This week on ChinaEconTalk, Jordan speaks with veteran journalist Peter Hessler. Peter spent seven years in China as a correspondent for The New Yorker, followed by five years in Egypt. In this episode, Peter discusses his long and prolific career reporting on the society, politics, and culture of these two dynamic nations; he also considers the similarities and differences in the ways the Chinese and Egyptian people make sense of their respective places in the world based on their rich historical and cultural legacies. In addition, Peter reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and contrasts it with the 2013 mass protests and eventual coup d'état in Cairo.

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00:00:05Chinese rap music with play ping pong ball made in China but I can't think of anyone I'm more excited to have on your Hessler Peter was the long-time correspondent for the New Yorker in China in the author of three Classics of the expat journalist explorers trying to Johanna Rivertown Oracle bones & Country driving what I wouldn't give to write as well as he does some years ago he moved with his family to Egypt and recently published the Buried and archaeology of the Egyptian revolution which we're going to talk about today Peter Hessler welcome to China EconTalk by thanks for having me
00:00:54so you moved to Egypt what was up with that yeah I mean this was actually something that that we had some sort of thought up back in 2007 and my wife Leslie Chang is also a writer she wrote The Factory girls work for the Wall Street Journal says both of us were in China for more than a decade and in 2007 we decided that it was time to transition out I wasn't really because of Any it wasn't cuz we were tired of trying to be both enjoyed it up to the end of our time there but we were a little concerned about just only writing about that part of the world in the end I kind of wanted to establish myself and also to the New Yorker that I could write about other places and and we just wanted to see something different so we had this idea that we had that time we were both getting ready to write her kind of books and we thought we'd go to the US for a couple years write those books maybe have a kid and then go someplace else and so we thought about other parts of the world and we thought about India for a while but we kind of wanted a place at
00:01:54one language that you would study as part of the experience and we also thought any of my people too close to China in some ways a lot of people are making those comparisons of that times you wanted something that would come a little bit of left field and you know I also why I always liked archaeology in China like learning about the ancient paths and so we started think about the Middle East you know course at that time it was very different you know that time I mean one thing one of my editors told me was that you know you're going to be after warn you if you go to life chiro nothing changes are you going to be for her to know it's very quiet place that was sort of what we expected in 2017 know that you know and then you know soaps Award books took took a couple years to three years and then we had twin daughters in 2010 so we decided to wait a year cuz they were born kind of early and it was going to be two of them so it's going to be a big project getting over by the time we were getting ready to make the transition course the Arab Spring it started
00:02:54so you don't eat the environment we moved into is very different from what we had planned on which one of you two was was more into it who had to drag the other along over the other over the other options on the on the table was it a joint decision the other option was Damascus to be highest was really kind of what we were thinking of you know we had some friends who live there and people really enthusiastic about oh it's kind of cool place in a good place to see him cuz the study Arabic there certain places where it's better to do it in Cairo is one of those places and your Damascus was also seen is one of those places so that was actually kind of leaning toward Damascus squares by the time the Arab Spring began very quickly that was off the table not so much because of violence initially actually Siri was not so violent but it was just that you couldn't get in there as a 4-inch is an American journalist so so pretty soon or we would clear the other option was either Egypt or possibly Jordan but Jordan's not the it is not really sore
00:03:54trusting so yeah you know but in terms of the dynamic between us I mean it was very equal it wasn't there wasn't one of us that was pushing one of us that was resisting you know I mean you know it's kind of crazy when we can we look back on it we can't believe it because I mean we move there with two 17 month olds to Egypt you know during the first year of the Arab Spring and neither of us actually ever been to Egypt before or the Middle East was really sort of insane we just bought a plane ticket in and cared as much stuff as we couldn't come over there with these two babies so you're making me feel like a total loser because I graduated college in 2013 and in May had a job lined up at AUC to work at a at a magazine there and either the Cairo Cairo Affairs I think and I was all excited and then that summer was whence he came back and took power and we get to the street in the massacre of my parents
00:04:54very subtle about it but you know they would send me more and more articles and then at some point I sort of pull the plug myself but you guys are stuck through it and I made it another year another 3-4 years yeah you know I don't know if we would have moved in there would have been right in the wake of that massacring in 2011 there would be in the initial revolution in February we moved in October and things have been relatively quiet it was unclear that it was going to be as violent as it turned out to be you know so maybe if we'd known we were getting into we wouldn't have done it but it was a real Challenge and this was an ongoing conversation I mean that summer you're talking about in 2013 you know we were there during the coup you know where yet always I always thought I'd move my family out for something like that but the way these things kind of develop you know it kind of sneaks up on you and by the time you can see that it's going to happen if Serta too late to get your family out you know. We ended up I mean I had described in the book there's that
00:05:54were the morning of the day that we know we know there's going to be a coup we know that the president is going to be removed that day by the Army just everybody knows at this point but you don't know how it's going to how it's going to come down and do you know where are Manny came to care for the kids and she's a Coptic Christians or she's very anti Muslim Brotherhood and she had you know her fingernails painted with the Egyptian flags and and then she had the girls you can my daughter zy words with a holiday 2013 over 3 years old she had been like making little Egyptian flags to serve celebrate this to that hasn't even happened yet you know that she soared knows how much I should be stopping this but I'm we're so certain stressed out trying lesbian I trying to figure out what are we going to do if things go south you know I'm so we're having these conversations and just letting out you out then the girls do you know celebrate this President and the conversation we ended up having a sore like what what you know I'm going out to report on this stuff During the Revolution at various times there
00:06:54open cell phone coverage cut off what do we do if you don't hear from me if you know if things get filing in the area you know I'm good by me bass you the best we could decide is there is an interior all the way in the apartment you close all the windows and door person and you just go there and get close to floor you know you know which is a conversation lot of Egyptians have any sort of to go through that experience you realize that you know that there are lots of people in the world to live with significant instability and they tend to respond a remarkably calmly and anal things tend to be okay basically I mean it's you know when in doubt on that particular day that wasn't actually tons of violence I made it back fine that evening but later there was a lot you know how to mericans the sexual assault of the journalist you had some young students get killed I think there were seven journalists were killed during the years were there they were mostly Egyptians you know it was me I broke a couple bones in my foot at one of these protests were real
00:07:54I just started kind of shooting indiscriminately and everybody ran like crazy and you're you're falling over things I somehow you don't miss stepped in and end in broke my foot there's a lot of a lot of this you know when they and then by the end I mean that was definitely in 2016 we moved out that was one of the reasons we felt like you know we were pushing our luck and that's the Crackdown was so intense at that point and they had just killed this graduate student Julia rajini would be doing research there who was killed for you nobody really knows why all those things are very sobering So speaking of sobering today is June 5th 2019 30 years in a day after Camden Square I'm curious if if this isn't something you necessarily address in the book but any kind of reflections of how your experience in Egypt maybe frames re contextualizes what happened in in in Beijing 30 years ago I thought about it a lot actually you don't because you were watching these events the one where I broke my foot actually at you know
