If you think about it, a large part of a taxi drivers’ income depends on information. Where are the potential customers? Where is the address they want to be dropped off at? What is the best route to drive there? Where are the traffic jams and how to avoid them? Nowhere else have I seen cabbies embrace technology to access this information as enthusiastically as in Hong Kong.
Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics district, is the stuff of geek legend. For decades, this area has been a magnet for a clientel obsessed with electronics, comics and adult video stores. When I first visited in the mid 90’s, it was as if I walked onto the set of some crazy sci-fi movie. The component market under the tracks of the Chūō-Sōbu Line fascinated me to no end. At the time, it seemed chaotic and underground, an enticing view of the future of some different past.
The reclaiming of used components isn’t the only notable activity in Shenzhen’s electronics district. Throughout the busy halls and corridors of several huge buildings I observed an entire process culminating in the (re)birth of phones.
In a somewhat hidden corner of Hua Qiang Bei there’s two large buildings that are mainly dedicated to the recycling of cellphones. These though aren’t the same as the cellphone malls found in the districts’ main street. Here cellphones are traded as a commodity or even as a raw material. Hundreds of small companies work with (and against) each other to squeeze every bit of value out of yesterdays mobile phones.
When visiting Shenzhen everybody tells you about the insanely explosive growth of the city which supposedly went from 30.000 people to 14 million in 30 years. Part of that growth is driven by the worlds technolust as Shenzhen is the main city in China’s ‘Special Economic Zone’ where a sizable part of the worlds electronics are manufactured. People from all over the world come to the enormous Hua Qiang Bei electronic district for good wholesale prices on components or complete products. This is by far the biggest market of its kind I have encountered and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the worlds largest.
Sao Paulo’s electronic district, Santa Efigênia consists of a couple of blocks worth of galleries, mostly long hallways with a number of different stores in them. Beyond the shops that sell the standard electronic equipment and computer hardware, I find a number of workshops deeper in the buildings. Here the carcasses of phones and game consoles are brought back to working order, possibly with their security bypassed for ease of use.
While on a trip to Beijing in 2008 I walked into a huge building to find a thriving indoor market with every shop dedicated to mobile phones and phone related products. There are rows upon rows small stores, many selling both single units to locals and wholesale to traders from the surrounding province. Judging by the sizable number of well equipped workshops this is also a good place to get phones repaired.