Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: The Platters.

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 reveals a low-tech means of recycling the platters that store the data inside of your hard drives. Click to enlarge.

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This 2011 image shows a south China factory devoted to the recycling of hard drive platters – those small, spinning discs inside of your drives that contain everything from your taxes to your family photos. The discs in this photo are aluminum, though they can also be manufactured from ceramic materials. Whatever the platter material, all discs are coated in a magnetic medium with significant monetary value. In the US, EU, and other developed countries, hard drives are shredded, rendering the platter and its valuable magnetic medium worth less than the value of the aluminum itself. But if a drive is sent to a developing  where hand labor can be utilized to remove the platter, the disc and the medium can then be recycled. The problem, as this photo reveals, is that the means of removing the magnetic medium from the platter is a simple chemical process that – alas – is typically performed in low-tech and environmentally unsound workshops. In this image, note the arrays on the right from which the platters are hanging. Those arrays will be dipped into a chemical bath which will remove the coating and render the platters into pure aluminum. Later, the coating will be refined and sold. It’s a dirty and dangerous process, and it raises a tough question: what’s better for the environment, this dangerous south China factory, or a US-style recycling plant that shreds discs into pieces that can’t be recycled nearly as well?

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

Other China correspondents write about politics; I write about carp.

It is not lost upon me that this week saw perhaps the biggest political story to emerge from China in two decades. Thus, it only seemed right that my Bloomberg World View column this week would focus on how Chinese netizens feel about the Asian Carp that are rampaging up the Mississippi, into the Great Lakes. I know, I know – how can you write about Asian carp when Bo Xilai is being relieved of his duties in Chongqing? And the answer, dear readers, is two-fold: a) sometimes these columns are turned in before breaking news, and b) I believe that most readers outside of China are more interested in rampaging Asian carp than Bo Xilai. I realize that’s a debatable, somewhat hard to swallow point for many of my China readers, but I stand by it. In any case,  I invite you to debate this and more in the comments to Chinese Fish for Meaning in US Carp Rampage.

Weekend Notes: Demolition (and) Baseball (and) guest-blogging

After an unusually acid week on Shanghai Scrap, the staff couldn’t be more anxious for the weekend. And we have plans.

First and foremost. If you happen to be in Shanghai at 16:00 on Saturday, and you take even a minor interest in all of those crumbling colonial buildings that dot downtown, then you’d better attend Amy Sommers’ lecture to the Royal Asiatic Society, “Disappearing Shanghai: The History of Shanghai Housing 1949 to the Present.” Regular readers may recall that I did a two-part Q&A with the wonderful Sommers on this very subject during summer of 2010 (part I and part II); they are two of my favorite posts from the long and illustrious history of Shanghai Scrap (again, part I and part II), and if they offer any indication of what’s to come on Saturday, you’re in for a treat. Better yet, Sommers’ presentation will feature photographs from my friend (and reported birthday celebrant) Sue Anne Tay (also the victim of a Shanghai Scrap Q&A, here), best known for her extraordinary Shanghai Street Stories blog.  In short: Saturday, 16:00 at the Puli Hotel, 1 Changde Road, Level 3 meeting room. Complete details here.

Next up: baseball bats.

One day I will write an essay on sacrifices associated with being an American sports fan in China. I mean, until you’ve experienced it, you really have no idea just how destructive breakfast MLB baseball can be to a day’s productivity. Total devastation. But I digress. Here’s the deal: on Sunday, your blogger’s favorite team is taking the spring training field against a bunch of chumps from Boston. I would like to watch. Alas, despite years of experience with this kind of thing, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get access to this game in Shanghai. There must be an audio or video feed somewhere, no? So, a Shanghai Scrap contest: the first person to send me a verifiable means of catching this game in Shanghai wins a 2011 membership to the Twins Territory Team (or MLB merchandise of equivalent value, so long as it doesn’t have a Yankees logo on it). Contact form is here. [UPDATED 2/27: In a late-breaking development, the Minnesota Twins website announced – at some point since I posted this – that the game will be available via MLB’s Gameday Audio service. I think this means that I owe somebody in the Twins PR office a membership.]

And finally, this space will be mostly idle next week while I’m guest blogging for James Fallows at the Atlantic. I have a little something special cooked up, something scrappy, and I’ll make a point of adding some links from this page. But the content will be there, and I hope you will be, too.

First Liverpool. Then Cooperstown. [One for the Americans]

For the record: nobody at Shanghai Scrap is in the least bit alarmed that a Chinese national wants to pay more than anybody else for the Liverpool Football Club. We have not read articles about this matter. We have not written blog posts about the matter. In fact, our interest is really limited to one fact: the prospective buyer, Kenny Huang of QSL, has a partnership with the Chinese Baseball Association, and the youth wing of that association just won a youth tournament over Japan, the United States, Taiwan, and several other baseball playing countries – on its first try. For years, we’ve argued that China has a glorious future on the baseball diamond, and this feels like sweet affirmation.

