Heading Home

I spent today in Hong Kong snapping photos of glass towers and trying to find the longest escalator in the world. Tomorrow I fly home.

But fear not, the quest is far from over. Now the processing and research begins. I hope to be able to start discussing the apparel industry more in depth: the problems, what is being done, what we can do about them, etc.

I’ve only been able to share a little about my exploits with the factories and the workers and what I think about it all. I felt like I couldn’t post too often about the workers because it could hurt my chances of getting into factories. I do think the posts that I wrote on the workers and factories accurately…

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If you thought this was a vacation…

It wasn’t. I worked my tail off.

The old laptop I brought on this trip has a grand total of 714 Kb left on the hard drive. That means it has room for about half of one photo.

Some more stats…

I’ve taken some 3,000 pics.

Written 2 Mb worth of notes (trust me that’s a lot).

Posted over 22,000 words on this here blog in the last 3 months.

Recorded over 12 hours of audio….

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An Overdue Shoutout

Three months in Asia and it’s about time I give a shout out to a very important someone…

To My Constitution: You Rock!

She (yep, My Constitution is female) handled long plane flights, Bengali food, Khmer cuisine, and Chinese spice without even the slightest “irregularity.”

Let’s hope this post isn’t premature. I still have a 14-hour plane flight tomorrow and I ate shrimp tonight.

Below the cut I’ve posted a column I wrote about when she wasn’t so regular.

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“Hooked” on Ice Cream

It’s 11 o’clock and I need some ice cream.

My hotel is across the street from a McDonald’s. I can lookout my window and see the glowing vanilla cone that marks the ice cream window. That’s right, there is an ice cream window.

All that’s between me and a vanilla cone of comfort is a bridge crossing the street, a few hundred feet, and four hookers.

They must have all attended the same “hooking” night class because their pitches are all exactly the same, “Massage? Sex? Two hundred Yuan.” (200 Yuan = $30)

Receiving propositions like this in places like Guangzhou and in cities all around the world is nothing new to me, but I’ve never received so many to and from an ice cream fix.

Four propositions on…

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Losers!

When it comes to this contest you are all a bunch of losers.

Except for Kyle.

What does he win???? A personal visit from me. That’s right, in the next month or two I will hop on a plane and visit Kyle in Galveston, Texas.

Yeah, yeah, he’s my brother. But if you would have won, I would have visited you, honest.

Bet you wish you’d have entered now….

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My Whafro

WhafroMy hair is about two weeks from being a full-blown whafro (whiteman’s afro).

Should I let it grow?

In a few days I will be home and you can bet that Annie probably has the clippers ready to cut the wild out of my Touron mop. It wouldn’t surprise me if the entire hair cutting station, complete with wood chair and sheet to catch the blonde curls, is staged.

Should I let her cut it?

Personally, I don’t care about the appearance of my hair. But I am always a little hesitant to let Annie cut it.

I have my reasons…

Bloody Ear

Note: If Annie doesn’t post a comment sufficiently stating why I should let her cut my hair, I’m not getting it…

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When being an American Sucks

People always want to talk politics and when they talk about the policies of the American government they use the pronoun “You.”

Today I made the mistake of getting in a political conversation with a Canadian and a Brit. I normally avoid stuff like this. But there were a few beers involved.

Of course they were mitching and boaning about the USA’s foreign policy. I chimed in with a couple of points.

If you are a country and there is bad stuff happening to you where do you turn to? That’s right, the USA. If the USA tries to help you, people will question its underlying motives. If they don’t, you’ll be pissed and so will everyone else who thinks you are getting a raw deal. The USA is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. (Note: None of this applies to Iraq. There is not enough alcohol on Earth to get me talking about Iraq with anyone.)

That’s it. That was my point.

The Canadian told me that this line of thinking from me scared him. That he wouldn’t expect to here such things from a young liberal.

To back up my point, I mentioned Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh have very bad feelings towards American policy, although not towards Americans (they treated me great). They think that in Washington someone is sitting around and thinking about how the USA can exploit Bangladesh. Personally, I would be surprised if anyone in Washington sits around and thinks about Bangladesh much.

Their comeback for this is that Bangladesh has natural gas that the USA is interested in. I don’t know anything about this so I bring up another example, Kosovo.

The Canadian and Brit are 35 years my senior, which I have to respect. They’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things. I’m sure they have some valid points. But they don’t have much of an answer for Kosovo.

I wrote a column on Kosovo a few years back and it pretty much sums up my stance on the USA’s no-win situation when it comes to foreign policy. It’s about as political as you’ll ever see me get…unless I’ve a got a beer or three in me.

You can read it below the cut.

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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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