Over to You Guys: Fakery Around China and the World

Congratulations to you all on your excellent sleuthing!

Over the past couple of days you’ve sent pictures and written in about fake (or at least seriously questionable) Apple stores from Croatia to Colombia, Burma to Venezuela, Slovenia to Spain, and in a dozen locations right here in China. (I also appreciate the hilarity of the fake Hard Rock Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City and the fake Hooters in Cancun, but let’s stay focused here.)

The most elegant and accomplished ripoff documented was a fake Apple store in Xi’an, China, sent in by numerous readers. Here it is:

Xi'an, China. July 2011. Courtesy of Bruce Burkhalter.

Xi'an, China. May 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May, 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May, 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Xi'an, China. May 2011. Courtesy of Anonymous.

Honorable Mention goes to the following examples of shanzhai – obviously they’re not fooling anyone, but they won me over with their randomness and charm.

Mandalay, Burma. January 2011. Courtesy of Gregg Butensky.

Zagreb, Croatia. Courtesy of Ruadhán ÒNeill.

Flushing, New York, USA. Couresy of Greg Autry.

If anything totally outrageous happens on the “Apple Stoer” front (or if Steve Jobs ever emails me back), I’ll be sure to let you guys know. In the mean time, I’m probably going to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging, which, it may shock you to hear, does not generally deal with a certain Cupertino, CA-based electronics giant. Hope you’ll stay with me.

Thanks for coming along on this wild ride! It’s been a blast.

Video courtesy of Next Media Animation.

ETA: The reader who sent in the picture from Zagreb was under the impression that the Apple store depicted was a fake. Several readers have now written in saying that it is, in fact, an authorized reseller. I still like the photo, so perhaps the store in Zagreb will forgive me for keeping it up and consider it a bit of free advertising.

Now It’s Your Turn: Send Me Your Fake Apple Pics!

Hello, Internet.

To the half million of you who have visited in the past 48 hours: Welcome! Thanks for coming. As I’ve stayed awake watching you all leave comments and links, reposting and retweeting, I’ve pondered not only such grandiose matters as the smallness of the world and the ability of the internet to connect us, but have also grappled with practical issues: What Would Sudeep Do (WWSD)?

I have decided that intrepid commenter Sudeep would now ask you all to do your part to keep up the madness and send me photos of the fake Apple stores you’ve seen.

Before we get into the intricate nest of issues around intellectual property rights in general, and specifically in China, let’s take a moment and admit that all of this ripoff junk is amazing. When it’s poorly done, it’s hilarious and a little sad. When it’s brilliantly done, it makes you stand back and wonder – the attention to detail, the belief that customers can be fooled, the willingness even to hire people and taken them unknowingly along with you on your little ruse.

Have you seen Apples stores that you think are fake in another part of China? Tonga? Dar es Salaam? Send your photos to me at birdabroadblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com. The higher quality the fake, the better. A few people have already sent in photos – if good ones keep rolling in, I’ll put them up here. Please include the location (as specifically as possible), the date you took the photo and how you’d like to be credited. Do yourself a favor, and check Apple’s website first to see if it’s an actual Apple reseller.

Speaking of which, to address the main issue that people have been getting all bent out of shape about: the stores I photographed do not appear to be authorized Apple sellers. The list of resellers in Kunming that Apple’s website has published does not include the locations that I photographed. An employee at the main store photographed has confirmed that it is not an authorized reseller. Apple itself has confirmed that it is a fake.

So. Begin!

Hanoi, Vietnam. October 2010. Courtesy of RP

Are you listening, Steve Jobs?

UPDATE #2: Click here for updates on the fake Apple store, with video footage.

UPDATE #1: To address the main issue that people have been getting all bent out of shape about: the stores I photographed do not appear to be authorized Apple sellers. The list of resellers in Kunming that Apple’s website has published does not include the locations that I photographed. An employee at the main store photographed has confirmed that it is not an authorized reseller. Apple itself has confirmed that it is a fake.

I will not be publishing on this blog the addresses of the stores I photographed – if you live in China, you’ll understand why. Feel free to email me at birdabroadblog [AT] gmail [DOT] com.


The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.

You probably read such things in the paper every day – but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over. I had the thought, only half-jokingly, that when we returned from a couple months abroad, we might not be able to recognize our apartment building. Or that it might not be there at all.

As it turns out, my fears were baseless – our scrappy little home remains. The neighborhood, however, has definitely kicked it up a notch or seven. Starbucks has opened not one, but THREE branches (that I encountered) within a 10 minute walk of one another. An H&M has opened across from our apartment building. These are the kinds of major Western brands that were previously only represented in Kunming by fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. Our neighborhood has quickly become the swanky shopping center of the city.

So when we strolled down a street a few blocks from our house a couple weeks ago, I was only sort of surprised to see this new place, one that any American of my generation can probably recognize instantaneously:

It’s an Apple store!

Or is it?

RP and I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.

We proceeded to place a bet on whether or not this was a genuine Apple store or just the best ripoff we had ever seen – and to be sporting, I bet that it was real.

I know, you guys are laughing: an Apple store in Kunming? No one who doesn’t know me personally has ever heard of Kunming before. Kunming is the end of the Earth. It’s all true – but seriously, China warps your mind into believing that anything is possible, if you stay here long enough. When we went back to this store 5 days later and couldn’t find it, having overshot by two blocks, I seriously thought that it had simply been torn down and replaced with a bank in the mean time – hey, it’s China. That could happen.

You have already guessed the punchline, of course: this was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff – a brilliant one – the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly.

Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.

The name tags around the necks of the friendly salespeople didn’t actually have names on them – just an Apple logo and the anonymous designation “Staff”. And of course, Apple’s own website will tell you that they only have a few stores in Beijing and Shanghai, opened only recently; Apple famously opens new stores painstakingly, presumably to assure impeccable standards and lots of customer demand.

Is this store a copy of one of those in Beijing? A copy of a copy in another Chinese city? A copy of a copy of a copy?! While you’re pondering that, bear in mind: this is a near-perfect ripoff of a store selling products that were almost unknown when we first came to China. My white MacBook was likely to draw only blank stares or furrowed brows as I sat gnashing my teeth trying in vain to get a piece of Chinese software to run on it.

Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company – when really they’re just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.

Clearly, they had also been told that above all, they must protect the brand. As I took these photos I was quickly accosted by two salespeople inside, and three plain clothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs – that it wasn’t allowed. And why wasn’t it allowed? Because their boss told them so.

I…may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures.

And the best part? A ten minute walk around the corner revealed not one, but TWO more rip-off Apple stores.

Some store managers may have dozed off briefly during certain parts of the lecture on How to Completely Ignore Intellectual Property Rights:

Anyone from Apple want to come down to Kunming and break open a can of IPR whoop-ass?

I’m back: Help me find Yayoi

Back from Burma. It was hot as hell. More on that later. For now:

RP and I are scheming set ups for our wedding. If you can tell me how to have a ceremony in this photograph I will be your best friend forever:

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
Mixed media installation
(was installed at the Gagosian from April to June 2009)