Fear of faux in China’s capital cityEight of my fellow thespians and I recently flew to Beijing to participate in a four-day drama festival. It was organized by the Asia Pacific Activities Conference, an association of international high schools around Asia and the coordinator of several sporting and fine-arts events throughout the school year.
My school, Seoul Foreign School, is one of six schools affiliated with APAC, and had only recently added the drama festival to its roster of events. It goes without saying that our crew was hyped about acting with kids we’d never met and, of course, getting a much-needed break from school on the side.
While we were somewhat prepared for the intense regimen of Peking Opera workshops that the host school, the International School of Beijing, had planned, nothing could have prepared us for what the city, itself, had in store.
Clearing immigration at Beijing International Airport ― stony-faced guards glaring at our passport photos and thwonking our visas with red stamps ― we collected our baggage and piled onto the crosswalk. Midway across, it dawned upon us that there were no traffic lights. Amidst the torrent of vehicles speeding past us, we learned “car-fu,” a modern martial art known more for its heavy emphasis on defensive dodging than on attacks.
After checking for missing appendages, our troupe boarded a bus to Silk Alley, a prominent knockoff market in the city. The market, which is about a half-mile long and equally wide, is the extreme shopper’s mecca.
Inevitably losing our way inside the labyrinth, offering everything from well-worn “Quotations From Chairman Mao” to faux maroon alligator-skin Fendi trousers, a friend and I decided to try our hand at bargaining.
The object of our desire was a Nike cap that was blatantly and painfully fake and not nearly as authentic looking as the knockoffs on the streets of Seoul. We decided to play lowball and began haggling. But the next thing we knew, the merchant was screeching, “I’ll kill you with a big, green wine bottle!”
Frightened for our jugulars and more than a little confused, we decided it would be prudent to make a dash for it. So we made a quick exit, our bloated bags of imitation wares trailing behind us. Little did we know that this was only the first of many strange happenings that would mark our short stay in the Chinese capital.
by Phil Chang
The second of this three-part series will appear in the April 30 edition of J-Talk. ― Editors