Shoes: Because going barefoot sucks

Honesty is the best policy and it’s my policy. I’ve said it before: I’m not clever enough to lie. If you asked me if you had a booger on your face, I’d tell you. I might even tell you if you didn’t ask. That’s the kind of guy I am.

This is why it really pisses me off when someone says to me, “Every step of the way you’ve been deceptive and lying.”

Pat is an executive with Deckers and he’s talking to me from somewhere in California. Pat doesn’t like me because I showed up at the factory, the factory that someone at Pat’s company gave me the address to, which makes Teva, UGG, and Simple shoes, all owned by Deckers.

PAT: “Who gave you the address of the factory?”

ME: “Your Teva office did. I called them last week and the guy who answered the phone asked his manager and they gave it to me.”

PAT: “Give me a name.”

ME: “I don’t know his name. I’ve talked to no less than 8 people at Teva and Deckers in the last week.”

PAT: “No one would give out that information. It’s not supposed to be public.”

ME: “Well, they gave it to me. All of the other companies I’ve been working with have their factories’ addresses public. I don’t see why visiting the factory is such a big deal.”

(NOTE: Few apparel brands actually own their own factories. Like Deckers, most of the brands contract with a factory that makes shoes for many different brands.)

PAT: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day, not caring if some tourist shows up at a factory. We don’t cater to tourists. We don’t make our factories’ info public.”

ME: “I’m not a tourist.”

That’s all I can say. I want to explain to him that visiting factories isn’t much of a vacation. Neither is staying in modern Chinese cities with metros and McDonald’s, no beach, no mountains, nothing but hot weather and smog.

PAT: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of things. I know when I’m being lied to.”

I try to walk Pat through the events of the past few months (below the cut I’ve pasted an email to Pat that explains all of my interactions with Deckers), but Pat will have none of it. He doesn’t let me get in the first sentence,

PAT: “I’m the one asking the questions?”

What follows aren’t questions but accusations about how I cleverly manipulated and deceived everybody. As if I had used Jedi mind tricks on the employees of Deckers and the people who received me at the factory.

Everyone at Deckers had been pleasant to work with, not incredibly helpful, but pleasant. I believe they helped me as best as they could. Pat, on the other hand, was skeptical of my purpose from the start and I respect that. The quest is weird. But if you don’t want anything to do with me, just say so. Don’t string me along.

I get the feeling that they were just waiting for me to disappear. I didn’t come all of this way to disappear. I don’t work for The New York Times, hell I don’t work for anybody, and no one takes me seriously until I show up on their doorstep. When I acted on the information they gave me, they weren’t happy. Even with my being completely transparent, I was in a no-win situation.

My presence and my purpose annoyed Pat from the first time I spoke with him. I was a nuisance and probably up to no good.

The realities of the shoe business aren’t pretty and Pat doesn’t want us to think about them. This is why Pat doesn’t like me. But there is one thing Pat should know: I like wearing shoes. I like not having sharp objects poke my feet. I like having a little arch support.

Pretty much every bit of footwear I own was made in China. I’m guessing yours was too. Who am I to damn the brands and the factories who make my shoes?

Sure, if the workers at the factory were having their fingers lopped off as I watched, or they were being whipped, or 10-year-old kids were slaving away, I would write about it. But I guess, and Pat knows, that this isn’t the case. I’m sure the working conditions are acceptable.

Still, Pat doesn’t want us to think about our shoes. He wants us to buy them, wear them out, and buy another pair. Pat doesn’t want us to think about the people who make our shoes and what their lives are like. How they often work 15-17 hour days and sometimes don’t get a day off per week. How the man and wife that I met live a costly 13-hour train ride away from their 14-year-old son. How they live on a few dollars/day.

Pat doesn’t want us thinking. I don’t blame him.

I Googled Pat and up popped his contract with Deckers. I felt bad for looking at it. I wanted to call Pat and say, “Dude, do you know your contract is online? You should really get that taken off.” Now, I don’t know a whole lot about big business, but I’m guessing that as a public company, Deckers has to make public the contracts of their executives. But to show up through a google search?! That seems a bit too public.

Poor Pat.

Not really, I know how much Pat gets paid, kind of. I know his base salary, but nothing about his incentives. I won’t reveal Pat’s salary, but I will say that Pat ain’t hurting. If we just take Pat’s base salary, in 3.2-days he earns what the workers who make his products earn in an entire year. And Pat, if you are reading this, I don’t have a problem with that.

Pat lives in California where life is expensive. I’m sure he has nice things. He lives the life that he is used to. He makes what he needs to make to maintain that life. I’m sure that Pat’s life isn’t that much different than my own. He probably knows how to surf and I don’t, his car is probably nicer and newer than mine, his air conditioning probably isn’t broke and if it did he could pay cash for a new one, and his television likely has a few inches on mine.

I can’t damn Pat’s lifestyle without damning what my own is about to become. And I think I’m really going to like my new life with Annie in our house with our precious little kitty, Oreo.

I believe that Pat earns every cent he’s given. Without Pat, and people like Pat, the workers who make my sandals may not have a job at all. A job that the workers sacrifice being with their only son to have.

See Pat, I’m not so bad. I’ll still wear my Teva flip-flops. It’s not like there’s a pair of sandals out there being made by middle-class Americans.

But I was thinking…

The world is really screwed up.

(Note: The Deckers’ corporate office in California didn’t respond to the email below the cut nor any other correspondence I’ve sent their way since Pat and I last talked. The China office was polite enough to invite me back into their office, but they said that is all the access they were allowed to give.)

