In one of our neighborhood shops, I was pleased to see an affordable price tag on a right-sized, high-end handbag, its tiny reptile logo outlined in white and reproduced against black all around it. It was made of a light though apparently durable synthetic material. My husband looked at it and approved.
Waiting in the long line to pay, we noticed on further inspection that it was made in China. I put it back on display, and we walked out victoriously.
In a furniture and home decoration store in the next city, I had been eyeing three bright-colored, floral-printed throw pillows to enliven our beige sofa, but they were exorbitantly priced. Surely, I assured myself, there would be more sanely priced others; I’d hold out.
Just after New Year, in the same store, the big sign on a rack of throw pillows beckoned, screaming 60-percent off! I rushed in and quickly picked three, not as perfect as those I had seen earlier, but suitable enough, and, for their expensive-looking material, seemingly a good buy.
My husband asked if I had checked where they were made. Overhearing, the sales lady volunteered, “Made in China, po.” Again, we left.
In a store for an American brand known for its bright-colored handbags and wallets, we browsed looking for a replacement for an old wallet of the same brand whose zipper handle had come off. I had picked out a fuchsia one, and asked the salesgirl directly, “Gawa ba sa China ’to?”
“Lahat naman ho yata made in China na, Ma’am.”
Our private boycott of goods from China—that is, if it could be helped—may have begun perhaps as far back as Tiananmen Square. China’s record of domestic repression and lately, of export-product misrepresentation—remember the poisonous lead components, and lately, carton passed off as leather?—haunts us.
I have since never been comfortable in either friendly or commercial relationships with China the way I feel about other countries.
A trip to China in the 1970s, shortly after the declaration of martial law in our own land, left me frightened of them for good. I went with a group of doctors and their wives on an invitation from some official group. That was China before it opened its doors to the world—Red China under Mao Tse Tung.
I was amazed that, despite their isolation, they remained comparably competent in medicine. I was particularly impressed with their community-feeding programs, but repelled by their coldly aggressive implementation of the one-child policy—abortions were done as late as the eighth month.
What was really scary were the empty stares and theatrical smiles of children. Separated from their parents at birth, and left in the care of professional wet-nurses, these nurse-lings were soon to undergo militarization. We were made to watch children perform like robots to perfection a choreographed musical school presentation.
I gasped in disbelief as we observed them at recess playing war games—shooting down G.I. Joe dolls as they floated down dangling from parachutes and stabbing with toy bayonets stuffed enemy dolls as they hung, where otherwise swings would, on the steel bars in the playground.
I recall thinking how my own kids, of about the same ages, didn’t stand a chance against those militarized robots —they must be in their 50s now and possibly in positions of leadership.
Our own local Chinese are another breed altogether; they precisely fled the mainland with more benign but bigger dreams for their children. They may come from the same culture and tradition, but they seem different souls. Proof is they not only thrive but excel within the frameworks, the limitations, of a democratic setting. And in my own experience, they also make loyal and thoughtful friends.
What is worrisome is that, for some reason, China seems an especially favored country in Duterte’s presidency, notwithstanding his own revelation that it is the biggest source of illegal drugs peddled in our country.
Something is not right. Why does Duterte sound apologetic to China in its jurisdictional claim on South China Sea waters that have been decided by an international court as part of our territory? It seems that anything that might rankle China is to be avoided, so that, for instance, we have chosen to remain silent about the missiles planted on one of the South China Sea islands disputed among us, China, and other countries around.
Don’t we really mind Duterte’s submissiveness toward China?
My husband and I have found our own way of saying no to China. Our senior world now turns on such simple moral convictions as no made-in-China for us, and we find that it does get easier with practice.
Perhaps a moral victory is the only kind we seniors can still win; to surrender is simply out of the question. My husband and I are in this together, and with every triumph we discover yet another source of a new senior high.