Taiyuan is a sprawl: vast and treeless, a gray expanse that stretches for miles. At every corner you get the sense that you’ve already been there. The sun seems to filter through a layer of dust. Children play in the sand left by construction projects. Men smoke cigarettes on loose brick steps, gazing at the space between them and the businesswomen who are flagging down small electric taxis by the curb. Cars cross three lanes at a time to halt against the low, white aluminum fences that line the sidewalk edges. Electric scooters park against apartment buildings, plugged into extension cords hanging from second-floor windows. Holes are opened and fenced off in the middle of the road for workers to form piles of sand next to them. The traffic flows around.

November 2019