“Are they real?” she asked. I took a step back as she began to move into my personal space.
“As real as I could afford,” I responded only after a long pause and giving her a look that should have been interpreted as “I can’t believe you are asking that question”. I actually thought she was going to reach over and touch them.
A long, beautiful strand of black pearls. But were they? They were real imitation black pearls, and I didn’t try to deny it.
I suppose I should have been flattered that she asked as she proceeded to tell me about her “real” black pearls that she purchased in some exotic location, but mine came from a favorite store in Chicago, and have never been anywhere near an oyster, I can guarantee you.
Why do people ask if something is real, I wonder? Have I asked people if what they were wearing, carrying on their arm, or twinkling from their ring finger was real? Probably, but I don’t anymore.
When I lived in Japan, I had to travel occasionally to Korea, the land known for their lucrative “knock off” industry. I had a co-worker who risked international trade laws to bring back a suitcase of purses fashioned after very famous and expensive lines – Coach, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vitton… the list goes on – she’d taken orders from her friends and family members. So on one trip, I visited a store that she had recommended, and followed the protocol. As expected, there was no sales clerk in the small, crowded shop, so I rang the bell behind the rack of belts at the back of the store. A wall of low grade clutches opened to reveal a staircase, where I was greeted by a pleasant middle age Korean woman who was eager to show me the “good” collection, so I followed her upstairs. The door locked behind me.
“You like?” she asked. Multiple colors, multiple logos, multiple styles, the smell of pseudo leather was overwhelming.
My head spun – I was carrying a canvas cross body bag, and she was trying to sell me something that retailed for thousands of dollars if real. What was I thinking? I didn’t have any use for one of these purses, real or fake, and my mind began to race with the prospect of being part of a massive high stakes trade bust, so I gave the woman a slight smile, made a hasty retreat down the steps and back out to the alley. That’s right – an alley.
I’m about to plant my feet on foreign soil on another excursion where I’ll be exposed to plenty of authentic items and a whole lot more knock offs. I’m sure I’ll do some shopping and may be tempted to buy both, and regardless of what I bring home, it will be real to me.
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