Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dear Sir or Madam

The world outside reminds me of a black & white picture. The tree branches are heavy with several inches of snow. There is that special hush pervading the air, a deep stillness that only exists after a snowstorm. The large backyard of the B&B has been transformed into a winter wonderland.


Yesterday, I overheard a woman at the grocery store telling another customer, "It's always interesting to see what other people have in their carts." Yes indeed-y, you've guessed correctly. As the storm rolled in, we were part of that crazy mass of humanity shopping for necessities.

And as the woman said, it WAS interesting to notice different folks' interpretation of "necessities." I saw more than one person lugging beer to the check-out counter. An old gentleman reached eagerly for a rotisserie chicken, happy that dinner would be served quickly and easily that night. Meanwhile, Drew and I were in line not for milk or beer or anything even remotely interesting. We were clutching a large bag of cat chow and an even larger sack of kitty litter. Pathetic, I know, but kitties must eat and relieve, even during a storm. ;)

"Drew!" My heart gave one, painful thud before falling to my shoes. "Do you think this stuff was made in the U.S.?" I saw him grimace. My husband had had the proverbial school-week-from-hell - quizzes, tests, and a dreaded paper had left him sleep deprived and wild-eyed. And here I was, topping his week off by dragging him away from a warm living room and a very large TV to a congested grocery store. Drew was not happy.

I tipped the bag of cat show over and scanned all four side. I found a "Printed in the U.S." and nothing else. Drat.

"Drew, what about the kitty litter?" My husband, who at that moment wanted nothing more than a warm bed and ten hours of sleep, said the bag didn't say.

Double drat.

That's when I noticed, in tiny letters, a line suggesting that I call a pet adviser with questions I may have. I hooted. "Hey Drew, I should call this number right now and ask where this food was made!" He gave me an exasperated look, sincerely hoping I wouldn't.

I brought the food and litter home and looked up Purina's website ten minutes ago. Under their "Quality Assurances" page, I found a bullet point with a very interesting statement. I'm genuinely curious now, which led to me email Purina. I'm waiting for a response...

Can you tell me where Purina® Cat Chow® brand Cat Food Indoor Formula is made? I've made a New Year's resolution to boycott Chinese products for one year. I looked under your Quality Assurances page and found that "99% of all Purina pet food products sold in the U.S. are made in Purina-owned U.S. manufacturing facilities." Why does it say 99%? Is 1% imported from another country then?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nothin' doin'

My life is at a stand-still at the moment - my embargo-related life, that is.

On Thursday, I cleaned my tiny apartment, we packed our bags, and drove a few blocks north to set up residence at a bed & breakfast. Besides inheriting a rambling old residence for a few weeks, my hubby and I have been entrusted with the care of two long-haired silky terriers. Monte, a gentleman of advanced years, is the more outgoing, inquisitive canine. His favorite pastime (besides squirrel chasing) is to follow me with cloudy, expectant eyes as I putter in the kitchen, waiting for a tantalizing treat to drop from the heavens. If a Beggin' Strip doesn't materialize in five minutes, he resorts to sharp barking, jumping up to punctuate his point.

Maggie can usually be found hiding in the study, or napping on the sofa. A petite doll next to stocky Monte, her silky hair is a tawny brown compared to her brother's liberally streaked black coat. The runt of the litter, she isn't eager to make friends with strangers and cowers timidly when a hand appears out of nowhere to pet her. After handing out nine meals, however, I think I've graduated from foe to friend in her eyes.

There are three refrigerators and two freezers on the premises. We've been invited to help ourselves, as all the refrigerated food will go bad. As a result, I've been shopping primarily at our local greenie store. The greenie store is expensive if I'm shopping for two weeks' worth of groceries, but I can handle the price when I only need small stuff!

Pork chops that go for $8.49/lb aren't as intimidating when I only need 1/4 lb. Organic, boneless, skinless chicken thighs are almost a bargain at $3.49/lb - and I bought enough to feed eight people.

So other than groceries, I can't think of the last thing I bought that I needed to flip over. And honestly, that almost makes me sad, because it's hard to remember that I'm even boycotting a country. Am I still boycotting? Yes. Have I bought anything lately? No. But you'll be the first to know when I do...

P.S. A new piece of China-related information: it beat Japan in '09 to become the 2nd largest economy in the world.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Below are some really thought-provoking words from a very awesome individual, JPII, as well as Pope John XXIII (they come from JPII's Laborem Exercens, as well as an address he gave on 11.24.79. Pope John XXIII's comes from an encyclical entitled Mater et Magistra).

