Pedestrians pass a courtyard between high-rise apartments in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on January 28, 2011.
Pedestrians pass a courtyard between high-rise apartments in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on January 28, 2011. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: I know they say you can't go back -- but that doesn't mean you can't try.

Ryssdal: So here we go. We came up these stairs around the corner of the industrial bank of China, and went down the street.

While we were in China last month, we re-traced our steps from five years ago.

Ryssdal: The flower market is off to the left.

We tried to find the place we broadcast from in 2006.

Ryssdal: We'd come down here and walk down this hill. God, this is a gray and dismal and gloomy city.

The World Trade Center in Chongqing. It was the tallest building in town by far back then. Helpful, since the time difference between here and the U.S. meant we were going to work at two in the morning local time.

Ryssdal: Is this Howard Johnson's new?

Chongqing has changed a bit since 2006. There's more high-end retail, more of a resemblance to Shanghai.

Ryssdal: This is new. And here's a Starbucks, which we could have used. And then down here, right Deb? There's enough stuff that's new, there's a decent amount of new buildings. The question though, is anybody in those buildings? Because we would come here at 2:30 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and if you pressed the wrong button and get off at the 40th floor instead of the 45th or whatever it was that we were going up to, there was nothing. It was bare concrete flooring, it was wires dangling from the ceiling. There was nothing. This was a brand new building in 2006, and it looks like it's been here for 35 years. It's just old and covered in grime, and you have to wonder how anything survives here.

I climb in the elevator and punch the buttons for a couple of random floors.

Ryssdal: Forty-fourth floor. Now here you go, this is great. This is exactly it. There's nothing here. I have just come out of the elevator, opens onto a dusty, concrete floor. I'll just go give you a sound of the room here. I mean, there's nothing. It is -- here's the dust on the floor. It's crazy. There's nothing here.

Not only is there nothing but dust, when I go back to head down, there aren't any elevator call buttons either. Just dangling wires.

Ryssdal: Oh s***. Now I'm going down 34 floors on the stairs. Oh son of a bitch. Oh man, wow that was a little scary. OK.

I got out, obviously, but that brief moment of panic did make me think. We spend a lot of time in the United States worrying about China, and just when they're going to take over the world. Maybe, though, there are other things to worry about. Small things like elevator call buttons, and big things like where China goes from here.

Or, as long-time china businessmen Kent Kedl puts it:

Kent Kedl: Deng Xiaoping said development in China is going to be like crossing the river by feeling for stones. And that's what it is here. There is no bridge.

This is a country with all kinds of challenges to navigate on its way to prosperity. That's our China story today: How to get there from here.

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Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal