Four Shanghai Views on London 2012

Here at Shanghai Scrap, we’ve always been sports fans. And, in our opinion, being a sports fan means being an Olympics fan. Sure, the games drive us nuts at times. The IOC’s hyper-vigilance against corporate logos that don’t have a financial relationship with the Olympics are just the start (we’ll never forget the Chinese archer who had to place yellow tape across the Chicago Bears’ ‘C’ logo on his baseball cap in the midst of competition at London 2012). But whatever. The Olympics are a blast for anybody who loves sports, and this year has been just as much fun as any other.

In 2008, Shanghai Scrap did its best to document the Beijing 2008 Olympics (both at the blog, and at the Atlantic). Alas, no invites were forthcoming for London 2012, so we did the next best thing: we documented Chinese reaction to the Olympics from the Shanghai seat at Bloomberg World View. In total, that encompasses four pieces that – we hope – display the complicated feelings that contemporary Chinese society has for sports, the Olympics, and the world in which it competes every day.

Indeed, despite the efforts by some media commentators to paint Chinese Olympians as joyless automatons performing for joyless, nationalist audiences, the reality is far more complex. The Olympics are, above everything else, fun here – as well as serious national business. I hope these pieces brought that out:

I’ll be writing more about these topics in the coming year, hopefully, and I’ll keep the updates coming here, and on twitter.


Is Delta Airlines Scamming its Customers With Change-Ticket Fees?

The other day I purchased a ticket from Delta Airlines, the world’s largest airline, for international travel in the month of September. Then, as sometimes happens, something came up and I needed to change the dates of my outgoing flight by a few days.

I had no illusions: change ticket fees are expensive. Generally, they reflect the difference in fares between the one purchased and the one now desired, and a straight-up penalty. Nonetheless, when I called Delta I was more or less confident that I’d get a straight price for the change, and that’d be that.

How wrong I was.

So. Wednesday morning (Shanghai time) I called Delta’s premium help line (I’m platinum medallion with the airline) and informed the customer service representative that I’d like to move my outbound flight to a date four days earlier. Within two minutes, the operator quoted me a price – $360 – and then told me that she’d like to send me over to the ‘international desk’ where I’d likely get a better price. Sure enough, I did: $340. Still, it seemed odd to me that different customer service reps at the same airline were quoting different prices to change a ticket. So I decided to wait a day, and see if the price changed.

Less than 24 hours later I called the premium line again. This time I was told that the price for the change would be $560. I told the rep that it’d been $200 cheaper the day before, and to please transfer me to the international desk. Sure enough, at the international desk I was given a cheaper price: $540. Of course, that price was $200 more than what I’d been quoted the day before – a fact that I mentioned to the customer service representative.

His brusque response was to tell me that “prices change every day.” His tone, meanwhile, projected: “You are an idiot.”

I hung up the phone and immediately re-dialed the premium customer service line one more time. This time I reached the friendliest operator yet, and – go figure – the friendliest change ticket fee: $321. I immediately agreed to it. Nonetheless, I was sorely tempted to call back and see if I couldn’t find an operator who would bring it down further. After all, if five calls and five different operators had brought me my cheapest price yet, what could a sixth call do? Continue reading

The Exxon Valdez’s Eco-Friendly Afterlife

The ship once-known as the Exxon Valdez is about to become a bunch of structural steel in West India’ s Gujarat state. It a fascinating story about how the ship responsible for the second largest oil spill in US waters (since surpassed by the Deepwater Horizon debacle/disaster) is now going to end its life in a scrap yard located on one of the world’s most notorious beaches. My take on the matter is “The Exxon Valdez’s Eco-Friendly Afterlife,” just posted over at Bloomberg View. Some of the arguments made in that post echo the themes that I’ll explore in Junkyard Planet, my forthcoming account of the globalized recycling markets for Bloomsbury Press.

 One additional note. Along with e-scrap, ship breaking has an awful, environmentally-ruinous reputation. Some of that is earned, and some of it is over-played. But what’s also indisputably the case is that it’s possible to improve developing world ship breaking, and China is really leading this movement. Above, a photo of an environmentally-secure ship breaking yard not far from Shanghai, in part developed and managed by a major European shipper. I took this image on the deck of an automobile carrier in the process of being dismantled. In the distance is an oil tanker in the process of being reduced to scrap to feed China’s voracious need for steel.

More on this topic soon.