2018-04-29，下午六點多 around 18:00：
Hi-speed rail from Shenzhen North train station to Beijing
Border crossing at Shenzhen Bay port
这趟慢递标记了对自由的高度控制和个人努力/展示 This 慢递 trip was marked by signs of high level control and individual displays of, or efforts at, freedom.
As I crossed from Hong Kong to the mainland at Shenzhen Bay, an automated passport chip reader requested I provide all my fingerprints. The system is new, but its design simple and primary, like Windows XP. Once it had received all this biological data, the system popped up with a polite "Welcome to China!". Very cyberpunk, very "New Era" China (新时代中国).
I do wonder thought how integrated and comprehensive the system actually is. Are the fingerprints taken here at Shenzhen Bay actually linked into one enormous national system, with potentially more than a billion sets of fingerprint data? For example, has the system realised from my fingerprints that I have two passports and over the past year or so entered China on both? Or is this just a show piece of hi-tech and secure New Era China. On the other side of the passport check, I passed a red banner: "港口强，国家强", "If the borders are strong, The country is strong."
I have supplied my fingerprint data to a total of four entities in the last year—China customs, Taiwan customs, my cellphone, and the third party in charge of security at my office. Who knows where the data has gone from there. I'll be mistrustful of all of them.
In the Beijing subway, Baishiqiao station (白石桥), I saw this curious contraption. It's also part of the security apparatus, though its "Old Era" and military-industrial aesthetic—the stenciled lettering, the marks of heavy industry, the fact that something like this could only be designed by a state owned company finding excuses to use up excess steel production —could not be more different from the smiling cyber-dystopia of the Shenzhen border crossing. It seems China's security apparatus is a broad church of old and new.
The device is called a "explosion prevention ball". I can only imagine that in the case of a suspected bomb, police are supposed to throw the explosive device inside the ball, screw all the nuts and bolts tight, and wait until the device has expended its energy within the thick steel shell.
As soon as I saw the lettering on this heavy metal ball, however, my mind couldn't help but add the character liao to bao. Baoliao is the word used for potentially explosive exposé documents, and most recently associated with GUO Wengui (Miles Kwok) and his detailed public exposure of Wang Qishan's business dealings and corruption in the run up to the 19th Party Congress. I wondered if inside this explosion prevention ball was in fact an archive of slanderous documents, deposited inside to keep them safely out of reach of prying journalists and rival cadres.
In spite of the state's myriad forms of control—real and imagined—we, the laobaixing riding the train from Shenzhen to Beijing, managed to pull off micro-displays of our freedom, from the more micro-level controls on our life. My cabin mate, a traveling businessman, relished his jumbo KFC burger with no wife or mother to chastise him for unhealthy eating. While I, well out of sight of my boss and colleagues, enjoyed beers as I finished reviewing the documents I should have read the previous week.