"The dignity of the human being - a creature made in God's image - is the only criterion by which to judge the real progress of society, work, of science...and not the reverse."

My personal favorite - "Do not give more value to the work than to the worker."

"We need to examine 'whether the structure, the functioning, the environment of the economic system, are such that they curtail the human dignity of all those who expend their own energy in it.'"

"The dignity of work is given expression in the just wage, the basis of all social justice."

By supporting a communist government, by saying who cares where this was made, we are essentially giving more value to the item ("I must HAVE it! It's cheap!") than the person. Shouldn't it matter that the person who made my electric piano or my iPod is overworked and underfed?

It is our responsibility as free individuals with a voice to stand up for those who do not - the unborn, the elderly, and yes, the persecuted. It's easy to say that my giving up China won't change anything. And you may be right: physically, my personal boycott won't effect China one bit. But if I boycott, you boycott, and Sam next door boycotts, there's three people. And if we tell others about what we're doing and why, well, then we might just make a dent.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Google and cadmium - part two

..."Jewelry makers defend cadmium - Chinese manufacturers say use of the toxic material cuts costs"... (Asheville Citizen-Times, 1.13.2010)


Cadmium (according to m-w.com) - "A bluish-white malleable ductile toxic divalent metallic element used especially in batteries, pigments, and protective platings."

I'm pondering China and cadmium. Last week, this metal came under scrutiny when high levels of it were discovered in children's jewelry coming from China. This isn't the first poisonous export to make headlines. Remember the contaminated dog food? Or the Elmo coated in lead paint?

A Chinese manager was quoted in this article as saying, "Business is business, and it's all up to our client." By the latter statement, he means that if an American company pays for a more expensive raw material to be used in their product - such as the safer, although more expensive zinc - Chinese factories will use it. If not, so be it. According to this article in the Citizen-Times, cadmium is lighter (this means the buyer gets more product per ton), cheaper, and has a lower melting point than other, safer materials.

As for the concern about cadmium being toxic..."Asked what he (the manager) thought about the health risks associated with cadmium and other toxic metals, he said: 'I can't be overly concerned about that.'"

This article appeared in my town's newspaper on page A6, when it should have made the front page. Every single American citizen should recoil at the words "toxic materials cut costs." We are seeing a pattern of contaminated exports slowly trickling into our country. As usual, it's all about the money. If Sam can make the item for $5, but China can produce it for $3, Sam's country is going to opt for the cheaper product. Sam saves money be moving labor to China - and in turn receives a cheap product - while China brings in the dollars by using cheap labor and unsafe, raw materials.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Google and cadmium - part one

..."Censorship may spur Google to exit China - tech giant also point to cyberattacks as an issue"... (USA Today, 1.13.2010)

I've read a lot about China this week. Between articles that my mom clipped out for me and research I've done about Chinese factory workers, I have a lot of China-related information floating around and to be honest, my brain is feeling pretty muddled. I'm still trying to make sense of it all. While I do that, I'll fill you in on Google and cadmium.

According to Google's official blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/google-in-china.html), the company's first attempts at wooing the Chinese people with a fast, efficient search engine backfired. Google.com worked only when it wanted to, and even when it was running, service was slow. Google needed to be local. Enter google.cn, the Republic of China's very own Google presence, in January of 2006. There was a price tag attached, however. In order to be local, Google had agree to censor the search results according to the government's wishes. Chinese internet users don't have access to email, chat rooms, and blogging, however, as Google doesn't want to give the government access to those personal services.

This is all coming from a company whose slogan has been "Don't do evil." Google argues that giving the Chinese a censored search engine is better than giving them no search engine at all. In recent news, Google is now reconsidering its involvement with China as Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists in the U.S. were recently hacked.

If you recall, one of our reasons for boycotting China was because it supports a communist dictatorship. It's hard for any of us to fathom communism when we ourselves live in a land of democracy. Merriam-Webster defines communism as "a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party owns state-owned means of production." By demanding that Google censor its search engine according to one government's specifications, China is exercising communism and effectively controlling its people.

Should a government be allowed to censor information? Should a U.S. company provide a censored search engine to another country? Would we, as Americans, stand for OUR country to censor OUR search engines? If we wouldn't stand for it here, why should we support a country that does it to its own people?

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The green machine and things of that ilk

I've been thinking...

Those three words are enough to make my husband taking a flying leap over the couch in a desperate attempt to bolt out the door. I still don't understand how I can think enough for a crew of twenty, while my husband is content to simply be. Oh, the difference between males and females.

