The Print Shop

Collage of China

In an effort to make my room feel homier, I decided I would print out some pictures of the trip thus far, and set out in search of a printing facility on campus.  After some searching, I found this tiny store in which there were three computers on a desk and a man photocopying books in the corner.  Another man came up to me and took a USB stick on which I had loaded up some pictures, and started to print them out on a rackety old printer, on top of a 5 foot stack of various types of paper.  I printed out about 30 pages in full color, so the process was tedious.  As I stood awkwardly in the 15 by 7 foot room, people came and went, exchanging some words with the man briefly and leaving a book or two on a nearby desk.  A young kid was continuously photocopying each and every page of various books with a fluidity and rhythm that only comes from much practice.  He would flip a page and slap the copy button without hesitation and work his way, page by page, through texts that were hundreds of pages long.  It took a total of 75 minutes for my project to finally eek its way out of the printer, but not knowing how long it would take, and out of sheer curiosity, I was content in waiting in the room.

There were two other men besides the one photocopying, and it seemed they must take turns because the other two started to play a movie (illegally online—there are little to no protection laws in China and you can find and download just about anything online) on a computer.  I watched it despite not grasping anything besides a word here or there, but it was comedic to see the special effects and cinematography.

It was set in ancient China, and one scene depicted the emperor and either his empress of mistress riding along a beach upon horses.  The “love scene” consisted of them lying on the beach and him kissing her cheek, and then it was implied that house passed.  Real scandalous.  Another noticeable difference was in a scene after an epic battle had taken place.  Instead of the fallen soldiers resting in puddles of realistic blood, they instead were merely laying on red sheets.  The effect was far from believable, and perhaps this movie was an exception, although it was still an interesting contrast from the movies I am used to seeing.

Before long, the man had finished photocopying the heavy volume, and after shouting some Chinese at his co-workers, they sprang into action; one gathered the photocopies as the other laid out some materials at an adjacent work station.  Within minutes they measured, fit, cut, and bound the photocopies into a completed recreation.  The newly created book looked surprisingly professional, and had every page as well as the full title of the original in a clean, academic looking bound book.  I was amazed at how well-finished it looked; after the man flipped through it one last time to check for imperfections, he put it in a piled of completed copies.  I could not figure out whether or not they make more than one copy of a given book, although by the looks of it, they copied on a case by case basis.  (A standard book costs 20 Yuan to copy—a little less than $3).  It was fascinating to witness the efficient and methodical way in which they all worked, and to get an up close and personal look at yet another industry created and made possible because of the overwhelming supply of labor.

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