Sep 3, 2009

Light bulb sale

Over the weekend at my apartment community in Beijing, there was a special sale of energy efficient light bulbs — compact fluorescent bulbs like you can buy at the grocery store for one or two bucks a piece. In the morning, a crack team of a dozen people wheeled in an entire pallet of light bulbs. The group camped out at a folding card table the whole afternoon and distributed the discounted light bulbs to residents.

What a great idea, you might think, this is a something that helps the environment and mother earth. But think again. For some reason, they made it as difficult as possible to buy light bulbs. To start with, you could only buy your quota (five light bulbs, as I recall) if you had brought your Chinese ID card as well as your household registration book. In the US, this would be equivalent to requiring someone to show their driver's license and their birth certificate together. And remember, all this is just to purchase light bulbs, of all things.

Of course it makes sense to require lots of identification if you're buying dangerous construction materials — strong acids, chemicals, explosives — but what's the sense in doing this for light bulbs? Wouldn't you want to remove as many of the hurdles as possible so that more people can be energy efficient?

If 1% of the population are driving cute little electric vehicles, you won't see much of a difference in pollution. If 90% of people have switched over, however, you'd see big change. It has to be the same concept with energy efficient light bulbs.

By requiring Chinese ID cards, the light bulb sale people prevented any non-PRC citizens, such as myself, from buying light bulbs. By requiring people to bring their household registration book, they prevented any non-native Beijingers from participating. Beijing is a city of transplants. I'd reckon that 20% of people living in Beijing are actually from Beijing. The rest are out-of-towners (外地人) and migrants (外来工).

If anyone from the Beijing Ministry of Light Bulb Distribution is reading this post, I urge you to take note and make your subsequent light bulb distribution sales more accessible to others living in Beijing. Stop discriminating against us wai di ren.


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