Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe. Previously, Langfitt spent five years as an NPR correspondent covering China. Based in Shanghai, he drove a free taxi around the city for a series on a changing China as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. As part of the series, Langfitt drove passengers back to the countryside for Chinese New Year and served as a wedding chauffeur. He also helped a Chinese-American NPR listener hunt for her missing sister in the mountains of Yunnan province.

While in China, Langfitt also reported on the government's infamous black jails — secret detention centers — as well as his own travails taking China's driver's test, which he failed three times.

Before moving to Shanghai, Langfitt was NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He reported from Sudan, covered the civil war in Somalia and interviewed imprisoned Somali pirates, who insisted they were just misunderstood fishermen. During the Arab spring, Langfitt covered the uprising and crushing of the reform movement in Bahrain.

Prior to Africa, Langfitt was NPR's labor correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covered the 2008 financial crisis, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler and coalmine disasters in West Virginia.

In 2008, Langfitt also covered the Beijing Olympics as a member of NPR's team, which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting. Langfitt's print and visual journalism have also been honored by the Overseas Press Association and the White House News Photographers Association.

Before coming to NPR, Langfitt spent five years as a correspondent in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun, covering a swath of Asia from East Timor to the Khyber Pass.

Langfitt spent his early years in journalism stringing for the Philadelphia Inquirer and living in Hazard, Kentucky, where he covered the state's Appalachian coalfields for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Prior to becoming a reporter, Langfitt dug latrines in Mexico and drove a taxi in his home town of Philadelphia. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

Light streams in through the bay window of Mike Nelson's home in London's Chelsea neighborhood as he pitches it like a polished salesman.

"It's a fantastic, six-bedroom house" says Nelson of his row home, which sits on a quiet street, lined with Japanese cherry trees in a section of town between Kensington Palace and the Thames. "It's got 3,100 square feet. It's over five stories and has a very nice, western-facing back garden and a roof terrace at the top."

There's even a gray, marble fireplace in the master bathroom, which served as a reception room in an earlier era.

The British pub is as much a part of the fabric of the United Kingdom as fish and chips and the queen, but each year hundreds close their doors for good. The reasons include the high price of beer, more people drinking at home and rising land prices.

Now — in an apparent first — the London borough of Wandsworth has designated 120 pubs for protection, requiring owners who want to transform them into apartments or supermarkets to get local government approval first.

The United Kingdom's planned split from the European Union is expected to take years, but it's already creating uncertainty for multinational companies operating in the U.K., including many American firms. Brexit also poses challenges to the U.S. government, as Washington ponders a future in which a key ally has less influence in Europe and likely becomes less relevant on the global stage.

London police have arrested a man on suspicion of murder after they say he knifed a woman to death and injured five other people in central London overnight.

The woman who was killed was an American citizen, and the injured include American, Australian, Israeli and British citizens, the BBC's Russell Newlove reports. Police don't believe that the nationalities of the victims motivated the attack.

Police say the initial investigation suggests mental health was a significant factor in the attack, but add that they are keeping an open mind as they investigate the motive.

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When Maggie Ranage woke up to the results of last month's vote to leave the European Union, she couldn't believe it.

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When American Erik Bidenkap arrived in London from the U.S. six weeks ago, he thought he was leaving behind the toxic politics of the U.S. presidential race.

Bidenkap said he was hoping for a more intellectual, perhaps even philosophical, discussion of the question U.K. citizens will decide Thursday: whether to leave the European Union.

"I expected there would be more civility, politeness, I guess," Bidenkap said over pints at a pub near his apartment in London's Notting Hill section. "I expected the conversation to be of a higher level."

Tony Thompson hopes the United Kingdom votes on Thursday to leave the European Union. Standing in a green smock behind his meat counter in the town of Romford, a short train ride from central London, the 58-year-old butcher explains why in four words.

"Got to stop immigration," says Thompson. "It's only an island. You can only get so many people on an island, can't you?"

One recent afternoon, I was walking up Nanjing West Road, Shanghai's traditional shopping street, when I ran into a crowd of protesters being chased off by a plainclothes cop wielding a bullhorn and a line of uniformed police. Demonstrations like this in the heart of the city are rare and sensitive for the government, which fears political unrest as China's economic growth continues to slow.

I asked a fleeing protester what had happened.

"Don't walk alongside me," pleaded the woman, named Zhao, staring straight ahead. "The police will detain me."

It's 9:30 on a Thursday night and Chinese and foreign jazz fans descend on the JZ Club in Shanghai's former French Concession. Glasses clink and the splashing sound of cymbals ripple through a cabaret setting bathed in soft red light.

Andrew Field, an American historian, says clubs like JZ represent a return to Shanghai's cosmopolitan past.

