An Elephant Through a Microscope

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:

pic (132)

pic (133)

Is school the same in America? Is there the same pressure? Do children have to go? Are kids allowed to waste time and fall in love? 


Chinese Zodiac:

Where do you live?
Shanghai, near line three. I live with my grandson and take him to school, and on the weekends he lives with his parents.

I’m retired now. I had a company in Anhui. It was a gas stove manufacturer. We made all the components, the tubes and everything.

Was it a state controlled store?
No, we worked with the big companies that made houses. We were a private company. Chairman Mao sent us to work out there.

Really? How did you like it?
Like it? I didn’t have a choice. It is hard to say. Looking back, now, I think it was a great benefit for us, a great experience. I didn’t like it then, but it was good, hard work. It was two years in the countryside. Employees came to Anhui near Nanjing after they did their fieldwork. Some went to work there, others were out in the fields the whole time.

Two words to describe Shanghai?
Very rich and very full. Big businesses. High rises. There is no good word for it. Gorgeous. And there is a big gap between the rich and the poor.

How will Shanghai be in 15 years?
I can’t imagine. It will change at the same rate it does now. It will keep getting better and better in the same way.
If the government invests more in the poorer people we can all get better, together. The gap will shrink. And I think that is starting now. We should work on this.

Greatest hope for the future?
Good health. Don’t get sick.

Greatest fear?
That my family doesn’t get along. Family harmony is really important. If pressure is high in your life, your family keeps you strong. Even if you don’t have much. It is It is so important to have a good home life because it can be so hard outside the home.
Too much money isn’t peaceful nor harmonious. It doesn’t help to make you happy. When one person is rich, don’t compete with the rest of the family. You don’t need money. We don’t need meat. We can all just eat cabbage and stuff.

What is your happiest memory?
From my childhood, just playing without any responsibilities. We were innocent and happy. We all went out to the park together, my classmates and I, and looked at animals in the zoo. There were tigers. Back then, it was so far away and it was inconvenient to get there, now it is so much easier. My grandson and I like to go there now.

Do you think it is important for your grandson to learn English?
It is becoming the world’s mother language. When I was young, we studied Russian, but I have forgotten it all. We had to take tests in Russian back then.

Do you have any questions for me?
Is school the same in America? Is there the same pressure? Do children have to go? Are kids allowed to waste time and fall in love?



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