Friday, November 14, 2008

Guest Writer Michiel Tjoe-Awie: 'Beijing: The Real Thing and The Echo-Test

Mr Michiel Tjoe-Awie has traveled extensively throughout China. Although he studied law he does not practise it, at the moment he is working as a banker. IP Dragon appreciates Mr Tjoe-Awie's sharp mind. He can write about almost anything. Sometimes in an entertaining, sometimes in a inquiring way, but always in an interesting way. IP Dragon has asked him to join as a guest writer and use his China experience to comment on a consumer level about intellectual property in China.

By Michiel Tjoe-Awie
Beijing: The Real Thing and The Echo-Test
“… shout “Hello, Hello”. If you can hear the echo repeating “Ello, Ello”, then there is a big chance that the stuff they are selling is the real thing, for real prices.”
In November 2008 I was visiting Beijing for the third time. The first time was in May 2007. The second time was just before the Olympics in April 2008. Each time I came back to a different city.

In 2007 I stayed in China for three weeks, during which I visited Beijing twice. Once at the beginning of my trip and the other time at the end of my stay. In between I went to Shanghai. My hotel in Beijing was located on the Wafujing Da Jie, the biggest shopping street in the city. When leaving for Shanghai I kept a hotel reservation for after my return. When I came back it was already after midnight when we touched ground. A taxi brought me to my hotel. There I found myself left in a completely unrecognizable cityscape. All over the place construction lights were on and the sidewalks were opened up for hundreds of meters. The pipes around Wafujing Da Jie were being replaced. At the Wafujing Da jie itself, men were kneeling down with hammers and chisels in their hands. The smooth newly laid pavement was hazardous, and to avoid bad press from broken foreign bones the workmen scored the streets by hand, tile by tile, inch by inch. They worked every night until six in the morning. I realized the next morning that this was why I was offered the street-side room so cheaply.When I returned nearly a year later (in April 2008) Beijing didn’t seem to have changed much. But this was just appearances: four metro lines were almost ready to come out of the oven, all the pavement and pipes of the Wafujing Da Jie area had been renewed, and the new buildings in front of the shopping area only needed some make-up to contribute to Beijing’s modern face.
In November 2008, after the Olympics, all the products of the pre-Olympic efforts to present Beijing to the world as a modern city had already been in use for months. Except for the stadiums, the most impressive development was perhaps the expansion of the subway system. Within a year four new lines had opened with a total length of 85 km.
Lets see if this hands-on mentality is equally applied to the protection of intellectual property rights.
On my first visit to Beijing I was electrified by all the buzzing small-scale businesses, both legal and illegal. An example of the latter were the vendors seated in the big subway stations spreading their DVDs with the newest movies out on blankets. Later on I found out that brand name clothes were sold at big, indoor, seven-story-high clothes markets. An Adidas jacket was sold for one hundred Renminbi (ten euro) but could be bargained down to seventy Renminbi. Dolce & Gabbana boxers were sold for only ten Renminbi.
D&B-boxers, sold at clothes markets in Beijing, 4 November 2008
T-shirts with the Olympic mascots, going for 200rmb in the official shops, were sold on the streets for 10% of their original price. However, in some places you could find sport shops selling brand name clothes for unsuspicious prices. Here is a trick for everybody who hates to buy fake clothes: When in a shop, fold your hands around your mouth to make a megaphone and shout “Hello, Hello”. If you can hear the echo repeating “Ello, Ello”, then there is a big chance that the stuff they are selling is the real thing, for real prices. Another more practical trick is just to look around: the shops that sell the real stuff can be recognized by their lack of customers.
In May 2008 nothing seemed to have changed IP-wise, but after the Olympics it seemed that the IP-system had also profited from China’s efforts to charm the West. Here I must note that the source of this article is just my eyes during short stops in Beijing. So, conclusions are a bit forward and bear not the slightest scientific value whatsoever. That said: the changes looked striking. No more street sales in or around the subway stations. Instead the selling of DVDs seemed to have gone underground. Women on bikes now lured “waiguoren” (foreigners) to come with them to “out of sight” places to buy DVDs. On the other hand, the more formal shops still existed. They sold complete tv-series nicely boxed, but clearly illegal: during the show the viewer is informed about the next program coming up on the evening the episode was originally broadcast.
Most English-language movies are subtitled in Chinese and English and sold with the original audio language. They seemed to have been translated from the audio into Chinese script and then from written Chinese back into the original audio language in two separate processes. The translation to Chinese was usually done skillfully but the English subtitles were often so bad that they were impossible to understand. Some series were adequately subtitled but lacked one or two “difficult” words in a sentence. Often words that don’t come easy to the Chinese ear or words that were spoken softly in the movie. A sentence like: “I am inspired” became: “I am xxxxx”. Even funnier were some of the commentaries on the DVD-boxes. Sometimes these texts, meant to persuade the customer to buy the movie, had the opposite effect. I guess the commentaries were copied from an internet site where opinions about movies are shared. If the Chinese working in the copying industry master the “copy – paste” routine but not the English language then they will not be capable of distinguishing a poorly written opinion from a more structured or appealing one. Or even worse: they cannot indentify the ones that advise others “Not to Watch”. The selection seemed random. For example:“This is a very good movie. I watched it with my mother. She is almost seventy now but still likes movies a lot..”
Or the opposing opinions. They were rare but sweet:“This movie is horribly stupid. Watching it is a waste of time. Cage has made much better ones. Don’t make the mistake of being attracted by his name..”
Altogether it seemed that the Chinese authorities hade made some efforts to ban DVD-sales from the streets. However, the more formal-looking shops had been left alone and were still selling clearly non-authorized copies. As far as the clothing business goes: the malls not frequented by foreigners, away from the shopping area of Wafujing Da Jie still offer a great deal of choice of all kinds of brand name clothing for prices that awaken the suspicion of IP-violations. Wafujing Da Jie has upgraded its shops and surroundings. A big mall has opened its doors selling exclusive clothes and perfumes from Western companies like: Chanel, Boss, Gucci and so on. Sport shops have been erected and sell brand name clothes for “Western” prices. They all pass the echo-test.

adidas store: brand name clothes sold for unsuspicious prices in an expensive mall in Haerbin, 2 November 2008
Text and pictures by Michiel Tjoe-Awie

DISCLAIMER: The views of Mr Michiel Tjoe-Awie do not necessarily correspond to the views of IP Dragon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm living in Beijing, and have noticed less DVD street sales than three years ago. However, I think this has more to do with competition from pirate websites (youku, tudou...), than crackdowns from police. 5 RMB pirate DVD can't compete with a free download.