Ever since the start of our trip, something was wrong with our bags. We were using our trusty backpacks which we originally got over 10 years ago for our first round-the-world backpacking trips. But now they were awkward and uncomfortable. What was going on?
I started to look at all the other travelers and realized that our bags were huge. I mean, much, much larger than everyone else. And I realized that was the problem. Neither of us had much stuff in it, we were only gone for 4 weeks, and the bags were not properly filled so they were floppy and fitting all wrong. “We need smaller bags,” I said to Ryan a few weeks into our trip. In Yangshuo we got our opportunity.
Our hostel was on West Street which is a pedestrian street filled with clubs, restaurants and tiny shops. You can’t walk more than 2 feet without at least 3 people trying to sell you something. One shop with two particularly outspoken girls was a baggage shop. On the back wall they had two perfect-sized North Face backpacks. But the girls were kind of pushy and annoying and I didn’t really want to reward their harassing (“You want to buy a bag? Come in, look at bags, coats. You come back later?”) but their store was the biggest and had the most variety of the styles we wanted.
We waited until they were busy helping other people and snuck in. We were just looking and it was the first store we walked in and one of the girls approached us immediately. We looked at the bags, with her chattering away at us about the quality, and how many did we want?
“How much is it?” Ryan asked.
“550,” she said. ($80)
“Okay, thanks,” we said walking away.
“Wait!” She stopped us. “How much do you want to pay?”
“Oh, we’re just looking,” we said. “This is only the first shop we’ve looked at.”
“How much. You tell me.”
“I don’t know. What is your best price?”
Thus the bargaining game begun.
Ryan got her down to 200 rmb a bag ($29) and at that price we couldn’t resist. While bargaining we ended up talking to the girls quite a bit. We asked her if it was a real North Face bag and she said no (while laughing slightly at our naiveté) but that it was made in Hong Kong and was ‘very high quality.’
There are a lot of fakes in China. You can barely get off the plane in Beijing or Shanghai before you are bombarded by street sellers with Chanel bags or Rolex watches. North Face is also another popular brand to counterfeit (the knock-off’s are affectionately called North Fakes) and so much effort goes into producing even the small elements to make it look real. The label on our bag was generic (it was attached to both bags and jackets) but it was printed in English and French on thick, high quality paper. Ironically they copied all the elements from the original tag faithfully, including the copyright material!
I know these counterfeit bags won’t last as long as real North Face bags (my big backpack is a North Face and is still in top notch shape) but I was happy to get smaller bags that we can use while traveling here from now on. The fact that they are counterfeit Chinese bags somehow even makes them a little bit better. Like not only can I use it on future trips but it is a souvenir of our time in China as well.
And I’ll give you a size comparison between our old and new bags. We didn’t want to get rid of our bags (because they are in good condition) but we didn’t want to have to carry around big empty backpacks. We were able to fit our new bags inside our old ones and still had plenty of room for our clothes and other things. I don’t know why we ever got such big bags in the first place, but I’m glad we downgraded. Here is a picture of my original (legitimate) bag with the new backpack stuffed inside. I had so much extra room available that it didn’t make much difference to my bag (though it added a lot of weight for me to carry!)