Monday, August 1, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 中国制造

China is known for manufacturing and is the largest exporter of products in the world. The "Made in China" (zhōngguó zhìzào, 中国制造) label can be seen in all kinds of products worldwide, ranging from high quality silks and porcelain tea sets, to cheap plastic toys.

Two-month old potty seat
with three large cracks
But we are finding that there is a big difference in quality even between what is made in China and exported and what is made and sold in China. Believe it or not, the high quality merchandise will be found in an American Walmart, and the lower quality items will likely be sold in our local Walmart (Wò ēr mǎ, 沃尔玛). Buyer beware has never been more true, and a higher price is not always a guarantee of quality.

Not fun to sit on
One recent example of this we've found recently has been our toilet seat. About two months after we moved into our apartment, the toilet seat that came with the apartment broke. First just the hinges and then the whole thing shattered into pieces. Obviously, it needed to be replaced quickly so that Aaron could continue to use the potty himself without injury. So Nate went to a local hardware shop and bought a toilet seat. The one he bought wasn't a super cheap model, it cost about $10 US, so he thought it should last a while. One month later it began to have tiny cracks showing up in it, and two months later it really needed to be replaced again.

While somethings are solely manufactured and not sold at all here, it usually possible to find a higher quality product in a big city like Kunming, if you know where to look and what to look for. The second time Nate bought a toilet seat, he took a bus to the north side of town to B&Q (Bǎi ānjū, 百安居), a British retailer very similar to Home Depot. He also carefully examined a whole bunch of different models of seats. The one he ended up purchasing cost less than the first one, but the plastic is much thicker. We have high hopes that this seat will last more than two months. If it doesn't, I guess that is just what we get for having a western toilet in our apartment in China. One benefit of a squatty potty is that you never need a seat.

Now it may not be surprising that import stores have some of the higher quality items here, but some of the local markets carry some amazingly sturdy items as well. Some of the furniture in the second hand markets (èr shǒu shì chǎng, 二手市场), is much better than new furniture, because it is made with real wood. Baskets and pots at local street markets (shì chǎng, 市场) seem much more durable and unique than similar factory made products at Walmart (Wò ēr mǎ, 沃尔玛).

I really like some of the baskets and pots we purchased from a street market (shì chǎng, 市场), and they have stood up to a lot of abuse from the boys.

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