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:
We wanted to come to chase our dreams together in Shanghai.
Wang Family (Teddy and his Mother and Father)
Teddy: Is the interview over already?
No, we haven’t started yet…
Two words to describe Shanghai?
T: Shanghai is big and beautiful. Rich.
F: Modern, traditional, juxtaposition, really good. Home prices are too high.
M: Teddy says that everything is too crowded, too many cars. I think the stock market is falling.
Where do you work?
T: I go to school. I am a student.
F: His mother is a housewife. I am in management at Shanghai’s biggest private company. His mother watches TV. At the expo, my company had a pavilion. I was a soldier, too.
M: I used to have my own restaurant of Guizhou food, but I never worked in Shanghai.
What do you do with your free time?
M&F: We watch TV and play online.
T: I always do homework. I play with toys and practice my English.
What will Shanghai be like in 15 years?
F: It will be the best city in the world.
M: The best in China. Better than Beijing. Beijing isn’t the best now, but it used to be. Now it is Shanghai.
T: Everything will be the best. Stocks and economy all will be the best in the world.
F: May I smoke?
T: My Dad is always smoking. It is bad for him.
What are your dreams for the future?
F [smoking]: I want to start a charity fund to help poor people in Guizhou when I retire.
T: He wants to help his son!
F: On TV and on the internet, Guizhou always seems so bad. So I want to help and give money.
T: I want to be a scientist and invent digital eyes and then I want to make lots of bombs and destroy all of the other countries. Not all of them. Just the ones that are bad for world development and peace. The bad countries. It would teach them a lesson. It is very important to be nice to each other. I want world peace.
M: I want my baby to be healthy. I want him to study well. That is for me. And also I want world peace, for the world.
T: We could just destroy the whole world!
What is your favorite memory?
T: I got 100 points on my test. And once a 98. I think. Maybe a 99 on my Chinese exam. I am good at technology and science and I want to go to Tsinghua [the best university in China] or Harvard.
F: My army time routine was great. My relationships were so simple. I didn’t think about anything. No one would betray anyone. It was easy. Like a family.
M: When I was a child, when I was with my parents. I didn’t worry about life. I was happy. I lived with all my different relatives when I was young. When I was 10.
F: We met in Guizhou and we came over here when she was pregnant. We wanted to come to chase our dreams together in Shanghai.
What is your biggest fear?
F: War. In 20 years there will be a war. Not world. Maybe just in China. It will be due to politics. Things are developing so fast. The pressure is on from the foreign countries. It is an imbalanced world. We are developing the fastest and other countries are falling behind. But western countries won’t let China reach the top. To stay at the top. It isn’t necessarily America and Europe, not specifically. Also I think the retirement social security in China is running out.
I don’t know how the war will start. Which country will be the first to jump into a war that a small country starts? Like the World Wars. I am not worried about North Korea. America and China have a good relationship. EU doesn’t want to be in a war. It isn’t the way to solve problems. Maybe the Middle East? China won’t get involved. Korea doesn’t want another war.
T: Horror movies. Second, war in China. Third, Chinese economy being bad and things are bad and China fails.
M: When we have problems we need to talk to each other and not solve them with violence. Talk to each other to solve them, without war. I want this.
F: I don’t think there would be nuclear war. No one wants to use that, not for attack, they would only use it in defense. It would be terrible. No one would use it. No one would use it in big cities. When you use one you attack the whole world. You attack everyone when you use one. No one wants a war. We are all scared. We are all scared of the future. We are scared of losing our jobs. There is no unemployment pay. The medical pay is bad. Shanghai is getting better though. The health care is.
Do you have any questions for me?
F: How old are Americans when they start preschool? Do they have time for other things besides school? What about in high school?
M: Do the people who haven’t been to China just think everyone in the country is poor?
T: Are all foreigners left-handed?