00:08:54this was in 2014 this was on the anniversary of the original do you know talk we are Uprising on January 25th and and every year to Mark the anniversary to be some kind of demonstration or meeting in that year that the government put it down for a violently and so I was out on a square this wasn't a career cuz you couldn't even go to Taqueria with that point with this kind of protest for the reserve a small protest at another nearby square and the police just started shooting in this criminally after about five minutes of totally peaceful demonstration bite you are not a large crowd of people and you know not there was no warning given there was no the clear the square you have five minutes there weren't even clear warning shots that mean people are getting getting getting shots and something like sixty people died in Cairo that day and after me and I find it kind of took shelter in in a neighboring I just met some guys who let me hang out in their Garden so the police could finish round everybody up and and you know they were very very frustrating and wise
00:09:54keep happening and they were asking me about good when I told him I'd lived in China there ask him and I was just you know I told him I was like you know I'm trying to at least they like he would give people a warning a time in an inch and him and they did not right I mean this was part of the tragedy of Tiananmen the awful thing was a terrible police work and the you know if you are going to to you know to decide that you're going to declare martial law and clear the squirrel you got you should negotiate with people you should give him a chance to leave you should provide safe access to the many places they didn't do that but you know after that the Chinese did handle these things very differently you know when they did train police in crowd control which is a very eating all this is not something to give them a lot of credit for because of course there was a terrible Crackdown but in each of you should have saw how much worse it could be if they keep doing this you know if they just keep you have to be to this for years and years in Cairo you know they were just these large body counts it was totally unnecessary and really tragic so you know I thought about that just sort of the Lac
00:10:54professionalism the lack of organization lack of system in Egypt you know what's really damaging and you could see the way that it hurt people and I think it just damages of society to have these rituals of public violent again and again and we saw on China this happened in 1918 to people talk about how people have forgotten that the people in Beijing remember it and when I was living in Beijing people would bring it up periodically and you had certainly traumatize them and had disturb them you know it's a terrible thing to have happened in your capital and in Cairo we were doing this again and again and you was very frustrating very dispiriting to experience that I think everything that I often thought about is how hard it is to have a revolution and thinking about other ways in which you know the chin him and movement could have played out you know what would have happened if the students had to some degree one and if there had been you know you know
00:11:51some leaders are group of leaders were decide that they need to change every time a very well go ahead ended up what happened in Egypt which is that it's a classic pattern where you know some arm of the military uses the students to take power and then you end up with the military regime I mean that is you're still very many steps away from change you know when you have all these people on the street you're you're calling for the overthrow of a Weider even if that leader is overthrown as he was in the case of Hosting aquatic you got a long way to go in and that was another thing that happened in Egypt that was very sober used to show to watch how hard this is and when you don't have institutions prepare do you know if you have no you know no political group you don't have real parties so who takes over you know other than the military what do you have in Egypt even have you know groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and there was some small parties that had been allowed to uniform underboob are but it wasn't enough you know so it makes it
00:12:51you made me very sober also about how hard it would be to have this kind of you know ground up change in a place like China you know what you don't have the service Civil Society don't have other political alternative political organization if you do happen to overthrow the government you know who steps in yeah it's a it's a really interesting thing to think about because you know even if say the Communist Party gets overthrown because there's no other structure is this is what people and visit whoever comes next is going to eat whatever they saw whatever they saw before and I think you know you you you you saw this a little bit in the in the in 1989 where like you know you have all these organizations and there's all this infighting within the students because this is what they've grown up with them this is this is that you don't it's a tragedy about the tragedy of of an undemocratic Society what you are not Preparing People for self-governance And So It becomes circular because they're not prepared for self-governance in nearly want norcan
00:13:51Maxim cover in Encino and end in so it's really hard to step out of that and then this is why most Revolutions in the Ender Koontz you know which is what we have in Egypt I mean I think you know we use the road toward Revolution listen to my book but I do question it repeatedly and really in the end what happened in Egypt is more like a series of Coos rather than a true Revolution there's not many Revolutions in history of Music trying to be something else in the one in Tiananmen Square if it is followed through and if they don't jump in your step down the odds are the military with a comment you know so you really you know something that's very important to think about is you know how do you prepare a society for for Real Change it's incredibly difficult proposition 7 back a little bit and talk a little more general terms about how this China frame of reference influenced you you know we just spoke about this the idea of these two revolutions you you not necessarily song parallel but you know saw through the lens as a pet
00:14:51state may be an American showing up in thinking oh you know this is 1776 and and look what look what I found mine I look with Jeffersonian Democrats we have here but you know did you feel this like how did you feel this Frame play out maybe in comparison to yourself and other other foreigners living in in Egypt or just you're just more generally this decision to go to an entirely new places we felt like we wanted another another point of contact another frame of reference in the developing World in our entire experience basic I mean both of us had travel to foreign policy made the week do I placed in the developing world that we'd really lived and lived intensely and in and spoken language was China and you know there is a risk of that becoming your entire view of the world and user relay has a pretty unusual place and especially from 1996 to 2007 the years I was there wasn't sure that this is probably not the representative experience of people live in the developing world
00:15:51I want to see and you know so I found it incredibly useful because you know the problem with the Middle East in some ways is that you always see it as an American there's a huge amount of baggage there you know bag is it goes back to the gym Colonial. Of Western powers in the 19th century would also bags that goes back to the Iraq War Union are more recent history of israel-palestine all these things are are very prominent in your mind in your Consciousness when you're there but you know it's very different for the Chinese and come in there from China you know I am certainly in American my deepest patterns of thought come from where I grew up but I wasn't trying to long enough and intensely enough that it does really influence my my perspective and and there are many things that I See Thru Chinese Lands End at and Leslie the same way and so we were always talking about how this reminded us of China ride so strikingly different are amazing different this was so far
00:16:51it kind of gave a different perspective on it and I feel like it balanced the Western ideas to some degree and yeah I really found that to be incredibly valuable and I expect now when I go back to China also see it differently because of you know what I experienced in in in Egypt you mentioned earlier in the conversation about Egyptians when they know her that you spent time in China they would like to ask you about it I'm curious like what was the General reaction of just that story like how did it go over there over the common questions you got like China or at least we were there I different from other parts of Africa is many parts of Africa where I think Chinese presence has to has built a real resentment Egypt is is is quite different partly because it is not hasn't been a side of the kind of resource extraction that the Chinese are doing it in other parts of Egypt and Egyptians were very positive about China it was actually really good idea and I think it was very good for Leslie in a lot of ways I mean she she had a much easier experience than most Phim
00:17:51Western journalist partly because she's you know she's not like a blond white person who tend to attract the most negative attention and harassment on the streets of Cairo it but also because Egyptians like the Chinese and then they saw the Chinese as you know people who had their act together who had figured out how to develop they also saw someone as an alternative to you know to to American to the West they start is another you know ancient civilization with a great history but one that was you know Making Waves in the world today and they only 5,000. 7000 I mean pictures when he went there are some of these chips at Chinese officials had made to Egypt you know made them wants it like you expand their historical presence in the view museums and so on because they felt like they said they had this greater history off so yeah it was a good identity you know and I mean I would often tell people cuz you know they're being American there was not always a positive and sometimes of people work