Last summer, a Chinese-American woman and NPR listener reached out with an unusual request. She asked me to help find her sister, who'd vanished in the mountains of Yunnan province in southwest China.

"My little sister has been missing since Nov. 23, 2013," the woman wrote in an email. "She married a farmer in a remote village and was abused by her husband shortly after her marriage. She escaped from him after a few abuses."

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Men driving mountains of Styrofoam on the back of three-wheeled, motorized scooters are a common sight in Shanghai, but the one captured on this video is the biggest I or any of my friends have ever seen.

Grave robbers in central China pilfered a cemetery in Henan province last week, stole ashes from several grave sites and held them hostage. The robbers ripped open tombs at the Hongshan Cemetery in Xinyan City, according to the news website ifeng.com, where they spirited away ash-filled urns and left notes with phone numbers.

In a landmark moment, the presidents of China and Taiwan held an 80-second handshake ahead of a historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday.

The handshake marked the first time that the two sides of the Chinese Civil War have come together since the Communists won the war in 1949, forcing the losing Nationalists to begin running their government from Taipei.

"History has left us with many problems which we need to deal with practically," Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said following the hour-long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.

Inside Shanghai's cavernous Yuz Museum, there's a two-story metal box.
And inside that box: a fire hose dangling from a chain.

Every hour, the hose fills with water and dances about, spraying in a frenzy for just one minute.

"It's like a Chinese dragon," says Karen Cong, who's 25 and works in digital advertising.

Private museums like the Yuz are sprouting up along the riverfront in Shanghai, part of a government plan to build a Museum Mile on the waterfront and help turn China's financial hub into a cultural capital as well.

NPR's Frank Langfitt has covered China for nearly a decade. After reporting on the Aug. 12 explosion in Tianjin that killed more than 100 people, he offered this commentary.

There's a moment when you're covering a disaster in China when you know what happened.

You know it wasn't an accident, as the government initially says.

You know someone did something awful that put lives at risk to make money.

For me, that moment came when I was sitting in the hallway of a Tianjin middle school.

Editor's Note: NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt once drove a taxi as a summer job. He decided to do it again, this time offering free rides around Shanghai in exchange for stories about one of the world's most dynamic cities. Here's his latest installment.

I'd been renting a Toyota Camry to give free rides around the city for my series Streets of Shanghai, about the lives of ordinary Chinese. But the monthly rental fees were killing me, so I figured I could save money by buying a used car.

I went to a reputable used car dealership. The first hint that this would be different than shopping in the U.S. came when I met my salesman, a fresh college grad.

Chinese and American officials are deep into their annual meeting this week in Washington, hashing out the nations' complex relationship. In addition to many economic and strategic issues, they'll discuss China's remarkable island-building in the South China Sea.

Editor's Note: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been driving around Shanghai offering free rides as part of his "Streets of Shanghai" stories. But recently, he was a passenger in a taxi when something unusual happened.

Strangers rarely discuss politics in public in China, let alone the taboo topic, democracy. The Communist Party sees talk of political alternatives as a direct threat and has jailed people for promoting such ideas online.

Last month, a Chinese government think tank bashed history professors from Harvard, Georgetown and other leading American universities regarding things they wrote — at least 15 years ago — about events that occurred more than two centuries ago.

"This was a uniquely vitriolic attack," says Georgetown's Jim Millward. The article calls him as "arrogant," "overbearing" and an "imperialist," and dismisses Millward's and his colleagues' scholarship as "academically absurd."

Shanghai is one of the world's most vertical cities, a metropolis where 50-story buildings are routine. At night, the cityscape is so cinematic, it has been featured in both James Bond and Mission Impossible films.

This year, Shanghai Tower, the world's second-tallest building, will open and put an exclamation point on Shanghai's futuristic skyline. The structure, which measures 2,073 feet, is loaded with symbolism.

When Cici Xu isn't working as an accountant, she's driving around Shanghai picking up passengers for People's Uber, the American company's nonprofit ride-sharing service that operates in nine mainland Chinese cities.

Xu, 40, makes about $1,300 a month as a driver, but says she doesn't really do it for the money.

Looking for a way to give a departed loved one a send-off everyone will remember?

How about hiring strippers to perform at the funeral?

In some parts of rural China, this is not considered absurd, but a good idea.

Cinderella. Billboard. Mo Money. Lady Gaga.

What do they all have in common?

They are a few of the unusual English names young Chinese have adopted over the years in hopes of mixing more easily with Westerners. Such offbeat names, though, sometimes have the opposite effect, generating puzzlement and the wrong kind of smiles.

Lindsay Jernigan, an American entrepreneur, has set up a new website, bestenglishname.com, to help Chinese choose more appropriate names.

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