Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cheaply Made in China

Thomas turned five earlier this week. The title of today's post does not refer to him (!), but to the fact that in looking for good birthday presents for Thomas, we were reminded of the problem of things being "Poorly Made in China." (This is actually the title of a book).

While you can find anything in China, so also high-quality products, there is just an overwhelming amount of great-looking and cheap... but unfortunately unreliable products here. This is true for food products, toys, toiletries, clothing, you name it.

A couple months ago I bought the boys two very cool remote-controlled helicopters for about $15 each. I even bought the slightly more expensive ones, so we would not have to deal with batteries and could just recharge them over the computer.

Well, the choppers lasted about a day. A little pin in each of the charging plugs broke, and now the two helicopters sit idle, gathering dust on top of a shelve. (See picture below). And it looked like such a good deal!

The famous helicopter. Can you spot the tape holding it together?

When we were shopping for Thomas' birthday present, I picked up some cars at a Walmart (!). The cars looked great at first, until we realized a wheel was already missing - even while the cars were still in the packaging.

I am not entirely sure why so many products are crappy here. (I suppose I have to read that book.) One reason, I am sure you know, must be that a lot of cheap products are simply made here (I am sure you all have a crappy plastic "made in China" knickknack at home). But another reason seems to be just an overwhelming focus on "cheap" rather than "quality." Being Dutch myself (and thus genetically wired to save some money when I can) I have no aversion of cheap, but at least I can also appreciate that in the long-run, buying quality can also pay off.

A friend recently told us he bought an electric bike. After he had picked it out and purchased it, the salesman finished it up for him so he could take it home, taping down a few wires. I don't have to tell you that a day later the tape started to come off and a week later our friend got stuck in the middle of his commute because the batteries unexpectedly had died.

Cheaply made in China is a feast at first, but a major pain later.

For Thomas, we still ended up buying a plastic car park from what we thought was a reasonable Chinese brand... we'll have to see. We also bought him socks, which we think will last, and a snorkel.

Here are some pictures of the party boy:

Unwrapping a made-in-China toy we hope will last till he's at least 5 and a half.

More gifts, more joy.

Party at school.

Hotdog for dinner. Excellent choice for a five-year old birthday boy.

Showing grandma the snorkel over skype.

Happy Birthday Thomas - a card from his class mates.

In het Nederlands: Deze week was dus Thomas' vijfde verjaardag. We vierden het al op school en morgen vieren we het thuis met een feestje. Een kadootje vinden is niet moeilijk hier, maar iets vinden dat niet meteen kapot zal gaan is een ander verhaal. Veel spullen hier zijn goedkoop, maar ook heel gauw stuk. Je kent denk ik wel die goedkope dingetjes uit China. We hopen maar dat Thomas' z'n plastic parkeergarage, sokken en snorkel een hele tijd meegaan.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And then there was... Snow!

203 Beijing Riviera in the snow

I haven't seen a drop of rain since sometime in October, so this morning it was a big surprise when we got up and saw it was all white outside.

It's not unusual for Beijing to have snow -- other years apparently had snow much sooner -- but I felt like a five-year old kid with new snow boots on. (The actual five-year old kid with new snow boots was less impressed).

Here are some pictures from this morning:

Thumbs up for snow.

"Mo-o-o-o-m, are you coming or what?"
Simon crosses the street in the distance.

Running to the bus.

On the school bus. Simon and Thomas often sit together on their way to school. After the kids get on the bus, I usually go home, have a coffee and start a day of work at home. Paul would have left already at 7am with the carpool to the office.

In het Nederlands: Nou, vandaag is er dus sneeuw! Het sneeuwt kennelijk wel elke winter hier, maar het was toch een verrassing en een prettige afwisseling na zoveel maanden zonder regen. De jongens lopen twee korte straatjes door om bij de schoolbus te komen. Als de jongens op de bus zitten ga ik naar huis voor een kop koffie en dan m'n eigen werk. Paul is al vanaf zeven uur vanochtend weg; hij gaat elke dag met een carpool naar z'n werk.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

In true Chinese fashion, we celebrated the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit with sparkles and fireworks.

Anticipating the fun, just outside the "gates" of Beijing Riviera.

Kiddie fireworks.

Xiang Jiang Bei Lu as you don't often see it. Fireworks as far as the eye can see. We only celebrated Wednesday night, but apparently the fireworks will keep on going for another two weeks. Around February 13, life will slowly go back to normal.

Happy New Year!

Fireworks for the big kids. (Note the boxes: a lot of fireworks here are in boxes. You light one or two fuses, walk away, and watch a nice show as one by one the fireworks in the box go off.)

In het Nederlands: Een gelukkig nieuwjaar! Het Jaar van het Konijn is begonnen en wij hebben ook lekker wat vuurwerk afgestoken. De kinderen hadden sterretjes en de "grote kinderen" flinke dozen met vuurwerk. Voor ons was het een echte oudejaarsavond, maar voor de Chinezen gaat het feest nog wel zo'n twee weken door.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On the Road to... Datong

West of Beijing is a town called Datong. Last Sunday we decided to take a little road trip to see the giant Buddha statues just outside this city. I'll include some of the sightseeing pictures in a next blog post, but it might be interesting to get some idea of the scenery from our house to Datong.

Beijing -- in addition to being a city -- is actually also the name of the "prefecture," the land around the city itself.

(Unlike Washington D.C. where the "District of Columbia" is smaller than the city itself, the Beijing prefecture is much larger than the city, so you can drive for a while in the countryside and still be in Beijing.)

This picture just above is in the northwest of Beijing, close to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. See the Great Wall?

Driving in China means zigzagging between big trucks.

Another part of the Great Wall.

On the road to Datong - just to show you there isn't always an awful lot to see. It is always very dry here, but this time of year in particular. We crossed many dry rivers and the soil had huge cracks in it because of dryness and erosion.

Driving along.

Arriving in Datong, an industrial city with lots of coal mining. I can't complain too much about the pollution coming from this plant here, as it may very well be supplying the power for my home in Beijing. (And if not this one, another one is.)

My Chinese driver.

People shopping for fireworks and "baijiu" (rice wine) in Datong. It's just three days before the Chinese New Year.

A typical picture in China: Big buildings and lots of construction cranes. As usual, Datong turns out to be a much bigger city than I thought it would be.

The end of the road trip (for now): We arrive at the Yungang Grottos near Datong.

In het Nederlands: Eerder deze week hebben we een uitstapje gemaakt naar het stadje Datong, ten westen van Beijing. Onderweg kwamen we langs een deel van de Chinese Muur bij "Badaling". Dit is een van de meest druk bezochte stukken van de Muur. We zagen ook veel droge grond, uitgedroogde rivieren, en natuurlijk een steenkoolcentrale bij Datong, want Datong is een stadje met veel steenkoolmijnen. (De electriciteit in ons huis in Beijing komt wellicht van deze centrale.) Datong is -- zoals elke stad hier -- weer groter dan ik verwachtte. Overal zijn enorme flatgebouwen en je kan zien dat er nog veel meer gebouwd gaat worden. Aan het eind van de rit zijn we bij de Yungang grotten aangekomen waar we grote, bijzondere Buddha beelden gaan bekijken...