Acoustic Ethnography: Interview by Zexing Li (Zersh)

The interview I conducted with the street barbecue vendor on Yuanshen Road was informal and relaxing as I was a customer as well. I initially was hoping to interview the Ayi who sells Shouzhuabing on the back of our school because she just returned from the restriction of the recent Expo. I wanted to hear about her stories of changes of the store location in the past two years, but unfortunately, since I was never a customer of hers, she was unwilling to get interviewed. Then, I decided to go to the street barbeque on Yuanshen Road. I went there and ate once on a Friday night after I and some friends watched movies and I knew that the street barbeque only opens in the late night.

I did not tell the vendor that I was going to interview him, but he found my equipment and asked me what that was. I told him this is for recording purposes and I explained to him I am going to use the recording for a course assignment. In the 35 minute recordings, we also covered topics about my academics in school as he questioned me what I am learning and how is school life but I did not include this part in the interview.

In the 3 minute interview, I asked him about his business including working hours and place, main customers, reasons for doing this job and cuisines. Interestingly when talking about his business, he said there where many NYUSH customers years ago when the previous dorm was on the Yuanshen Road. I did not expect that in addition to his business, we also talked about social issues and the vendor’s family later when a male customer came. We discussed the worsening situations of street vendors and migrant workers in big cities and how they make a living. The second half of the interview matches my expectation of witnessing the changes and disappearance of street food in Shanghai, and we dig out some social significance from both the vendor and the customer’s experience and perspectives.

Initial sound interview:

Interview with subtitles and background music:

AE | Interview

I conducted an informal interview with an ayi that lives in my neighborhood. She approached my roommate and I as we played a few rounds of Solitaire at my small table setup in the middle of the road. She insisted she simply wanted to talk rather than play, and so this recording has snippets here and there of our half-hour conversation.

Throughout the conversation, she kept going back to the impact of the Cultural Revolution on hers and many others’ lives. I only included snippets I thought were important in order to create a concise interview segment. The piece begins with her exclaiming her age, as I felt the audio was very much reflective of her animate personality. She then discusses how she was previously engaged in international trade until the Cultural Revolution, a time during which she was sent back to the countryside to serve as a teacher. She introduces her colleague and her husband and their proficiency in Spanish as well as English and Japanese respectively, and her lack of language skills. She stresses her passion for accounting and how she used to use an abacus to calculate. I close the piece with a segment where she elaborates on the importance of China’s international engagement, interchanging between Shanghainese and Mandarin as she notes how the Cultural Revolution played a influential role in restricting the exchange of ideas between China and the world.

Overall it was a really interesting conversation, and one that I wish I would have been able to more actively participate in.

Week 11 : Interview (Chen&Lee)

The process


As the interview project got introduced, I immediately thought of a person that would be ideal as my subject. Tyler Page, a fantastic artist, who has nothing short of a wild story. I met Tyler in Oakland, California this summer while traveling, and her charisma took my breath away from the first dialogue we engaged in. Her views about life were refreshingly different and I knew there had to be some story behind such a perspective outlook. Luckily for me, she happened to be coming to Shanghai only a few days after we discussed the project in class, and I knew I had to use this opportunity to channel my admiration for her character  in this medium. I also took into account that this interaction will be the second time of being with each other, which meant there was no ice to break anymore, and we could just dive into the story that amazed me so much. 


This stage of the process required my attention to detail to be extensive, as I wanted to create an environment, and prepare the setting in which Tyler would feel comfortable enough to open up. I began, of course, by renting the recording equipment: shotgun mic with muffler, tuscan recorder, batteries, headphones. Location wise, a balcony of our friend has the perfect atmosphere for this type of ‘vibe’: fairy lights, blankets and pillows on the floor, etc. Due to my above mentioned relationship with the interviewee, I chose to conduct a semi-structured interview. This meant I had large-scope topics in mind, as well as a few specific details that intrigued me in each, and I was going to let Tyler take the interview flow by her feelings. This tactic was possible only due to the fact that I have already interacted with her, and knew her strong sense of character – I wouldn’t have to ‘pull’ information out of her. The three large topics I wanted to touch base with were: background —> childhood, development of identity; creative outlets —> singing, photography, writing; values —> how they’ve changed over time, how they influence the present, and how they shape the ideas about future. My plan was to open with a general question introducing the topic, I had a preconceived idea of the extent of elaboration that I will receive from the initial cue, then listen for key details that are intriguing or lack context, and follow up with a few questions for expansion. As we met up in Shanghai, we took some time to see the city together with a group of people and then planned the interview time a few days after her arrival. The day of the interview, we all went out to the Bund and then had dinner before coming back on the balcony in the evening. I prepared snacks and drinks, as well as a pack of her favourite cigarettes — by this I hoped to be implying the length of the session as well as ‘chill vibes’ which would create a more conversational setting than an official interview (due to the topics I was interested in investigating).


