Saturday, May 28, 2011

the iPad and us (part 3 - the Story of Stuff)

Okay, here's a little video interlude in this whole bit. Ironically, it was the video I had shown to my students on the Thursday before the iPad plant explosion on Friday.

Yeah, I know, it's a bit simplified and propagandistic (and hey, what isn't?), but her main points are fairly clear and succinct, and bear repeating:
  • Most electronic products are "designed for the dump", that is, they are made to become quickly obsolete, so that consumers will get rid of them and buy new products and a faster rate.
  • The amount of time that we own our electronic devices is just a short blip in their life cycle; they start affecting the environment from the moment their raw materials are extracted, and they continue to harm the environment through the release of toxins long after we throw them away.
  • There are many externalized costs in the manufacture of consumer goods - negative effects from these products on people and the environment that are not paid by either the consumer or the manufacturer.
  • Around the world, consumers are starting to demand that manufacturers start programs for product takeback - that they bear the burden of safely recycling their products after disposal.
And, just to bring home the point that it isn't just cartoons she's talking about, I showed the class a few pictures by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, including the following, taken at recycling facilities in the Southeast of China.

Next up: Getting closer to home....

Friday, May 27, 2011

the iPad and us (part 2 - full disclosure)

Okay, here's the thing. Jane and I, lesson planners, web surfers, international corresponders, digital photographers, and all around online junkies that we are, have sometimes been known to (brace yourself here) fight over who gets to use our household's one computer - an Apple MacBook that will turn five years old (I think that's around 167 in dog years) this summer. Add three kids clamoring to watch a video or go onto every now and then, and we soon started thinking that we wanted to get another computer. No, we needed a new computer. Funny how these things escalate, isn't it?

And we wanted an Apple - not so much because we're fiercely partisan in the whole Mac vs. Windows war, but because we've had Macs for the last going on ten years now, and it would be a huge pain to switch over. And there's viruses, spyware, the hassle of buying any kind of computer in China with government-mandated software, the fact that our Macs have been incredibly reliable over their lifetimes, and the additional fact every time I've used a PC lately, I've felt like I'm driving a 1986 Buick Skylark. (So yeah, maybe we do lean to the Mac side here, don't we?)

It was about then that the news of the iPad 2 came out. It's an iPad! And hey, wow, there's a big number 2 after it! And all for less than half the price of a (new Apple) laptop! I had heard about David Hockney's iPad paintings before, so I was already hooked on the idea of getting one. All it took was a session of Fruit Ninja on a friend's iPad in Chengdu, and Jane was in as well.

And if it's good enough for David Hockney, it's good enough for me...

So, a couple of bits of research here, a couple of online ordering sections there, and our American credit card, and I'd ordered an iPad (black, 3g enabled, no-engraving-on-the-back-but-thanks anyway) to be shipped to our organizations headquarters in Virginia so that it would arrive in time for our boss to bring it to us when he was due out in mid May. Which he did, and now we are the proud owners of a new iPad, complete with the painting application, a pretty cool Chinese dictionary, and yes, Fruit Ninja...

(the real productivity tool that we've been looking for)

Now back up a moment - did anyone notice anything strange here? Remember what the Foxconn factory down the road makes? Yep, the iPad2. So there's a pretty good chance that our iPad could have been made in Hongguang, trucked out to the port of Shenzhen, put onto a container ship to Long Beach, sent to a warehouse in Silicon Valley somewhere, flown to an air cargo processing center outside of DC, trucked again to my boss's place in Virginia, driven back to DC inside his luggage, flown back to Beijing and then to Chengdu, and then taken by high speed train back to our house, which is a 15 minute bike ride from where it was initially made. Hmm, why didn't I just bike over to the factory, knock on the door, and ask them to give me my iPad directly? My Chinese is probably good enough, and I would have saved everyone a lot of trouble...

Another strange thing? All of this, and I bought our iPad for about 80% of what it would cost to buy an iPad here in China. How in the world can a piece of electronics travel halfway around the earth and back and still cost me less than, say, what we used to pay for car repairs each year back home? More on that in the next post, though here's a clue...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

the iPad and us (part 1 - in the News)

Don't know how prominently it was featured, but our local community of Hongguang made international news last Friday, and not in a particularly good way...