00:18:51reacting to being a certain way that I would mention how I lived in China or my wife is Chinese which kind of pissed Leslie off because she's not Chinese right she's American Idiot but I eat sucks because that kind of made people happy about you being there if you have that other toes and going so yeah it was it was interesting they and they and they responded quite positively to the Chinese themselves there were some Chinese in Egypt and you know the extent to be positive for them so another thing you ended up doing is running into Chinese Nationals and again their reaction to eat to you as a flu and Mandarin speaker and so when a man acts when I showed up there I had knew I knew that there were certain areas uniparts like you're a lot of Chinese students for example that allows how do University Minnie Quay study you know Arabic Theron but I kind of deliberately didn't explore this initially because again be another point of this experience what's the step away from China
00:19:51I bet and so for the first two three years really I I had very little interaction with Chinese and M and I didn't go to a Chinese development Zone that was you don't hear the this destroys canal and in the end assertive happen randomly I mean I was your actually I mean I I was in a part of that this was after the year that you mentioned in 20 2013 when they had been all of those massacres in the coup in Cairo there was also a lot of violence in other parts of the country and I and I went to part of southern China that it's seen a lot of violence and War Museum have been looted lot of people have been killed in Charlotte near talking to the people there but what it happened and I visit this Museum where I mean every artifact have been taken out this place was just empty and you gotta just a terrible scene the poor ticket takers been shot and killed and you're just awful things that happen to you and I was talking to people about what happened in the course they were all blame it on the Americans and the cops are reason I said cuts are in America had you know send agents into town to do this it was
00:20:51local security agents in San Juan and we're having this conversation which are very common conspiracy theories of course you're really really fundamental in in the Middle East and in Cairo at that time in Egypt is a really remote place they'd never see foreigners in this is at a point when I my Arabic is good enough to have these conversations and I'm there alone I drove there alone in my car and I'm talking to people in front of the market and Ben are telling me all this stuff yeah you know the countries in the Americans they sent these agents here and so on and so forth and then some guy just says her to randomly in the back of the group he's like you know there's a Chinese guy in the in the market and the word for China actually seen that is very similar to Sinai which is also Cena and so at first I was like did you say China or did you say the Sinai and he's like no I don't try and there's a Chinese guy in the market and he didn't they had no idea anything to do with China of course I'm just American guy they're speaking Arabic I told him I was a journalist came in from Cairo
00:21:51I don't like really can you take me to him and so we so sure whole bunch of these guys take me through this Market which is like these kind of outdoor markets they have in syrup or parts of Egypt who was like a war in a little shops and people selling really cheap clothing and in cheap house where you know things like this and we come to the very back of this place I'm sure enough there's this little Chinese guy you know in the back of this Market sitting in a stall by himself selling women's lingerie and I was just like you know what the hell did you get here you know and you know big bean Chinese or Chinese or just like their kind of calling people speak in Chinese got to figure somebody who ends up in southern Egypt alone selling women's lingerie in the middle of a revolution has got up you know he's got to have particularly low blood pressure yeah you know I start talking
00:22:51Chinese he's like to go with us for sure you know how do you need answer my question is if it's just a natural event for him as well you know when I Mike what are you doing here and he's like well you know the regular on this Hawk Circuit yeah yeah yeah how'd you get here my cousin was working in mini at which is a town is Downstream also in Upper Egypt in the South and I like what how did he get there he's going to somebody else who was Selling Stuff Alexa what your kind of sign is always on the same thing as me women's underwear and and then I started to realize talking him at 3 that there's a new lots of these people who are selling its product and so after that I started searching for these guys and if this was the right time to start to explore the Chinese New Year because I had been age of long enough that I let you know how to stablish other points has investigation and end in this a horse was just really interesting to me where do these guys doing here how did they get here and what is its meaning so I started you know true of traveling around the South finding Chinese people all of them were selling lingerie the only thing they ever sell
00:23:51and there's basically no foreigners in these towns and that mean you have any had minimal Arabic I mean this guy was in this place where they mentioned they looted the museum across the street from where he was a burn down a government building across the street it burn down a Coptic church I think there were eight people had died in that in that incident and he hit and misses you in a month later and he had only the Vega he'd arrived after that shortly after it but it only the vaguest idea I did something happen I was like you know what happened across the street from your cycle hire there was problems any other took the attacking Museum but he didn't know if this many people have died in there really are blissfully unaware of the situation that they're walking into so a little bit of background about the Chinese in lingerie yeah I mean this was what I was trying to figure out you know how did you get here what are you doing how did you figure this out and you know you can kind of connect to a couple of things one is that in Egypt the marriage tradition is incredibly complicated negotiations for marriage
00:24:51you know a really intense they they collapse off and it's just your families in general in Egypt or Raley and 10 semi we think of China send another point of comparison trying to think of trying to place where these families are really tight and you have a lot of you know all that complicated Dynamics within families I mean it seems simple compared to Egypt Egypt why we used to think China you know what sort of Messi with family stuff but I'm in Egypt is see this is the total in another dimension and so these negotiations for marriage involves a lot of really contractually laid out things like the husband's got to get the apartment he's got to get certain near big appliances and meanwhile the prospective bride has to prepare household appliances he has to get dishware you know it in cooking utensils all this is laid out in in contract and she also has to acquire a certain amount of closing kind of as her Dowry in part of this is lingerie and it's huge amounts of this day by just crazy amounts of this stuff to show
00:25:51set the ray to get married and again this is a place where Women Specialist South they will wear you know he's all you know they they cover themselves pretty much entirely and so they they they have like kind of a different wardrobe for home you know because they were more functional clothes when they're inside their mom when other strange men can't see them and I also wear a lot of this really funky lingerie that that you look at the stuff and you just happened because it broke people really wearing this but they were there buying a lot of it so it's partly a reaction to this very restrictive you know kind of clothing that you have to wear in public it's partly you know part of this marriage tradition and the reason the Chinese fit into this is that they're Outsiders you know there are they out the ultimate Outsiders there Arabic is bad they're totally incurious mostly Chinese from Judge on Cravens you know they were the classic window rent you know the people that just do business they don't care about anything else just just you know just to show me the money and they weren't
00:26:51it's a local communities which actually turned out to be an advantage because they weren't gossiping they weren't talking about what people were buying and they put the customer service at ease and again gender had a big part in this because in Upper Egypt in the South and he's very remote and very conservative areas women almost never work and they can't really run a business so it's Gyptian woman can't run this business which means who sell lingerie to the local sports local man and does that make the woman comfortable when they buy it not really you know but with there's a Chinese guy who's doing that that's something different and usually they were doing it with their wives should be a Chinese man and woman working together in a lingerie shop and in this worked well you know what function very well because of the UNLV put the local cities they liked these guys are Outsiders the Chinese were totally in Curious they couldn't care less who was buying the stuff why they were buying it they were asking any questions and it works it was a really fascinating example of what you