A group of us were all messing around inside the house, listening to music, enjoying the weekend, when I looked at Tyler and gave her a nod – it was time. I asked my friends to turn the music a few bars down, as Tyler and I went into the balcony space. The only unavoidable technical difficulty was the heating system which was connected to the outside through one of the balcony walls, which periodically turn on every 10 minutes of so, for a good minute of ‘drone’ – like noise. I actually placed a furniture piece in-between the AC and where we were sitting, propped the recorder and the mic onto it, and hoped it would at least block out the primal wavelengths of the noise and mic relation. We began just having a conversation while I was adjusted the tuscan settings, and testing the volumes. The full track contains about 5 minutes of small talk before I even ask my first question. I opened up the ‘official’ start of the interview by one of the techniques Leksa had shared with us in class: giving a brief purpose of what we were doing through a sense of a ‘compliment’/why I had chosen her in particular. The opening line followed something along the lines of “Ever since the first day I met you, back at the BART station, you stood out to me as such a unique character who channels their charisma of life so powerfully, you draw people in. Through this conversation, I want to unpack how you’ve reached this point in your life…” The recorded interview with Tyler alone reached about 35 minutes, when one of our friends visiting from New York City popped her head out in need of a cigarette break. I asked for about 10 more minutes as we were in the mists of an amazing conversation that boarder-lines a ‘sensitive topic’, but Tyler said it was okay and she did not mind. As we finished up the last few questions, and I said my thank yous, marking the ‘official’ end of the interview, the two of them continued the discussion further. As I held the tuscan ready to end the recording session, I decided to give it a minute before doing so as they started developing some very very interesting perspectives. I actually managed to get about another half our of our conversation, which developed from my last topic of values, to discussing how the influence of other people alter our reality, our perceived identity. When the conversation began to simmer down, and a few more people come out to the balcony, I asked Tyler to sing a few notes to the mic, which she was very happy to do. Post-interview all of us had a dissuasion of the importance of communication, and Tyler said at first she was just excited to talk about her life, but the atmosphere really made her reflect on the topics of discussion, and especially being in China at the time and thinking about these things made an impact on her perception of herself.


This was the part I was most excited about. Sadly I had to chose one, of the three sections I approached, and cut that specific section into about a 5 minute segment. I listen to the whole recording twice. First just listening and writing the time on a sticky note (in minutes) of sections that peaked my interest, and then the second time actually begging to cut parts that were less significant out. This was now my raw material. I released the audience of my interview — the class, which meant that if I were to share some of the philosophical perspectives and analysis from the interview, there would be absolutely no context in understanding how such a young woman can speak so forward-thinking. Her background story was what drew my attention to conducting the interview with her in the first place, and with that I chose to represent her story as the main focus of the track. Also for contextual detailing, I decided to mimic a podcast style preview, where I narrated two parts “Here’s a quick glimpse of Tyler Page” right after the signing segment that opened the interview and before her initial words (actually I faded the first part of her voice, to overlap with my narration, as my phrase ended, the value of her voice increased), my opening line was also the begging of the fade-in of the ambiance music – which increased, and dropped base of a specific word cue from Tyler “she grabs the pliers and says *base drop* I’m pulling out my teeth”. At the end of the first section she giggled at the fact that my first question took about twenty minutes to answer, and she said “and that’s that *haha* I guess that was the answer *haha* to your first question”. I think that was a very intriguing transition, especially as I chose to make this a preview of a supposed podcast, to where a lot of overwhelming-at times information was shared, and then the audience hears that that was only the first question. I then say “Tune in. Monday at 8” to captivate the listeners, and want to come back to hear more. With my last phrase the ambiance music fades out, and another segment of her singing a note plays. I also chose to include some of the ambiance noise from the balcony itself, because as she finished singing we were all in awe and clapped which serves as a nice ending cue for the preview.

