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:
I went to go visit my old teacher at another school, and I met a girl there. It was almost love at first sight. I can’t tell my parents. . . We both are choosing the same university and major.
Michael (as in Jordan)
Family is from Zhejiang but born in Shanghai, and I don’t know why they came to Shanghai.
What do you do?
I’m in my last year of high school. I play basketball everyday with my friends here. We eat KFC and we play basketball. Next year I’ll start university and I want to study law. I also work at the reception at my school for two days a week, part time. I don’t make much money, but I can’t because I’m not an adult yet.
What do your parents do?
My dad is a taxi driver. My mom is an accountant.
Two words to describe Shanghai?
Modern. Big city. Tall buildings. Flashy.
What do you like to do for fun?
Play basketball. Read. Sleep.
What books do you like to read?
Fiction books. Detective, mystery. I have three or four hours of homework to do every night, too. I have tests every day because it is my last year. Six days a week of class. No more P.E. classes.
What do you think Shanghai will be like in 15 years?
More international? Much more? I can’t say.
What is your greatest fear?
That I won’t be able to go to the school I want to go to. That my math grades will be embarrassing.
What is your biggest hope for the future?
To find a good job? Nothing more. I don’t really have a dream. I want to be an NBA player. No, star. I want to be number one at everything. You know I am already better at basketball than you.
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
I am good at talking to people. Also, I want to make a lot of money. If I could just play in the NBA I would have a lot of money and fans and followers, too.
What is your favorite memory?
I was with my best friends in high school. I played basketball and there was a huge fight and I didn’t talk to anyone anymore. I tried to fix everything but it didn’t work. It wasn’t my fault. My teacher left the school. And then, I went to go visit my old teacher at another school, and I met a girl there. It was almost love at first sight. My parents don’t know her. I can’t tell them because they will be scared it will hurt my grades. She would get in the way. We both are choosing the same university and major. My parents wouldn’t be able to understand us when we talked. They speak Shanghainese and they can’t speak Mandarin. I’ll text her right now to see if she can come meet us. [She wrote back later to say that she wasn’t allowed to leave the house]
When do you finish school?
July. We have two, no three, days of testing for university. We get to choose our major twice, once before we take the tests and once after we get our grades. If you don’t make it into the school of your choice, the government gives you a different school. The best students get to choose the first majors right after the tests. Different schools have different best majors. The best major at my school is law.
Can you change majors?
Maybe. Maybe you’ll get kicked out. It’s very hard.
What is your favorite class in school?
Including P.E. class? Probably both P.E. and Chinese. Though we don’t play much ball in P.E. We learn Confucius values in every class, too. And my school is really well known now. We did a really big prank and wrote a bunch of stuff in the snow outside and it was on the news. Before, no one knew where it was, and now all the taxi drivers know what street it’s on.
How is your English?
I can’t really say anything. Maybe “chicken” and “shrimp.” My English teacher is American and he only speaks English in class, so I can understand it, but I can’t speak it. My cousins are in America. They live in New Jersey and watch the Nets play. Their father works at HP and they go to school. I haven’t asked them about it much, but they say America is good. My girlfriend wants to go to Japan after university and my parents want me to go to America. I don’t really want to go. And I am scared of heights and of flying.
Do you have any questions for me?
Yea. What do your parents do?