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Taking Inventory 

"Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor. ... It is that hollow thing which men in China live by." -- Lin Yutang, My Country and My People

I am rapidly losing face in my own house, in my own country. You are, too. Unless you happen to be Chinese and are living here now. Just take a minute or two to take inventory around your home and see how much was "Made in China."

· A Windsculpts crawfish. (OK, so they label it a "lobster," but around here, it's a crawfish.) It hangs from a flagpole by its claws. In April around here, they grace any backyard with a boiling pot. Assembled in China.

· The Franklin lock on the screened porch. And its little silver key.

· My sunglasses. With simply a tiny stick-on label saying "China."

"It's easy to see why the Chinese mind cannot develop a scientific method; for the scientific method, besides being analytical, always involves an amount of stupid drudgery." -- Lin Yutang

· A chew-toy of "premiere vinyl," a "newspaper" titled Doggy News with the subhead, "All the News That's Fit to Chew." This dog is not a Shar-Pei, either. Well, his father was never formally identified, but if it wasn't that lopsided half-Lab from around the corner, we've got a juicy item for Doggy News.

· The last two Kangol soft caps acquired from Meyer the Hatter, the South's largest. The winter one is grey, 100 percent "reine schurwolle" or pure new wool, and designed in Britain. The summer version is checkered -- a "tropic chequers cap" -- and made largely of polyester. It is worth noting that polyester, despite its exoticism, is not indigenous to Shantung province.

· The electric shaver that I own -- and sometimes place in dangerous proximity to sensitive areas of my body.

"Some kinds of Chinese medicine are based on a mere play of words or on some fantastic association of thought. The toad who has a wrinkled skin is used in the care of skin troubles, and a peculiar kind of frog that lives in cool, deep ponds on hillsides is supposed to have a 'cooling' effect on the bodily system." -- Yutang

· A long-handled, non-stick kabob basket and a grill searing press with wood handle. Next thing you know, we'll discover that George Foreman is Cantonese.

· The Ilco Unican (a snap-apart key thing), enabling you to have two key rings for the price of one. Cheap. Fabrique en Chine. What ain't?

· The "Classic" Barometer. A glass flask with a glass spout half-filled with colored water, with a happy sun-face and various clouds painted on the wooden hang plate. If the water level is low in the spout, this means higher pressure and results in fair weather. (Yes, Leonardo, and vice versa, too.) And just to prove that I'm not casting a blanket disappointment over all goods made in the Celestial Kingdom, let me say this: if the Classic Barometer would help wean us off the Doppler-gangsters that clutter up our newscasts with repetitive blaring, then hurrah!

"He has perhaps learned to play English football, but he does not love football; he has perhaps learned to admire American efficiency, but his soul revolts against efficiency. ..." Yutang

· Yao Ming, center for the Houston Rockets.

· The Krewe of Excaliber doubloon. Not the throwing kind, the kind as heavy as a Walking Liberty silver dollar. This is a Metairie krewe; could there possibly be a Harry Lee connection?

· On the subject of parades, the Celts have clearly gone Chinese. Check out these recent favors from St. Patrick Day parades: A) One pair of green beads ending in a shamrock. B) A smiley-face shamrock with purple shoes, giving a white-gloved thumbs-up. C) A rubber leprechaun with orange whiskers. All "Fabrique en Chine." Must be handled by the import firm of Chen, Wang and O'Reilly.

Last summer, I caught the tail-end of a TV report of an ugly black sucker of a fish called a Northern Snakehead. The narrator said this critter was a serious danger to any unlucky ecosystem and had already been found in Florida, Maryland and California. He's not native to these waters, though. No, the Snakehead is indigenous to ... you guessed it.

Know what the words "hut," "rose," "blossom," etc. have in common? They are all preceded by the word "Chinese." Even the word "Chinese." As in the former "Chinese's Chinese Restaurant" on Oak Street.

"I think the enjoyment of the rhythm of a common rock is the last refinement of the Chinese mind." -- Yutang

So is there any part of America that is immune to the economic encroachment of China? Examine this evidence.

· The little clip-on cassette player with headphones, named the "Stereo Stereo Cassette Player" in that repetitive way. Something much like this is currently protruding from the earholes of every American from systems analyst to rapper.

· A life-sized baseball made of rubber made in China. Is there another American icon that resonates any deeper?

· A tin-button, about as big as a small pie, of the American flag.

"Life is a huge farce, and we human beings are mere puppets in it." -- Yutang

Is there a Chinese Silicon Valley, maybe called Capitalist Valley, where tens of thousands of $3-a-day workers hammer out these products? And all over this great land, from sea to shining sea, are there rusting factories of American flags and rubber baseballs and classic barometers?

Hey, and I ain't even counting stuff "Made in Taiwan."

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