With China’s economy facing serious growth challenges, I thought I would do my fair share in promoting its exports. My good deed in supporting the Chinese economy had to do with installing lights in my front yard. Not only did I help China, but also found a solution that met my needs and saved me money – a true win-win.

YAM transformer

My little Chinese Transformer

It all started when “we” decided to redo our front lawn. We hired a gardener to do all the heavy lifting – digging, laying the irrigation pipes, placing rocks and planting flowers. But when it came to installing the garden lights I decided to embark on a DIY (do it yourself) path. After all, I have an Electrical Engineering degree, so how hard can installing garden lights be?

My wife visited a store in southern Tel-Aviv and picked a design for our garden light fixtures. She came back with a “kit” that included 7 nice light poles, matching light bulbs and a transformer. The sales person explained that the transformer is needed to convert the 220v running through our house into 12v: a voltage level that is safer, and better suited for garden lights.

Easy enough, I thought to myself. I went to a local electric supplies store, bought electric wire suited for outdoors, and a small waterproof plastic box to host the transformer. After some huffing and puffing, I managed to connect all the 7 light poles, solder the wires to each pole, attach the plastic box to an external wall, and connect the transformer, via a switch to an electric outlet.

I was quite proud of my work. In an age where most products of human labor are displayed on computer screens, it was nice to point to the “hardware” I installed in our front yard.

I murmured a little prayer and flipped the switch… Lo and behold, the garden lights went on! Wow, all my hard studying in engineering school finally paid off! But as it turned out, I rejoiced too soon…

I don’t know if it was the skeptic in me, or some leftover engineering discipline. But somehow I decided to let the lights run for a while before I check the temperature of the plastic box that hosts the transformer. When I touched the box about an hour later it was blazing hot, and I almost burned my finger. Something was clearly wrong.

I opened the box and looked at the label on the transformer. It indicated it converts 220v to 12v, which sounded right, but what caught my attention was another figure: “50 Watts” maximum output. Hold on I thought, I just connected 7 light poles each housing a 20W light bulb. Together, that’s 140 Watts, or almost triple the maximum output for that little transformer… No wonder the little guy was about to burst in flames!

I drove to the store where my wife bought the kit and spoke to the owner. “Do you realize you sold us a kit that doesn’t work, and actually creates an electric hazard?” I asked him. No, he didn’t… And the whole concept of maximum watts was somewhat elusive to him. “Why don’t you use two transformers?” He suggested. I tried to explain that I would need three such transformers to meet the power requirements, and would also have to rearrange the wiring entirely. Pretty soon I gave up on him and went on to look for a 150W transformer.

I visited several stores in Tel Aviv, and checked the online listings, but to no avail. I couldn’t find a small 220v->12v transformer that can handle 150W. The transformers I did find where very expensive and bulky.

I decided to broaden the search across the entire Internet. As part of my search I logged onto the AliExpress Chinese ecommerce site. Within a few clicks I found what I was looking for: A small, 220v->12v transformer that can handle up to 250W. Its physical dimensions seemed to fit nicely into my already mounted plastic box. The price was very compelling and the shipping was – free! I placed an order and waited…

Within a couple of weeks a package arrived with the little Chinese transformer in it. I quickly installed it in the plastic box, and connected the wires. I hesitantly flipped the switch after muttering a small prayer to a Chinese god whoever he/she may be.

The lights went on! The heating test passed successfully too – hours later and the plastic box was as cool as I hoped for. After all, this little Chinese transformer was operating slightly over 50% its capacity.

So here you go: I purchased a product from a Chinese manufacturer directly, helping them keep most of their profits, while I got a product that met my needs and budget. This was my little contribution to the Chinese economy. Now its time for you to make yours…