00:27:51Kirby Clash of cultures do these are two very different cultures but in this case it really function just perfectly and it kind of like each other's differences you know that the Chinese the Chinese word sort of say you hated kind of criticize Egyptian girl you know they're lazy don't work very hard but they also would talk about the positive things they said you know if there's one thing Chinese said over and over again you know if you're in Egypt if I'm driving my car and I break down on the road the first person who stopped the first person to pass it will stop and help that would never happen in China you know and they all said this and it was totally true you know he's up there is this tradition of helping strangers of you know there's a certain sense of community that people don't have in China and the Chinese appreciated that and on the other end that the Egyptians me when I talked about the Chinese have acted like they work really hard you know they're in there very honest they're very direct and so they admired them as well so it was sort of an example of a clash of cultures that turned outward people saw the positives in each other
00:28:51rather than the negatives so another thing you you do talk about aside from the deposit of Reflections at these these Chinese in Egypt had on the Egyptians they also had a few pretty incisive criticisms of you know what was holding Egyptian Society back on maybe if you want to talk about the kind of factory Ark I thought the contrast between you know the women that sure your wife will trade in in Factory girls and the situation that went on in Chinese who created factories in Egypt was a really fascinating contrast 23% of Egyptian women work outside the home it's very low even by the standards of the Middle East the rates of female employment or low and you know basically has Amazon weather wives work and you know this was a dog and one of them is that where the Chinese stood out was that they would work in couples you know so the young the guy I met in that market in Malawi he was there alone the first
00:29:51right-hander what is just cuz his wife was it was home for lunch or something but usually they're big they don't they ran their shop together in this was true of all the Chinese and actually once I started visiting the Chinese around Egypt and saw these husband wife that you reminded me while you know when I was in a fool anymore in Beijing so many of the little little businesses and noodle shops and places where I can show my booze and place that you hang out or run by couples and Egypt that basically wasn't done because the man doesn't want his woman out there in public you know I'm so you realized how crippling is this you just got a huge number people we should be working together and assertive contributes to you know to the distance between men and women because they're not really sharing any any Endeavor the way that they often are in China that was part of it United the factory that that you mention what came out of this lingerie business one of these couples had been selling lingerie in the south in a place called us you for a while and then they just noticed that there is a lot of garbage around the
00:30:51people just threw away plastic bottles and so the guy had the idea to import of the quote cuz I think it's fascinating a lot of garbage lying around but they were the first people to make a patient but they were the first to respond by importing a polyethylene terephthalate bottle production line that was manufactured in jhansi Province was amazing because you have to keep in mind this is a couple the man has a 5th grade education from rural juror John and his wife actually doesn't even know she never went to school she she she illiterate you know you know Chinese woman but they figured out how to do this with unbelievable you know when this was the first plastic bottle recycling plant in all of sudden Egypt at me this is a region that has 30 million people and they're just throwing the stuff in landfills is not going anywhere once these guys set up their plant they start recycling this stuff and become hugely successful men they were clearing off and I'm you know hundred thousand dollars a year from recycling people come
00:31:51all over to 2 to bring bottles there and it was really fascinating talking to them and INR in over the course of my research I made other Chinese who who who had factories in the north one guy said it'd be reunited I thought most insightfully cuz he said you know
00:32:07does he manage factories in China the kind of place is that Leslie Road about a nanny know I've is a lot of factors know sometime as well and then he said you know China when the young women go to work in these places they're trying to escape you know that they don't really know what necessarily what they want but they want to get out and want to get out of the village they want to get away from their families and that's the first step in and they get there and I live in the dormitories and they stare idea start to change in off and then they start to have goals as I can try in Egypt is totally difference of the women are trying to escape it just want to make some money usually for the marriage and I was actually true most of the women that he could hire we're young women who were not yet married who needed money to buy the lingerie and the other things are going to their Diaries the moment they had her in that money they quit this was a problem with all the actors that were being run by Chinese in Egypt was that day they paid nobody was making a career career out of it that women were just there temporarily to make the money so that they could get married
00:33:07my mother married your husband says you can't work anymore and any stay-at-home tuna weigh actually you know what happened in China I think this migration and women young women working with to some degree of subversive activity if you read Leslie's book she describes she describes these young girls who have been to become successful going back to their Village and the old men are trying to boss them around and tell him who to marry and give him advice the girl that just like you know Screw you know what a my cell phone I don't need to listen to you're not going to listen to you anymore I'm going to marry who I want I'm going to go back to the factory and go back to Shinju no don't go wherever I am and this is my new life and listen to you anymore and you know that was incredibly powerful you know moments for these people and that would not happen Egypt could what happens is you know that they're all they're all their goal is actually not to support the social system it's tantric you know so they make enough money so I can go back get married and become part of this you know this this system and it Chinese Rivera
00:34:07student is cuz they were observing on the on the ground and they were seeing how their workers interacted with their families in Egypt you know him and to me it was part of what was missing in Egypt part of it was missing from the revolution of nephew like this it's always somewhat arbitrary how what we call Revolution that you know China did not have a revolution in the years that I was there but in many ways they were revolutionary changes in people's lives in in the ways people interact in the ways that families interact at the end of Lifestyles Egypt I was there during a revolution supposedly but in terms of how people interact in a particular how genders interacted there were no changes at all you know there wasn't a social Revolution it was just a political event so you write that for Egyptians the family was the Deep State while some of the Chinese Observer say that you know China had a real Revolution and whether you you know counted at 5:49 or 67 Society
00:35:07turn down their feet two women working thousands of miles from home in factories with next to no contact with their old you know she outshone and then they come back and they're totally different people so maybe teasing out a little more remember you had some point in the book about how the physical distance actually ended up making a big difference in Den to what extent you know so she like like different thought patterns could end up changing when when folks ended up working or size of China and the fact that development early on was so focused in the south in the special economic zones like shin Jen it meant it when people left to work they they went far away you know so they would go you know provinces away and they can only go home once a year and so the break was really total in many cases I mean I would you know that they they have to set up a new life
00:36:07it is a very different kind of country physically you know it's all laid out along the river that the transport lines are all along the river the main highways & soames not that big more than two-thirds of Egyptian population lives within a 3-hour drive Cairo you know Cairo is a dominant City in a way that Beijing is not you've got 17 million in Cairo out of 90 million has a large percentage of the population and many of the other people are within 3 hours of of of of that City so it's very easy to go back and forth so they don't break these connections to the village is easily you don't need any concerns see the impact up at it was easier for families to continue to control the young women and of course they wouldn't let the young women work in fact it live in dormitories you know that was one thing of the Chinese learned very quickly they set up a chinese-style chi Phi you know serve in East India Northeastern Egypt near the Swiss canal and they did it fall into Chinese model which is that location is everything put this thing in the middle of the desert near the canal
00:37:07you got to access to the highway that runs to Cairo and you got access to the Shipping Lines this is great everything is going to work but they found out the toys they found out that they couldn't you know Egyptians would not let their young women live in the dormitories they have to return home at nights which meant that they had to recruit workers from the city of sweat is which is an hour and a half each way you know so you're you're cutting into your work day by bus in these people back and forth so this sort of you know just geography plays a big role did geography also plays a big role in terms of the region you know I'm surrounded by you know what you think about 1978 when trying to starts to come out of this terrible turmoil and dysfunction of the Mal years what do they see around them I mean they see Taiwan I see Singapore they see South Korea Sochi Japan and the Chinese were very aware of the fact that they screwed up you know the fact that something had gone wrong they also we're we're for models way to Shinju income from you know what
