Sunday, 11 November 2007

La Vuelta del Tornillo [The Turn of the Screw]

This might turn out to be a bit of an anti-Chinese rant. If it does, I apologise. It's actually a rant against people who think that the cheapest possible thing can also be the best thing, even if it doesn't work properly.

What's brought this on, Keefie?

Well, when you move into a new home, you inevitably have to do things like putting up shelves, or hooks, or whatever. And you also have to get all your electrical gadgets working. We shipped a fair amount of electrical stuff from Dubai - computers, monitors, printers, phone chargers, and sundry other stuff. Half of the gadgets have Brit-style 3-pin plugs, and the rest have crappy 2-pin jobbies. It so happens that Spain uses crappy 2-pin jobbies, so we needed to get adaptors for the 3-pin plugs. The sensible place to get adaptors would be a Ferreteria. These are lovely, old-fashioned places that sell ironmongery, hardware, tools etc. Be advised, I have never come across one that sells ferrets. They are almost all family-run, mom 'n' pop type places, which means, of course, that they will not be open at the times when I want to buy the stuff I need - typically Sundays.

So, one Sunday, I want to buy a couple of 3-pin to 2-pin adaptors. All the Ferreterias are shut. But all is not lost; the Chinese we-sell-absolutely-everything-for-your-house shop is open. So I buy the afore-mentioned adaptors, probably for 50 cents each, and I go home and try to use them. By crikey, it's a tight fit to get the 3-pin plug into the front end, and an equally hard struggle to get the 2 pins into the socket. But, it works. Some time later, I naturally need to unplug one device and connect another one, and at this point the front end of the adaptor decides to part company with the back end, leaving a lot of dangerously exposed, electrically live, metalwork in the socket.

Another weekend. I had bought a towel rail and some bathroom hooks from IKEA. I did not buy screws because IKEA stuff normally comes with the exact amount minus 1 and I was sure that my toolbox contained dozens of the blighters. Wrong on both counts. So I trundle off to the Chinese place and get a packet of screws. They pay me to take them away.

When I start the work I see why the screws are so cheap. When you give them that final twist to make sure they are nice and tight, the head snaps off. This is obviously not good because it is the tapered head that holds whatever you are erecting in place. The first time it happened I thought it was a one-off. But when the second screw did exactly the same thing I was somewhat dischuffed. It is incredibly difficult to get rid of the shaft of a broken screw once you've stuck it into your wall.

These two experiences have left me very wary of Chinese places in general. It does not make me feel good that I bought a couple of plug adaptors for 1 Euro, or a sackful of screws for 75 cents. The damn things didn't work, and I would have willingly paid three or four times what I did pay to get stuff that just does its job.

And then I read about the Chinese Chang-E 1 moon program somewhere. I can't remember where, but I got it into my head that the entire cost of the project, involving numerous unmanned launches, moon rovers and finally some Chinese dudes actually landing on the moon was supposed to be $95 million. I mean, are they gonna buy rivets and stuff from this we-sell-absolutely-everything-for-your-moonshot shop? How successful will that be?

But I just Googled the Chinese moonshot and was disappointed to see that the total cost of the project will be about $10.7 billion, which is a bit more like it.

Oh, and a week after the screw incident, and subsequently buying beautiful Spanish screws for 5 cents each, I discovered that my toolbox has a little chest of drawers built into the front. And the little drawers contain about 100 shiny brass screws of various sizes.


Grumpy Goat said...

There is a saying that goes:

"The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory."

It was coined by Aldo Gucci, one of the sons of Guccio Gucci, he of shoes and handbags fame. As it were.

nzm said...


When we arrived in Melbourne, the first thing that I did was remove all the Brit plugs and fit 3 pin OZ/NZ plugs to all our appliances and lights etc.

The 3 pins are more secure than the 2 pins and I like the fact that there's an Earth wire - probably a false sense of security!

What got me was the quality of the plugs that I got to buy - they were crap in comparison to what we used to be able to get which were solid, well-built hardened plastic jobs with good brass screws etc.

And to make it worse, they weren't that cheap either.

Empathise with you - we seem to be going through similar relocation projects, but at least we haven't had to learn another language as well - although introducing Jen to Aussie slang and vernacular has been entertaining, especially when she tries to reason it out with German logic! :-)

Jin said...

Just about every African country I've lived in has been swamped with cheap Chinese stuff - electric plugs, adaptors & extensions being very good sellers. It didn't take too many times for us to pay more for decent quality stuff, especially after almost being poisoned by the fumes created from burning wires. No velly goodoh!!

P.S. Am coupla chapters into the book & loving it! Sorry I haven't polished it off completely already, but time's limited.

Keefieboy said...

Jin: I'm actually rewriting the first half of the book. You'll see later on that the second half (written in Madrid) is a lot better than the first (written in Dubai). But I'm glad you're enjoying it!

leftbanker said...

Why would anyone bother to go into a casino and play games of chance when you can buy something at these Chinese variety stores and then take a guess on whether it will actually work at all or for how long? These stores, which I call Chinese mini Wal-Marts, serve as an example for what happens when the West relinquishes every bit of its manufacturing to a country with little in the way of environmental or worker regulations simply because the products are cheaper. The West spent the better part of the last century defeating this sort of caveat emptor school of doing business and now we are back at square one—but what bargains!