It also provides this blog with the perfect excuse to run a photo of a door that we’ve had hanging around the computer for a week or two. Here’s the deal: typically, 推 is translated as “push.” But on Shanghai’s Xinle Road, it receives a more sporting interpretation:

For my many non-American, non-baseball loving readers, a bunt occurs when a baseball batter taps the ball forward, rather than swings at the ball (wikipedia has an excellent entry on the bunt; e-how will give you detailed instructions on how to bunt; youtube has a treasure trove of bunting videos).

Is this an instance of Chinglish? After several lengthy discussions on the subject, I argue that it’s not (and thus does not violate Shanghai Scrap’s One Chinglish Post Per Year rule). Rather, what we have here, is poetry: to bunt is to push the ball, and the act of bunting often looks – if you squint – like somebody pushing open a door. Or something like that. Reluctantly, I open comments.

[NOTE: For those who don’t follow baseball, Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.]

The Dancing Beauty and Other Tales of Carp[/crab] Fishing in China, pt. II

[Pt. I of this multi-part series, in which the blogger goes shopping for tackle at what amounts to a giant carp fishing mall, can be found here.]

A friend from Minnesota, a walleye fisherman of some repute, once told me: “The only thing that comes close to the thrill of catching a fish is not catching a fish. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t get to fish with me.” I know exactly what he meant and no, it has nothing to do with six packs in the cooler on the floor of your boat. Instead he was talking about anticipation, and the itchy possibility that the mundane routines of daily like might just run into something wilder – with a little luck and patience. It’s the kind of anticipation that leads experienced fishermen to sit on a boat in the heat of the mid-day sun, lines in the water, knowing that – under such conditions – they’re about as likely to catch a blue whale as a walleye or a bass. And it’s just that kind of anticipation which – along with growing wealth, leisure time, automobile ownership, and restlessness – drives the quickening growth of recreational fishing in China.

Travel China’s cities and I guarantee that – if you come across an urban creek, river, or canal – you’ll eventually find somebody with a line in it, no matter how polluted, fishing for pleasure. Below, a photo of a fisherman beside the creek that runs through East China Normal University in Shanghai (courtesy of China writer, historian, and angler, Paul French, author of the great China Rhyming blog).

Alas, I think it no exaggeration to claim that China’s urban waterways are polluted and over-fished (if there are fish in them, at all), and so – for the serious angler – it’s necessary to look to the Chinese countryside for quality fishing (a topic about which I’ll have much more to say in coming months). At least, that’s what I’ve long thought. But curiosity, along with urban restlessness, occasionally gets the better of me, and so over the last year I’ve taken to asking around Shanghai for quality fresh water fishing (not stocked pond fishing). In other words: is it possible to fish quality, wild freshwater fish in a freshwater fish loving (and eating) city? The answer, I’d long been told, is no. But then, in March, a good friend called to tell me that a friend of his had mentioned a clean lake in the Shanghai outskirts filled with big, wild carp. Continue reading

The Dancing Beauty and other tales of carp fishing [equipment] in China, Pt. 1.

According to my sources, there are over 20,000 fishing tackle shops in China – a commercial phenomenon that defies many foreign stereotypes about China, not least of which is that you can’t find any good fishing in China. Over the next couple of months, and in a few different venues, I’m going to do my best to overturn that stereotype. But, more than that, I hope to show something different, and more positive, as well: that a growing Chinese middle-class, outfitted with spare-time, automobiles, and a desire to get out of the cities, is embracing fishing and other outdoor sports. Regular readers know that I’m loathe to draw sweeping conclusions from limited data, but in the case of fishing in China, I will say this: I’ve never met a fisherman who doesn’t care about blue skies and clean water. From such things, conservation movements have been born.

So how to measure the scale of fishing in China? I am not (yet) ready to give up the location of my favorite Chinese fishing holes. But, as a public service, I am willing to give up the location of the largest fishing tackle hub that I’ve ever encountered outside of the United States (hello, Cabela’s). So: grab yourself a taxi out to Putuo District, and direct the driver to the traffic jammed corner of Jinshajiang and Jingyang roads. There you’ll find a block-long, soot-streaked, pink tile building that – on its first floor – houses more than two dozen fishing tackle shops.

After the page jump, we visit some shops, buy my new/first carp fishing rod, and enjoy a quick chat with the brother/sister team that owns and runs Fengye Fishing Tackle. Continue reading

Watching World Cup in Shanghai

Crowds of World Cup fans assembled at the bars beneath my apartment building during the first half of South Africa v. Mexico.

This is but one bar of many, and the combined cheers reaching my window make it sound as if there’s a riot rushing through downtown Shanghai (note: there isn’t). The crowds for this year’s Cup opener are at least twice as large as four years ago, and many, many times larger than any of the Beijing 2008 Olympic crowds (including the opening ceremonies). What’s the explanation? What does it all mean? Far be it from me to speculate, but if I had to guess, I’d say: the bars are running better drinks specials.