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:
A common Chinese lady like myself cannot go abroad. I thought I could work in a foreign country on a business trip but it seems like I was wrong.
When did you come to Shanghai?
2008, but the big question is why I came!
Why did you come to Shanghai?
I was studying in Qingdao. I wanted to know English and meet English speakers. I wanted a new experience and to learn new things from English speakers. That is why I studied it, but in the other cities there aren’t enough foreigners. Shanghai is very modern, many cultures and many foreigners. A common Chinese lady like myself cannot go abroad. I thought I could work in a foreign country on a business trip but it seems like I was wrong.
I moved to the French Concession in Shanghai. I was just a Chinese girl. I got a job at the 2010 World Expo but I couldn’t get a job after that.
What was your first job?
I was a teacher, of Chinese, not English. And I was in a marketing department. I was working in a shop called South Beauty and a high classical restaurant. At the restaurant was where I studied and practiced English, even though the pay was low. This was all one job, actually. It was one big company and the boss kept moving me around. I was moved to the marketing department after 7 or 8 months of practicing English at the restaurant. Then I became a Chinese teacher there, I loved it. It was a really good career.
Because I had good friends, but they were foreign friends and they all had to leave. Everyone kept leaving. It was international.
What do you think Shanghai will be like in 15 years, in 2025?
It will be more international, and taller and taller. I don’t know the English word for that. There won’t be anything wrong with the economy and there will be more foreigners. I don’t know. There will be no more problems. Right now, the Chinese aren’t satisfied with their incomes and their salaries. Things are more expensive now. They work long, but the don’t work hard, the Chinese people. And they stay in China. It’s not safe to leave, to places like Vietnam and Thailand. The businesses prefer it here. It will be peaceful.
What is your biggest hope?
For myself, first, I want to go to Europe to study for a masters degree. I want to improve myself. It will be Chinese studies. How do foreigners learn about China?
[at this point, very oddly, a beggar came off the streets and started yelling at us about how Maple was trying to use me, all the Chinese girls were trying to use foreign men, to leave the country. She wanted my money and my citizenship. We moved to another table]
Maybe I could stay here and teach Chinese. Maybe I could learn French and Spanish, too. I only speak English now. I teach French people English, but I can’t teach in any other languages. I need to find a husband, too, before I turn 32. I have four years. It has to be 32. Then from 34-38 I’ll have a baby. Maybe I’ll be too old to have a baby. Those are my hopes.
For the world, I want peace. Now, there is too much technology. It is not good for the environment and for nature. There is too much abuse now. Some day we will all treat each other fairly. We will have different cultures but we will all treat each other well.
I understand why all Americans have guns. And there is no pollution there. Maybe we won’t be that rich in the future, but we will be happy and healthy. And there will be less divorcing.
What is your biggest fear?
Snakes. And cheating. It is okay if a man has a relationship with his friends, I’m not a jealous person. You have to be honest. He can dance with other people. He has to tell me first. I am afraid of war. I was there when the Jing’an building burned down. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Shanghai_fire].
What do you do in your free time?
I travel to places nearby for a day or two. I take time to study languages. I paint and write. I also write publications in newspapers and magazines. I do karaoke. I could have been a professional singer. Ping pong. I walk daily. I write poetry, not like novels. Philosophical stuff, too, about the world.
What is your fondest memory?
Just one? I actually have a lot. Shanghai, two years ago, I met a French guy. He cheated on me. I was so disappointed. He changed my whole mindset. I was at Tongji University and he worked at Goldman Sachs. He still calls me every week.
Do you have any questions for me?
Why did you come to China?