Yi Jianlian – Walking, Talking Trade Dispute, Pt. 6

[Update: This post was originally Pt. 5 – until a helpful reader pointed out that it was actually Pt. 6. I apologize for losing track!]

The ongoing dispute between Yi Jianlian (and his agent, and former team) and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks seems to have escalated into a situation which might very well damage the future professional prospects of Chinese basketball players hoping to play in the world’s top league. Let me explain.

Earlier this week, Yi Jianlian’s Chinese Basketball Association team, the Guangdong Tigers, announced that they would not allow him to play for the Bucks. On one hand, this clears up quite a bit of confusion: since being drafted, speculation has abounded as to who is really behind Yi’s refusal. Now, at least, courtesy of the AP, we sort of know its the Tigers. But speculation that the Tigers didn’t want him playing in Milwaukee because of the city’s small Asian population and/or its lack of endorsement opportunities (of which the Tigers would get a significant share) turned out to be wrong. At least, that’s what Chan Haitao, the Tigers’ owner is saying:

“And it’s not about Yi’s commercial interests. We want to find a team that is good for Yi’s development. That’s the root of the problem … The national team and the Olympic Games are now a key factor in considerations,” Chen said [to the AP]. “If Yi goes to a team where he can’t keep up his level of play, that wouldn’t be good for the national team.” Continue reading

Northwest: Refresh and Re-Energize in Coach

[Note to readers of this blog: I’ve been traveling for the last several days, and I haven’t had much chance to update content. However, I’ll be adding a post or two over the weekend, and by Monday I’ll be at full strength with a lengthy post on the ongoing reaction to the Pope’s China letter and recent events in Beijing.]

July 20, 2007

Dear Northwest Airlines:

You know that ‘Refresh and Re-energize’ video that you show at the beginning of international flights? The one with the four attractive flight attendants sitting next to each other in first-class seats, demonstrating exercises designed to improve comfort and health during long flights? Well, I was wondering: do you think that you could film a version that shows the four flight attendants in cramped coach seats? Because the version that you currently show doesn’t translate to coach at all. Case in point: on my recent Shanghai to Tokyo flight, the woman next to me decided to mimic the Refresh and Re-energize exercises and succeeded in smacking me in the head with her elbow – twice.

Thanks for considering-


E-Scrap in China: A Personal Perspective

Over the last five years I’ve published several articles that addressed China’s long-standing trade in imported first-world electronic scrap and other high-tech trash. It’s a fascinating topic, with multiple facets, none more interesting (to me, at least) than the willingness of American, Japanese, and European scrap processors to send hazardous materials to China in violation of international law, national laws, and their own better angels (at this point, after so much media coverage, no exporter can claim ignorance about the illicit nature of the trade, nor its often unsavory consequences).


Yet before today, I had never sold any e-scrap myself! So, this morning when I realized that I not only possessed several genuine pieces of e-scrap, but that I had a potential Chinese buyer for them, I could barely contain myself.

Below, a photo of my broken Canon printer, the printer’s power cord, the printer’s USB cord, and my broken Dell mouse.


It is 100% illegal to import the broken printer and mouse into China. They are indisputably e-scrap – often known as high-tech trash – and the Chinese government has long recognized that the methods currently employed in China to recycle these materials are hazardous and polluting. Thus, they were banned for import several years ago – a fact capped by the fact that China is also signatory to international agreements prohibiting the import or export of such materials. The two cables are quasi-legal to import into China. I say quasi-legal because the two devices have a copper content that probably falls below 50% (any scrap dealers out there with an opinion on the cu?), and by Chinese law, the content has to be well over 90%. But that law has been mostly ignored for years – and old cables are now one of the most sought after, and imported, scrap items in China.

Anyway, the question arises: If it is illegal for an American scrap processor to export these materials to China, is there any hope for a resident American scrap journalist who wants to recycle these materials in Shanghai?

