I’ve seen some pretty convincing knockoffs in my time. Lithuanian flea-market tables with immaculately duplicated illicit versions of Microsoft and Norton products. Metro kiosks off Nevsky Prospect in St. Petersburg with jewel-cased, color-labeled computer games still technically in beta. I’ve flipped through stacks of fake DVDs, cheap dupes of sneakers and tubes of toothpaste. But in all my traveling, I’ve never seen a facsimile of an entire store.
Apple lists four China-based retail stores on its site. Just four: two in Beijing, two in Shanghai. And the shot of the Apple Store in the Sanlitun area of Beijing includes the Apple icon — the iconic, once bitten piece of lambent fruit — without textual adornments or signifying extras.
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So what’s an Apple Store (that’s actually labeled “Apple Store” under the icon) doing in Kunming, a relatively large but otherwise remote southwestern city nowhere near Beijing or Shanghai?
That’s exactly what this intrepid blogger wondered, daring to snap photos of what looks an awful lot like Apple’s “you’re on the bridge of Starship Ikea” retail vibe. You’ve got the slab faux-wood tables, stone tile floors, second-level wood plank floor, spiral staircase, iPad 2s stacked on diagonal acrylic stands and employees sporting Persian blue T-shirts and white name tags. Looks pretty Apple-y, no?
Well, not exactly. Look closely and you’ll spy bits in the photos that give the apparent fake away. The colored iPod adverts slapped haphazardly on the walls beside the staircase (and the asymmetric signage on the store walls in general). The lack of video screens in their stead. The acrylic photo panels stacked end to end along product tables identifying devices like the iPad 2. The not-glass stairs and piped handrails (Steve Jobs has a design patent on the legit version). The words “Apple Store” beneath Apple’s logo (or, in one of the photos, the misspelling “Apple Stoer”). The blogger also calls the stairs “poorly” made and says the walls “haven’t been painted properly.”
“Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple,” writes the blogger. Then she began taking photos. Maybe not the best idea. She says she was “quickly accosted by two salespeople inside and three plainclothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs.”
And then, inspiration: “I … may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures.” Cue dozens of grateful pile-on tech blogs.
Disclaimer: I don’t speak or read Chinese, and the only source for this story is a single on-the-go blogger, so while the chances the store isn’t fake seem slim, we can’t unreservedly confirm that Cupertino’s not up to something (well, something very weird) here.
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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.