Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Iona's Guest Post: A Lawyer's Guide to Shanghai

Iona came to visit Shanghai! Here are her (professional) thoughts...

I'm back in snowy Montreal after a week-long adventure: first giving intellectual property training in Manila and then visiting Michelle and Sam in Shanghai. My visit to Shanghai was my first to China. My overwhelming first impression of Shanghai (in addition to agreeing with LJ that everyone seems constantly be hanging laundry) was that the shops seemed to outnumber the people. Well, not quite: Shanghai has a population of 23 million so it stands to reason that there would be a lot of shops, but I was still in awe. Corner shops, food stalls, designer stores, independent clothes shops, pet shops, high street fashion retailers, luggage shops, tourist shops… you name it, Shanghai sells it. If you did need to urgently buy a pet budgie, a pair of longjohns and a bowl of rice (and who wouldn't?) I am certain that you could easily do so in any part of Shanghai. Of course one of the things that China is notorious for selling is counterfeit goods, which for most of us girls means fake handbags. 

Before going to China I was asked by someone who shall not be named to purchase a fake handbag. Of course I threw my hands in the air: "I can't do THAT!" Why not? Buying a fake handbag in Shanghai would have been so easy. There are a number of "fake markets" which I didn't feel the need to visit; I did however go to Yu Yuan Market which is a confused mash up of any city's China town with Disneyland. A China town within a Chinese town if you will. It is a labyrinth of shops and eateries and yet more shops, stuffed full of tourists and tourist tat. Men accost Westerners with the words "bag or watch?" and a scrap of paper with a picture of a designer bag and watch to reinforce the point. I did not follow any of these men back to their bag and watch lairs, but it was obvious that that was the place to haggle over a fake Mulberry.

We know it's wrong to buy fakes, but why? Under English law (and Chinese law is likely to be very similar):
·       Handbags (indeed any garments) do not generally attract copyright protection (but DVDs do).
·       However handbags do generally bear trade marks: Louis Vuitton is the obvious example as his bags are plastered with "LV", but all designer handbags have something that shows you who has made them. The reason that people buy knock-offs is because they want everyone to think that they have a designer bag, so the knock-off must bear the trade mark too. Making or selling a handbag with a designer's logo on it infringes that designer's trade mark.
·       That said, buying a handbag not made by Chanel but with Chanel's logo on it does not infringe Chanel's trade mark. It is not infringement of intellectual property to buy a knock-off. Loop hole?
·       It is illegal to import infringing goods into the UK. Loop hole closed (sort of).

So actually, I'm fine to buy the fake handbag (I still wouldn't, I'm too much of a goodie two-shoes), I just can't take it home with me.

The real penalties are, supposedly, for those that supply the fakes. According to a guide published by the UK Intellectual Property Office, under Chinese law you can get up to 7 years in prison for manufacturing or selling infringing goods, up to 15 years for operating an illegal business, and up life (or the death sentence!) for production and marketing of fake or substandard goods.
With those kind of deterrents, why is it is still so easy to buy fakes in China? 

One reason is that, as Michelle and Sam have highlighted in this blog, China is a frustratingly bureaucratic country. Hoops must be jumped through and documents must be rubber stamped in order to achieve anything. European brand owners often find it too difficult to a) register their rights and b) enforce those rights in China, so just don't bother.

This is linked to the fact that although China has recently stepped up its enforcement initiatives, insufficient resources are allocated to the task. To give some perspective, in 2007 there were fewer than 1,000 copyright officials in the whole of China, a country which then had 1.3 billion people. Handbag sellers often have a legitimate shop front with a back door through to the fake goodies, which they can close if the authorities get close. Anyway, with infringing software and pharmaceuticals to deal with, the Chinese authorities have bigger fish to fry than the fake handbag merchants.

As I have said it is not illegal to buy a fake handbag, though it is illegal to bring it into the UK. With that in mind I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. In today's society the culture of "free" is pervasive: would you choose to make the most of what's on offer in China by buying cheap and fake? Or, along with fake tan and fake eyelashes, do you think that fake handbags are just a bit cheap and nasty?

More on IP: I regularly contribute to the 1709 blog on all things copyright related; my most recent blog post is (fittingly) on Gangnam Style and the culture of free.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Hot Pot

People that know us well are probably a little surprised by the absence on here of a topic that occupied a large proportion of our time in London. We love food! Whether browsing menus, cooking ourselves or eating out… it is something we enjoy immensely and are very passionate about.

Being in Shanghai hasn’t changed anything. In fact, with a whole new choice of restaurants on our doorstep, our obsession has probably only increased. Not only do you have the whole array of cuisines that you have at home, you also have many different Chinese cuisines to try and experiment with too – there’s Yunnan, Szechuan, Cantonese, Tibetan, Shanghainese… just to mention a few. On top of that, our cooking time has (sadly) seen a decline… apartments don’t come with ovens, western ingredients are harder to come by and are very expensive and most of our time isn't spent in the flat… which means eating out has become even more of a hobby.

I think it’s fair to say that our weekend adventures, while taking in many new sights of the city, usually centre around a new restaurant we want to review, brunch we want to test or cuisine we want to try. Trying to write down all those experiences is a daunting task! I think we’ve probably been putting it off as a) we’re too scared about starting and not being able to stop (we considered making this a food only blog at one stage) b) we’ve been so overwhelmed by what we’ve experienced already that doing justice to it is hard c) we don't know where to start.

