Monday, March 27, 2006


Barbie in China

One of the few things people don't know about me is that I'm a closet Barbie fan. Don't ask me how or why but I am. (What do you expect from someone who loves Barry Manilow?) Last week I had an opportunity to tour a Mattel Barbie factory in Chang An, China. I know this probably sounds like a really dumb thing to want to do and who cares about Barbie, but let me tell you, this was so totally cool. I have never really thought about what goes into making a Barbie, but what I saw that day was just unbelievable. I figured plastic would be poured into a machine and out would come a doll. The doll would then go into another machine and out she would come with all her make up and clothes done. Not even close!!!! Every single little tiny thing about her is done almost completely by hand. Machines are definitely used to make the doll and to cut out the material for her clothes, but they don't do a whole lot more other then spray some paint and sew some clothes.

Just a few quick statistics before I show you how she is made.

-During peak season there are 16,500 workers at the Chang An factory
-There are factories in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangkok and Mexico
-China represents 60% of Mattel production
-The plant we visited produces 1 million Barbie’s a week
-All the factories together produce 80 million Barbie’s a year
-Mattel produces over 800 new toys a year
-90% of the workers come from really poor farm villages in China
-The employees work 6 days a week
-For 72 hours a week they get paid approximately US$200 a month
-The workers still have to pay room and board out of the $200

This is where her head is made. Rubber is squirted into these holes that are the mold, clamps are placed over the top, this round metal thing is then shoved into an oven for a few minutes, it comes out, gets hosed off, a hole is poked in the top of her head to release air, then her head is popped out of the bottom.

The leftover rubber stuff then gets trimmed off.

The hinge part of her leg (which makes her knee bend) is put in an oven where plastic gets shaped around the hinge in the form of a leg. The leg is then hung up to cool off.

This part is crazy. Every single bit of her make up is spray painted on by hand. The doll head is placed in a mold with the only thing exposed is what is to be painted, for example her lips. The girl then spray paints her lips pink, then the head moves onto the next girl who does the same thing for her eyebrows, then onto the next girl for her eyelashes, etc., etc. The doll head goes through about 20 different girls because of all the detail involved in her makeup.

This is evil Barbie head before she gets "exorcised".

Barbies makeup complete.

This is Superman's head. He doesn't get as much "love" as Barbie does.

This is a fancier Barbie. She gets a lot more makeup then the regular Barbie.

A line of workers doing the makeup of Barbie.

This is how Barbie gets put together. I'm not quite sure if her front is getting melted onto her back or what. No matter how she gets put together, it just looks wrong!

Bucket o' Barbies

This is how the hair gets sewn on the head. The needle is incredibly fast and somehow the girls manage to not get their fingers sewn into the head.

The girls that "style" Barbie's hair are highly paid because of how fast they have to be. Yes, the hair gets hand braided, combed, styled, you name it. A machine does not do it.

All the jobs are mind-numbing boring but this one takes the cake. This is some sort of water gun Ken doll. Her job is to press the button that brings the arm forward with the water gun, push it back into position, press the button again, push the arm back into position and then press the button a third time and then push the arm back into position to make sure it works three times in a row.

It is amazing how hard these people work for such little money (or what is considered "little money" to us). I saw no water coolers, I think bathroom breaks are discouraged because it distrupts the work flow and the least Mattel could do is pipe in some music for them to listen to (maybe a little Barry Manilow???) From what we were told though, this is a very good job to have. Since it is an American company the employees are treated very well and it is a coveted job. Go America!!!!

Monday, March 20, 2006


Human Bones, Puppies and Cement

Since the weather has been cool these last several months, Troy and I have been able to get out and go hiking again. We've been hiking with a group of friends on Saturdays and then I have also been going with a group of ladies on Mondays. It is on these hikes that we see parts of Hong Kong that are absolutely beautiful, some that are a little gross and some that are a little mind boggling. The unfortunate thing is the pollution has been at it's all time worst these last few months so views that should have been astonishing are hazy, dingy and causing you to ask questions such as "Is that the South China Sea over there or a shopping mall?" Although, there have been times where we have lucked out with decent views.

One of the things we have learned in Hong Kong is regarding the burial of their dead. Because of land space, bodies can only be buried for 7 years. Religion and traditions make it so people choose casket burials over cremation. After the 7 year period, the coffin is dug up, the bones of the deceased are polished by family members and then placed in urns or bone jars. These bone jars are then located (what seems to me) to be completely random places around Hong Kong. It is on our hikes that we have come across a lot of these bone jars. Some of the places these jars reside make sense, say in a designated place in a small village or near the relatives homes. But more often, the jars are placed on hillsides, in dense bushes, in the middle of a cow field... you name it. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to where most of these are placed. They all have lids on them but they are easily removed. No, we have not removed any lids ourselves, although at times, we have been tempted to take a look inside. I have talked to a few friends that have taken the lids off and sure enough, there are human bones inside.