...you'll have to bear with me as I create this thing called a Blog. I think any reader, as well as a much saner version of myself, think that this attempt to "give up China" is going to be extremely difficult. But fairy believing, hot chocolate drinking, picture book lover me doesn't think so. My inner self reasons that if I find something I really like that's made in China, I just don't buy it. It's as easy as that. Growing up, I've always had a strong grasp of self-control. Is that unusual for a child? Now don't get me wrong. I don't mean I never ate too many cookies or was perfectly composed at all times or whatever as a kid. If I knew something needed to get done, I wouldn't beat around the bush. My mantra literally was, "Just do it."

So if I'm not moaning enough about this boycott yet, that's because of my "just do it" attitude. The other side of the story, however, is that I haven't hit the pothole in the road. Don't worry - it's coming. This resolution hasn't become personal yet. Sure, I've said "no" to merchandise already. I've said no when I'm not even AT a store (haven't you ever seen some awesome thing at a friend's house, than rushed over to the store to buy it yourself? You know you have. I have, on more than one occasion).

Take the lime green calculator, for instance.

I'm a calculator freak. Yes, you read that right. I love having a calculator nearby, since I'm often crunching numbers. I'm especially found of cute, kid-like ones (read: non-black or gray ones). As I was making sandwiches (I'm babysitting a brother/sister duo today), I saw the lime green calculator magnet pinned to the refrigerator. It looked like a toy, with oversized numbers, a soft rubber exterior, and raised buttons.

"This is the cutest calculator!" I exclaimed. "Where did you get it?"

The four-year-old protested, "It's not a cute calculator." (I'm sure I'm the first person who has ever called a calculator "cute" in his presence).It sounds stupid, but I wanted a lime green calculator of my own. I stood there, thinking about how I can never find the calculator at home, how I've been meaning to get more magents, and how this green machine would be perfect for me.

I flipped it over, knowing it was made in China. Wonder of wonders, I was was right. Darn. And there it was - me saying no to an item. It was so cute, but there was no way I needed this lime green calculator to make my life happier or more productive (I guess I COULD have crunched more numbers with a calculator on my fridge...?).

My real worry in imbarking on this hairbrained escapade is that some vital item will break down - like a car part or something of that ilk - and the replacement part will be made in China. The OTHER replacement part will be made in the U.S.A., but it will cost double the amount of the Chinese part (a.k.a. several hundred dollars). I know that if (or when) that happens, my hubby will be standing right next to me with a concerned, "are-we-really-going-to-pay-more-money-for-the-American-part" look on his face. Will I be strong enough to gulp, blink, blink again, and say no to the cheaper Chinese part?

This is a very real and very scary possibility for me. Most of us loathe shelling out hard-earned cash for something practical, boring, but oh so necessary, like new tires or expensive school books. But when I'm facing $100 Chinese tires or $200 American ones, I know it's going to be very difficult to choose the latter when my budget is begging for the cheaper rubber.

If I've made this venture out to be an easy piece of pie, don't believe me. After all, it's only Day 13.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Taking Stock

I took a random inventory of items in our apartment today, picking up things that I assumed were made in China. The result was very pro-every-other-country-besides-China.

a) First, I checked something within easy reach. Our hot game from last night's game night, Scattergories, was made in the U.S.A., but the timer and die are Chinese-made.

b) Three cheers for my beloved candle from Bath & Body Works, sitting on a bookcase across the room! Originally $20, I got this Fresh Balsam scented candle for half price. I can smell Christmas trees all year now...

c) I have three kitchen towels up at the moment (why do two people need so many, you might ask?). Their origins are India, Turkey, and Mexico, respectively.

d) My hot mitt from William-Sonoma, hanging lazily off one kitchen cabinet door, was made in the U.S.A. That one caught my by surprise.

e) My brightly colored dishes are made in Mexico.

f) I grabbed a music book off the piano stand and lo and behold, we have another country of origin! Schumann's Kinderszenen was printed in Germany.

g) Scanning the bottom of my Dial White Tea & Vitamin E hand soap, I found a "Made in U.S.A." label.

h) After a quick stop in the bathroom, I learned that my liquid foundation is made in Germany. That was another surprise.

i) The shower mat is from India and my bath towels came from Turkey.

j) My sad-excuse-for-green sheets are made in India.

I'm beginning to see a pattern. Most paper products, such as books, CD covers, games, and movies, are printed in the United States. They don't say, however, where the actual paper itself is made. And I haven't figured out where the CDs & DVDs came from.

