“Hey darlin’! you want to go to Joe’s?” Jock asked with a big silly grin on his face.
“Joe’s” is how we refer to Szechuan 132, the Chinese restaurant on College Road, owned by Joseph Hou and his family. Jock and Joe go way back and frequently refer to each other as brothers, which can be an interesting spectacle for the uninitiated trying to figure out the familial relationships between the tall, square-headed Dutch-Canadian towering over the small, spry Asian man. But dinner at Joe’s is also usually reserved for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or out-of-town guests.
I couldn’t have forgotten an anniversary, I thought. The tables haven’t turned that much, have they?
“Sure, I’d love to have dinner at Joe’s,” I replied cautiously, mentally tripping through the calendar: It was September. We had just done my birthday in August, the next round of big celebrations wasn’t due to start for at least a month. What was I missing?
“Good. I need to get something translated. I thought we’d go to dinner there and see if anyone in the kitchen can help me.”
As it turned out, Jock had something Full Belly related from China—or a nearby country. Yet, when we got there, Jock did not pull out a document from his pocket. Instead it was a small, black plastic box.
“Joe, I need help,” he motioned. “I got this submersible pump shipped in today from a factory in China, and I can’t read what it says on the back. I think they might have switched the wires, and I don’t want to plug it in and drop in water if I’m not sure the wires are correct. Is there anyone here, maybe in the kitchen, who can help me translate this?”
As the truth of the situation slowly began to dawn on me, I felt my body flood with adrenaline, my skin got prickly and my brain began to feel warm, fuzzy and angry.
“You’ve stopped eating, is something wrong?” Jock asked, all innocently.
I gave him the meanest, angriest look I could muster in public and didn’t respond.
Joe came back with half the kitchen staff, and the five men took apart the pump while chattering at each other and pointing wildly, half in English half in Chinese, with Joe at the center, translating both ways. It was decided that indeed the instructions on the back of the pumps had crossed the wires and Jock had better re-wire them before he plugged them in and dropped them in a river.
“OK, do you want to tell me what has got you so pissed off?” Jock asked me on the way home.
“Did I understand correctly that you have ordered these submersible pumps directly from a factory in China?”
“Yes.” Jock looked at me.“Is that a problem?”
“There was nowhere in the USA that you could have purchased them and, for example, been able to read the back of them?”
Silence filled the car like a noxious fume.
“Oh,” Jock responded. “Mmmmm—well, I tried to get them here, and the best I could do was Canada. Then I decided to go straight to the source and order them from the factory in China. I saved about $100 per pump ordering from China.”
I was so angry I couldn’t bring myself to speak.
“I have a mandate to spend Full Belly’s money wisely,” he said.
The pumps were obviously for a project he was working on with water and Full Belly. The dinner was obviously an attempt to buy my forgiveness.
“No one is arguing that you have a mandate to spend Full Belly’s money wisely, but there are different ideas about wisely. China? You ordered pumps from a sweat shop in China? What about appropriate technology needing to be produced with a minimum of fossil fuel and replaceable parts in the country of origin? How can you possibly order from a sweatshop in China? Do you even want to talk about labor conditions? I write the Live Local column for Christ’s sake! How could you do this?”
“My contact was a nice lady named Amy, and she doesn’t sound at all like she’s working in Foxxconn conditions.”
“Her name is Amy? You are cheating on me with a factory in China named Amy?”
“It is amazing that you have turned this into being something about you—and even more so that you are acting like I am having an affair!” he responded. “Which I clearly am not. I bought some machinery and had a purely business transaction with a nice business-like lady named Amy.”
“My God! It sounds like the rationalization for visiting a prostitute,” I noted.
“Now you’re really over-reacting—obviously this is nothing like visiting a prostitute.”
“You are right! A prostitute I could probably forgive—at least that would have been money spent locally. And she would probably have shopped locally! What the hell is wrong with you! I write every week for four years about supporting our local economy, and you are going behind my back with a factory in China for God’s sake?”
Eventually, the usual promise was offered up: “a one time mistake and it won’t happen again.” Most scorned wives have heard that before, and like many women, I believed it the first time I heard it. But, dear Encorians, it has become apparent that in order to have an honest relationship with you, I must say I have learned that it was not a one-time mistake.
Jock has become a repeat offender.
In his defense, he did make an effort to interest economic development offices in setting up a factory in North Carolina to produce submersible pumps but was unable to find anyone to bite. So next week he will be back to chatting with “Amy.” He defends his actions, saying that small farmers need technology they can depend upon for decentralized irrigation, and if this is his only option to provide them with it, he will take it.
NC development office: You have failed me. Surely, we should be interested in reinvigorating our manufacturing base with an electronics item that is used in our state and has a clear market? It is a very sad and dark time in our household and for the Live Local movement, but we will find a way through this.