So now it’s time. We’re just going to jump right in! And where better to start than with a very Chinese evening out…


So far, we’ve taken all our visitors to our favourite Hot Pot, and visited it ourselves a couple of extra times with local friends too. It’s a really fun evening out, not just for the food. Hai Di Lao Hot Pot is renowned for its customer service, along with its food, and it doesn’t disappoint. While you wait you are kept fed and watered with something that resembles popcorn, watermelon and some sweet, sweet Ribena type drink (plum juice). You can also have your shoes shined or take a trip to the free nail bar while you are in the ‘queue’. The entertainment doesn’t stop there… Throughout the evening, you are treated to a display of ‘noodle dancing’ – a guy spinning around and twirling the noodles before dumping them into your Hot Pot.

Once you’ve sat down, your table is adorned with little touches to help you stay safe and comfortable. A plastic apron - so you don’t spill food down you, a cover that goes over the chair with your bag on it - so it can’t be pinched, a clear plastic bag for your phone - so you can still use it but it doesn’t get dirty on the table and a glasses cleaning set - so you can clean them when they fog up from all the steam!

The Hot Pot itself is more like what we would call a fondue. You have a choice of two broths – we’ve tried spicy Szechuan (which makes your tongue go numb in a strangely addictive way), tomato, green pepper and ‘normal’. Then you pick your ‘dips’. Everything from the ordinary – sweetcorn, a million different types of pak choi, steak, noodles, chicken, yams, to the less ordinary – unidentified fish balls, chicken heart, duck feet, animal organs… To complement your Hot Pot, you can also make up your own sauces from a huge array of flavours on offer. My usual is a mix of sesame oil, celery, spring onions and soy sauce, but that’s keeping it reserved!

All in all, it’s a really fun night where you can easily while away a few hours… we'll be taking all our future visitors there too!!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

All the gear, no idea…

There have been a few call outs recently for more photos on our blog entries! The reason we haven't posted many is that we dropped our old compact within the first week of being here, which has made taking pictures a bit difficult. That's all set to change now...

After weeks of research we’re happy to announce that we a the proud new owners of a snazzy new camera. Problem is, we don’t really know how to use it and the instructions are in Chinese. Like a man attacking an IKEA flat pack, we decided this weekend to just give it a go with a view to downloading the manual at a later date. So what better way to show you a typical Sunday in Shanghai than through the lens (of a Sony NEX 7, for those that care...).

All good Sunday's start with a healthy sized brunch. No pictures of food this time, but the park that it overlooked was full of activity. This little play area appears to be an outdoor gym for the elderly! A pretty good effort on a day where the temperature hasn't got over 0 degrees.

We've seen parks being used by many different people on previous visits, and this one was no exception despite the freezing cold. As I've mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I am not keen on taking pictures of people. However, we did ask the people in these few shots and it turns out they love being photographed, so perhaps I was worried for no reason! The pictures depict an activity that goes on in nearly every single park, every single day. I have no idea what they are playing but given the level of interest and the crowds that are attracted, my bet is that there is a few kuai (read quid) at stake.

The next few hours were spent walking around the French Concession looking for opportunities to use the camera. The first hour was largely unsuccessful with a lot of photos being taken but none really standing out. We did get a chance to use some of the   features though, which came out pretty well.

Typically, it's the older generation you see socialising in the parks - they all seem to be there whatever day of the week enjoying themselves. Some just walk around in circles (exercising, I believe?!), some are playing games and others just sit and smile and watch the world go by, as the very cheerful man was in the picture below.

We then headed towards home, leisurely strolling through another park where Michelle captured this beauty. 

All the walking had made us a bit thirsty and the cold was beginning to bite, so we headed in the direction of the nearest cafe, which just so happened to be located in the park, and enjoyed some hot chocolate.


Our Sunday finished up with an early evening stroll past the usual sights, including a few fruit and veg shops.

Finally, I wanted to show you all some of the crazy things people in China try to fit onto their bikes. Problem is, I haven't mastered the moving object on the new camera yet so below is the best I could come up with, apologies.



Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Langkawi Festivities

So it appears the stresses and strains of the beach proved too taxing to fit in a blog entry, so instead we're writing this from the warmth of our apartment back in Shanghai, where the outside temp is a cool 30 degrees lower than we were enjoying this time last week!

Langkawi was a lovely respite from what has been a pretty hectic couple of months - moving to a new country, finding/starting new jobs and settling into a very different way of life is very tiring! We had a beachside villa, private beach and cocktails on tap - what more do you need?! Well, actually a lot more to make it a proper Christmas.... we really missed sharing all the traditions and excitement with our families and Skyping them from the beach after they had just opened stockings/were about to sit down for lunch just didn't cut it...

The place where we stayed was run by a German couple, so on Christmas Eve Santa Claus arrived with a sack full of presents. We were also delivered a Weihnachtsteller (Christmas plate full of nuts, fruit and sweet treats) in the middle of the night, which is a tradition often upheld at home in Chandler's Ford too - a little bit of home from home. Our Christmas meal consisted of fish/steak, with a side of brussel sprouts - didn't want to miss out on those treats!

I won't pretend that our days were particularly active while we were away, but we did do a bit of exploring by way of a trek in the jungle. Seeing a flying lemur was apparently 100% guaranteed - a pretty big claim... but on arrival at the 'base camp' there was one clinging to a tree. Not 'flying', but a flying lemur none the less. We also saw brown and black monkeys, a monitor lizard, a tree lizard, a frog, a giant flying squirrel, some fish and a millipede! 

The rest of our days were spent eating foot long tiger prawns, having massages and swimming in the sea. Langkawi isn't the prettiest of the south east Asian islands, but for a bit of Christmas sun that was easily accessible from Shanghai, it definitely served its purpose. 

Now, we're really excited to be back in Shanghai and ready to explore more of the city. The weather is very similar to home at the moment (in temperature, not rainfall), but as soon as it warms up we have a long list of places to visit outside of the city too. Plus, there's a trip home and Chinese New Year (another week long holiday) coming up in the next six weeks too.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Chinese lessons are also progressing well..!)