A few days ago, I went to the Buji crossing, one of seven border crossings internal to the Shenzhen municipality. This border is called the 2nd line (二线), and divides Shenzhen into the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and Baoan and Longgang Districts. Buji is one of Shenzhen’s major manufacturing areas. It is also a center of migrant laborers, who either work in Buji, or enter the SEZ at Buji. So it is an area filled with semis and buses, as goods and people are hauled from one place to another.
Buji is one of those places where I viscerally feel the contradiction between vague research commitments to, if not the truth, then at least some version of the whole story and my bodily aesthetics. Here, goods and people clog the area, pressing into my skin and I inhale carbon monoxide and sweat. I walk quickly past numerous terminals where thin, sun-darkened men load and unload semis, while rural migrants get off long-distance buses carrying bulging plastic bags and dragging wheeled suitcases. Some stare back at me and my camera remains dormant; I am embarrassed to be seen observing what many would rather hide, or failing that, disavow. Along these streets, women hawk fruit, prepared foods, and bottled drinks. Venders and homeless migrants have variously occupied the areas under pedestrian overpasses; these spaces stink of rotting foods and urine and I find myself wondering if there are any public bathrooms nearby. Is it possible to bathe or defecate in private? I notice children working beside adults and am reminded that many of my students are in summer school, already preparing for next semester’s tests. I have come to take photos, but find it difficult to stop and pose my objects because I want to be already beyond the crowded heat and stench. Instead, I snap a photo here and there, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze, moving determinedly forward. I am reduced from methodological exposition to shamed confession. Such are the lessons of the Buji crossing. Continue reading