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Doing a little back-alley shopping in Shanghai

When walking the streets of Shanghai it is impossible to avoid the masses of locals looking to sell Westerners knock offs of luxury brand items.

To follow one of the local guides on a tour of the back alleys of Shanghai is to enter into a different world. Between the modern buildings of Shanghai are crevices that seem to belong in a different time and place.

Shangai Alley

Shanghai alley on a rainy day. Photo by Flickr user edans

During one of our visits to a  section of the city’s downtown, we were approached by a man who called himself Jerry Tours. Tours had business cards and identified himself as a personal  guide, and led us to all the back alley shops.

All the Shanghai guides persistently prod and harangue people to follow them and once they hook a potential customer, they take their quarry to a series of hidden shops located in the bowels of Shanghai. Often these shops have lookouts standing by the door, and many of them can only be opened from the inside.

Counterfeiting luxury goods in China is illegal, but it is either not heavily enforced or very difficult to keep down. A walk down the alleys indicates that much of the counterfeit business continues to exist regardless of regulations.

All of the merchandise appeared very real, making me wonder: Is it stolen or counterfeited? Determining the authenticity of purses is a skill  I don’t happen to posses,  but the question still remains, and either way, these back alley peddlers are very careful.

During my trip into these shops I was forced to cover the lens of my camera, but I was still able to capture some video from the video camera on my smart phone.

The shops sell every type of brand name luxury item: Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. Purses, shoes, bags, iPods and even underwear were all available.

Negotiating is a major component of back alley shopping, and a persistent buyer can often win items for six times less than the original asking price.

At the end of our excursion Tours handed out his business card and was more than willing to pose for us while we photographed him. The manufacturing of fake items is illegal, and the police even offer rewards for people who identify these outfits.

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