As if being approached by a foreigner with a microphone while you’re going about your day weren’t startling enough, when that foreigner with a microphone asks you about an election on the other side of the planet, what are you supposed to say? "I don't know anything about the election in your country," said one passing man who neglects to slow down to chat.
Understandably, most people blew me off when I asked them for their opinions about the U.S. election. They told me they hadn’t the faintest idea who was running for U.S. president. But down one of Shanghai’s quiet lane neighborhoods filled with century-old brick homes, I got lucky. Peng Yunliang, a smiling, bespectacled bald man hanging up his clothes above his alley with a bamboo pole, had no shortage of opinions about the U.S election. “Yeah, I’ve heard of Trump. Big mouth," he said, positioning a pair of underwear into the sun. "They say on the news he never shuts up and he’s always saying the wrong things."
He’s heard about Hillary, too. "She’s not great for China. She’ll try to contain us," he said curtly.
I ask Peng whom he’d vote for. "Hard to say. When they’re running for president, they’re unfriendly to China," he explained. "Once they’re in office, suddenly they’re our pals. I suppose that’s because we’re a big country with a big economy. If I had to vote, I guess I’d choose Hillary. She’s got political experience and she could maintain balance in the world."
Pleased with his decision, Peng finishes hanging up his clothes in the hot Shanghai sun. Outside the alley, friends Hee Zhu and Jade Gu walk arm-in-arm – they’re Hillary supporters, too. "If she becomes president, it’ll bring pride to all women," said Zhu, Gu nodding her head in agreement.
I ask the two if China will ever have a female president. "Americans have more freedom, so it makes it easier," said Zhu. "This is the difference between democracy and socialism. Korea is also a democracy, and they voted for a female president. People’s ideas in China are still a bit backwards. But it’s okay, because things will be different in the future. Men are generally useless. Women are usually more capable."
Gong Huibing begs to differ. He runs the eyeglass shop the two women just walked by. "I’d vote for the man," Gong said, unable to remember the presumptive Republican candidate's name. "Hillary – she’s the wife of Clinton, right? She’s tough on China."
Gong admits he knows next-to-nothing about Trump, except that the candidate called for US allies to stop depending on the American military for their own security. Gong likes that idea. "The U.S. is the world police," Gong said, parroting a familiar phrase heard on state-run-news. "They’re always trying to fix other countries. Look at Iraq: it was a peaceful country, and the U.S. went there and it’s now in a civil war. You didn’t fix it. Afghanistan, too. It’s okay to impose your politics on other countries, but it’s not okay if you can’t pull it off."