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:
Mao Zedong told us to go to the countryside to work and learn from the farmers after high school and then go back.
Horse, Chicken, Rabbit, Little Horse.
Changzhou City, Zhejian, and Shanghai.
Why did your family come to Shanghai?
We have always lived here, since 2000. Mao Zedong told us to go to the countryside to work and learn from the farmers after high school and then go back.
Father: In 1990 I went to Australia to work and study abroad with English, but I couldn’t speak any of it.
Two words to describe Shanghai?
Youngest Daughter: [grabs English dictionary] Rich, flourishing, changing.
Older: Pressure, nothing else. Or, hopeful.
Father: Beautiful, advanced. More advanced than a lot of American cities.
Mother: Port city, busy.
What do you like to do with your free time?
Younger: I like to watch cartoons. And play. And watch TV.
Older: I like to bathe and go to the sauna every week.
Mother: I like computer games.
Older: No, I actually just like to rest. If I get bored, I just do more homework. I switch to another homework subject. I listen to music, too.
Father: I do stocks and factory investing. I have a factory in Chengdu with diesel engines and 5,000 workers. It is huge.
Mother: I am a housewife. Ever since we had our baby girl. I used to be an accountant.
Older: Do you think being an accountant is popular in America?
What do you think Shanghai will be like in 15 years, in 2026?
Father: An international finance center. There will be a lot more foreign investors. It will be a more international city. We would see a lot more foreigners as we walk in the streets.
Youngest: Bigger. It will run out of space. It will be busier. It will have a Disneyland.
Mother: I want our daughters to go to Princeton. I think it will be a little cleaner here.
Older: I think it will be quiet at night. I don’t know. There will be fewer cars and less rubbish on the streets. We will protect the environment more. . . Are the Americans happy in America? What do they do? Do they have free time?
What is your biggest fear?
Father: War. War between China and America. The world would end. South and North Korea are fighting even now.
Mother: Isn’t the world supposed to end in 2012? No?
Older: Scared that I won’t do well in school. That I won’t be the best.
Younger: Snakes. Nuclear war. Also caterpillars.
What is your greatest hope?
Father: Both of my girls do well in school. They want to go to Princeton.
Mother: 一家平, a peaceful home. One peaceful home.
Older: I want to go to Princeton.
Younger: World peace. My classmate wanted us to all die peacefully in 2012 when the world ends, but I don’t want that. I don’t want 2012 to happen.
Father: When my first girl was born and the nurse said it was a girl and she showed me. I knew it would be a girl.
Mother: When my daughter entered high school.
Younger: Playing with my sister growing up. Did your teachers like you? No! I also liked the Expo. And I came in first rank in grade two.
Do you have any questions for me?
Father: You want to be a lawyer? A law professor?
Mother: Our daughter wants that to be that. Will you come back to China?
Younger: Have you been to Disney? What did you think of China before you came?