It would seem - from the search I made of my own apartment - that cloth items such as sheets and towels come primarily from India and Turkey.

On another note, I received a $50 gift card to Barnes & Noble. I wish I could say it was an unexpected surprise, but I'll 'fess up and relate that I DID order it (we get gift cards whenever we spend a certain amount on our credit card. Score!). A huge shipment of six books and one CD will be arriving in the mail sometime this week! Can you tell I'm psyched? Anyway, I was about to push "Confirm order" when I realized I was going to have to put a little more research into the CD's origins. Drat. So the order was delayed for a few days.

First I checked out the CDs I already own to see what the trend was. The covers were printed in the U.S., but I wasn't sure where the CD itself was made. I drove to Barnes & Noble to physically examine it myself. Nothing. I did get two web addresses off the book, so late Friday night I sent off an email to the producer, politely asking if he could tell me where his CD was made, as I was boycotting China. Thank God for prompt people! He responded the next morning to say that the CD was made in the U.S.

So now folks, I have a copy of Habib Koite's "Afriki" speeding my way. Loverly.


Friday, January 8, 2010

The Key

Today was a hard day in the life of one who has given up China. Practically every single object I picked up at Lowes was "Made in China." I was not happy.

Glass lampshade I liked - check
Every lampshade on the rack - check
Cedar sachets - NOT made in China! Oh happy day! But wait, I don't need any cedar sachets...darn.
Modern silver towel hook - check
Every silver towel hook on display - check
Mickey Mouse key - "Made in Italy." Wait...Italy?

We needed to make a copy of our apartment key. In a few weeks, Giedre will be moving here, while Drew and I temporarily re-locate a few blocks north to house-sit a bed & breakfast (talk about a sweet job!). This time it was Drew, not me, who remembered the embargo.

Me: "Let's just make a key and go. Do you want me to punch the button for assistance?"
Drew: "First we have to find a key."
Me: "Right, do you want me to punch the button?"
Drew: "We have to find a key."
Me: *light dawning* "Ohhhhh...yeah..."

Every darn key there - except the very large, very colorful Mickey key - refused to surrender its country of origin. All of them - including Mickey - were made by the same company, so Drew said that the entire collection must have sailed over from Italy. "But look at this Mickey key," I argued. "It looks nothing like the others. It's huge and it feels different!"

It was time for the next step: asking the salesman where the key was made. And I have to admit, I was embarrassed. He's going to think we're crazy, I thought inwardly. It's one thing to give up China. It's another thing to blog about it. But it's certainly something else to advertise the boycott to the guy behind the counter. The young sales guy scratched his head and said, "I think they come from someplace in Arkansas...or Arizona." Trying to be helpful, he pulled a sample key out and looked at the label. Nothing. We had examined, questioned, and learned a grand total of nothing. So the key was made and we bought it using a Christmas gift card.

It's funny how this has been working. Most of the time, I remember about the embargo and will find the clothing tag or turn an object over for the inevitable "Made in China." But sometimes, I have a mental stumbling block that kicks in and I completely forget. I guess it's good that I have a partner in crime help keep me honest. Apparently, I can't be trusted around keys.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Those darn jumper cables!

A Chinese-made item has entered our apartment. Well, it hasn't actually sprouted legs and walked in. The item in question, jumper cables, are out in the car, slowly turning to ice as the temperature drops.

Today was the day of The Cars. From an oil change and filters, to some weird concoction that Drew poured into the gasoline tank (don't ask me...), our cars should feel warm and fuzzy because we spent money on them today. But back to the jumper cables. Drew's car battery was dead, exhausted from several attempts to spurt to life when ice was freezing its insides. Drew was envisioning $10 cables made in China, while the gold-covered U.S. ones would come in at a whopping $100.

"Do we still have to buy the American one?" he asked, hopefully rooting for the cheaper Chinese option.

"Babe, our New Year's resolution? Call me when you get there."

I wasn't going to cave - not when it's only Day 7! But I also didn't want us to spend an outrageous amount of money on American cables. Drew checked out his concoction bottle carefully. No problem there, as it was made in the U.S.A. But when he grabbed the $10 cables out of the sale box, he had completely forgotten about "Made in China."

The good news was that he managed to revive the car (whose battery had never actually died) with his concoction and the cables weren't needed. They get to happily go back right where they came from - to the store, not China. So here's to hoping that neither one of our car batteries dies this year...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting to the crux of the matter…is that really a word?