Yes, dear reader, there is. Below my apartment building, just outside of the gate, a middle-aged couple recently set up a thriving scrap business that – so far as I can tell – is mostly devoted to trading in materials generated on my block. Last week I noticed the couple purchasing an old computer, and just a few days ago I saw them buying several old VCRs. So, I figured, they must be interested in buying my old e-scrap.

This afternoon I gathered everything in a box, and stuffed a bunch of old magazines into a plastic bag (that held my new printer accessories when I purchased them from Best Buy Shanghai), then set off down the elevator and dropped everything at the foot of the female partner in the couple that runs the aforementioned scrap business. Below, you’ll see her weighing my old magazines, which turned out to be worth RMB3 (US$.40) at today’s market price.


Then came the e-scrap. My strategy was to ask for a separate price for each component in my load – after all, the cables are still perfectly functional, and she could certainly get a fair price on the re-use market for them. Alas, she was no fool, and she quickly offered me RMB 5 (US$.66) for the entire batch of equipment – cables, broken printer, broken mouse. I fought. I argued. And I conceded.

Let’s face it: she knew full well that I was not bringing that stuff back into my apartment.

But I digress. In return for my RMB 5, I asked that she tell me where she planned to sell the printer. Her answer was quite specific – a Shanghai-area plastics recycler – and believable. As to what the plastics recycler will do with the electronic components within the printer, she couldn’t say. My guess is that they will be shipped to a site outside of Shanghai, where they’ll be thoroughly stripped for copper, re-usable chips, and precious metals. The processing “methods” will be hazardous – though not nearly as hazardous as the ones used even five years ago – and the lives of the people doing the work will be shortened.


For those who wonder whether China has an environmentally sound method of recycling e-scrap (that is, could I have found a better recycler) – the answer is no. Such recyclers simply don’t exist in China. But the good news is that segments of the government and the private sector are working hard on this problem, and I suspect that a fairly good system will be in place within a decade. It is desperately needed: according to my sources, China currently has more than 1.5 billion televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, PCs, and air-conditioners currently in use (the five main categories of e-waste), with 120 million becoming “waste” each year (mobile phones are another category, though no reliable statistics currently exist on them).

How China deals with this flood of waste is a question of international importance, and one that I will be dealing with in print over the next year. Stay tuned.

FedEx Responds, Pt. 2

No reason to beat this extraordinarily minor topic to death, so I’ll be brief.  Last week I attempted to pay for a FedEx shipment with a credit card at one of the company’s Shanghai locations. This was not allowed. Instead, cash was demanded, and that cash was deposited into a little metal box stored beneath a counter. When I asked for a receipt, I was told that I would be mailed one.

After posting an account of this minor episode in the history of multinational misbehavior in China, FedEx responded by claiming that the credit card machine was temporarily out of order on the afternoon that I was there. This is provably false, and when I asked FedEx’s PR Flak for Asia – Julia Khong (lkhong@fedex.com) – whether, in fact, she’d like to qualify that falsehood, she ignored me. Big surprise, and expected end of story (after all, what major corporation wants to take responsibility for its receipt-less cash side business?).

Well, today I stopped by the same FedEx location to pick up a print job. While waiting, I gently inquired as to whether it was possible to pay for a FedEx shipment via credit card. The female clerk, whose name I did not record, responded: “Of course we accept credit cards!”

Moral to the story: I’ve long disagreed with the idea that blogging can change journalism/the world/anything. Consider my mind changed.

Now if I could just get Ms. Khong to arrange for a receipt for my shipments on July 10 …

With Headlines Like These …

The Pearl River runs through the heart of South China’s manufacturing wonderland, and along the way it not only picks up barge traffic, it also picks up sewer drainage and discharge from hundreds, if not thousands, of factories. Anyone who has ever stood on its banks – and I have, many times – can attest to the water’s odd and changing coloration, as well as the large amount of detritus that always seems to be floating on the surface. Quite simply, the water is un-drinkable, and even the minimally health-conscious know that they are better-off taking a dip in a swimming pool.

