class, I decided to wear a stylist business casual outfit for my flight. To my surprise, when we boarded the plane I realized that I was indeed in Economy Class —my cheeky boss in Business of course—, and that put me in a bad mood for the remaining of the trip. When we landed in Beijing fifteen long hours later, from sheer exhaustion and cheap airplane Economy class food, I had managed to vomit twice all over my now wrinkled, not-so-stylish-anymore outfit, and all I could think about was getting to our hotel to have a shower and get to sleep horizontally. This trip was already turning out to be a big mistake. I hated it. I had only accepted to come because I wanted to explore buying a nice luxury bag for myself, but what were the chances of me being able to find a passable looking knock-off, anyways? I had no clue where to find one, and this was a long way to travel for a handbag! And in Economy Class, for God’s sake!
We spent four full days at our corporate office, in meetings with both Chinese and Western executives, working our bums off from dawn to dusk every day. Thank goodness the meetings were mostly conducted in English, our common language, because I don’t know if I could have endured so many days of hearing foreign languages and translations and interpretations back and forth... It was exhausting! Since our arrival, the combination of jet-lag, the exposure to different foods and strange environments, and the unusual long days of work I had been enduring, had left me feeling a bit sick, which I had made sure to let my boss know. I was feeling cranky, to say the least. All I could think about at that point was my luxury bag, and time was of essence!
Day 5 was finally our day off. We were supposed to get up really early and spend the whole day together doing the local sights. We only had one day to spare and my boss wanted to take advantage of it. Going to see The Great Wall was not going to be possible, for lack of time, so after doing some research she settled on spending the day visiting the most historically significant spots: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City —Emperor’s Palace— and the traditional Hutong district. An hour before we were supposed to meet downstairs at the hotel lobby to start our day of sightseeing together, I called my boss in her room and I told her I was very sorry but I was not going to be able to make it because I was feeling sick and I preferred to stay at the hotel, resting. She seemed disappointed but she understood, and she said she’d go on her own.
I was actually really embarrassed about lying to my boss but the urge to go to the Old Pearl Market to check out the handbags was stronger than me. This was the whole purpose of my trip —you don’t understand—, a life time opportunity!
I talked to the concierge at the hotel about buying a “luxury bag” and he quickly wrote down an address in Chinese for me to show to my cab driver. When I finally got there, I entered what it seemed like a half-empty old building; an unkept, third category, local mall type from the 1970’s back in Canada. There were lots of stores selling jewelry and different gems and “jade” items, but they did not piqued my interest. I was there on a mission and I had little time left. I needed to focus. I kept walking in all directions looking for the right store but nothing popped up. I was starting to get discouraged and when I decided to ask a few locals, they did not even speak English and seemed very uninterested in helping me out! I reached the third level by a cranky old elevator and then I saw a tiny little store which was selling different kinds of sterling silver jewelry. There was what seemed to me like a Tiffany’s bracelet on display and I decided to go in. Once inside, after talking to the shop owner in broken English for a few minutes, she asked me if I was interested in brandname shoes. Then, she quickly grabbed my arm and took me through a hidden door at the back of the shop into a bigger room. All of a sudden a whole new world appeared in front of my eyes. There were shelves upon shelves of brandname shoes from floor to ceiling, all different kinds. It was pretty wild. I told her that what I was actually interested in were designer bags, so she grabbed my arm again and she walked me out. We exited her shop and she locked the door behind us. She then walked me to the end of the corridor where there was a glass door with no name or logos on it, and which had a black curtain to conceal what was inside. She knocked on it three times and suddenly the face of a young lady appeared behind it. She quickly let us in and closed the door again. The “store” was literally an L-shape narrow corridor with very poor lighting. There was not much room to walk around, especially because the little floor space we had, was taken up by dozens of cardboard boxes full of what seemed to be designer bags in them. There were also many bags on full display on wall mounted shelves as well. It seemed like I had died and gone to heaven! The smell of brand-new luxury items was intoxicating! I was truly in awe. When I yelled FENDI to the lady she quickly pointed to the appropriate box and I dove in. Five minutes into the dig, I had already spotted my Baguette handbag, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I made sure I examined it closely —I am no dumb chick—. It had the very recognizable ‘FF’ buckle on the front and it was completely symmetrical and perfect looking. I also quickly checked the buckles on the side, and they clearly had the engraving with the brandname logo on them. It even had a serial number stamped onto the lining inside. It was spectacular! I started to think that it might even be the real thing! Who knows where these people get their products! Isn’t half of the designer bag world production made in China anyway? I was truly not going to let this opportunity pass me by. All of a sudden the lady told me that I had to hurry up and make a decision because in five minutes’ time the electricity in the shop was going to be disconnected by the government and we were going to be in the dark. I really did not understand exactly what she meant but I did not care, as I had already made up my mind and decided to buy it on the spot. In her broken English she had been showing me the price of different bags on the calculator of her cellphone. I had been told that, when going shopping in the markets in China, you have to be prepared to barter hard, but as soon as she punched in the first price for my bag, I decided to accept her offer right away. I couldn’t believe it!!! I had managed to score a beautiful Fendi handbag for myself for just 5.000 yuans!!! We actually finished the transaction under the lights of our respective cellphones because the lights in the shop had indeed been switched off. I could not wait to go home and
show everyone my new bag. People were going to be dropping their jaws with envy when they saw me coming down the street with it! Mission accomplished!
After the long and tedious plane ride back to the Toronto airport from Beijing, I couldn’t wait to get
to my condo to admire my beautiful handbag. I was looking forward to taking her to the office, to the grocery store, to the gym, even to my yoga class! I was going to take her everywhere! When I got home, I pulled it out of its box and I pranced around with it in front of the mirror. I was the happiest girl in town! It was stunning looking, exquisite indeed! I looked at my reflection on the mirror and in spite of the long tiring flight, I was looking pretty good, I hate to admit. The handbag was truly stunning. Then, all of a sudden, the buckles on the side of the bag got my attention. There was something odd about them, something I had not noticed under the dim lights of the dingy Chinese store. The ‘official’ engraving was clearly there, but when I looked at it closely, squinting my eyes, I just could not believe it! There was a bloody spelling mistake!!! My bag was not a Fendi, but a ‘FANDI’. All of a sudden I felt a lack of air in my lungs and an overwhelming nauseous feeling came upon me. After forcefully throwing my hideous handbag against the wall on the opposite side of the room, I finally collapsed on the bed, and I wept uncontrollably for hours on end. The following morning when I woke up, still crying, I called in sick at work and went shopping instead.
Fredson Silva Agudá & J. Sanchez-Velo,