Posted by: scribe9 | December 11, 2009

Light imports

In America it seemed as if everything except cars was made in China. Of course that wasn’t true, and I notice a few of the exceptions here. American imports are quite expensive. I can get almost any piece of Pyrex I want at supermarkets, houseware shops and hardware stores, but it will cost me a lot of money, even when converted to American dollars.

Rick recently rented a trumpet to play in the local orchestra. When he started practicing, he realized that in our small house, quite close to other houses and with single-pane windows, he ought to have a mute. I went to the music store where we rented the trumpet and asked for a mute. They don’t stock them any longer, because most people buy them on the Internet, but they could get one for me in a day or two for about $90. That seemed a bit steep for a simple straight mute. I went around the corner to the other music store, and was shown a cup mute for $105. It looked just like those we used to sell at my dad’s music store back in the seventies for maybe ten bucks. And sure enough, it was made in East Chicago, by Humes and Berg. Rick decided he’d import his own; a friend of Emily’s is coming for New Year’s and she can bring the one he’s had since junior high school.

The stores also sold Zildjian cymbals, Takamine guitars, and Fender guitars and amps, just as my dad’s store had. After all these decades, Fender is still making the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars, and Bassman amps, that helped put me and my siblings through college.

 We decided to buy a few Christmas decorations—not a fake tree (which is mostly what people get here), and not a real one, as we’ll be out of town most of the two weeks before Christmas. I got a small clay crèche from Peru at the local fair trade store, at about what I’d probably pay for it in 10,000 Villages. We went to one of the $2 stores (every street downtown has at least one) and bought a cheap banner and garland, made in China. Then the issue was lights. We’re accustomed to paying about $3-4 for a strand of a couple of hundred lights. Here, a hundred lights cost at least $20—and they’re the same Chinese lights. (Here they’re called fairy lights.)

 We finally sprang for 100 lights, opened the box, and found out why they’re so expensive. The string came with its own heavy transformer. Apparently the Australia/New Zealand market, sharing the same type of electrical outlet with each other but nowhere else, is so small (only 25 million) that the strings are made like those for other places and then fitted with transformers. Now we realize that our neighbors at the corner, who have thousands of regular lights, several sleighs, Santa skiing down the roof, reindeer, and varicolored stars, have invested thousands in their light display—and we know why everybody else just has lights just on their small Christmas trees.


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