Is it real, or ... ?

It began with an Apple store, now come reports of institutions such as Legal, Fox 25, and even the Globe being copied

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / July 29, 2011

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Last week a 27-year-old American blogger traveling in China’s mountainous Yunnan province stumbled across a fake Apple store, which was selling very real Apple computers and iPhones. “It looked like an Apple store,’’ she wrote on her blog. “It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and . . . the employees were even wearing those blue T-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks. “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 its signs - it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.’’ One wonders, idly, what other American institutions have been counterfeited in the remote fastnesses of the Chinese empire? ■ ■ ■ Searching for lost tribes surviving on diets of insects and worms, two Boston University cultural anthropologists stumbled upon what appeared to be a Legal Sea Foods restaurant dominating the central square of Nagqu, a rural city in Xizang, known to westerners as Tibet. “At first, we were certain it was Legal,’’ the two scholars wrote on the Mayo Clinic’s widely read nutrition blog. “It had that nice walnut paneled bar area in front, with the chirpy bartenders. But when we had dinner there, and saw that the bill came to under $50, with drinks, we knew it had to be fake. ’’ ■ ■ ■ After a long day of trekking along the Nepal-China border, Saul and Harriet Friedman turned on the television set in their boutique hotel in the tiny town of Jongkha Dzong. “What we saw was astonishing,’’ the couple reported on their shared Tumblr blog, Phoyourinformation. “It looked just like Fox 25 back home, the same faux news stories about the nutty NASCAR preacher, the world’s most expensive hot dog, and Jenny McCarthy’s inane tweets. Then some severe-looking woman in a blue Mao suit started jabbering about the weather. That was the giveaway! No bathing-beauty meteorologist? This can’t be American TV!’’ ■ ■ ■ Dennis Johnson, director of Melville House publishing company, unexpectedly stumbled upon a Barnes & Noble bookstore in remote Changchun, in Jilin province. “It was a perfect copy of the troubled American chain,’’ Johnson wrote on his influential literary blog “It had the same stacks of unsold Nook e-readers that you see piled up near the entrances of the US stores, and the employees seemed just as bored, underpaid, and alienated as any American bookdrone wage slaves. “But I could tell it wasn’t a real American bookstore, the minute I saw copies of our recently released ‘Irish Journal: The Essential Heinrich Böll’ flying off the shelves. The clerks said they couldn’t stock enough copies of Patrick deWitt’s excellent novel, ‘The Sisters Brothers,’ but that book has stayed under the radar stateside. When it turned out they had never heard of Janet Evanovich, well, I knew this wasn’t a real Barnes & Noble.’’ ■ ■ ■ Fred and Ferd McAllister, identical twin backpackers from Wellesley, took a wrong bus in faraway Sichuan province and were surprised to discover a full-sized replica of Fenway Park in the city of Chengdu. “It was almost a perfect replica,’’ the twins told the Wellesley Townsman newspaper upon their return. “The Green Monster loomed over left field, and the Coke bottle and the Dunkin’ Donuts ads were just where they should be. “We bought tickets and watched a game. The designated hitter - he looked just like Big Papi - was ripping the hide off the ball, and some bald geezer with a pot belly - this guy really resembled Tim Wakefield - had won almost 200 games, according to the scoreboard. “We could see the beat reporters smiling and trading pleasantries with team brass in the press box. It was obvious we had fallen through a rabbit hole into a parallel universe. A clever knockoff - but a knockoff nonetheless.’’ ■ ■ ■ Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy was delivering a guest lecture at Gansu Radio and Television University College in remote Liangzhou, in Gansu province, when he spotted what appeared to be a familiar newspaper for sale at a kiosk. “It looked a lot like The Boston Globe,’’ Kennedy wrote on his Media Nation blog. “It had a lead story on the Big Dig, and all the columnists had put their cellphone numbers in the paper, with a note ‘Whitey - text me’ next to them. “But I knew it wasn’t the real Boston Globe, because it was dated July 29, and Alex Beam hadn’t started phoning in those frivolous summer columns he taps out between July 4 and Labor Day. That was the tipoff. It was an artful forgery - but a forgery nonetheless.’’ Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is