Snapshot – From “8 Days Shanghai”

The New York Times Shanghai Bureau Chief spent over a decade covering Africa and Japan before heading to China and publishing ‘A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa’ in 2004. He keeps tabs on the world through and confesses to being a total camera junkie.
You’ve lived most of your adult life abroad. How would you describe the experience of consistently being a foreigner ‘ ‘expatriate’?
The word I would use is ‘great’. I’m very happy to be outside of the US. Not because I don’t like my country, but because it doesn’t hold a lot of mystery for me. People’s provincialism always surprises me. In Africa, I lived in a very sophisticated city called Abidjan and people wanted to know if I saw lions, or if there was electricity. I thought it was about Africa, but I’ve lived in Latin America, Japan and now China, and the questions don’t get a lot more sophisticated.
What is the most important part of being a reporter?
It’s about challenging received ideas and stereotypes and conventional wisdom. It’s about asking people to think about stuff they wouldn’t ordinarily think about. And the challenge is making it enjoyable and making them want to know more about it.
The situation in Darfur is getting a lot of press lately. What can we do to change things?
I think that we are all cheapened as human beings when we recognise something that arguably deserves to be called genocide and don’t do anything about it. The powers that are able to do something about it aren’t because they don’t feel any sense of urgency from public opinion.
If you were to write a book on Shanghai, what would be its title?
‘The Real City: Shanghai Beneath the Veneer.’ I think there’s more hype in Shanghai than in any other place in the world. I like living here, but there’s a pretty big disconnect between the Shanghai that I live in and the Shanghai I read about. It’s a city that functions on image.
Do you have a must-click when you go online?
Actually, no. One reason is that I read too much. I read six to seven newspapers every day and I’m usually reading two books at any given time. There’s a lot of competition.
With all of your travelling and web posting, you must have some favourite gadgets.
I got this fantastic little camera for posting more photos on my website. It’s an EX-255. Casio doesn’t give me a kickback for saying this and I’m a camera fan, so for me to say something about a digital camera is something.
What do you like taking pictures of?
I like people. You have to stop long enough for people to stop noticing you, that you’re a six foot four inch foreigner with a camera. Lean against a post or something.
How many words do you write a week?
Two articles for The New York Times, roughly a thousand words each. I’m writing a novel right now, I only work on the weekends and my goal is to write a thousand words a day. I met it last weekend and I felt very good.
What book are you reading?
I actually brought a book with me. I never go anywhere without a book. Oh, wait, it’s a Chinese dictionary. That’s boring.
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