Stephen Baker

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Reporting in China

September 10, 2019Writing the book

A sidewalk sweeper in northern Shenzhen

When I flew to China last November, for book reporting, I still didn't know if I had any interviews, nor exactly where I was going to go. I decided to visit the new, high tech city of Shenzhen. It's just a (long) subway ride from Hong Kong, and the home city of tech giants including Huawei and TenCent. Then I figured I'd go to Guangzhou, the former Canton, just up the Pearl River from Shenzhen (an 18-minute bullet train ride). And I'd end up in Shanghai.



Taxi in Shenzhen

Shenzhen, said to be a fishing village into the 1980s,  has a shiny new downtown with lots of skyscrapers. But I stayed about 15 miles north of there, in older stretch of the city that reminded me a lot of working class neighborhoods in Mexico City. That curvy blue building (above) could easily be in Mexico's Colonia Roma or Cuauhtemoc.

I booked my Shenzhen hotel on Orbitz, and it turned out to be way north. I caught a city bus, and I had a blue dot on my phone map, where the hotel was supposed to be. The dot, it turned out, wasn't in quite the right place. So, with the help of some women in a furniture store, I flagged down one of the taxis (above). He wedged my suitcase in front of his feet. I climbed on the back, and we zipped to the hotel.


English school in Shenzhen

This school could also be in Mexico. I think some of the similarity is due to the sub-tropical climate, which feels to me like Mexico. And the buildings can be more bare-boned, because of the heat. 

In China, as in the other places I reporting for the book, including Dubai, Helsinki, LA, Detroit and Tampa, I avoiding renting a car, and used public transportation, and occasional ride shares. It was easy in China. The subways are great. Buses, as usual, take more time to figure out. 

I was tempted in Shanghai to ride a bike. Rideshares are all over the place. In fact, some seem to die and fade into the landscape. I didn't have a helmet, though, and didn't feel like braving the traffic.


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