Who Will Protest China’s Stock Market Plunge?

Last August several hundred protestors gathered outside the Shanghai sales office of China Greentown Holdings, a real estate developer, holding banners with slogans such as “300,000 yuan worth of assets evaporate within five days — years of work in vain!” That loss – around $48,000 – was the difference between what the protestor had paid for a home, and the current price at which Greentown was now marketing models in the same complex. The protest wasn’t unique. A few weeks earlier, homeowners at the Champs Élysées housing development in Hangzhou gathered to protest a similar developer price cut, holding banners with message such as “Return my blood and sweat money” while police formed barricades. Around the same time in Jinan, a city 500 miles north of Shanghai, a similar protest turned violent after yet another market-desperate developer discounted homes by 25 percent. And those were just the most recent permutations of a phenomenon – homeowners protesting their devalued homes – that goes back to 2011, at least. Continue reading

So long, Shanghai, I’ve entered the Relocation Department.

As of today, I have relocated to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s a new home (for me, at least), and a new adventure. But I’d be lying to say that I won’t miss Shanghai, my home of 12 years. In fact, let me just come out and write it: I’ll miss Shanghai, my home of 12 years. It’s been a privilege to live here, and I’ve tried to enjoy everything that this fantastic city has to offer. That noted, you can’t truly be in Shanghai unless you know how much of Shanghai you’re missing. With utmost humility, I must admit that I missed a whole lot … and thus, I’ll need to visit.

Why the relocation? The reasons are many. As a writer, I’m ready to see and write about the world from a different geographic perch. Malaysia has much to recommend it, including – and critically – deep personal ties.

For readers of my work, I can still be found at Bloomberg View, and I’ll continue writing about Asia on a regular basis. At the same time, I’ll be branching out into some different topics that interest me, including science, space, and sports (readers of my View columns have already seen hints of the shift). For my longtime scrap/junk/waste readers, no fears: I’ll continue on the beat. In fact, I’ve booked some features with Scrap and Recycling International for later this year.

As for Shanghai Scrap – I’m just not sure. But this, I know: it won’t suddenly become Kuala Lumpur Scrap.

Finally, I’m in the early stages of a new book project. Not ready to say much about it yet except that it’ll be very, very trashy.

Oh, unsolicited advice for expats new and old: skip the Bali and Thai vacations, and spend some time on holiday in China, especially out west.

So that’s that. Thanks again, Shanghai. It’s been a pleasure, and I hope to see you soon.

Junkyard Planet, in translation. Vice. Reviews.

It’s been more than two months since my last update, but that’s not to suggest that nothing is happening on Junkyard Planet. Where to start?

Over the last couple of years, some of the best and most interesting journalism related to the global scrap industry has come out of Vice, and thus I was really pleased to sit down with them in November for an interview regarding Junkyard Planet. That interview turned into an opportunity to work with them on a segment on scrap metal theft, and the globalization of the metal trade for HBO. So, in January, on very short notice, I flew out to North Carolina and met up with a Vice crew for a shoot with my friend Johnson Zeng, scrap trader extraordinaire (readers of Junkyard Planet will know him well). It’s hosted by David Choe – and I’m in it, too, in the second half. HBO subscribers can see the segment on demand, here. A teaser for the full episode (which first aired on March 28) is here:

Next up – and belatedly – the traditional Chinese language translation of Junkyard Planet was released in Taiwan by China Times Publishing on February 24. Continue reading

It really is a Junkyard Planet, Everywhere Edition.

It’s been nearly a month since my last update from the Junkyard Planet world tour (of sorts). Since then, we’ve been in the UK, Malaysia, Singapore … and now we’re back in Shanghai. To my ever-persistent surprise, Junkyard Planet continues to have legs – and get press. My hope, from the moment I wrote a proposal for the book, is that it would have mass market appeal. But it’s one thing to hope, and another altogether to learn that the book is available at WalMart. That’s a big step, and one that I certainly didn’t see coming.

At the same time, I continue to be gratified by the large number of independent booksellers, worldwide, who’ve chosen to offer Junkyard Planet to their customers. They’ve been key to its success, and I’ve enjoyed the appearances I’ve made – and will continue to make – at indie bookstores worldwide. Below, a photo of me and Kenny Leck, the owner of the amazing Books Actually in Singapore. What a fantastic place – not just a bookstore, but also a junk/antique shop filled with stuff that Kenny has personally scrounged up on his rounds in Singapore. Later this year, I’m going to head out grubbing with Kenny, and do an event at his shop as well. Can’t wait. In the meantime, if you get to Singapore, RUN – don’t walk – to Books Actually. It’s awesome.


