Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping up A Year without "Made in China"

One of my early memories is pretending to mend a hole in stuffed dog made of cheap vinyl with a plastic toy sewng machine. In so doing I managed to make the hole bigger and also noticed that both toys said "Made in Japan". And then I started noticing "everything" said "Made in Japan" and most of it seemed pretty shoddy. I even remember seeing a news program for children "In the News" that explained in 3 minutes how hard the Japanese worked to send exports to other countries. I never see "Made in Japan" on anything anymore. It all says "Made in China" now. Sara Bongiorni and her family set out on New Year's Day 2005 to see if they could make it through 12 months without buying anything "Made in China"

Bongiorni certainly underestimated her very young children "...the kids at one and four, are too little to know what they are missing. Can you imagine the howls if they were teenagers?" she says to her husband, Kevin. She discovers just how loudly four-year-olds can howl when denied the appropriate Halloween decorations. And also just how fickle they are once said decoration makes it into the house on a technicality. In Sold Out! Llewellyn simply left his wife and two teenagers out of his experiment, he was the only one who swore off buying for a year. In Not Buying It Judith Levine and her partner deal with the child issue by not having any. Levine points out that she is not sure she could have done her experiment if children were a factor. Adults can make do with last year's shoes, but kids sometimes outgrown a pair a season.

Cheating is a common theme in the "year-of/stunt genre". Almost all of them set out rules, and have a chapter or section on "cheating". The Bongiorni's have all kinds of exemptions about Chinese products entering their homes: gifts don't count; hand-me-downs don't count; anything they already have doesn't count. Even so, they have a greater "cheating" list than any of the other books I read because what they discover is that to live in society as we know it, we rely heavily on China. Even when they wanted to make or build something themselves, or simply repair something rather than replace it with something "made in China" they discover that often the pieces and parts they need are made in the forbidden country. However, they also discover what we here in New England call "good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity - make it last, make it do, or do without". Coffee maker breaks? (gasp) - boil water and run it through a filter. TV on the fritz? - read a book!

Christmas presents its own set of problems, since virtually all toys are made in China. Using the gift exemption and spending a lot of money on expensive toys made elsewhere they manage to have a fine Christmas. Bongiorni thinks quite a bit about the gifts her husband buys for her: "soap and Canadian office supplies". While she doesn't immediately see the romance of these gifts the bigger picture becomes clear. They are quite romantic. Kevin had to put a lot of thought into what he could get for her that wouldn't come from China. And he did all of this after he "spent the better part of a year in ripped shorts and flip flops."

True romantics know that real gifts are not given on gift giving occasions. They are given everyday. Once the receiver and the giver realize this they will find themselves in a relationship that transcends others. Take a minute everyday to thank your mate for everything they do for you.

1 comment:

  1. Japan was an interesting point of departure. When we were kids, Japan was competing primarily on price, and we scoffed at the quality. Eventually, of course, quality manufacturing from Japan helped to squash our automobile manufacturing.

    Likewise, it will not be long before China's identity as a source of low-cost, low-quality junk becomes an anachronism. The money earned from that model now allows Chinese companies to outsource to even lower-cost production areas (witness the huge Chinese-owned factory district in Managua, supplying Victoria's Secret and others, or the recent purchase of Saab and Volvo by Chinese private firms).