The Lastest Tech from Strange Parts

A tour of a cool factory that makes amazing UV printers. Something to behold in Shenzhen, China.

Sepia Saturday

Bleach Room Boys (Sepia Saturday 475)

I’m sharing photos of 3 boys this week for Sepia Saturday. Yes, the prompt shows young workers, but I was inspired to take a look at boys.

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Source: Preus Museum, n.d. | “Happy Boys”

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Source: Library of Congress, 1910 | Pin boys in Lowell, MA

3 boysz

Source: Library of Congress, 1910 | Cigar factory, Tampa, FL

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Source: Florida Memory, circa 1947 | Playing cowboy

I thought I’d share a poem that celebrates boyhood.

The Barefoot Boy

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy, –
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art, – the grown-up man
Only is republican.

Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye, –
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;

Continue reading

The Radium Girls

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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore tells the story of the young women who worked in factories painting iridescent numbers on watch and clock dials. In New Jersey and Illinois after WWI, girls were hired to use paint made with radium to make the dials glow in the dark. The technique they were required to use was to lick the tip of the brush, dip it in the paint and paint the numbers. Then they were to repeat. No step to clean the brush.

At the time radium was believed to be an ultra-healthy substance. No safety precautions were taken.

These girls were proud to earn good wages and had a good lifestyle. Proud of their work, when they would go out dancing, they would take the radium dust rub it on their eyelids and skin, which made them glow.

As you can imagine, the women started to get ill. One woman had awful jaw pain, and when she went to the dentist her jaw fell out, which was the first of many ailments that inflicted her and her colleagues. One after another, the girls began to experience horrific health issues. The radium would attack their bones. Others, as you’d guess, got rare, devastating cancers.

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Statue of a Radium Girl, Ottawa, Illinois

The girls began to take legal action and the two radium companies fought them tooth and nail. The story soon turns to one of courage and tenacity as these women fight for their lives and fight for justice in the courts against two Goliath companies.

In many ways the story is hard to take, but because these women banded together and had great resilience and remained strong in spirit and clung to hope, The Radium Girls was not a depressing story. My only critique is that the author’s scope covering two factories which weren’t that connected, made the book confusing at times. Yet I understand her desire to tell the full story. I think it would have been better if Moore had focused on fewer girls and added an epilogue about the others. I highly recommend reading The Radium Girls.

(Janice, thanks for recommending this compelling, yet sad book.)

Country Driving

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China expert Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is wild and crazy ride through a China in transition. Part travelogue, part memoir, Hessler begins by describing  his trips from Beijing out west along the Great Wall (make that Great Walls, because it never was one wall, but the Europeans thought it was and kept referring it to as the Great Wall so in the end the Chinese figured, “just go with it.”) He drove beaters he rented from a chain smoker who’d just laugh whenever Hessler broke the company’s rules. Throughout part one he sprinkles the questions from the drivers’ test.

133. If you drive for four hours, you must stop the car and take a mandatory rest of at least

a) 10 minutes

b) 15 minutes

c) 20 minutes.

356. If you give somebody a ride and they realize he left something in your car, you should:

a) keep it for yourself

b) return it to the person or his place of work as quickly as possible

c) call him and offer to return it for a reward.

My favourite part of the book was part two when Hessler rented a small house in rural Sancha, two hours outside of Beijing. In time Hesssler becomes “Uncle Monster,” almost part of the Wei family. Here I learned so much about life in rural China. The Wei’s are a young couple and parents of the only child in the village (because most young villagers went off to seek their fortunes). Hessler gets involved with the Wei’s who rented him the home on behalf of their cousins. When their 5 year old son gets a rare blood condition and the family is given the brush off at a hospital in a city near the village, Hessler steps up to get better healthcare in Beijing. I was stunned by how uncaring and out of touch the healthcare professionals were. Hessler saw that the parents were getting 2nd class treatment because they looked like peasants. He then began asking questions on the parents’ behalf. He wanted to make sure the boy got clean blood, but the doctor he spoke with kept insisting there was no way to be sure the blood wasn’t contaminated with HIV or hepatitis. She didn’t believe there were tests for these diseases!

I also was particularly struck by Hessler’s description of teacher-parent conferences. All the parents sit in rows of chairs as the teacher describes each child’s behaviour and progress for all to hear. “Xiao Gao always wets his pants and starts fights with other boys.” “Xiao Wang is horrible in math and is lazy.” No privacy here. When the boy was publicly called out for not sitting still his parents beat him and teased him mercilessly.