00:38:07where is the idea of you export processing zones in South Korea. I wanted been doing it is easy for them to do so that they they saw path out and I don't think about Egypt you know what you have around you look at Iraq Syria Israel by your neighbors yeah I mean Israel's its own thing and it kind of is I mean Israel has had a different level of support a different level of the you know that they history so unusual it isn't really the same dynamic in a lot of ways you know so there's no models you know they did you know and everything is you don't realize how bad you were all your people and even at the end of what we're not Siri at what that's true right but at some point you should be comparing yourself to something that's you know more positive and sort of the other day I realize that was a very healthy thing in China was the sense that the sudden sense that we messed up we're behind we have to catch up and Egyptians really don't have that you know they did their not aware of how much better things
00:39:07could be and they weren't putting pressure on themselves in the same same way they weren't really only in the situation you know and there's a lot of historical reasons for this there is much more Colonial destruction an impact in the Middle East and there wasn't tryna no question but you know when I lived in China certainly they were there was a lot of xenophobia and blaming the Americans or British or whatever but in the end there was some sense that we have some responsibility for this whether or not they would say it directly and then the Chinese realize this if they had messed up at the cult Revolution and all these moments when they had turned against themselves had damage that many put them behind and implicitly when you're making that realization you understand we we can fix this and we have to be the ones to fix as we have some response but you don't need you every fault every problem is because of somebody else it's the Americans is the country's its Israel you know it's but it's never us it's never
00:40:07we have the social traditions that we need to change you know we're not using our resources correctly we're behind that's not the realisation it's just that you know I met the governor of that Province where they burned all the churches near dozens of people were killed and I said you know what happened here what would you know why did you guys have all this violence and the governor this is like the governor of a province in Chinese like it was Obama
00:40:30Obama's want to do this you know his sight yeah you know what, wakes up every day and stinks what can I do to make minion worse you know that was the perspective know this is all of this all about me thinks that all the time is how to make miniature worse this is what this guy telling me basically Province in China but if I had if you'd spoken honestly wouldn't have blamed all the problems in the province on Obama you know and so this is it it's a big issue and it in something I kind of came to appreciate about China was there what are all the problems with the way Chinese look at history in the way they look at themselves there was at some level a sense of ownership and that was empowering I feel like Egypt needed to get to that point but I wasn't I didn't really see it during the years I was there and you know hopefully it's in the future so do you think it takes the the the levels of you know 1960
00:41:30China disruption to to get that change in in in thinking Westar that's a really good question is no schooling but it's been living on the ground and he sold lingerie in southern Egypt he started this bottle recycling plant out of nothing and crazy song and I respect this guy's perspective and he was one of the ones who would say most wrong gender relations are the big problem and he's like you know in China we had a real Revolution people made a decision that they can't go on like this we had to change everything and in Egypt they haven't really decided that yet and it's sort of true when you realize it when you have these revolutions it's incredibly wrenching it's incredibly painful bad things are going to happen lots of bad things happen in China I'm not even sure if we would say it's a net-positive who knows you know that's an accounting that that you know where Maine's to be seen but you're no denying that this was a major major change to the society shook things up and nothing like that at
00:42:30open in Egypt Egypt get supported I'm basically the way things work in Egypt is it sits there's a lot of subsidies from the Gulf States are subsidies from the United States in the US gives a 1.5 billion dollars in Aid mostly military but also you know social Aid to Egypt every year and all that sort of allows the place to kind of function continue to function at a very low level just like basically subsist subsistence-level they can you don't give people subsidized bread subsidized Fuel and I think keeps moving along without the sword of wrynn painful change that I think might be necessary to to serve turn things around you know when the revolution really wasn't that it was a step but it didn't didn't follow through and so things basically move along and more or less the same way that they always have you know I told that that was part of the context if you know you know we think of the Middle East as having been a really difficult region and in all things Apple relocated modern Egyptian history
00:43:30haven't gone through anything like what the Chinese with you in the 20 Century and maybe partly as a result they haven't fundamentally change our society so I just spent two years in a master's program in China in China studies and doing it I watched a lot of iqiyi but didn't necessarily game too many parts guilt how do I only known that at the University of San Francisco to new master in applied economics I could have learned something to actually make me super employable you know are SQL machine learning all that good stuff you actually see on job listings in Silicon Valley and John Watson not necessarily have you washed all of 1LE song So in this program you can study the economics of platforms auctions in business strategy at the same time as you learn the tools of econometrics it experimental design in machine learning Plus for all those non us students out there this program is designated stamps you can fly for a three-year extension on your student visa and keep working in the US after you graduate to learn more and get an application fee waiver go to usfca.edu
00:44:32so you know if we were if we're thinking about what the four olds of Egypt would be religion would certainly probably be number 1 2 and 3 the impact of you noticed it just caught me the role of Islam in society how it plays into these things and maybe how you're not having that a religious tradition impacted her didn't impact it should look at one point that the deal to serve
00:45:01yeah the Chinese foot-binding which was as fetish that thing with women that that was very sexual eyes and strange and of course disfiguring is almost an equivalent to the female circumcision you know that what we call female genital mutilation in Egypt you know which 90% of the Egyptian women have had this this terrible surgery you know when they're when they're children but when the Chinese decided to get rid of it wasn't a religious component to it you know you could serve intellectual started a campaign against it and and 2 to stop at practice fairly easy because it wasn't tied to a faith another weird thing is is that this this is an email to write if you know this is something that I am actually the roots of this are not in Islam and most Muslims around the world do not believe in it and they even the gulf Arabs who are known for being conservative. He's not anywhere in the quarter on it just put it be in his become understood it by Egyptians
00:46:01as part of their face and actually Egyptian Christians Coptic Christians also circumciser their girls at a high rate and so it's harder to change something like that when you believe it's part of the faith no question I mean the lack of religion in China but also just you know religion in China was always different it was always pragmatic it was always somewhat flexible people could go to Buddhist temples and I could go to Tawas Tampa you know it was a different model of Faith than serve the abrahamic religions you know who the review Christianity Judaism Islam you don't move back and forth between these things they tend to be all or nothing they all of them a rubber quite absolute in the way that they get interpreted in the modern carnations this particular trip Islam which we acted to colonialism in certain ways are becoming more conservative more restrictive and if you know that's it's fundamental to what's going on in Egypt in into why it's hard to enact change because so many things are tied to Faith and even though there was a burst
00:47:01talk sense to that your fortune is tied to God into God's decision and you know to Leslie in media directions often seem quite passive because they would often say well this is him on my mind of God decided I would have you know where's the Chinese would be like what can I do to make more what can I do in a China can be exhausting and it can be close-minded and it can be no be the kind of greed and in each other all of us have experienced and it's is tiresome but in Egypt it was the opposite we often saw people that we would think of my gosh this guy should be pushing you know he should be innovating should be thinking about starting a little business we should take this idea for their but they were you know they versed with this is what God has decided is appropriate for me
