The Leper and the Knockoff Knife


“Five hundred baht,” the leper announced.

Gun stores lined the street across the road from the Old Siam Plaza. Revolvers, pistols, rifles and shotguns peeked out behind reflective sun-bleached glass. Glock, Kel-Tec, Smith & Wesson, Colt, CZ, Remington, Beretta, a smorgasbord of firearms old and new tempted the discerning (and licensed) customer. But not everyone who walked this street was looking for a firearm. For those looking for cold steel, the leper was waiting.

The aged leper displayed his wares on a pair of tables on the sidewalk. Knives, Pachmayr grips, optics, and other gear and accessories no self-respecting Tommy Tacticool would do without. Most of them were illegal or impractical in Singapore. But the knives…

“Five hundred baht!” he said.

He picked up a knife with a wart-covered hand and deftly flicked the thumb stud. A wickedly sharp leaf blade popped out and locked into place with a solid click. He handed me the knife with care, handle facing me. I accepted the knife, slowly and deliberately, and inspected it. I didn’t know what it was, only that it had the word ‘BROWNING’ stamped across the handle.

He flicked open a succession of knives, handing them off to my wife and I. His warty hand is smooth and clever and powerful, popping the blades open with single decisive movements. Despite his visible disease and his advanced years, he handles the blades with the grace and fluidity of a man long experienced with cutting tools.

The knives themselves weren’t half-bad. Some were designer knives, combining aesthetics and utility in a single package. Some sported military camouflage, appealing mainly to collectors and fanatics. I’d seen a few of those in Singapore. And more I hadn’t seen.

The leper picked up a knife and flicked his thumb. The blade locked into place with an authoritative SNAP.

“Automatic,” he declared.

I’d never seen a true automatic knife before, only assisted opening knives. It seemed no more or less dangerous than an ordinary folding knife, but the mechanism made opening that much easier and convenient.

“Taser,” he said, pointing to a stun gun on the table.

The label claimed ‘5500K VOLT’. More than enough to shock an aggressor through thick clothing — and most definitely illegal in Singapore.

“Punching self-defence,” the leper said, donning a set of plastic knuckledusters.

Only, it wasn’t just a set of knuckledusters. He deftly unfolded the knuckles, worked the controls and locked them into a new position, and suddenly a knife shot out the front. In the bright morning sun, I saw a small, sharp protrusion on the bottom of the handle. A glass breaker — or skull crusher.

“It’s three in one,” my wife said.

The leper nodded vigorously.

They were all novelties. Nice, but illegal or impractical in my country. The other knives on display didn’t attract me much either. But one word held my attention.


An industry giant, it was the brand all other knives were compared to. I’d seen a few Spydercos in Singapore, but they were all priced out of my budget. In Thailand, though, the dollar went a long way. Perhaps this was my chance to get my hands on one.

One knife in particular caught my eye. A Para Military with black handles. I’d been searching high and low in Singapore for a specimen with no luck, but in this distant land, it was finally right in front of me.

“How much for this?” I asked, pointing at the knife.

“Five hundred baht,” the leper replied.

It was over a full order of magnitude cheaper than in Singapore. It was a steal. And yet…

I’d read many reports of Spyderco knock-offs on the Internet, and I’d seen a few of them on sale on the online marketplaces I frequent. For a mere five hundred baht, this had to be a knock-off.

I picked up the knife, placed my thumb in the thumb hole and shot my thumb out. The blade flew open, as slick as butter.

Another red flag. Spyderco’s springs are biased towards closing. A true Spyderco offered more resistance than this knife. I pulled out my phone and started comparing the knife I held with images of genuine Para Military knives.

Holding the blade to the light, I checked the markings. The Spyderco logo, forward of the thumb hole, was too far forward. Near the pivot pin I saw the words ‘CPM S30V’, but for five hundred baht, a mere twenty Singapore dollars, there was no way the blade was made of premium S30V steel.

The handle felt grippy enough, but not quite as textured as the G-10 handles of a true Para Military. More importantly, this knife had a two-position pocket clip, but a genuine Para Military had a four-position clip.

This was a knock-off. No question about it.

“Is this made in USA?” my wife asked.

“Made in China, Taiwan,” the leper replied. “Designed in USA.”

Genuine Spyderco knives were indeed designed in the US and manufactured in Taiwan. But I doubted this knife was ever conceived anywhere to the west of the Yellow River.

And if there was one fake, there had to be more.

The other Spydercos on sale felt wrong. Too fat, too awkward, incorrect blade or handle shape, the list went on. I had never seen a knife like the alleged Benchmade or Browning on the table before, not even on official catalogs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sanrenmu LAND knives on display, themselves cheap replicas of brand name knives, were themselves imitations.

Despite that, I was prepared to buy a knife. Not as an everyday carry tool, but a beater knife for light household chores. If it had a handle, an edge, a point and a solid lock, it was good enough for most of my use cases. There was just one last test I had to do.

Gripping the blade, I wiggled it from side to side. The blade remained in place. I oscillated the knife up and down and–

The blade wobbled.

It wasn’t the kind of minute blade play that can be fixed by tightening the screws. It was as if the blade wasn’t locked in place at all.

It wasn’t a cheap knock-off. It was a dangerous knock-off. The lock could fail at any moment.

Returning the knife, we made our goodbyes and left.

Premium gear demands premium prices for many reasons. Materials, craftsmanship, experience, and most of all, reliability. While saving a few dollars here and there through smart haggling, price promotions and superior purchasing power is always a good thing, if something is too cheap to be true, it definitely is. Trusting life and limb to such ‘kit’ is never a good idea.

This wasn’t the first knock-off we’d seen in Thailand. Later that day, inside the Old Siam Plaza, I found a vendor selling accessory pouches, carabineers and other hard goods. Among them were GrimLOCs, lightweight corrosion-resistant plastic carabineers used by the military in place of heavy mountaineering carabineers. My wife and I use them to suspend small bags from our main packs.

The vendor priced each GrimLOC at thirty baht, nearly five times cheaper than GrimLOCs sold in Singapore. But when I handled the products, the plastic felt cheap and tacky. I couldn’t trust that they wouldn’t fail under the loads we regularly subject ours to.

Cheap stuff is everywhere and highly attractive to the budget-conscious shopper, but it almost always isn’t worth it. When they fail, you’ll have to spend even more money to on repairs and replacements. Use cheap gear for critical tasks and you’re placing yourself, and the people around you, at risk.

If something is too cheap to be true, it always is.

Cheah Git San Calligraphy.jpg

My own characters pay as much attention to their kit as I do, if not more so. You can see them in action in my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

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The Leper and the Knockoff Knife
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