When Mr Yong, assistant marketing manager for a Shenzhen manufacturing company, produced a pair of pink star-shaped nipple covers for my perusal, I began to sense a problem.

I was in the industrial complex seeking flexible foot-tips for a range of steel chairs. Unfortunately, the marketing manager was overseas and I'd been left in the hands of his assistant, whose English was as limited as my Mandarin.

When I shook my head, Mr Yong appeared to understand, and with a gesture invited me to follow him into another showroom.

Here I was offered tea. Mr Yong disappeared, eventually returning accompanied by three smiling young ladies, all topless - except for their nipples, discreetly covered by heart-shaped silicone covers that flamboyantly flashed on and off in a variety of colours.

Advertisement

In broken English he explained that they could produce up to 100,000 pairs a week, with a minimum order of 500 pairs.

"No, no!" I cried, anxiously. "It's tips for chair legs I want." After further discussion between the girls and Mr Yong, there appeared to be an understanding of my requirements. "Legs," said the prettiest of the young women, with a knowing smile.

I was then led to a different showroom, this time packed with half-naked mannequins, all dressed in flimsy stocking and G-string combinations.

"Very sexy legs," beamed Mr Yong, pointing to a set of fishnet stockings, complete with diamante highlights.

Fortunately, at this moment the showroom door opened and another young lady appeared, asking in perfect English, "can I help you?"

She turned out to be a company interpreter and explained that it had been a busy morning and all interpreters had been helping international clients.

I was hurriedly led to another room, this time displaying boring trays of industrial grommets and silicone mouldings designed for everything from car engine parts to garden hose systems.

"I apologise for the error," the interpreter explained. "Unfortunately, Mr Yong thought you were Mr Bloomfield, who owns a chain of adult shops in America."

Advertisement

"You have a very diverse operation here," I observed, completing my order for chair parts.

"You should see our wonderful range of super-size silicone sex toys, if you ever decide to change your marketing requirements," my interpreter suggested with an evocative smile, as I hurriedly signed the contract.

"How's China?" asked the caregiver on the phone that night. "Very complex," I replied cautiously, withholding details of the day's events for fear of being misunderstood.