00:47:43it's kind of passivity so another world will do a few other four olds the veil and the impact you saw and how it played out an interpersonal reactions and society-at-large this is one of the things that's a real mystery when you arrive as a foreign agent that you have what they different recall the head gap which is u-pass I hid Jeb I guess in the end in property or Big Ben in Egypt is a head Gavin that's just the head covering you know where you cover your hair that's that's the most Muslim women in Egypt do that but then you also have the Nick Cobb which is the full face covering while you see what the person's eyes and you know this is what very conservative Muslims in Egypt have taken to wearing it was a very rare and it really 20 Century but has become quite common and you know I had a good friend became good friends with the guy who picked up garbage in my neighborhood got him saying I became good friends with his family and and his wife were than the cob and and and you know I always do this
00:48:43Carmen is Sir described as a religious Garmin in the sense that people have come to believe that that that Islam calls for it and if they're very conservative that night where that but one thing I got to realize when I would when I got to know citing his family what was that was very negotiable you know I hate his wife what he bought would wear this thing when she was out in public in their neighborhood for example when when she would come to dinner with us when she got inside she would merely take it off once you got to know us well and because she knew that we weren't Egyptians we weren't going to talk about how she looked her tell the Neighbors about her face that she had done something inappropriate she would feel comfortable with us and with me because I wasn't an Egyptian man and in so you realize that this thing is actually negotiable and it's actually a social you know basically a social and you know it is the dynamic has more to do a society really then it has to do with faith it's it's it's not something she believes God is telling her to do with something that her male neighbors are telling her to do and it's
00:49:43or just incredibly disruptive I mean the one the first thing is letting I realize is the moment she took that the first time she took that thing off it was so much easier to communicate with her course you are or are big is not fluent and and we're relying a lot on your facial expressions help a lot you know what kind of don't realize that until you've had conversations with somebody's face is blocked impact on society makes headache worse makes women even Stranger in and no more otherworldly than they should be next coming to classical Arabic yeah you know this is
00:50:19something that also look different coming from China you know what are the issues of growing the Middle East if you study Arabic is that you almost most courses or structures here starting with clutch + hot which is the classical Arabic which is based on user of an idea what the quranic Arabic is it actually isn't spoken anywhere in the Middle East so you know and actually even linguist and even professors cannot speak this language fluently they cannot talk contemporaneo extemporaneously in this language without making grammatical mistakes it is such a complicated grammar because it would never use as an everyday language but this Remains the language of formal speeches its language of the mosque and it's a it's a literary language show so virtually everything is still written in you know in classical Arabic and he was really fascinating to think of after Chinese cuz it's it's very similar to classical Chinese actually many many civilizations had some version of this
00:51:19people Road in a classical Greek up until accidental 1970s turkey had her you know literary language that was not spoken that that was also a fine they were formed in the Middle East is probably the only place in the world that still has a situation where they're riding in a in a language that's not spoken that has never been a colloquial language you know what I came to believe that this has a significant impact on the culture on literacy on expression on political expression you know this is not a popular idea Middle East studies at the scene is very Colonial because when westerners were coming Egypt in the 19th century they sometimes push for reform of the sword in the end in NM people in the Middle East saw this at Western pressure trying to change our Traditions are quite different outcome than the Chinese requires reform this in the Bible a movement that I have a meeting to all pinion right I mean
00:52:19yeah. I got right about historical watching out before the date that they stop writing classical Chinese and it has people writing quill queal in every society where this happens it has a big impact on expression has a big impact on literacy and why would that be surprised you know you are obviously going to write you no more naturally in the language that you speak and otherwise our kind of riding in a in a foreign language in the free awkward and you have to be highly educated to do that and I think this kind of thing has a big impact Grace not really discussed in the Middle East I think it's one of them's it probably Scholars of the Middle East would be critical of my book for but to me if you know this is like I don't see why you're being different if every other part of the world has had you no changes once you move to a cloak real form of the written language why would they be any different you know how you wrapped up
00:53:19history of colonialism in the reactions to colonialism was just traumatize this region to a much higher degree than anything shine ever experienced real ostrich story you have about this this activist to once he starts getting you know he's like an addled but once he starts you know feeling like he has something to say he has to like put all this on pause and learn grammar and learn vocab seriously if you're not someone who's kind of grown up around this really almost archaic language and it seemed you could see it play out and people you know how many 1/4 of Egyptians are illiterate and of course much of the problem is is a is a bad education system that's been underfunded and poorly structured but I do think that the language itself probably play some Roy give example of Syed my my friend who was the garbage marinate in our neighborhood was highly intelligent but he was illiterate he never gone to school for a day because his family was so poor it works in
00:54:19like 6 years old when I knew him you know he was young he couldn't read basically at all and so his wife wouldn't when they would fight his wife would send them text messages because if he gets a text message on his phone that you want to see he just gotten phones at stardew use texting and so you get this message and have to go to somebody in the neighborhood that had to have them read it to him and they would say you know you idiot you did that he or she be criticizing a man's like to eat they serve serve two purposes she could send him a message and see also kind of embarrassing you don't and you know what sort of awful to see how you know how is illiteracy could be used against him but one thing I was fascinated by the time we left in 2016 he had become sort of semi-literate him he could handle these texting functions on his own and the reason is when people text actually do it in colloquial Egyptian Arabic they don't do it in force her and you don't so there's just an example disc it's not like he's going to class or something but just because they're rioting in the form that he speaks he can do it where is coupled
00:55:19enroll in classes for. And he never got very far because there's just too intimidating for so I know it's obvious that this is going to have an impact is just like you know when trying if somebody is moderately educated they can't lease Express their thoughts directly with without having to go to classical Chinese the way they would have if you know a hundred fifty years ago so I guess coming back to the 7000 vs 5000 years of History it almost seems like Egypt gets get get another point in this regard yeah you know certainly the the histories longer but one really important thing to think about to two things to think first what you know each user task C of the Old Kingdom the Middle Kingdom and The New Kingdom and this is how the passes is divided there's Dynasty in like the 18th Dynasty is in the New Kingdom and you don't the fourth Dynasty built the pyramids and someone I mean all these all these things have been late I'll just like in Cheyenne and we've got the on the Ming and so minutes in time and so on the one thing that you realize when you start to study Egyptian
00:56:19trees that all of those dynasties and names were not that they didn't call themselves that this was all sort of names later in the 19th century in the end it's so it was done under the Greeks but a lot of it was on a 19 century by foreigners so it was first degree to set up this idea of different number dynasties and then the Western foreigners set up the historian set up his idea of the Old Kingdom the Middle Kingdom the New Kingdom and you realize what you know you took they didn't even write their own history now that the history is basically been done by Outsiders anything about the different for the Chinese with a diocese name themselves most important destroy ographer is in Chinese tradition have always been Chinese they are in charge of their past Egyptians or not they've never have been numb all most most of the most important are college in the country has traditionally been done by westerners and it continues to be done by westerners if you know there are many institutions from England and from the u.s. to Germany from other countries that have digs in China in Chinese or something and have digs in Egypt and they're the Chinese
