Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Today was possibly my unhealthiest day in Beijing so far. In the morning, I had already seen the signs "Keep away from the lawn-pesticide applied." It's the standard sign that's put up in the little parks in our compound when it is time--a few times a year--for some generous pesticide application.

Later in the day, I was in the park to pick Simon up from his tennis lesson, when I saw the workers just wildly waving their pesticide sprayers up in the air to cover all the trees in the tiny area. By the time I made it through the park to the tennis court, Thomas and I and everyone on the court were coughing like a few old sick men. We picked up our things and just got out of there--well, after taking a few pictures for you.

Of course it didn't help that I had just finished the book, Poorly Made in China by Paul Midler. The book gives an insider's account of what happens in the Chinese factories that make all our cheap products.

Here's an interview with the author.

What I loved about the book was that it described this wicked world inside all those factories in the South of China through the eyes of someone who clearly loves and tries to understand this country. It is just fascinating to me, how factory owners will have very different reasons for engaging in a business relationship with a U.S. company. Sure, they can deliver very cheaply, but they'll also experiment with ways to increase their profit margin (for example by substituting some ingredients of a product by inferior ones), or they'll just use one big contract with a large international company to get the right experience and access to interesting product designs, to then later use those for other markets where they can sell the same products for a higher price.

Going back to the pesticide shower then, it is one thing to breathe in pesticides, it is quite another to wonder what kind of mix of pesticides might have been used today. The official stuff--whatever it is?--or some left-over things from the back of the barn?

This kind of uncertaintly--what's on my apples? Did the water melons grown in an area with clean ground water? Is this the real Colgate toothpaste or some cheap copy of it?--comes up a million times a day.

By now, I don't think about it too much, as we've made some decisions on where and what we buy, and we also have some organic Wondermilk delivered to our house. But still, the pesticide shower today reminded me you sometimes need more than a helmet to protect yourself.

I hope I am still here tomorrow.

Best book I've read recently. You might also check out my earlier post about the toys that fall apart within a day.

Barrel of pesticides on wheels.

This cannot be healthy.

In het nederlands: "Poorly made in China," is echt een interessant boek dat ik aan kan raden als je meer wil leren over de Chinese cultuur en over hoe al die goedkope produkten allemaal gemaakt worden. Ik vind het ook vooral een mooi boek omdat de auteur duidelijk een China-liefhebber is. Hij heeft veel ervaring en heeft na al veel jaren in fabrieken in zuid-China te hebben rondgekeken toch een heel bijzonder beeld van hoe men doet en denkt. Helaas gaat mijn bericht vandaag niet alleen over een boek, maar ook over het feit dat in ons dagelijkse leven je hier toch ook wel af en toe afvraagt hoe het staat met de kwaliteit van produkten. Vandaag was dat wel heel erg, toen Thomas, Simon en ik ook nog eens per ongeluk in een wolk van bestrijdingsmiddelen terecht kwamen. Het is niet zo dat ik me hier de hele dag afvraag wat veilig is en niet, maar het is toch wel zeker anders dan in Nederland, waar je wat meer vertrouwen kan hebben in het feit dat een of andere instantie zich nog wel eens een beetje druk maakt over de zo geroemde "volksgezondheid".

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