American Infrastructure Watch: Two China-Based Reports

Seeing ourselves as others see us, chapter 12,427

Over the years I've chronicled the activities of Liam Casey -- an entrepreneur originally from Cork, Ireland; then based in Southern California until he couldn't get a green card; then working since the late 1990s in Shenzhen, southern China, where he has been at the center of the Chinese outsourced-manufacturing boom. Here are two articles about him, from 2007 and last year.

By chance I saw Liam Casey twice in the past few days -- first on Thursday afternoon, in Washington, and then 24 hours later when we both were in Oakland, California (as shown at right).

On his way into Washington, it had taken Liam one hour and 45 minutes simply to go through passport inspection at Dulles airport, even before baggage claim and the 40-minute trip into town. Of the 25 passport lanes at Dulles, on a weekday, only four were open and handling passengers. After our chance meeting in California, he was on his way back to China -- and to the Four Points Sheraton, in Shenzhen, where he has lived for years and where I have often stayed. Here was his report comparing the China-arrival experience, from Hong Kong airport and across the frontier to Shenzhen, with what happened at Dulles:
>>Good morning from the Four Points in Shenzhen!

The good thing for China is that the middle class market is growing [JF note: this had been the topic of the meeting we attended in Washington] and the bad thing for China is that the middle class market is growing. The middle class in China want access to better food, fashion, cars, holidays etc. That's going to be a real headache for the government. China Inc will struggle to meet the requirements this is an opportunity for USA Inc.

USA Inc needs needs to get working. It's as if it doesn't see the big picture. I just landed in HKG this morning and you cannot compare it to IAD. We landed at gate 64 one of the furthest away gates. From the plane to the Four Points in Shenzhen it was 1 hour and 15  mins. That's 30 less than just for immigration at IAD.

HK immigration [inbound], baggage (I checked a bag) customs, car to HK/SZ border, HK immigration [outbound] and walk through the SZ immigration control. Then a car ride to the Four Points. The experience at IAD is very telling. What most people were upset with was the attitude of the immigration officers. They were sitting in their booths chatting to each other ignoring the people in the queue. it's as if they don't have a purpose in their work.

If America gets its act together it will be a huge winner in these times.<<
That is what we call ending on an optimistic note. Now, from another American I know who has lived for years in China:
>>A good friend and academic colleague (prof at [a well-known West Coast university]), Chinese citizen with a green card, 28 year resident of the USA, is in the customs line at the Bradley Terminal [international-arrivals area at LAX.]

Asked if he had any cash, he answered 'none'. Then, realizing he had some pocket money, he said, "Oh, I forgot - I have a little. Poquito." (smiling)

"Please step over to that line, sir."

In 'the line you don't want to be in', he was searched carefully. He asked why.

"We have a lot of rich Chinese trying to bring lots of money into the USA these days."

"Do I look like a rich Chinese?"

"Could be, sir."

Upshot was that they confiscated both mobile devices and the laptop. He received the mobile devises several days later, they still have the laptop.

He thinks maybe it was the attempted Spanish that ticked off the Latino officer.<<

Again, for making a joke to a customs agent, a professor coming back to work lost control of the electronic devices through which many people manage their business and personal activities. You can choose how you would like to categorize these reports: under "the way we live now," or "seeing ourselves as others see us." Other possibilities: "life under the sequester." Or, "annals of the security state."

Presented by

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.


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in National

From This Author

Just In