One of the really cool things that we see on our hikes are these tiny villages you would never normally come across. They are a combination of really, really old buildings and new construction as well. They also have at least one Buddhist temple where they pray at. Several of the old buildings have their doors broken or missing so you are able to walk in and look around. On our hike this week, we came across one run down shack that had a coffin inside. None of us were willing to open it to see if there was a body inside or if it was just an old, empty coffin. (In the picture, the weird shaped thing on the right is the coffin.) And then for another interesting sight is the old Chinese man that comes shuffling out of his house at 11:30am with his pajamas still on, scratching his ass. If I had more nerves I would have taken a picture of him.

It also must be puppy season. We must have come across at least 25 puppies with their moms. In one village where we stopped to pet the puppies, the guy who had just sold us our water wanted us to take the puppies with us. He also kept making an eating gesture so I'm not sure if he meant for us to stay and eat lunch at his restaurant or to take the puppies to eat later (which is not even funny to joke about.) We were interested in neither!

During our hike Monday, a helicopter kept flying back and forth carrying some sort of bucket that looked like it might be used to carry water. We couldn't figure out what he was doing but we hoped to find out soon because we were gradually getting closer to where he was flying to. On this hike, there was a lot of cement paths and stairs. As we came around a bend in the hill we could see construction workers ahead building the concrete steps. To detour hikers around their work they had "built" these tiny stairs made out of tiny little planks of wood nailed to what seemed to be air. We were to use these “steps” to get around their construction. As we are passing right next to the workers, the helicopter we had been seeing all of a sudden appears directly above us, hovering really low. His bucket that we couldn’t figure out what it was for was holding cement and he needed to dump it right next to where we were standing. Of course, being a bunch of dumb women our initial reaction is "Where do we go? What do we do? Oh shit!!" The workers are frantically motioning for us to back up. So we quickly make our way up these tiny little wood steps, not sure if we should take our chance with cement bucket instead. We finally get to a safe place while the cement gets dumped. I was talking to Troy about this later and the only place in the US that we could think of that would have cement delivered like that would be the base for power lines on mountain sides or ski lifts. The funny thing about this is how the Chinese government are very unconcerned about the safety of others. If cement needed to be poured like this in the US, the hiking trail would have been blocked off 500 yards back with hikers being diverted some other way

Even though I prefer the hiking in Colorado, I have to admit, I have never come across such unusual and interesting things as I have here in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Things I've Learned

Top 35 Things I Have Learned Living in Hong Kong

1. A large percentage of old Chinese women die their hair black (and do a horrible job of touching up the roots).

2. The mailman takes the bus to deliver mail

3. Chinese babies have the fullest head of hair I have ever seen

4. Chinese people will sleep anywhere, anytime

5. Waiting for the bus in the cold and rain sucks

6. There is a surprisingly large number of Husky breed dogs here considering the tropical climate

7. New Zealand is still a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong

8. I love public transportation

9. Chinese men don’t have facial hair

10. If they have facial hair, it is three very long pieces growing from a mole (gross)

11. Singapore is a very boring country

12. Pizza Hut delivery people take the bus to deliver pizza

13. I don’t miss mowing the grass or shoveling snow

14. SARS was a blessing in disguise for the sanitation of the city

15. My hair hates the humidity

16. I drink more not having a car

17. Singapore still hangs people for the death penalty

18. Chinese babies are the cutest of all the different nationalities we have come across

19. Shenzhen, China has the worlds largest golf course (like I care!)

20. Government officials in China get the death penalty for accepting bribes in exchange for giving promotions.

21. Only westerners use oversize strollers for their children

22. Chinese don’t use strollers, they carry their babies or make their small children walk

23. I have become rude pushing people to get off a bus or elevator

24. Filipino women are very short

25. HK’s pollution comes from mainland China, not just HK

26. If I never meet another lawyer in my life, I’m ok with that (they are everywhere in HK)

27. I don’t really like going to the spa

28. I don’t like traditional Chinese food

29. It’s ok to shove past people and not apologize

30. The Chinese don’t allow you to get off an elevator before they get on

31. A slow walking Chinese couple know how to space themselves perfectly so you can’t pass them on a sidewalk

32. Two people can easily spend $70 on a Mexican dinner

33. Four policemen will stop if you have a flat tire, but they won’t help you change it

34. I love having clothes made for myself

35. Chinese women sound like dying cats when they are arguing

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