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Braving The Streets Of Shanghai With NPR's Frank Langfitt

In his free time, NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt likes to drive around Shanghai as a sort of free taxi cab, offering rides to strangers, to get to know the real lives of ordinary Chinese.

He sometimes records their stories, for his ongoing series Streets of Shanghai.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks to Langfitt about what he’s been learning, and what it’s like driving in China.

Interview Highlights: Frank Langfitt

On where he is right now

“I’m actually in the middle of traffic. I’m under an elevated that they light up on Friday night, it’s all this blue neon lights, and now I’m trying to get across four or five lanes of traffic to make my turn and it’s raining and it’s going to be really challenging.”

“This is hard enough to do on my own. My assistant Ian, he’s here actually, he’s recording my voice.”

On driving in Shanghai 

“It can be very, very challenging. I think the things that you find here is that things come at all directions. So for instance, it’s not uncommon for you to be going through an intersection with a green light, and an electric motorbike cuts right in front of you, and so you never know. Even when I go through intersections, I’m always looking both ways, even when I have the light. I’ll give you another example, the electric motorbikes actually often drive on the sidewalk, so I’ve had motorbikes drive over my foot. You never know where things are coming from.”

“I was in Wuhan, which is a city in central China, and I’m driving down four lanes on a superhighway in Wuhan on a Sunday afternoon, and there’s a guy going in the wrong direction coming straight at us. And I’m thinking, it’s like something you would see Bruce Willis do, and I guess the guy missed his exit, and instead of just getting off at another exit he decided he would turn around and drive back through traffic to find the right exit.”

“Instead of just getting off at another exit he decided he would turn around and drive back through traffic to find the right exit.”

On how the roads have changed since he first arrived in China

“One thing is that there are so many more cars now, and that makes a huge difference. You know, when I first got to China in the ’90s, I lived in Beijing, and… I’ve gotta get around this bus right now…

“It’s a very predatory environment. So, if you see an opening you just have to seize it. But in the old days, it was mostly bikes and there weren’t a lot of cars, and what was amazing back then is, back in Beijing, you could actually park on the sidewalks. So I would go to the Great Hall of the People across from Tianamens Square on a Sunday, and instead of having to park far away I could actually pull up on the sidewalk and park there. No one bothered you, it was a much more relaxed environment; it was a different era.”


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