Seems that there was an explosion at a local factory, owned by the Taiwan-based Foxconn corporation. Two workers died at the scene, and one died a few days later following complications from injuries. A further 15 people were severely burned.

You may have heard of Foxconn before, because they are one of Apple Computer's main contracted manufacturers, making both the iPhone and, here in Hongguang, the iPad2. They've been in the news last year as well, because of the working conditions at their factory in the eastern city of Shenzhen. There, to stop a rash of worker suicides at their factory, they installed anti-suicide nets, among other measures.

In fact, it was the situation in Shenzhen, along with huge customer demand for the iPad, that led Foxconn to build a factory here in the Chengdu area in the first place. Labor is cheaper here in Sichuan province than out on the coast, and most of Foxconn's workers out east come from Sichauan anyway. So they built a factory here in record time - in just 70 days, according to one source. According to some interviews with workers, labor conditions at the Chengdu plant weren't much different from conditions in Shenzhen.

So what caused the explosion? Nobody's sure yet. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that a factory built in 70 days + low-paid employees + high demand + forced overtime = a less than ideally safe working environment. Oh yeah, and it happened in a section of the factory where they polish parts with, among other things, manganese powder. Which happens to be highly explosive if it saturates the air in any given area. Hmmm.

So, again the question. What do we pay for the stuff we have? What do others pay for us? More about my connection to all of this coming up soon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coal Cares

Yes, coal does care - you can even get a free asthma inhaler for your child! Because if it's on the internet, it has to be true...

Mmm, Mock Indonesian!

Okay, are you a vegetarian sitting around your house in China over the weekend and not really inspired to have the same old same old rice with some kind of vegetable for lunch or dinner? Is your 10 pound bag of pasta that you bought at Metro five months ago starting to run low? Don't want to stick around for the couple of hours that it takes those pinto beans that you found one time at the local market and bought, like, a wheelbarrow full, to boil?

Well, my friends, have I got the answer for you. Mock Indonesian, a cuisine whose moment is about to arrive. Detractors might say, "Hey, wait a minute! This is just leftover Chinese food presented in a different shape with a bit of peanut butter thrown in as it's reheated." To which I say, Hey. This is China. There are no detractors here.

the finest in Mock Indonesian cuisine

Here's how you do it:
  1. Make some rice. If you're doing white rice, add a little more water than usual to make it stickier. Fried rice is cool, too, of course. Add in all them other leftovers that were starting to migrate to the back of the fridge, while you're at it.
  2. Make some veggies. Leafy greens are the best. A peanut sauce is even better than the best.
  3. Pack the rice into a small bowl, then invert the bowl onto a plate. You should have a perfect mound of rice right in the middle. Did it fall all over the place? Oh-oh, that one's for you. Repeat until you get three perfect servings for the kids.
  4. Arrange the veggies artfully on the side. Top with a bit of peanut sauce and roasted peanuts, if they're handy.
  5. Serve to great fanfare, and watch your kids gobble it down repeatedly, weekend after weekend.
  6. Of course, you're welcome.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Equal Opportunity Surrealism

Just so you don't think that the Chinese have the market cornered on the surreal signage here, a sign found in a Western Bar advertising televised matches? ...Aussie rules football? ...animal cage fights? Well, something Down Under-ish, anyway.


Someone help me out here - does a bulldog really have a fighting chance against a dragon? And is the shark vs. rooster matchup on land or in the ocean? (If it's on land, I'll give 3-2 odds on the rooster, provided it can run fast enough.) And what is a Rabbitoh, anyway?

(Full disclosure: I come from a region where people proudly cheer on Hoosiers, so I really don't have much ground to stand on here...)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Next up, Picasso's Orange Period...

Rembrandt's Night Watch, (replica in a store window) Chengdu

Speaking of history, now might be a good time to throw in some Rembrandt. More specifically, a copy of the Night Watch, seen in a storefront in the faux antiques market section of Chengdu. Except it's a little more like the Day Watch, isn't it..?

History Lesson

HISTORY 1989.  The Eiffel Tower is significantsymbol.  French

What does my home state of Illinois have in common with the Eiffel Tower, the world's first steam engine, and what looks to be a scanned portrait of Henry the Navigator? They're all on the cover of a notebook I saw for sale in our local stationery store, of course. (Sorry about the blurry picture - I know I should've bought the thing...)