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Chinercise

First there was exercise. And then there was jazzercise. Now, let me introduce you to Chinercise.

The morning and evening rituals of many Chinese people over the age of 45 involves lots of flapping, clapping, and general jiggling about. The best I can tell, they try to move as much as possible without actually sweating. The important thing is to look like you are exercising, even if that “exercise” is simply grabbing your beer belly and shaking it.

Advanced Chinercisers take a normal activity and give it the ol’ Chinercise twist.

Walking is mundane enough, but not so interesting. But walking backwards…now you’re Chinercising, baby.

Jumping rope requires too much equipment, most notably a rope. Through the wonder of Chinersise you don’t need one. Hop up…

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An All-American, Chinese WAL-MART

China Wal-Mart

When it comes to world-colliding-goodness it just doesn’t get much better than visiting a WAL-MART in China. Same WAL-MART smiley faces, same greeters, same low prices, but oh so different.

The deli has an alligator on ice.

You can buy snakes too. They are alive and squirming all over each other. I’m not sure how you get them without getting bit. Do you pick them up with your hands? I don’t see any plastic tongs.

The fish in the tanks aren’t to take home as pets.

There’s karaoke.

There are samples. Whatever happened to samples in the USA?

The toy aisle is kind of small. The only action figures they have are Transformers (cool) and some guy named UltraMan who looks like a…

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Synergy Barbie

going-home-barbie

80% of couples who adopt children from China stay at the White Swan Hotel. And every single one of them gets a “Going Home Barbie.”

So told to me by a manager at the hotel:

“Most of the children are adopted are girls and Mattel sees this as an opportunity to attract potential clients. We are on our 3rd series of Barbies. Some families who have adopted multiple times have collected all three.”

Now that’s synergy – a toy company working with a single hotel catering to a very unique niche of guests….

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Happy Birthday Garfield!

Garfield's Birthday

I don’t remember birthdays. Sorry if I missed yours. But this is one I remember each year. I don’t know why. I just do.

Garfield is about 9 months older than me. That makes him 29. I own every Garfield collection of comics from 1-35. I have several that have been autographed by Jim Davis, Garfield’s creator, who I met when I was about 8 and who, incidentally, lives just outside of Muncie, Indiana, where Annie and I bought our home.

I also have a Garfield pajama bag that would be one of the first things I grab on the way out in the event of a fire.

I know you were all thinking that I was uber-manly, but now you know I…

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Wal-Mart Crusade: Take One

There are Wal-Marts in China.

I have to go. I love seeing world’s collide. Besides, I’m out of shaving cream and I’m on the last page of my notebook.

2:10 – The quest to find Wal-Mart begins. I set one rule: I’m not allowed to say anything other than “Wal-Mart.” All I have is an address and a vague idea – very vague as it turns out – of where it is.

2:13 – Return to hotel. Forgot metro card.

2:18 – See two school girls on a teeter-totter wearing matching uniforms and eating popsicles – a perfect photo op. After I snap a few photos, they offer me one of the seats. I teeter-totter.

2:22 – Head for metro.

2:30 – An old woman…

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I gots to have my internet

My requirements for accommodation on this trip have been real simple:

I want the cheapest room possible with internet. I don’t care what the bathroom smells like or how hard the bed is, just give me my internet!

Every time I venture off into the world, I’m always amazed at how much more plugged-in it has become since my previous trip. I’ve hardly gone one day without in-room internet. I’m sure some of you think that I’ve gone soft, but constant access has allowed me to swap emails with local individuals and organizations, call home (I use Yahoo!’s call out service for 1-cent/min), backup my notes and photos, and update this blog regularly.

Today

Drilling
I pay $3 more for a room with internet. The first…

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Chopsticks neither chop nor stick. Discuss.

“Where did you learn to use chopsticks?” Huang says. It was part question and part accusation.

A boiling dish of peppers, steak, mushrooms, crab, and a lot of other things sit between us. Chongqing is famous for this dish known as hotpot because it’s boiling hot and lethally spicy to anyone from the Midwestern United States.

I don’t eat Chinese food very often at home. When I do, I don’t use chopsticks if there’s a fork within reach. I’ve always kind of thought that using chopsticks in Ohio was kind of silly. Like I was trying to be someone I was not. Besides, I have trouble enough using a knife and fork.

Where did I learn to use chopsticks?

I remember.

It was on the island…

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Real Men Play Ping Pong

Ping Pong Training

Some come to China to study Kung Fu with the masters. Not me. I came for the ping pong.

I went to Chongqing Universtiy to find a translator, which I did. I also found two PE teachers who specialize in ping pong.

As it turns out, I’ve spent the first 28 years of my life holding the paddle completely wrong.

Before I can even think about my last shot, Chen Li launches another ball at me. He is armed with a plastic basket full of balls.

Old habits die hard and Chen Li is a ruthless killer.

Ping. Ping. Ping. Pong. Pong. Pong. There are at least a dozen balls bouncing and rolling around the room. I’m working on…

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Problems

Some are uniquely ours. Some aren’t. I share many of mine with Annie.

While I’m chasing down my clothes, she’s holding down the fort in Muncie, Indiana (voted America’s most American city). We bought it in March and shortly thereafter I left for Bangladesh because my underwear was made there.

On one hand buying a home is a very mature, sensible thing to do. On the other, the underwear thing is a bit weird.

Annie has painted the walls, planted flowers, and done many other things that I probably won’t know about until I return. As fort holder-downers go, I reckon she’s a keeper. But there’s one thing she couldn’t do: keep our air conditioner from dying. Now, I’ve only owned a house for…

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