Some Evaluation:

When the project was first introduced, and Ann said we may not conduct it on people that were most familiar with at school, I honestly got a little taken back. Finding someone who I would feel comfortable enough talking with, and to make them feel comfortable enough with me sounded so bazaar at first, especially in the context of Shanghai where I am limited to a very small pool of international (which I would also be interested in talking with, and who spoke English well – as I’ve experienced the language barrier to be a very difficult task to edit on a track). As I began setting up the logistics, I began getting more and more excited. When I saw Tyler at first, I was already over the moon and just wanted to sit down and do it as I felt so prepared. I am very grateful for this assignment, because it did not feel like work at all, and I learnt so much both from Tyler and the editing process afterwords. I also gained confidence through this experience, like no other, and am very happy to share my final product. For self-critique: I do believe some of the transitions are a little bit jumpy in terms of the context, but this was unavoidable when compacting large amount of important information into a limited amount of time. I would say a 15-17 minute limit would allow me to give a short background (around 4-5 minutes – as done currently), some one-on-one diving into the arts (also around 5 minutes) and to conclude it with the conversation when the third person entered purely due to the concepts we were developing. 

Week 11: Interview – Agnes Santiano

I conducted two interviews, one of them is excerpted below. Initially I felt so nervous, so I watched Ted talks about conducting interviews. From that I approached both interviews with curiosity, interest, and silence, and after both interviews, I felt re-energized and inspired.

I conducted my first interview with Chelsea, excerpted below. Chelsea is currently organizing Roots Festival in Shanghai. The interview excerpt below answers the question of why she’s organizing Roots in the first place. We met through a mutual friend, and since she was just a little older than I, I approached the interview more informally with the hopes of making a new friend. We recorded in the evening at Hunter&Gatherer, and I chose not to remove the background music and noise to add to the casual feeling of the interview. At the suggestion of one of the IMA fellows, I also “raised the mids” so that the background clatter and bustle wouldn’t overpower Chelsea’s words. I didn’t manipulate the recording too much since I felt the shotgun mic did most of the work for me. After I finished the interview, I felt like I came out with an older sister. Chelsea spoke with wisdom beyond her years and with so much conviction and purpose. I hope that you feel as inspired as I do listening to her words.

I did not include the second interview for purposes of time. It was more formal and conducted with a Shanghai-based doctor named Dr. Kuan whom I had met at a graduate school panel. With forty years of pediatrics under her belt, she had a lot of advice to share with premed students like myself. Unfortunately, the cafe I was recording in became quite loud after she had begun to felt comfortable talking with me, so I didn’t want to relocate. In the end, the audio had quite a loud background.

Interview – What does it feel to be a Muslim in China – Victoria Rusu

I have heard many stories from people coming to Shanghai, about how hard it is to get used to the place or to the culture, and it is indeed challenging for some. But then one day I was wondering, how hard can it be to stand out from the crowd, how does it feel to be a minority in a pool of minorities in China, how do we define the notion of minorities in a place where seemingly every expat is more or less a minority. Turns out, religious minorities do have a hard time to adjust to this new environment in China, where not everything is being accepted, or where there are constant barriers to carry out your spirituality or religious practices.

I interviewed a muslim woman who is an expat in China and who came here 3 years ago, given a job offer and new future prospects. The interview experience was interesting, having the interview someone you barely know, or being offered the privilege of them opening up to you is quiet a difficult task, it definitely took a while and a few takes until we switched from topics like food, and the feeling of being new to China, to how it actually feels to be a Muslim in China and carry out your religious practices, and how challenging and hard it can be sometimes to switch from a whole different environment you have at home, to a place with new rules and new ways of doing things or practicing your religious beliefs.

I guess it was a lot easier to have someone open-minded to interview, and who is actually willing to share their experience with you, and I rather let her speak her mind and tell me her story while developing on what she has previously said than trying to constantly interrupt and ask questions.

While editing the piece I also decided to add as background the prayer I previously recorded in a Mosque in Shanghai, as I think the two pieces matched perfectly given that she was talking about how she feels about practicing her religious beliefs in China, combined with an actual prayer being carried out here.