00:57:19I started Excavating in Egypt imagine that imagine doing that you cannot go and say we've got a lot of money we want to excavate she wants to him I'm from the New York University you know that that's not going to get anywhere in China but you can do that in any in Egypt so that's one difference the other difference is that the last Egyptian to declare himself Pharaoh was maybe it was like 1:38 BC or something like that so from that time from basically the first century BC all the way to 1952 there was not a single Egyptian ruler of Egypt you know you have two Creeks you have the Romans Persians came in you have the Ottomans you've got you know they eventually gets the British you got the Arabs has all just wave at the way I forgot yeah you have wave after wave of foreigners coming in and running the country one way or another so think about what that does to a civilization you know China would talk about the Damned
00:58:19suffered under the Opium War that mean that's incredibly minor compared to what happened in Egypt you know where my imagine if you had not a single Chinese person ruin the country from the Han until now and that's basically what you've got young tripped you know it's what you can when I talk about the Egyptians not owning the problem and not feeling empowered obviously this has a big impact we have to think about the history what's that that's one reason why I write a lot about history in this book I think you can understand the place without it which was also true in China of course the national museum on Tiananmen versus the Egyptian National Museum I feel like you you could you could squeeze out a great essay on that these institutions would look very different you know after having been in Egypt I mean
00:59:05if you got that the Egyptian relationship with their past is a bit more schizophrenic you know in the sense that they're certainly proud of their fur on it past but there's a there's a gap it's not seen as continuous they are not writing in the hieroglyphs the hieroglyphs were forgotten for being out to 2,000 years or whatever nobody people couldn't remember how to write how to read those things it's not the same as Chinese characters which creates a sort of unbroken line in the Chinese imagination the introduction of Islam invasion of Arabs in 8th Century this is a huge break in the Egyptian past and it creates an entirely new thing and Egyptians connect themselves much more strongly to the Arabs then they do to the to the fronek Egyptians and actually you know when you go to Diggs it's quite amazing because they're Excavating these ancient tombs you cannot excavate any Islamic era
01:00:05grave in Egypt that would be seen as it oh yeah I know that's theirs you could name you would never you know have try to have local workers do that night I talked with you know that I spent a lot of time in one of the sites I described is abydos which is the first you know the first Royal necropolis in Egypt in his Ben uses necropolis for 5,000 years and they're always Excavating these terms that we had talked to the foreman he was also is it from 7 Egypt horse Islamic and I was like you know you guys wouldn't excavate that Cemetery over there any what's an Islamic Cemetery at the at the edge of the size of golf course not First Night Like This doesn't bother you that you are Excavating these guys grapes here and he's I know because they're cool far do you know so he's not saying these are my forefathers these are my ancestors Sandy's are infidels they didn't believe in Islam and as a result we can disrupt their bones you know so that sort of thing is that you know is a real difference there there is this Brake & Axle
01:01:05Gwinnett Community when I would talk to him about their Roots so many of that they could had organized themselves into tribes and they saw these tribes as being descendants of Arabs who came in from you know from Saudi Arabian from the Gulf and in the eighth century and Emmy this was a really small number of people who did this when they came in you know Egypt was being a part of the Byzantine Empire and it was very well administered with pretty easy to overthrow those overlords in to replace them and then Arabs quite enlightened and they did a better job of running the place and so the people pretty pretty easily switched over but there weren't a large number of Arabs you came in it was like they came in in a massive Invasion and totally changed the population but the locals connected themselves with these with with these people names that were descended from those are completely false and meanwhile they've got this Cemetery you know this world necropolis what you would think people would say I'm descendants of these Farrow interview
01:02:05you know he's great figures in in ancient Egyptian history but I wasn't really looked so is he is very different from the Chinese and play out in the museum just came in since I was you know they was redone since I laughed but I mean it's obviously state-run at State Managed IT is a sight of State worship to some degree in that bed the message is that China is and always has been and that the China of the Communist party is connected to the Glorious China the past and the museum in Cairo was like very chaotic and sort of poorly managed and you know there are no inscriptions on most of the artifacts that it was assumed we just kind of a wonderful place because it was really laid-back and quirky it felt like going to this attic where you're always amazing stuff it's just been way that I used to love going there and you know so much fun you know you just felt like I don't know what to say to just felt like another world coming back to this drives idea you have a an episode
01:03:05a book where you talk about a local election which was sort of beside the point but you ended up getting very invested in the different candidates you also wrote about a local election in China many many years ago I'm curious if you could compare contrast a little you know this again is something that looked quite different after you don't have to act like an easier cuz one thing I remember about in country driving the Dynamics of a village that was north of Beijing which when I started going out there in around 2000 it was a 2001-2002 pretty remote it took more in about two and a half hours to get there at the end of a dirt road by Chinese standards at the time was was somewhat on the peripheries but one thing that was very striking about that Village Inn on the probably any of those you go to enshrine is there was no question who was in charge you know what the commies party was in church and in the end and who is the highest official in that Village it was a woman
01:04:05quit married in the family that had the most the most the most people in the village were surname the way and the the party Secretariat height official was not from this family she had married into this family but she was an outsider you know she'd come from another Village in the region and to be this is very striking you know that this person is first of all a woman and second of all an outsider and she's married to a way but the way she was married to is not one of the powerful people in that Clan and this is for sure reflects the fact that the parties really broken the clan structure and this would be true and India how many villages you would visit and try and let you know you have no question he was in charge of why was she in charge while you got to know her and you'd understand why she was incredibly powerful figure and she just was one of these people who had you know Justin credible political instincts yet force of personality and somehow the party have figured this out I knew that this woman could do things and they put her in charge you know it's not democracy by any means butts
01:05:05how does force of Nature has risen to the top rather than the local Clan figuring things out I mean why you go to Egypt and I follow the election there and you know you've got the you know the national Democratic party had run things under Mubarak and then you had the Muslim Brotherhood and then after that you have CC come but meanwhile in this Village they've been doing their own thing cuz I got elections periodically throughout to email the last 40 years and the milk was a kind of figured out their own version of parties basically based on families Maywood certified it out amongst themselves in the end nobody in central Cairo is powerful enough to really Institute their own Vision on places like this it's a week very weakly government country and so you know this was a really striking contrast where is in China at the smallest level you see the party still in charge in Egypt at the smallest level two families weren't charged are running the show and what would the what would the powers
01:06:05the NDP or the Muslim Brotherhood or the CC are government they would let them fight it out and then whoever one they would have say okay you know they were kind of Co-op them in one way or another but they didn't bother even trying to break the structure to any they couldn't do it you know that's why I say it's some point the book that the family needs a picture of the deep State because it continues to run things up there if you know it. At the Village level at the family's Clan struts
01:06:33and Eddie Normandy and try and have a head bed really broken up system to a large degree so aside from the elections you also have this this little window into the way bureaucracy Works in in Egypt and I want to I want to read a quote cuz it's a lost Raven also beautiful of this of this moment where the illiterate garbage man who's fighting with his litter at wife the wife gets the the husband in trouble and he has to go pay some bribes to get it all figured out so you're in this you're in this building with him and he write that even the people who are too poor to pay bribes were useful they became a kind of prop the way they crowd of the hallways staring hopelessly out before persuaded more prosperous visitors to be free with their money and so side post off bill after Bill surrounded by a crowd of people who could afford to spend nothing but time I'm so before we get into the writing may be a bit on you know what it was like being in and around a country with that sort of bureaucracy forces what you encountered in China is enormous you know it's it's it's
