Anoushka Soni is from Austin, Texas. She is a member of the 2023-24 NSLI-Y Mandarin Chinese Program in Kaohsiung and an alum of the 2022 Taiwan Summer Program, also in Kaohsiung.

Sasha Zhang is from Tacoma, Washington. She is a member of the 2023-24 NSLI-Y Mandarin Program in Kaohsiung, and an alum of the 2022 Korean Summer Program in Seoul.

Sasha: Before coming to Taiwan, one of my goals was to become comfortable sparking conversation and meaningful connections with strangers using Mandarin. Inspired by Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York Project, I started conducting interviews and capturing photos with my friend Anoushka, providing a platform to meet new people and document our engaging conversations. The openness and friendliness of the people I meet consistently surprises and impresses me; I am deeply touched by the stories they share – from childhood memories and career aspirations to the challenges of running a business, the changing landscape of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s education system. This project has also proven a great exercise in Mandarin-English translation, a skill that’s been quite useful during my time here in Taiwan. If you wish to see more excerpts from the conversations, we are documenting them on our Instagram account @humansofkaohsiung.

Anoushka: Ever since I can remember, taking photos has always sparked passion within me. I’ve always found a way to document the era I live in and express the sheer beauty of existence in my eyes. To me, capturing the soul, personality, and energy of an individual, rather than just a face, is the core of street photography. Taiwan has been the perfect place to put these principles into practice. Whether it be food vendors that we pass by every day, or a new face in a shop down the street, compiling the sound of their laughter, tremble in their voices, and frustration of their strained faces into an everlasting picture has been touching and emotional. Conducting interviews with my friend, Sasha, and taking photos has proven to provide a glimpse into the lives of strangers on the streets of Kaohsiung to the members of our communities. Not only has this been a creative outlet, but it has allowed me to further use the world as my classroom by sharpening my knowledge of photography and Mandarin.

Banh mi vendor

Conversation with banh mi vendor:

"Let me tell you, cooking has ruined my hands. It's from the washing. I let myself struggle with this hard work only because I enjoy it. Every morning, I want to say, 'Ah, it's okay, maybe I'l just give up. I'll go work for someone else instead.' But, even though I say those things, I could never actually give up my stall... I have aspirations. I hope to open a restaurant, a nice restaurant. Success to me is to make it big, to be big, to be able to hire workers. It means to make more money. I hope it can be like that. But that really is only a dream. Right now it's a very difficult task."

"It's not easy to make money with this kind of business, but it gives me more freedom. I still have young children at home, so if something comes up at their school, I can immediately go home. There's more flexibility. If I were working for someone, l'd have to ask for leave. But doing this is very hard work! Everyday is so busy! I work everyday from 9am to 10pm. No matter how quick I try to be, I still can't seem to finish up earlier."

"If I'm being honest, it's very hard to be a business owner right now... I don't know why it's so hard. Let's say I'm selling banh mi, let's say I sell fifty today. But now I'm starting to sell only twenty or thirty each day... My sales can't continue to plateau like this."

"Sometimes when it tastes good, customers will tell me it's delicious, just like earlier when I asked you all how it tasted and you said it was delicious. That makes me very happy... But I still have to work hard everyday to figure out how to make my food better. I'm happy because my customers enjoy my food. Some of them will come several times a week. There are customers from Germany and America, one of them orders pho every single day, the other orders a banh mi everyday. I'll ask them if they get sick of it and they say no, it's yummy. This makes me very happy."

Plum juice shop owner

Conversation with plum juice shop owner:

"[Yancheng District] is still quite an old area, but you could say it's like an old man who got a makeover by a fashion designer. His heart is still the same. I think this is the current state. He still walks the same, he is still the same old man, it's just that he's got a new look. Our store is similar; we're giving our customers our modern take on these items of the past."

"We want this store to bring people a sense of nostalgia, bring Taiwanese people a new understanding of these things they used to play with, and allow them to walk away with new understanding."

"I used to go to the countryside with my grandparents, so I felt this was very similar to that feeling. Just seeing something like something you used to eat or play with will bring you back to those situations. There were not as many cars as there are now, and it was very peaceful. Then, you could look past the green rice fields, and then there were the sounds of birds, or the sounds of cows and sheep. The countryside was clear, and [these items] take me back to that feeling, that emotion. You'd feel that there was no one there. They burn wood in the countryside to have hot water for bathing. I think you can automatically start to smell that scent in that situation... Sometimes I think about going back to that time and just taking a break for a week or two."

"Today's society is quite busy and people are very fond of mobile phones. Life in the city will obviously feel very, very busy."

Art shop owner

Conversation with art shop owner:

"You guys are students, so you just have to absorb everything. It doesn't matter if you don't know anything. It's best to communicate, work on communicating, no matter what language, as long as you can understand it. If I am talking with complex and advanced words, you can't understand it and you can't communicate. You can understand me if I use rough words, right?"

"In Western countries, they will teach students to search for information by themselves by going to the library to search for books to supplement their knowledge. But, in Taiwan, most people just listen to it. In the past, when we were young, to be honest, you just listened. They wouldn't tell you to go to the library to search for information there, read the collection written by others, and refer to it. The education methods abroad may be more energetic and more lively. But now Taiwan is slowly changing this education method, and students will be taken out to learn more about it. It's not just the knowledge in school, but the knowledge in the outside society. Things are different now."