Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Broom Scape

While traveling through China I came across an extreme irony, brooms. Take a look at the broom(s) you have in your cupboard. Many of us have multiple sweeping implements for different tasks. I have a broom for sweeping large areas, another for smaller areas, and yet one more handheld broom to gather crumbs and little pockets of debris. In fact, I have a micro broom, actually a paintbrush, used to remove dust that gathers on camera equipment. Each of the brooms that I own were made in China. It is through this lens that my broom intrigue began. With that intro behind us, lets get ironic. Throughout Chinese cities I witnessed government workers, construction personnel, and other citizens using presumably homemade straw/stick brooms. Aren't the majority of brooms in the United States made in China? On one occasion I passed by a massive construction site outside of Shanghai (the car was traveling too rapidly for me to capture the best example of workers utilizing the type of broom pictured above). Numerous construction workers were erecting a large complex and parts of the sidewalk and roadway were torn up. Three female construction workers were tasked with removing dust and other particulate with straw brooms. The job looked daunting due to the winds created by passing motor vehicles and the sheer amount of debris strewn about. Why were these workers using homemade brooms rather than those manufactured for export in China? I bet cost is an issue, but the situation did strike me as a bit odd. The workers were clad in vibrant blue jumpsuits fit for any Western factory worker, but the brooms were homemade, not the dense synthetic brooms sold at your local mega-mart. Strange. Venturing to the very place where many of our goods are fabricated presented an opportunity to view local life in the context of a manufacturing hub. Much of life in urban China seemed to mirror the United States. Underlying customs differ from the West, as is to be expected. However, as I watched women sweep the back-alleys, workers clean a construction site, and shopkeepers tidy their vestibules with handmade brooms, I started to realize that people living in the developing world live in contradiction. Better methods of cleaning are available, like gas-powered pneumatic blowers and large synthetic brooms, but these methods are probably out of reach for those who's country is a principal manufacturer. Many people in the developing world manufacture goods slated for export to the West. However, these citizens earn too little at the factories to purchase and use the goods that they make on a daily basis. My exploration of brooms in China has helped me become more aware of how goods are utilized throughout the world. I have always understood that manufacturing helps generate income for many people, but through this exercise, I can now visualize the steps better. Some people fabricate individual parts, others assemble those parts into finished products, yet more people sell and ship these goods to distributors, and the end-user purchases the products to make life easier. At each step in the spectrum, goods better the lives of those who participate in the process.

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