01:07:33I've been bloated because of kind of make work programs it's it's a type of social subsidy most people don't do anything in the jobs and there's a very little room for advancement you know so is everything know where to go on that you just kind of doing minimal work and you're being paid enough to barely support your family and that's her to all the all it is but it's a totally different thing than China worry you know you you also have a bierock see that many times could be hidebound and corrupt and so on but they do get things done you know in China they can make decisions in the garage so you can enforce those decisions in the end of the year you can maneuver that that Eugen substitution Indonesia doesn't really happen then I really know that they can't really change policies basically and so how did things work it tends to be really face-to-face you know it's it's not really a systematic an Indian wish I knew you would figure out you know you have to go to the spirit that beer when you got to do this for many other do it there's a process to Something in Egypt it really is just meeting the right person in the right way
01:08:33I would do this as a journalist you know I talked about it many times in the book If I wanted to meet my Fishel I'm not going to bother trying to call the guy and trying to set up an appointment I'm just going to go to his office and stand outside the door because it already like 20 people stand outside the door and these are just random local people with random problems and so it seems I would sit in these bureau's cuz they were quite open during certain periods after revolution you could just look at the incredible range of Demands that people would have they would just go there and then complain about the electricity in their home and complain about some accent they have just totally random stuff going to a high-ranking official and he decides whether he wants to do something about it or not which is of course exactly the way it used to work in front of time so you know it's really you just have people rolling up into the throne room to deal with them right and I would do the same thing as a journalist I would just go to these places and you know maybe the guy would talk to me just like you had mentioned earlier talking to that governor of the you know of a minion I just
01:09:32showed up along with everybody else and I show up there and once I'm in there then the governor's like really happy to talk to me he tells me about Obama and Obama doing all this stuff and think about all different that isn't trying you never going to let you cannot get into the government doing to go talk with provincial you know the head of the promised one the party secretary night that's totally insane and if you did for somehow end up in his office he's not going to tell you anything you know but if you show up there and they were just talk anymore cuz it just love to talk in a very good-humoured they tell jokes and it tell you things I shouldn't tell you you know so in that sense it was easy as a journalist once you could get two people to get them talking but yeah huge huge difference the function of the bureaucracy you know any age of the bureaucracy is there basically to support people it's basically a form of social social support where is it in China that bureaucracy is there to enact the you know the policies of the Communist Party
01:10:29so I want to close with a few questions on writing would you mind walking through maybe first how you thought about an edited this particular scene of this portrait of your friend in the in the hallway and maybe with some more General Reflections on what you think you do particularly well if I see may have not seen him in a lot of it depends on the note said she take you know so I'm by the time I'm observing that and observing Syed going to the government bureaucracy I've known him for it then that must have been two or three years into our friendship or relationship and so I'm he's very comfortable having me around which is a big part of it so I'm not really intrusive I'm just there watching him do his thing and so that helps a lot and of course I'm recording everything in a notebook and you have to have good notes you can't tell how a scene plays out when you're observing if you never know which details you going to want to use the key thing is just to have as many details plus I'm writing everything down with the guys were in with the people look like what
01:11:29Shane your body posture your everything and then later when I sit down and write that I'm figuring out how it works other questions you ask yourself I feel like no particular when it comes to note-taking you know when I first came to China I felt like Peter Hessler like everything was new I was like noticing all this stuff I've noticed the longer I stay here but the better my Chinese Gods like things seem to have become less notable so are there any electric Syracuse you how to keep your eyes peeled and stop things from becoming too familiar that they just don't get noted noted down anymore I don't know I mean is a sociologist and he's an intensely observant person he just you know even around our town he would always always noticing things that are different or interesting or no commenting on them and I think I picked up a lot of that come from him if person has become my job so I'm just now I'm just tuned that way like I I just try to be observing all the time even when I'm around my home but you know it and I notice things in my community
01:12:29change that strike me and especially when I'm reporting like that day with Syed you know I just heard of all my antenna or out and I'm I'm trying to to to notice whatever is you know whatever could be important you in a bit by bit by that point I mean I've been riding for almost 20 years so it's so you start to have an instinct for the things that matter and for the things that are good details in writing takes time bitsy itsy itsy it takes a lot of you know member my my teacher in college John McPhee you know he would often say you know it takes a long time for a rider to develop into grow and this is something people often don't realize he was a very rare to have somebody write anything of value in the twenties and it's really unusual I mean there's a few cases of me of Hemingway in a few people who we are John Updike write things very young and that's what that's not like the common pattern much more, any other way I mean look at John McPhee my teacher who always wanted to be a writer and you tried and tried and tried to write to the New York refund I got his first piece in the magazine when he was
01:13:29I think his first book you might have been 33 or 34 you know when you're twenty-five that seems pretty old do you have to be patient you have to let that develop let me know I wrote Rivertown when I was twenty-nine was published when I was 31 in retrospect that seems early but at the time it took a long time to get there I wanted to be a writer since I was 16 and I was all I thought about and I read very carefully from that time and thought a lot about writing every book I read I was thinking about the decisions that a writer was with making I studied riding in college but even so it took me you know more than a decade after college before I was ready to write things that we're good so it takes a lot of patients do you have to have a lot of faith in it but the even terms of what you know what when I come up with details are things that are
01:14:20that are nice pieces of writing it off and just comes from staring at the page a long time or reworking things magos a party early in the book where I talked about the you know the sort of the way rumors work in the village and I have this phrase where I talked about the Alchemy of rumor were the gossip turns in artifact from bronze to gold or some minor find into something that's earth-shattering it becomes as rumor that people that people believe something being really valuable is there under the ground but that phrase the Alchemy of Rumours not something it comes to me in the field it's not something that I'm thinking about while I'm watching and it didn't come to me in the first you drive to Canada meme much later in the process when I'm just working through this thing and 7/8 it jumps out of me I know there was this guy is turning these things internet's Alchemy at the great work you know but it's you know so that's usually how it works it's it's it's time in two cents $0.01 is that it's something I thought about from 1 hour
01:15:20pretty young and was focused on for you know for a long time and the other aspect of time is even just sitting there on the page looking at these notes reworking the scene over time things get better and you have to have the patience in both regards the long-term patients to stay with the discipline to have faith in yourself to faith in your development and then you also have the discipline and the patience to spend time with that page and end with that description and keep trying to make it better this has been a true pleasure Peter has something for coming I'm trying to get contact thank you thanks for having me
01:16:09China EconTalk is edited by Jason that Ronald and Kaiser Gua and is a proud member of the Seneca network from South China brother great shows on China. The enticing Seneca business pretty deep and Daily Tech bus China the new voices podcast and course the Seneca podcast now and it's 9th year until next week
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