All told, along a three-hundred-mile stretch, I found twenty-six Chinese lingerie dealers: four in Sohag, twelve in Asyut, two in Mallawi, six in Minya, and two in Beni Suef. It was like mapping the territory of large predator cats: in the Nile Valley, clusters of Chinese lingerie dealers tend to appear at intervals of thirty to fifty miles, and the size of each cluster varies according to the local population. Cairo is big enough to support dozens. Dong Weiping, a businessman who owns a lingerie factory in the capital, told me that he has more than forty relatives in Egypt, all of them selling his products. Other Chinese people supply the countless underwear shops that are run by Egyptians. For the Chinese dealers, this is their window into Egypt, and they live on lingerie time. Days start late, and nights run long; they ignore the Spring Festival and sell briskly after sundown during Ramadan. Winter is better than summer. Mother’s Day is made for lingerie. But nothing compares with Valentine’s Day, so this year I celebrated the holiday by saying goodbye to my wife, driving four hours to Asyut, and watching people buy underwear at the China Star shop until almost midnight. ... No Upper Egyptian woman would wear such garments in public, but it’s acceptable at home. This is one reason that the market for clothing is so profitable: Egyptian women need two separate wardrobes, for their public and their private lives. ... In general, Chinese dealers prefer Egyptian Muslims to Christians. This is partly because Muslims are more faithful consumers of lingerie, but it’s also because they’re easier to negotiate with. The Copts are a financially successful minority, and they have a reputation for bargaining aggressively. This is what matters most to Chinese dealers—for them, religion is essentially another business proposition. ... differences seem perfectly matched for the exchange of lingerie. The Chinese dealers are small, and they know little, and they care even less—all of these qualities help put Egyptian customers at ease. ... “Their strategy is to make economic linkages, so if you break these economic linkages it’s going to hurt you as much as it hurts them.” ... In “China’s Second Continent,” published in 2014, Howard French estimates that a million Chinese live on the continent, and China does more than twice as much trade with Africa as the United States does.
Bir Tawil is the last truly unclaimed land on earth: a tiny sliver of Africa ruled by no state, inhabited by no permanent residents and governed by no laws. To get there, you have two choices. ... The first is to fly to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, charter a jeep, and follow the Shendi road hundreds of miles up to Abu Hamed, a settlement that dates back to the ancient kingdom of Kush. Today it serves as the region’s final permanent human outpost before the vast Nubian desert, twice the size of mainland Britain and almost completely barren, begins unfolding to the north. ... The second option is to approach from Egypt, setting off from the country’s southernmost city of Aswan, down through the arid expanse that lies between Lake Nasser to the west and the Red Sea to the east. Much of it has been declared a restricted zone by the Egyptian army, and no one can get near the border without first obtaining their permission. ... Both nations have renounced any claim to it, and no other government has any jurisdiction over it.