Malaysian entrepreneur exports aging computers, monitors

PITTSBURGH (AP): In her native Malaysia, Mary Tiong developed a reputation for selling leftover computer monitors for a large manufacturer behind the industry's best-known brands. She earned a nickname: The Monitor Queen.

From her new base in Pittsburgh, Tiong continues to move large quantities of monitors. But now, she ships thousands of discarded models with computers back to Malaysia, where they are rebuilt and sold in poor countries, mostly in Southeast Asia.

The units are sent to schools and other customers in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Argentina; Tiong's distributors are hoping to tap into markets in Peru and South Africa. Someequipment is sold at minimal cost - less than $100 (euro74) - to rural villagers, she said. Some have been refurbished in Pittsburgh and donated to local schools.

Tiong, 41, says her company, Second Life ComputerRemanufacturing, has environmental and philanthropic goals: It helps stem a rising tide of electronic waste in the United States and fulfills a need for basic computer equipment in the developing world.

But she hopes to expand her operations by establishing a training program to teach local students how to rebuild aging computers, which often can be used for office work, Web surfing and e-mail - and saved from the scrap heap.

The program would create jobs and demonstrate that "somebody's junk is another person's treasure," Tiong said.

Her office is in a small warehouse jammed with monitors and PCs wrapped in plastic and stacked on wooden pallets. The computers and monitors, some plucked from U.S. classrooms, law offices or pharmacies, might have been donated to or purchased byTiong for $10 (euro7.36) or less a piece.

Since 2005, Tiong's firm has sent 35 shipping containers to remanufacturing facilities in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia. One container holds as many as 2,000 computers, or between 800 and 1,000 monitors.

In Malaysia, workers test and repair the equipment, perhaps cracking open computers to replace parts or polishing monitor tubes and repainting their plastic cases in bright hues.

In many cases, the devices are returning to their country of origin - Malaysia. Tiong, who was born in Malaysia's Sarawak state on Borneo Island, says that gives her a unique perspective on the discarded technology. (**)
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