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A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy Hardcover – June 29, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Bongiorni, on a post-Christmas day mired deep in plastic toys and electronics equipment, makes up her mind to live for a year without buying any products made in China, a decision spurred less by notions of idealism or fair trade-though she does note troubling statistics on job loss and trade deficits-than simply "to see if it can be done." In this more personal vein, Bongiorni tells often funny, occasionally humiliating stories centering around her difficulty procuring sneakers, sunglasses, DVD players and toys for two young children and a skeptical husband. With little insight into global economics or China's manufacturing practices, readers may question the point of singling out China when cheap, sweatshop-produced products from other countries are fair game (though Bongiorni cheerfully admits the flaws in her project, she doesn't consider fixing them). Still, Bongiorni is a graceful, self-deprecating writer, and her comic adventures in self-imposed inconvenience cast an interesting sideways glance at the personal effects of globalism, even if it doesn't easily connect to the bigger picture.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Journalist Bongiorni, on a post-Christmas day mired deep in plastic toys and electronics equipment, makes up her mind to live for a year without buying any products made in China, a decision spurred less by notions of idealism or fair trade—though she does note troubling statistics on job loss and trade deficits—than simply "to see if it can be done." In this more personal vein, Bongiorni tells often funny, occasionally humiliating stories centering around her difficulty procuring sneakers, sunglasses, DVD players and toys for two young children and a skeptical husband. With little insight into global economics or China's manufacturing practices, readers may question the point of singling out China when cheap, sweatshop-produced products from other countries are fair game (though Bongiorni cheerfully admits the flaws in her project, she doesn't consider fixing them). Still, Bongiorni is a graceful, self-deprecating writer, and her comic adventures in self-imposed inconvenience cast an interesting sideways glance at the personal effects of globalism, even if it doesn't easily connect to the bigger picture.(July) (Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2007)
"a wry look at the ingenuity it takes to shun the planet's fastest-growing economy." (Bloomberg News)
"The West's dependence on Chinese exports was neatly summed up" (The Telegraph, Sunday 12th August 2007)
"What the year-long experiment did achieve, was to switch on Bongiorni as a consumer and make her alive to the complexities and shifting power of the international economy. (Financial Times, Saturday 25th August)
"...a fascinating and entertaining look at just how much of a challenge an average consumer faces...to avoid buying Chinese goods." (Supply Management, Thursday 31st January 2008)
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That was a chilling anecdote, which to me illustrated a powerful reason for a yearlong boycott of Chinese goods. If we don't support alternatives to Chinese products, there will no longer be any alternatives. And if the Chinese products are poorly made, dangerous, bad for the environment or even, eventually, expensive, we're just out of luck!
But while plausible reasons for the boycott were everywhere in recounting of the author's daily life, she was frustratingly unable to clearly articulate, either to her family or to the reader, why she wanted to go without Chinese-made products for a year. When her five-year-old son Wes pressed her on the reasons for the boycott, the best she could muster was: "We want to give other countries a chance to sell us things."
But is it really just about spreading the wealth elsewhere? Or is it about choice? And what about quality and safety, given the pet food melamine scandal and toxic chemicals found in clothing? And then, of course, there's the disposable culture; we buy stuff because it's cheap only to have to replace it a year or two later at additional expense and inconvenience.
During the one-year narrative span of the book stuff all over the house broke: the DVD player, the CD player, the coffee maker. The author whined about the inability to find non-Chinese replacements (aka ones that fit her budget) but never seemed to put together the idea that the extraordinary number of household equipment failures in one year was in fact a great justification not to buy another Chinese one...boycott or not! To me that screamed "isn't there a lesson there? Why is all your stuff breaking?"
Lacking a real articulation of the reasons for the boycott, no wonder the author cheated regularly with the "gift exemption" (the family could get Chinese-made products as gifts) and no wonder she got a lot of flak from her family.
Much of the book, in fact, focused on tension in the author's family over the boycott, including with her husband, Kevin, who she calls "The Weakest Link" but who actually was a fairly good sport. The family interplay quickly became repetitive and I found it frustrating to see no change in the mindset which led her family to be a big buyer of Chinese goods and which mirrors the reasons for our nation's reliance on Chinese goods.
One of the most striking examples of lack of realization of the real issues was that (while she boycotts Wal-Mart for reasons she didn't detail in the book), the author never once questioned her principal choice of shopping venues: the mall, Target and other major big box chains. These are the very retailers responsible for the growth of Made in China. And yet, she calls a little boutique German and Euro shop "snooty" and expresses glee when the store ultimately closes. Even if the salesclerk was snooty to her, does she not mourn that choice, at least for those who liked the store, has narrowed yet again?
And never once, while boycotting Chinese goods, did she "discover" wonderful alternatives with great workmanship. The author sprung for $200 worth of German toys for Christmas (a third of her holiday budget) but she does not appreciate them, and is certain before even wrapping them that her children won't like them. And of course that attitude virtually guarantees they won't.
I understand that the family had a limited budget. But if you want to boycott China, and actually change yourself in the process, you need to live in a different way. That probably means buying a good CD player once that will last you ten years (mine is going on 15), but also going without other things you don't need, like light-up purple pumpkins for Halloween. It might mean thrift-shopping, which was never mentioned even though the family agonized for months over lost sunglasses--even to the point of The Weakest Link wearing a children's pair recovered from a lost-and-found bin. My local thrift store has a plethora of not-embarrassing choices in sunglasses; it also has a rack of decent shoes, another sore point in the book.
The author did sew an inexpensive simple pretty pink tutu for her daughter; it seemed initially a failure (perhaps due to her own lack of conviction?) but the same outfit was later re-requested by her daughter. That seems to me to be a victory and a real change in attitude--and I wish there had been more of it in the book.
I was disappointed.
While the idea of the book seems good, the book seems to just repeat the same basic scenario with character, place, and detail tweaks. Someone needs something, discover most of that something comes from China, search for non-China version, pay high price for non-China version, move on. It seems that this is the crux of all the little story bits in the book.
I quit reading this book about halfway through, tired of re-reading the same story over and over again, hearing her gripe occasionally about her "Weakest Link" husband's reactions, and dragging out the saga of her husband's sunglasses.
If you really want to read this book, save your money and borrow a copy from the library.
This book served as a wake up call to me about just how much of the items in our daily life come from China. When you think about it, what would happen if a war broke out and we couldn't get items from China? Do any Americans still know how to make a pair of shoes, and how quickly could they ramp up production to meet demand? This book made me think about how we are putting our eggs into one basket, and how any disruption could cause havoc.
The book was well written and reminded me, yet again, to watch where my dollars flow. I know I will be checking labels more often and choosing another option whenever possible. Maybe if enough of us do so, more manufacturers will be left to fill the void should it be needed. I strongly recommend this book for all consumers.