Magazine February 9, 2009, Issue

Slow Boat to China

(Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
A writer’s retreat becomes a view of global recession

‘I’m sure they told you about the change in the schedule?” the chipper, bearded master of the Hanjin Miami asked me as the 90,000-ton container ship eased effortlessly away from its berth in the port of Seattle.

“Change in schedule?” I asked, watching as the gap between ship and land grew from three feet to six feet to too far to jump with luggage. We were supposed to cross the Pacific and arrive in Shanghai in 16 days. And then I was supposed to fly back to California, back to work, to meetings. I had stuff to do.

The ship started to

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