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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Few Thoughts on China

I’ve never been to China and I don’t have any immediate plans to rectify this glaring hole in my first-hand knowledge of world geography. I do buy a lot of Chinese products so I feel myself to be a bit of an expert on Chinese manufacturing. After all, I live right across the street from a variety store that sells Chinese goods and is run by Chinese immigrants. What further qualifications do I need to hold forth on this subject? Why don’t you just sit back, listen, and learn.

I call these stores Chinese Wal-Marts because they are run by Chinese immigrants and they have an inventory equal to that of most Wal-Marts even though these places are not much bigger than a two bedroom apartment. If there is something that you need for your home I would say that there is about a 99% chance of finding it at one of these variety stores. I am not exaggerating. Garden products, patio furniture, clothing, shoes, kitchenware, tools, bedding, cleaning products, toys, and electronic gear can all be found in aisle one. OK, I may have been stretching the truth there but these places really are amazing in the breadth of their inventory. The crazy part is that absolutely everything they sell is manufactured in China.

Just about everything they sell in these stores is also inexpensive. I have been fairly happy with the quality of these products but I have also bought stuff that is of the lowest possible quality imaginable. I bought a sewing kit the other day that had a safety pin that was of such poor quality that it really couldn’t even be called a safety pin but rather a reasonable facsimile of a safety pin. I bought a bottle of something that you are supposed to use to clean your floors that smelled worse than the most polluted Yangtze River water which was probably what it was. At .75€, polluted Yangtze River water must be a big money-maker to some budding young capitalist in that country.

I bought a large beach towel that I will use for a tent the next time I go camping because this thing repels water better than gore-tex. I guess they don’t have beaches where this towel was made so they don’t realize that a beach towel is supposed to absorb water. I bought an ice cube tray which on the first use produced ice cubes laced with bits of plastic, as the tray seemed to dissolve when I put it in the freezer.

Overall I would say that I am very satisfied with the products I have purchased from China, and even the crappy stuff was outrageously inexpensive. After a while you sort of get a feel for what you can safely purchase at the Chinese Wal-Marts and what you should look for somewhere else. I went to a chain grocery store near my house to buy new ice cube trays. They were still made in China but they probably had to pass through some sort of quality control before making it on to the shelves of the local Mercadona, and I probably had to shell out an extra .75€ or so for that privilege.

What I don’t understand is how the United States, and the rest of the industrialized world, can completely relinquish almost all of our manufacturing to these new Chinese capitalists? Have all of the countries of the West reached this sublime service industry plateau where we no longer need to make a single thing? Surely we must have one river polluted enough to sell bottles of it as cleaning fluid for .75€ each.

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