Week 11: Interview — Kelly Yan


Yan Min is a 29-year-old from Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province. She just had her wedding last month on the 26th and 27th in her hometown. It was a Chinese traditional styled wedding on the 26th and a modern/Western styled one on the 27th. I was there for both days and got interested in how the two weddings had different practices. I interviewed Yan Min 20 days after the wedding. This short clip is the interview put into a nutshell. We talked about how parents play a big role in wedding plannings, setting-up (especially for the Chinese styled traditional wedding), and even wedding style choice. She mentioned that she had once imagined a small Western styled wedding at the beach, which did not happen eventually for various reasons. The main reason why there would be a traditional Chinese styled wedding with all the procedures and steps, many meanings of which she still doesn’t know to day, is that their parents would ask for it. This idea came up again when I asked whether the wedding made any changes to her life. She said things weren’t really different before and after the wedding. The wedding is more like a ceremony and mark that they are now “officially” married, and sometimes an “assignment to turn in”(交代) for her parents. We also talked about the differences between two wedding styles, aside from the procedures and logistics. She said that the idea of participation and gathering of all is crucial in a traditional Chinese styled wedding. In the end, we talked about the future of such weddings, where many different procedures are required and may vary from place to place. It’s not surprising that she pointed out the possibility of traditions fading away. After all, it’s really a lot of work to gather some 500 people and have a feast, especially with the urbanization process.

Interview- Granny Meng – Miki Bin

I interviewed Granny Meng, and she told me a lot of her stories.

There were a lot of questions I had in mind previously, e,g, why she didn’t raise her children in Jinagxi but sent them back to Shanghai? What does Jiangxi mean to her? Why does she move back to Shanghai afterward?

Through the interview, having listened to all her stories, I finally understand that her decisions are not only personal but are also based on a historical social context. She also touched upon her personal life today, and how she felt that neither of her children was close to her.  However, she told me that she did not want to reveal the details of those stories, so I did record our conversation on that part.

Another thing interests me is her personal stories in related to the people in Jiangxi. Those personal stories reflect a time in China, with political turmoil, and how that has affected people’s lives. A time period shapes a generation. I believe that the virtue of Granny Meng and her connection to Jiangxi reflects some sentiments shared by that generation.

I edited the interview and edited out stories that specifically focus on her connection to friends in Jiangxi, and some of her stories that reflect the political and historical conditions in China.


link to the sound file:


Week 11: Interview Except – Jiannan Shi (Chen&Lee)

Inspired by our classmates’ recording in the FamilyMart, I am curious about what impression the staff in the FamilyMart might have regarding the symbolic FamilyMart music, and what’s the life is like for a staff in the FamilyMart. Since I always come to my dorm late, I made friend with a cheerful and outgoing staff, Jie, who takes the night shift in front of the cashier. When she was not that busy, I entered her workplace inside the cashier and we had a half-an-hour unstructured interview in a casual way. I want our conversation to be in a relaxing atmosphere to make her comfortable about my questions so that I can know more about what her life is like, and how she thinks of her time at FamilyMart. There are two things that impressed me the most through this interview. One is that Jie is familiar with her frequenter, and our universities’ policy so much that she told a bunch of stories around me just by listening to what her customers told her in few seconds paying the bill. And second, I am amazed at how she could be so optimistic about life. Here, I excerpted a part showing her optimism where she talks about her experience, happiness, and sorrow as an ordinary staff, facing the life burden but still smile, in a personal way.

I started the topic of FamilyMart music from asking an objective question — how this music comes from, to a more subjective question — how she feels about it. As she answered about her state of mind, I just then dug the questions deeper to her feelings, minds, and experience as a staff at the FamilyMart in the night shift. Considering the special work schedule for a staff working at night, I asked questions about her daily schedule. It surprises me that Jie is actually having two jobs at the same time, and she seldom sleeps. She told me about her hardship living in two cohorts of colleges, and the tiresome feelings when her body cannot maintain healthily. However, she is always optimistic about what she is experiencing: she feels good about talking with customers who are all energetic college students, has a wish to earn more money, and get satisfaction when thinking of how good her memory of FamilyMart towards her youth would be when she gets old. I didn’t expect her as a staff would talk so much about her personal story to me in this conversation thanks to this strategy of an unstructured interview: just follow the interviewee’s topic and willingness in expressing things.