If I were to sum up my venture in a paragraph, it would sound something like this: “A thoughtful, provocative, and humorous narrative of one couple’s efforts to give up China for a year.” We’ll see how that goes…

It’s probably time that I fill you in on our reasons for doing this crazy thing. The deciding factor for me was this: while we save hundreds of dollars on our Chinese purchases, there are folks on the other side of the globe who are suffering. For several years now, the thought of those Chinese workers has hovered faintly in the back of my mind, but I would quickly push it away when facing a pair of leather boots or a new keyboard or yes, even a sponge, all made in China.

Buying from China…

Supports a communist dictatorship
Enables that government to control the wages & living conditions of its workers
Takes away from my local economy
And frankly, some of that merchandise is poorly made crap

I’m tired of seeing everything I pick up stamped with a “Made in China” logo. Our country went from proudly making everything in the good 'ol U.S. of A. to importing an enormous percentage of its products (and yes, sometimes even produce). This slow trickle of imports has grown into a raging river in the past few decades.

Stores such as Target, TJ Max, Walmart, the Dollar Store, and many others are loaded with aisles and aisles of inexpensive, “Made in China” stuff. I, for one, happen to love TJ Max. I love browsing the aisles for kitchen gadgets, brightly colored shoes, candles, and clothes. I like finding great bargains on name-brand items. But when I sit back and think about what I’m buying, I come up with a paltry list of knick knacks and cute gadgets; things I want but don’t need.

My New Year’s resolution is to not only give up China, but to start asking questions about the items I’ve been buying.

Where did it come from?
What are the living conditions of the person who made it?
Did he or she receive a fair wage?

My hubby and I don’t make a lot of money and I realize this could become a pricey venture. It’s easy to say no to a pair of shoes when I don’t need them. But what about necessary items like toilet paper and light bulbs? What if our toaster oven breaks? Or we need a car part? That right there, folks, is the adventure that lies ahead! I’ll fill you in on what happens when I go a-shoppin’ for that toilet paper…

P.S. “Crux” IS a word. According to m-w.com, it is “an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I've had two flip-the-package-and-study-the-label moments already. Where is this made? The first was on New Year's day. Drew and I were at the grocery store. I needed sponges and was checking out two different kinds. Side note here: I realize it's incredibly lame to get excited over sponges. I realize that! But there's an odd sense of excitement injected into adult-ish things such as buying groceries. After all, I'm doing them all for the first time. I'M buying the sponge with MY money (all right, OUR money!) and darn it, I want to study the different kinds of sponges and pick the one that makes me happiest.

It was at that minute that I suddenly remembered our embargo. I had been throwing food into the cart with no abandon previously, but this was the first non-foodie item. Both packages were turned over, plastic crinkling. Drat, the sponge I liked was made in China. The other label read, "Scour pad make in Canada." Good so far. "Sponge made in USA..." Still good. "...with US and imported materials." My face fell.

"What do we do now?" I wailed to Drew. "'Imported' probably, most definitely means China."

I scanned the sponge section. Drew was holding up the only other option: a dark green thing that looked rough enough to scrub tar off a metal chicken. There was no way I was using that monstrosity on my one-year-old pots and pans.

While this could be considered our first boo-boo - we bought the sponge - I still don't know either way that the imported materials DID come from China. I'm only guessing. However, I am going to chalk this up as a learning experience. I've been on the look-out for "Made in China," but apparently, the more subtle trap to watch out for is "...and imported materials."

As for the second "flip-the-package-and-study-the-label" moment - to be referred to as f.p.s.l in the future - I bought a package of brown gravy. Halfway through our New Year's day turkey meal, I ran tearing into the kitchen like a mad woman, scouring the trash, then the tiny room, for the package. *phew* We're safe. It was made in Canada.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

I'm just like every other person out there. I like the idea of making a New Year's resolution. There's something refreshing, even exhilarating, about making a promise to better yourself in some way and knowing you have 365 long days in which to stick with it. Not that my resolutions have ever worked out quite the way I'd hoped... I usually fail dismally, not only forgetting to keep my resolution, but also what it was in the first place.

Thus this blog.

My husband and I have joined forces and made a rather large resolution for 2010. This blog is receiving the rather weighty responsibility of keeping me accountable. It would be pretty embarrassing if my resolution fell to the curb by the end of January, seeing as it's now out there for everyone and their kitchen sink to see.

Our resolution is to give up China.

I made a list months ago titled "25 Things." Number nineteen reads, "I would like to boycott China. The two things that stand in my way are a) money and b) willpower." Those two issues have been resolved (more on that later) and Drew and I are officially on the road. Welcome to Day 1.