These facts cause no small amount of embarrassment for Guangzhou’s city fathers (whose fair city sits on the banks of the Pearl), and in recent years they have tried to disprove them by taking the unusual – and unappetizing – step of organizing mass swims in the Pearl. On Sunday, for example, thousands of people – including Guangzhou’s all-powerful Party Secretary – swam an 800 meter stretch of the river. This is the second year that this event has taken place. Last year, according to South China Morning Post, local media reported that the same event was preceded by a mass factory shut-down and the closure of sewage drainage valves. No word on whether those same protective steps were taken this year, but I was amused to see that – despite his best efforts – the Hong Kong media (at least) was having none of Guangzhou’s stunt. The headline of this morning’s SCMP story:

Party chief leads swim in polluted Pearl River

The Long Hot Summer

On July 5, the US Embassy in Beijing posted information on “How to Deescalate Conflicts” in the US Citizen Services Section of its website. According to the document, there have been an increasing number of reported confrontations between Americans and Chinese – most of which seem to involve copious amounts of alcohol (big surprise). I haven’t been in Bejing in over a month, so I can’t say anything about the circumstances up there, but I live near one of Shanghai’s more prominent bar streets, and I can certifiably attest to a rise in tensions in this area. On one level, it’s reached comic book proportions: recently, someone set up a bench press on the sidewalk in front of one of the bars, and most nights two shirtless, heavily tatooed thugs spend their time lifting weights on the bench and leering at passersby. I exit the subway just across from them, and I’m always split between wanting to ask them what on earth they are doing, and wanting to hide.

Maybe it’s the heat; maybe there’s something more to all of the reports of civil unrest. And maybe I just need a vacation.

Anyway, below are the Embassy’s guidelines. In general, I think these are good rules of thumb for living just about anywhere. They also serve as a very subtle commentary on the often uneasy relationship between China’s foreigners and the locals. But more on that some other time. For now, let’s leave it to the Embassy:

July 05, 2007

The Embassy has seen more and more cases of minor confrontations involving American citizens escalating into serious altercations. In a few cases arguments over as little as 10 RMB have led to injuries, property damage, police involvement and restitution. Identifying potential confrontations before they become physical and extracting you from the situation before blows are exchanged is the wisest course of action. Becoming involved in a physical confrontation over 10 RMB just isn’t worth it.

While more easily said than done, this approach could require taking a non-confrontational attitude even when you are in the right, and backing down to someone in the wrong when the circumstances require it to avoid physical contact.

The fact is that getting involved in a “fight” with someone anywhere is a dangerous undertaking, but it is made even more dangerous by the willingness of bystanders to get involved without warning.

To avoid situations that might lead to a physical confrontation we ask that you please consider the following:

  • If you become the target of attention of a drunken group or individual, leave the area immediately. Do not try to talk to them, reason with them, or argue with them. Once targeted, staying in the same area and “ignoring” them normally makes matters worse. Get away from them as soon as possible.
  • Avoid situations involving individuals who are intoxicated, arguing, and/or causing a disturbance. Leave the area before they involve you in “their” problem.
  • If you find yourself in a challenged situation, it is far better to disengage immediately and leave the area. Fighting over a bump, a perceived slight, a parking spot, 10 RMB, or a stare just isn’t worth it.
  • Avoid putting others into a situation where they feel challenged and required to act. Be apologetic if the situation warrants, and do what you can to indicate that no offense was intended.
  • If someone tries to engage you in a fight, back away and remove yourself from the area immediately. Should a confrontational situation occur involving someone in your party, companions should, if the situation permits, immediately step in and extract any would-be combatants as quickly as possible. Once disengaged, leave the area immediately.
  • If you are out with friends or acquaintances who drink to excess urge them to return home as soon as possible. Many of the confrontational situations reported to us involve those who have consumed so much alcohol that their judgment is impaired.

Should you find yourself engaged in an altercation despite your best efforts, do your best to defuse the situation as quickly as possible and leave the area as soon as the situation allows. If the Police are called to the scene, “fight” participants are normally taken to the local police station to determine fault or work out a settlement. If injuries are claimed the police may require the claimant to go to a hospital to determine the severity of injuries. The severity of injuries will determine the seriousness of any crime committed.