The Original Slow Boat

X's boat

Presenting a floating contraption of some kind that Xander made last month or so. I think the chopstick cannons make a nice touch...

Ordinary Stuff - The Old and the New

the old and the new, Chengdu

A typical example of change in China - some remaining old style six story concrete apartment blocks with a new style thirty story apartment rising behind.

Ordinary Stuff - Mmmm, Cherries...

Berry Vendor

It's cherry (and mulberry and waxberry) season here in Sichuan...


Hmmm, where have I seen these before...?

Thanks, China, for providing a flashback to a game that I loved when I was... three? four? and haven't thought about since. Take that, Marcel Proust!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons....

What to do when life gives you lemons.

Another way of looking at things, I suppose...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Home is a Fire

Via Boing Boing, a video made by graffiti artist Sheperd Fairey (who you should know about, already) for Death Cab for Cutie (okay, I'm probably supposed to know about them, but don't).

Ties in almost perfectly with Jane's ESL classes that she's teaching - theme: subcultures - except that I found this about ten minutes after she went to teach the class where her students are presenting on graffiti art. Oh well, such is timing sometimes...

Also like the video because (surprise surprise) it presents a city (LA, in this case) in the way that I tend to see it. Time to get out the video camera...

And a p.s. - also saw the graffiti art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop a couple of weeks ago, which features Shepherd Fairy, Banksy, and other graffiti artists of the 90s and 2000s. Highly recommended!

Texture Tuesday (Yeller. Orinch.)







502 Super Glue


Monday, May 9, 2011

Your freindly local... um, say what?


"Hey, honey? You free? I was wondering if you could pop on over to SCSHHSYYXYZRGS for a sec and pick up a few things..."

"Go where?"



"SCSHHSYYXYZRGS!!! You know, the place with the ... stuff. Rhymes with DJVKHSYYXYRGS!"

"Oh yeah, yeah, SCSHHSYYXYZRGS! Sorry, for a second, I thought you said LVMCHSYYXWDFS, and they're closed Mondays."

"No, LVMCHSYYXWDFS went out of business last month."

"LVMCHSYYXWDFS went out of business? You've gotta be kidding me..."

It's a documentary! It's all really happening!

Helping us get the week off to an appropriately surreal start is this post from If we don't, remember me, a blog that features oddly subtle animations from all kinds of movies. Strangely addictive, and poetic to boot.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Dinosaurs Among Us

It started out innocently enough - waiting around at the entrance to the dinosaur museum in Zigong until everyone arrived. And what better way to kill time than to ask everyone to act like a dinosaur for a picture or two? Ah, how little prepared was I for the terror that reigned thereafter...

IMG_5638 IMG_5627 IMG_5634

IMG_5630 IMG_5633 IMG_5637

IMG_5636 IMG_5631 IMG_5632

I'm hesitant to post these pictures because, you know, what is the correct protocol when you now know that some of your friends and colleagues are, in reality, extinct bloodthirsty carnivorous beasts?

However, the impulse to not out everyone I know as secret dinosaurs on the internet on one hand is balanced out by the need for journalistic integrity on the other. The world needs to be warned! Plus, I think the photos are just gosh-darned funny...

(Oh, and ps, if you are one of dinosaurs in this post and you would like to keep your little "secret" private for the time being, let me know and I'll delete your picture from the post. Though you might also want to do something about the large chunks of brontosaurus meat you've got stashed in your closet...)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Theft has its advantages...

Yeah, it's been going around the web a lot, but still worth posting (if only as a reminder to myself every now and then).

How to Steal Like An Artist, by Austin Kleon

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ordinary Stuff - Newsstand

News Stand, Chengdu

Just a regular newsstand (news stand?) on the street in Chengdu, but like how the photo turned out. Something about how the stand frames the people around it, perhaps? Maybe something about how much of private life is carried on in public? (Or maybe I'm a sucker for shiny red-orange thingies...)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A room with a view

Bizarro Bathroom, Zigong

Another thing that I've seen for the first time in China, again from our trip to Zigong: A hotel bathroom with a glass wall facing the room. You can (and we did) lower the blind for privacy, but its translucence meant that it made leaving the bathroom light on for the kids problematic. As the old saying goes, "People who live in glass houses should dress in the basement."