Central Texan spinster aunts on the go are apt to become desiccated if they don’t tote around cold, life-giving liquids at all times. For this reason I once possessed a thing called Klean Kanteen, an insulated steel vacuum bottle in which I stashed my iced coffee and filtered organic free range rainwater. Wheresoever I went, so too wenteth the Klean Kanteen. Horribly, one day a dust storm snatched it out of my tentacle and blew it up to Kansas (or maybe a dingo ite it, who can remember?). Anyway, I never really got over the loss, because that Klean Kanteen was the bomb. They’re not joking around with that insulation. I’ve come back the next day and found ice cubes and half a marg still rattling around in that thing. Par-tay.
So the other day I ordered a couple of new Klean Kanteens off the internet, but when the box arrived I could but curl the spinster lip. I was obliged to create the mess pictured below that I might liberate my bottles from the packaging and proceed with my beverage-centric life.
A. Tissue paper
B. Packing material
C. Shipping carton
D. Display cards containing the “Café” (i.e. sippy cup) lids
E. Instruction cards advising the consumer that hot liquids are apt to be hot
F. Guitar case sticker, so you can advertise Klean Kanteen at Burning Man
G. Brochure for Recharge, a sort of designer Gatorade powder
H. Two samples of Recharge
I. Paper tags attached to superfluous plastic lids
J. Superfluous plastic lids
K. Ball chain attaching the superfluous tags to the superfluous lids
Who wraps a steel cylinder in tissue? It’s steel. If I’d wanted to unwrap an object encased in miles of packaging, I’d have ordered a Ming vase with a unicorn egg in it.
Crabby at the prospect of having to responsibly dispose of all this crap (can you even recycle ball chain?), I looked up Klean Kanteen’s website so I could waggle a bitter claw at their No-BPA!/pro-environment/garbage generating hypocrisy. That’s when I discovered that they make the damn things in China.
But chillax, O thou Klean Kanteen kustomer! Klean Kanteen shares “some of” your concerns about buying crap of Chinese manufacture. They devote a whole section of the site to warming your cockles with stories of exquisitely content factory workers. Take, for example, this heartwarming tableau: a Klean Kanteen “representative” visits the factory’s undisclosed location 4 times a year, not just to check quality control, but also to share tea and crumpets with a lucky menial.
Meet Yao Sheng Fu, one of the workers at our manufacturing site in China. During one of our regular visits, he sat down with Klean Kanteen® and shared a little about his life and what it’s like to work at the factory.
Yao had just finished his shift and was happy* to join Klean Kanteen co-owner Jeff Cresswell on the patio that overlooks the open quad at the factory grounds.** Over tea and some tasty Chinese pastries,*** he told us he moved from the province of Gui Zhon, known for steel production, to work at the Klean Kanteen® factory four years ago.
“Many people want to work at this factory because it has a reputation for being a good place,” he said, explaining that the factory’s reputation is part of the reason he moved here. He hopes it will continue to grow.
He travels home to see his family about twice a year and always goes during Chinese New Year.
When Jeff asked him where he’d go if he could travel anywhere in the world, Yao said he’d love to visit New York City.
Yeah, and when Jeff asked him what he’d do if he could have any job in the world, Yao said that after he gets back from his fabulous New York vacation (he’s staying at the Waldorf), he’d love to remain here at the unnamed factory, churning out metal bottles for sanctimonious American yuppies for all time.I don’t know if you saw the 2009 documentary “Last Train Home”? It aired on “POV” the other night, and it’s been haunting me ever since. It’s an awesome and wrenching film about a Chinese factory worker family and how totally fucking screwed they are. Motivated by a desire to fund the education that they believe will improve the lives of the children they left behind, the Zhangs move from the farm to a distant factory town to sew overpriced jeans for American export. For 16 years they endure fingers worked to the bone, makeshift dormitory living, cooking on the floor, slave wages, domestic violence, broken dreams, road to hell paved with good intentions, and the annual trip home for Chinese New Year.
I mention this film because that’s the backdrop: the annual migration of hundreds of millions of Chinese factory workers (“the single largest migrant work force in the world”) as they all throng their way home to rural villages for Chinese New Year. It takes the Zhangs days, in mobbed trains and buses, to traverse 1300 miles. When they finally arrive, they discover that the kid for whom they’ve sacrificed a decade and a half of their lives in meaningless drudgery has gone rogue. At 17 she blows off school, moves to a big city and gets a job in a nightclub, and well, you know where that’s going. Before she scrams, her father beats the crap out of her. Which beating, incidentally, the filmmaker records with a cool, unflinching detachment, making the violence seem like a sane and logical outcome of Zhang’s pact with the devil.Anyway, I imagine that Yao Sheng Fu, maker of my Klean Kanteen, is one of the New Year’s throng who has made a similar devil-pact. Maybe Mr Pastry-Eating Kanteen Honcho’s quarterly factory visits do ensure that Yao isn’t cooking on the floor in a warehouse dorm hellhole while he supports a distant family that he beats up at New Year’s, but then again, maybe they don’t.
You may flatter yerself that you’re doing no harm — such as when you buy a reusable steel canteen so you can stop littering the world with those endless plastic Ozarka bottles — but no matter what, you’re always reaming someone. That’s the main sucky thing about the whole patriarchy set-up, it turns everybody into a fucking asshole. Me, Mr Zhang, Mr Kanteen: what a bunch of schmucks.
* Yeah, I’ll bet old Yao Sheng Fu was happy as a clam to hang around the sweatshop with some rich gringo suit after slaving over the steel bottle machine for 12 or 16 hours.
** No doubt the pampered Klean Kanteen workers lounge around on this picturesque patio sipping cosmos during their numerous breaks.
*** Quaint indigenous local foods are awesome.