We’ve had terrific press in Singapore, including a feature profile in the Straits Times, the island’s biggest paper, that can be found here (the original is paywalled), and another piece in the Business Times. And there was some television: I appeared on Channel NewsAsia’s AM Live! show (sort of Good Morning America, for Singapore). Across the causeway in Malaysia, I was profiled by Kenny Mah for the Malay Mail and was the lucky beneficiary of a full-page books feature in The Star, Malaysia’s biggest English-language newspaper, by Natalie Heng. Continue reading

Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: Hunks of Scrap Day 2

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, every weekday I’m posting a new photo taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. This week, at the strong suggestion of my wife, I’m running a series we’re calling Hunks of Scrap (for more info, see Monday’s Scene). As always, click to enlarge:

DSC02922This strapping gentlemen was photographed two days before Carnival 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He and the less strapping gentleman behind him were photographed atop a five meter high pile of pots and pans collected – on an ongoing basis – from local households for recycling. I’ve never received a very good explanation as to why pots and pans in Brazil are recycled at such a high rate – but I digress. Today’s Hunk of Scrap, like yesterday’s from Vietnam, developed his fine physique by working in scrap yards, where repetitive lifting of moderate weights has produced spectacular results (disregarding the modest but noticeable belly, surely the result of the rich local cuisine). On the day that I joined him atop this pile of pots and pans, his job was less strenuous: he and his colleague were separating lightweight steel pots from aluminum ones, so that they might be sent to the correct furnaces. Eventually, I was told, the men would work their way down Mt. Pots and Pans. It was, as I recall quite distinctly, quite hot atop the pots and pans (thus, he wears no shirt), as they were located in a sun-baked warehouse lacking in a/c.

Anyway, as noted in yesterday’s inaugural edition of Hunks of Scrap, this week only I’m accepting reader-submitted images for the series – to be judged by my wife – at ShanghaiScrap at gmail com. Alas, I haven’t received any yet …

Previous ‘Scenes from a Junkyard Planet’ can be found here.


Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: Hunks of Scrap, Day 1

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, every weekday I’m posting a new photo taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s image was suggested by wife who expressed concern that last week’s images – especially Friday’s – verged on the dull. As a result, I have no choice but to juice up this ongoing blog series with a week-long set of photos that I’m going to call the “Hunks of Scrap.” As always, click to enlarge.


This ripped gentleman – he goes by the single name “Chinh” – was photographed at his Saigon-area scrap yard in 2007. How, you may be wondering, does one acquire such a physique working at a scrap yard? Well, if you spend your days picking up heavy steel rods, you’re bound to develop some tone, eventually. And that’s what Chinh and his employees spend their days doing: picking up heavy steel reinforcing bars (like those in the background), heating them in furnaces, and then running that heated steel through machines that roll it into new bars (a process seen in part in the August 16 Scene from a Junkyard Planet). But why, it’s fair to ask, is Chinh wandering around his scrap yard shirtless? Two reasons, so far as I could tell: a) furnaces raise the temperatures at Chinh’s plant to shirtless temperatures (unless you’re working with those furnaces); and b) wouldn’t you?

A note to readers: Scenes from Junkyard Planet is proudly sourced from my archive of thousands of scrap recycling photos taken around the world over the last decade. But this week – and this week only – I’m open to publishing images submitted by readers who work in the recycling industry. Just please make sure that you own the images, and you aren’t posed doing anything you wouldn’t want your employer or local safety inspector to see. Be warned: my wife makes the final call on what makes it to the site. Send submissions to ShanghaiScrap at gmail com.

Previous ‘Scenes from a Junkyard Planet’ can be found here.


Stop the Baseless Panicking Over E-Waste

What happens to your old phones, computers, televisions and other devices when you drop them into the recycling bin? For more than a decade, the standard answer to that question has been some variation of: they’re “dumped” in China. The examples are rife: from a Peabody-award winning story by Sixty Minutes, to beautifully laid-out, two-page op-eds in the New York Times. Yet, as a steady flow of new studies are showing, the assumption that US e-waste is being dumped in developing countries is turning out to be a baseless myth. In fact, rather than dumping US e-waste in developing countries, US electronics repair and recycling companies are actually doing the difficult work of disposing of more than 80% US electronics – right at home.

This is the topic of my new op-ed running at Bloomberg View: Stop the Baseless Panicking Over US E-Waste.


More important, yet, we’re learning that most of the so-called e-waste that’s shipped to developing countries actually goes for repair, refurbishment and re-use – a far more environmentally pleasing result than recycling. Above, a Malaysian refurbishment facility that I documented for Scrap Magazine in 2011.