Monday, October 04, 2010

One Man's Trash

Today, I recalled a humorous annectdote I had heard from a friend when I first arrived in China that I almost forgot about. Because it's third-hand information, I can't vouch for the truthiness of the story, but it sounds quite plausible to me. This story takes place approximately 15 years ago.

Some American friends living in rural Southern China, and wanting to continue the American lifestyle, were dissatisfied with hanging out laundry to dry. As clothing dryers were completely unheard of, and absolutely unavailable in mainland China, they decided to make the trek down to Hong Kong to pick one up.

When crossing the border back into the mainland, they were prepared to pay a duty on this large-ticket item when passing through customs. Although I wasn't present for the event I'll attempt to recreate the scene that transpired with the customs officials.

Customs Official: "What the hell is this thing?"

Americans: "It's a clothing dryer."

"A what?"

"A clothing dryer."

"Well, what does it do?"

"You put your wet clothes in it, press the button, and then they come out dry."

(Laughing hysterically in utter disbelief) "You know if you just hang clothes up, they'll dry by themselves, right?"

"Yeah, but this does it faster."

(Still laughing in disbelief) "How much did you pay for this hunk of junk?"

"About $500*."

"$500 for this worthless thing? Buddy, you got seriously taken. Go on and pass on through. No need to pay a duty on this piece of garbage. You've already been ripped off enough."

*I have no idea what the actual price was.

I love this story. Just goes to show that some luxuries that we believe to be so indispensable in the developed world are viewed as worthless in the majority of the rest of the world.

I can completely resonate with the story as well. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, part of the developed world, and realized no one used dryers here, I thought they were nuts. I was completely inconvenienced having to hang up every piece of clothing and wait a full 24 hours for my clothes to dry. Now, after three years of being dryerless, I'm wondering why we ever used them in the first place.

However, with the amount of development in the past 15 years, it's hard to imagine this story taking place today. Or at least in the big cities in China. Now, sadly, it seems as if the new middle class in China is copying all of the worst ideas of America and the rest of the developed world. The idea among the middle and upper class has now become, "If America has it, we want it." As I look around at packed KFC's on every street corner, pizza delivery, and drive-through fast food joints, 2-car garages, SUV's and urban sprawl, I'm beginning to hang my head in shame, wondering if America has now created a monster.

More on this idea to come in the future.


Rachel said...

Loved this story, it reminded me of one my friend told me. She (an American living in St. Paul) was hanging out her clothes to dry when her little neighbor boy (who happens to be a Somali refugee) came over and said to her "Don't you know there are machines that do that for you". Seemed that their roles were slightly reversed.


Simon Lesser said...

Haha! That is really great.