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Inside Foxconn #2: Strolling

Rushing for a plane at the Hong Kong SF airport, so here is a modest additional installment.

First two further points of context:

- Since some people have asked, the arrangement for me to go into Foxconn happened at very short notice. It was my idea. I made an "I'm sure there's no chance this could work, but I figure I might as well ask ... " request, through someone I knew, in Shenzhen on a Wednesday afternoon. We worked out the ground rules about not photographing brand-name logos on the production lines or shipping docks; they said OK; and I left for the factory at 9am on Thursday morning.
Of course there was incalculably more that I didn't see than I did. But -- having been on a number of cherry-picked tours over the years -- I didn't get the sense that very much of this could have been Potemkinized, just for reasons of scale. Take the biggest football stadium in North America or Europe, fill it to capacity -- then double it, and you have the on-site workforce at this Foxconn site. It would be hard to get everyone on message overnight.
- I present these as plain quick snapshots. The very banality of the scenes, in this the most famed workhouse in the world, is generally what I found interesting. Although the Foxconn representatives showing me around said I could take any picture I wanted (other than of brand-name logos on the assembly line), and stepped out of my way whenever I wanted to take a shot, the reality was that we were walking among people doing their ordinary business. I didn't feel like asking them to stop and arrange themselves. Thus the snapshot look and blur. There was no time to line up a real photographer, and even if there had been I think it would have changed the situation.

So here we go. Most of these next scenes were at lunch time when workers were walking to the cafeterias or otherwise were away from the assembly lines. This main street has banks, shops, and so on along along the sides. For instance, that's a branch of the Shenzhen Development Bank with the blue sign over on the right.


Other people outside that same bank. This looked like smokers' corner.



A group of people walking in the main cafeteria area at lunch time. The guy with the plaid shirt has a bandage on his face; I don't know why. I assumed that the woman in the short red dress is pregnant, but I didn't ask. I just saw them walk by.


A bicycle rack, and a guy reading-while-walking:


And, closer to the main entrance gate:

That's all for this strolling theme. Next up: dormitories, cafeterias, surveillance cameras, recreation rooms, infirmaries, executive offices, panoramas, recruiting sessions, and the rest.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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