It was just a day before my flight to Shanghai last month that I read the news about the new food crisis in China. Lamb meat in restaurants and on grocery shelves was found to be in fact rat meat mixed with other sorts of animals, anything but lamb!
It was the latest of a long list of shocking food scandals, from tainted milk to fake eggs and fake yogurt. And here I thought I needed to be careful only with the poultry due to the H7N9 new virus scare. But the superbug is now the least of my concerns, I will need to worry about everything I eat; no poultry, no meat, no eggs and what else? Enough already! My decision is made, I will become a vegetarian during my trip. I scrolled through the newspaper page to see if vegetables were on the list of fake items. Phew, it’s not on it… yet!
As I got off the plane I warned my local colleagues about my intentions of temporarily becoming a vegetarian. They giggled profusely and added a few more fake things to my list. Helene, fake BMW and Lamborghini cars and fake Hummers are flooding the streets of Shanghai and Beijing, joining the rank of the Apple product copies and the fake IKEA store.
I knew about the luxury goods copies, I myself being guilty of succumbing to temptation a few times. Not that I could not buy a real one, but I particularly liked the thrill of going in a fake looking boutique, only to be dragged in the back-store, climbing two flights of stairs in narrow corridors as if I was going to enter the secret world of John Malkovich. At the door, you needed to say the magic word “Kitty” for the fake closet door to open and let you enter the Alibaba cave.
Kitty was so proud of her merchandise, insisting on the quality leather and the handmade stitches. All made in Korea, she claimed. She also proudly pointed out that her copies are so good that even some Hollywood stars purchase Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes replicas at her fake store. They offer them as Christmas gifts to their friends. Hummmm! What kind of friend offers a fake Louis Vuitton to a friend without telling the truth? Imagine the humiliation if the friend goes into a real LV store to get it fixed or see a new model. Ah! well, Hollywood is the capital of fake friends so let’s not pretend to be surprised here.
In my life, I had also heard of the staggering number of women who fake orgasms with their lovers so fake is nothing new, but when fake enters the food chain, it becomes way too real for me to ignore.
To appease my thoughts, I went scrolling around the beautiful Fuxing park of Shanghai, looking at families playing with kites, couples on the grass preparing a picnic, two old ladies chatting with a man who was writing poems on the sidewalk using a simple brush and water. The scene was so real, so European, so human. Did I say European?? Aren’t I in Shanghai? Is this real?
There was nothing fake about this delightful scene from the real Shanghai French Concession Quarter, even if today it is filled with beautiful Asian eyes smiling at you that have become the new reality. The true and warm nature of the scenery got me thinking about the new world we are recreating in pixels, our friends on Facebook and the virtual relations that keeps it real. Some of the new accepted rules have become the norm. We think of plastic surgery for every defect or sagging area we find on our body, we can find more silicone in breasts than in labs, more fake emails in my inbox than true communications, more fake university degrees online than real ones, hence I questioned myself; Is Fake the New Real?
In Korea, studies show that 76% of women in their 20s and 30s undergo plastic surgery. Can we therefore conclude that being cosmetically modified in Korea has become the new norm? Upon my return at the Singapore office I quickly enquired to my Korean colleague if the stats are true, only to hear a cute chuckled laugh followed by a comment on how she only had her eyes redone! OK! Helene, let me tell you that pretty much everyone in Korea had it done too. This is just standard procedure Helene, it is quite normal in Korea because beauty prevails in the selection criteria for jobs so we do it in order to perform better in the job market. If more women have gone under the knife than there are natural beauties in a country, can we bluntly deduct that the new real is the altered reality?
Later on, I shared my thoughts with a few friends over a good authentic Chinese meal only to hear the most surreal stories on how altered reality has become the new norm in society. It is my friend Geoff who deserved the status of the best story. While exchanging on how the new set of statistics published on Facebook promoting the value of a fan page and “likes” was a distorted reality, he pulled a communication he had just received from a friend:
Dear Geoff, I met a guy who has a business of selling Facebook “Likes”, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest “Followers” etc. There is a simple price structure depending on whether you want follows/likes from real people, fake people created by real people or fake people created by robots and whether or rather how often you want them to interact with your page/Twitter feed etc. He is currently diversifying into selling positive reviews for restaurants via Yelp, fake positive product reviews on Amazon and a few other things on which he wouldn’t elaborate. I asked him whether I could hire him to post negative reviews of my competitors and he just smiled and asked me if I was serious. He lives in a very nice part of town and drives a Mercedes SL55 (real one) and dresses well, so it’s working quite good for him I guess.
I reckon that fake businesses can make real good money!
And to crown my day, a very nice Thai lady called Darika shared with me the story of Miss Tiffany who became a monk! You ought to know that the Thai Tiffany contest is like Miss Universe but for transsexuals. The “girls” are beautiful and certainly could fool a considerable number of men. So the story goes like this:
The drag queen, Jazz, winner of the 2009 Miss Tiffany Universe is now back to being “100% male,” and has become a monk! Little did I know that in Thailand, only males can become Buddhist monks. So, back to Miss Tiffany, Jazz, who had spent most of her/his life as a woman and had gone through plastic surgery and breast in-plants to become a beauty queen, has now reversed the surgery to get back to her status of man and embrace a monk life.
Now that is a great story if I’ve ever heard one. You get the courage to live your real identity only to find out that it seemed fake to you!
As they sincerely say in Hollywood: Call me, we’ll do lunch.
Miss Tiffany in Thailand:
Fake eggs in China: http://www.chinahush.com/2009/04/24/how-to-identify-fake-chicken-eggs/
Fake Lamborghini: http://www.gizchina.com/2012/06/20/fake-chinese-lamborghini-33000/