Five years ago, when I was living in Shanghai, China, I started photographing and interviewing my neighbors. I called the project “An Elephant Through a Microscope” because I was trying to learn more about the giant city of Shanghai by meeting individual citizens.
I just found my old notebooks with the transcripts of the interviews:
In my childhood, we used to make clothes. I had new clothes from my family every year during the Spring Festival. It was my happiest time with my parents. We had less things, so we didn’t get new clothes often, except for the Spring Festival.
Niao, Dao, Zhuan
Tiger, Cow, Rabbit
Shanghai, Shanghai, Hubei
All three were in a dance class together and they invited me to watch their performance.
Dao was the teacher of the course, Niao was the captain of the class, and Zhuan was a student. We all sat at a table after the performance and chatted. Dao did most of the talking, while the other two listened respectfully and waited their turns.
Two words to describe Shanghai?
Dao: International, metropolitan.
Niao: Polite, hospitable, open.
Zhuan: Beautiful, positive.
What do you do with your freetime?
Dao: I am retired. I teach dance, shop, hang out, and go to the doctor.
Niao: I make children [laughs].
Zhuan: I perform shows, the same as all of us, and party.
What did you do before this?
Zhuan: I did factory work, and I did sets and props at a theater, and I was a sales woman.
Niao: I was an accountant.
Dao: I was a doctor.
What do you expect Shanghai to be like in 15 years?
Zhuan: More foreign. I have two kids and one of them, my daughter, married a German.
Niao: We have the world’s longest metro bus. It is 12 lines. It is convenient and fast. You can get anywhere in an hour. There will be more stuff like this.
Dao: A better life. A more political life. More tall buildings, more foreigners, more cars.
What are your hopes for the future?
Dao: We will have a richer, stronger, country. I will have a healthy family, a happy family, and I will be healthy and have no illnesses. I want to enjoy every day.
Niao: Read that back to me, what she said. [I read it back to her] Yes, I want that.
Zhuan: About the same as them. I want things to be good for my kids. I want them to make friends.
What is your greatest fear?
Niao: For myself? Sickness, bad health, not being able to go out, not being able to exercise.
Dao: Sickness, all of hers, too. These are the most important.
Zhuan: Same. We are here everyday and we all feel bad if we miss a day of dance practice.
What is your favorite memory of your youth?
Zhuan: You have a lot of questions! In my childhood, we used to make clothes. I had new clothes from my family every year during the Spring Festival. It was my happiest time with my parents. We had less things, so we didn’t get new clothes often, except for the Spring Festival.
Niao: It´s almost the same for me and my family. My happiest memories are when my parents were here.
Dao: Same! We always got such cool clothes. We were so happy. They cared about me so much.
Do you have any questions for me?
Zhuan: Will you come back to China? What do your parents do?
Niao: I want you to tell your parents to come visit and meet us.
Dao: What sort of exercises do you parents and other Americans do?