In the last part of the book, Hessler goes south to see how a rural community changes with its first wave of manufacturing comes to town. He sees the change through a relationship he cultivates with men starting a factory that makes bra wings. I know more about these metal pieces on bra straps than I ever dreamed. I also learned that most of this manufacturing boom is lead by teams where the highest level of education for its leaders may be middle school, that most factories prefer to hire young girls with little experience or education as such girls cause the least amount of “trouble.” If you lie in a job interview, even if you provide a fake ID and misrepresent who you are, you are likely to be most valued because it’s assumed you “really want work.” As I read, I couldn’t stop thinking what a house of cards this whole boom is.

Travel Theme: Industry

Xitang, China

Xitang, China

Each week Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack? challenges bloggers with a creative prompt. Last  week we were suppose to post photos inspired by “Industry.”

What sparkling images have you shot? If you want to join the fun, follow these steps:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel Theme: Industry.
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
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Check out Where’s My Backpack for more photos interpreting “Industry.”

À Nous la Liberté

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Directed by René Clair, À Nous la Liberté (1931) follows the attempt of two convicts to escape. One man succeeds, but his friend is captured. The man who escapes starts a new life selling phonographs on the street. Soon he’s prospered and owns a store. Not much later he owns a huge factory making thousands of phonographs. One memorable scene shows his workers marching in to work, punching in, taking their seats on an assembly line and working like machines, just as the factory owner had when he was in prison. The striking similarity is not accidental.

Later the factory owner’s friend is freed and by chance meets his rich pal. The film is full of such coincidences but they made me smile rather than roll my eyes. At first the prosperous man is leery. Does his old chum want to black mail him?

No. His old friend Emile is far more sincere, more innocent. Despite the soul-killing monotony, Emile wants to continue working at the factory so he can woo a woman he’s infatuated with. As the rich men’s high society friends talk about him behind his back and are stuffy bores, the factory owner opens his life and his wallet to his old pal to help him win this woman’s heart. Then the wheel of fortune turns against this pair of friends.

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The film does use sound, though sparingly. For much of the beginning I thought it was a silent film. Michael Atkinson applauds Clair for experimenting with should when directors like Chaplin where “too timid to.” It’s a fun, clever film that has an uplifting feel to it. I agree with critic Atkinson who describes as “bouncy with melody, soaked in spring light, wistful about the conflicted relationship between serendipity and love.”

Clair was the first to film a scene where all hell breaks loose when workers can’t keep up with the assembly line. His studio and some critics believe that Chaplin plagiarized À Nous la Liberté when he made Modern Times. Clair didn’t get involved and said since he appreciates so much of what Chaplin’s done, if he did borrow from this film, that’s fine. His studio disagreed and took legal action which dragged on for 10 years. They lost.

À Nous la Liberté has a surprising, positive (or perhaps naive) ending. I can see why the film was on a list of “Most Influential Films” I received at Act One. So glad my library had it.

From Bangladesh

I’ve watched the news of Bangladesh, the collapsed garment factory and the protests, with sympathy and concern as a friend runs a school there. He’s fine, but had this to say about the situation there:

I am fine except I’ve been greatly saddened by the tragedy of the collapsed factory building at Savar on April 24th.  The death toll according to this morning’s paper is over 1,100.
On Friday, the 26th, I visited the site, which is probably within fifteen miles of here, on one of our school microbuses.  My Vice-Principal and one of the staff and I found a few shops open (Friday is a holiday) in the area and brought a small donation of wire cutters, hammers, metal poles, hacksaw blades, face masks, wire tubing (for sending oral saline, water, and/or oxygen down to those still alive in the rubble), flashlights, air freshers, and food.  We made two visits that afternoon and had no trouble getting by the patrol keeping vehicles out as we had come to bring supplies.  There was a large crowd, probably mostly families of victims hoping to see their loved ones rescued, at the site.  I saw two people, an old man and a young girl, who were clearly grieving.  I could see only the wrecked front of the building, which was an awful enough spectacle.  The ground was a mosaic of purple glass shards from the facade.  Just after we arrived the first time, they rushed out on stretchers and put in ambulances five survivors!  They had been in the wreckage for more than two days.  I saw two of them, both women, on the stretcher. There was a fairly steady stream of ambulances from the site for a while after that.  Some 2,437 people were eventually rescued by the end of April.
You probably saw in the news a few days ago the amazing story of one more person’s rescue, a female garment worker, who had been trapped for 17 days.
The local garment industry is likely to suffer as international companies decide to go to other countries where labor standards are better.  Since garments is the country’s chief export, there may be even more poverty until safer factories and conditions can be set up.
The country’s political situation has greatly deteriorated since last December.  Just after my departure early that month for Washington to be with my family, the opposing political party began staging regular “hartals,” or potentially violent protests.  On May 5th and 6th, they held a siege of the city, blocking six major ports of entry by road and rail.  Fighting and arson, initiated in part by an Islamic fundamentalist faction, gripped the city on the night of the 5th.
 I’ll keep Bangladesh in my prayers. It seems like so much is going wrong there.