Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh, the Glamour!

I was a vegetarian for a few years back in my early 20's. I remember the night I decided to become one: it was Halloween and Bryan and I watched Faces of Death (banned in over 40 countries!) in my little studio apartment trying to decide if we were going out (intended both ways--we were trying to decide if we should go to a club AND we were trying to decide if we wanted to stay together). It was 1993 and as such I wore palazzo pants, a leotard, clogs and a ribbon choker. I can hardly even say the word leotard anymore without feeling stupid, without becoming self-conscious of my spare tire, of my c-section pooch that just won't go away. Perhaps the only thing worse is the word unitard. But I was 21. The images of people dying scared me but I was still young enough to feel invincible. It was the scenes of animal slaughterhouses that disturbed me the most. When I saw on the news that River Phoenix was dead the world felt uncertain so I did the only thing I had the power to do: I ate Tofurkey.
I have since decided I like my products as I like my meat: clean and far removed from their origins. I was never a very good vegetarian, inexplicably drawn to the smell of bacon in the morning. After this last trip to Asia I am finding that I may not be a very good product developer, either. I like my goods on store shelves shiny and new, marked up and if they are off-gassing toxic chemicals I don't really want to know about it.

When people find out what I do, that I travel to Asia for work, sometimes New York and Europe, they invariably tell me how lucky I am, how interesting it must be. But the truth is: it's not. It's work. It's visiting dirty, stinky factories in China. It's 12 hour days broken up by 2 hour drives in a van with no suspension that smells like cigarettes and petrol. It's KFC for lunch because you're American and that's what the factory people think you like: a spicy chicken sandwich with a bag of chicken poppers and a side of chicken tenders. With chicken sauce. And the chicken is not far enough removed from once clucking in any language for my liking.

This was my third trip to Asia for work. The third time I have toured these factories, met with these people, eaten their KFC and not gone to the bathroom for a week straight. Suffice it to say I returned home just a wee bit cranky. But what really disturbed me this time is that it is just an accident of birth that I am on this side of the product development process. Just fate that I am not the one spinning the wheels, polishing the metal, cutting the fabric, my face blank and resigned. So those people who tell me I am lucky that I get to travel are right. Not because I get to go to Asia and eat KFC, but because I get to come home.

Halfway through the trip I decided to stop taking photos of the process, the machines and product. And I started taking pictures of the things that made me still feel alive. Funny signs:

The owner of this factory told us that this sign meant "the customer is god."

If any of my readers know Chinese please confirm. Because I have a sneaking suspicion it means something more along the lines of "the customer is a spicy chicken-eating idiot, charge them triple the cost while you proffer your business card with two hands and a slight bow."

Nothin' like an ice cold bottle of Wang's Yang to wash down your KFC. When out of my comfort zone, sometimes it's the little things that make me happy.
And then I got home to this:
Last night we had hot dogs for dinner. If I thought hard enough I would have puked. I know where they come from... But thinking is sometimes overrated so I decided to just eat the hot dog and watch Faces of Zoey, (loved in over 40 countries).

1 comment:

Nancy said...


I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog! And also, a direct translation of the sign:

Quality is God's demand
And the customer is our God