When interviewing, Jie also came across many customers looking for something. The interaction between them, sound from the cashier, and FamilyMart’s music were also recorded and shown in the audio I would provide below.

Here’s the interview with English translation:

Interview with Auntie Gao at the night market stand (Qiheng Fang)

Auntie Gao is an experienced stallholder at the night market stand. She came from Anhui province. She initially chose to go to Shanghai just because people have more consuming power here and she can earn much more than she did in Anhui. She is not alone. She told me that the province was now facing the problem of losing so many labors. More and more young people chose to find jobs in tier-one cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. There were only a few old people and young kids remaining in her county. As a result, even though she would like to return to her hometown due to the high living pressure such as the housing price, she could not do that because there were few young people there. And people there don’t have much nightlife, they would rarely come out for food late at night.

As she mentioned, young people were the main consumers. Many students would come here as they took the food as snacks. Some white collars came at night for food. Auntie Gao said that the street food was a necessity to the white collars since they worked until very late night. They almost lived a life as hard as she, and she laughed when sating so.

She frankly told us that this is the only skill she has that she can depend on for a living. Her dishes were fairly easy, as all of the ingredients had been half cooked already. She did this because, at rush hours, she had many customers to serve. In order not to lose those impatient customers and save the waiting time, she came up with this idea. She mainly cooked fried rice, fried noodles and fried rice noodles. The cooking step is exactly the same as ordinary people did in their households. She first cooked the oil until it was very hot, then add the eggs and vegetables. After a while, she added some soy sauce and the noodles or rice. Though she put it fairly simply, you would be deeply impressed by how quickly she could finish one dish. There was not a single pause during the whole process.

The main reason that she cooked the food that fast, was mainly because she used to be ‘bothered’ by the urban management officers, which was a sad story. When she just came to Shanghai at around 2005, the regulations on these stands were quite loose, and their business was quite good as one of the earliest stallholders. But when it came near to the 2010 world expo, these stands were regarded as a problem affecting the city appearance. So from time to time, the urban management officers may come and take away their stands. Auntie Gao witnessed the stands being taken away several times. She managed to escape as she reacted quickly and all her stuff could be packed in twenty seconds. This also prompted her to cook as fast as she could. But several times later, she was so afraid that one day her stand would also be taken away that she went back to her hometown for other jobs to avoid the strict policies during the expo. After the expo, she came to Shanghai again because she knew that the regulation must be much weaker. She was right but she still worried about the safety of the stand since she did not hold any charted certificate.

The interview leads me to investigate the regulation of the Shanghai government. I am now curious if any action is taken to ensure the living of these people who hold a stand while maintaining a good city appearance. At least to me, this is a feature that is quite unique to Shanghai. I really hope they can coexist in some way.

Week 11: Interview Excerpt – Sally Wang (Chen&Lee)

Interviewee: Jesse (Jianxi) Zhang

Date: 1:30-2:30pm Nov. 13th 2018

Location: Studio in Beijing (Jesse) NYU Shanghai (Sally)

Devices and software: Blue-Yeti, wireless microphone, Audacity, iMovie

I encountered Jesse when I was recording a shoe repairman in an alley near the Second Ruijin Road two weeks ago. He was buying food outside the neighbourhood. He passed by me and my Tascam and came back two minutes later, asking, “Are you recording the environment here?”

He told me that he was a recordist graduated from NYU New York. What a small world! He was doing a project here in Shanghai and would leave for Beijing in two days. I told him about my final project and asked whether he had any idea where I could go to collect some interesting sounds. He recommended Laoximen to me because his team used to record there and found the local dialects in longtang and marketplaces quite interesting. After that, we exchanged Wechat and I got access to his webpage. I found out that he had experiences living and studying in three different cities and his job quite special. Then I decided to have an interview with him.

He was in Beijing when we did this interview. He taught me how to achieve synchronization when recording both of our voices of a high quality through Skype. Although my quality of the recording is still lower than his, I have learned a lot of techniques from this interview, such as clapping at the beginning of the interview to make sure we are on the same timeline.

We talked about what a location sound recordist usually does in a film or TV program, about his life in Beijing, Shanghai, and New York. And we also talked about his view on the significance of synchronization despite the fact that technology is so advanced that we can almost achieve any effect we want in post-production. Here is the excerpt of the interview. Hope you enjoy it!