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London Breed gets schooled in China: A one-act play

The Mayor of San Francisco. A roomful of sixth graders in China. The thirst for a panda. What could go wrong?

Gif of London Breed dancing along with a classroom of students in China
Source: Illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard


TEACHER: Good morning, children. Today, our guest is the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed. She is here in China this week to talk to our leaders about important things, like economic development and cultural exchange. The mayor will now take your questions.

CHILD 1: You’re here because you want our pandas, aren’t you?

BREED: Well, not just that. Also, I hope to connect our two cities economically and spur more tourism to San Francisco. But yes, I am hoping to bring back two pandas who can live for a while with us at our magnificent zoo. 

CHILD 1: Doesn’t California have its own bears?

 BREED: Yes, but we have very few now.

 CHILD 1: What happened to them? 

BREED: Ummmm ... we killed them. But we won't do that to yours! [Awkward silence.] Did you know we have a wonderful zoo in San Francisco where the pandas will live? 

CHILD 2: Wonderful? We heard about it maybe being in … what word did the headline use?

CHILD 3: Turmoil.

CHILD 2: Yes, turmoil. So why should we trust you with our pandas? 

BREED: I’d like to answer that question with a question of my own. And that question is—who has a different question?

CHILD 3: Shenzhen is famous for how quickly we became a city. But we heard it takes a long time for you to build new buildings. We build ours in, like, a week. How long does it take you? Two weeks? Three weeks?

BREED: Well, we are trying to get better at that. Sometimes it takes many years to build things in San Francisco, but it’s worth it in the end.

CHILD 3: Did you say years?

BREED: Years.

CHILDREN: [Shocked silence.]

CHILD 3: My mom told me that some people in your city don’t want to teach algebra to eighth graders. Is it because algebra is too easy?

BREED: Well, that’s not quite correct, and in fact, our voters recently

CHILD 3: We learn algebra in elementary school. By the eighth grade, American children are learning string theory, yes?

BREED: No, they’re not. Who has another question?

CHILD 4: Given American economic interests in Taiwan’s semiconductor industry— 

TEACHER: Woah, woah, woah—

GOVERNMENT MINDER: Woah, woah, woah—

CHILD 4: Sorry. Given American economic interests in [winks] pandas and the rise of, um, panda tensions, would you go to war to protect Taiwan if the People’s Liberation Army invaded?

BREED: No. Yes. I don’t know. [Looks to government minder.] How do I answer this one? 


CHILD 5: Is it true San Francisco’s streets are covered in poop? Why do you not have toilets to poop in?

BREED: We do have toilets, but sometimes people can’t get to them in time.

CHILD 5: Why not?

BREED: Because they live outside.

CHILD 5: My grandfather told me people had to live outside once in China, back when we were a poor country. Why do people live outside in America? Are you a poor country now?

BREED: Yes. No.  I don’t know. [Looks to government minder.] 


STUDENTS: [Silence]

BREED: We are building a lot more toilets, though!

CHILD 5: How many homes are you building now in San Francisco? We have so many in Shenzhen.

BREED: I know–I am impressed! In San Francisco, right now, we are building 7

CHILD 5: Seven … thousand?

BREED: No. Seven. 


BREED: It’s important to keep in mind that, in a democracy, we have to balance a lot of competing priorities—like affordability, tenants’ rights, certain people’s shenanigans around historical preservation …

CHILD 5: What is this historical preservation? Are you saying San Francisco doesn’t want to grow and change?

BREED: Some of us do. It’s complicated. But you know about all our wonderful tech companies, right? Apple! Tesla! Oracle! Maybe you’ll grow up to come work for one of them.

CHILD 6: Yes, yes! My dad works at TikTok—he has all of your data.

BREED: All of my data? 

CHILD 6: Yup, all of it. And your press secretary’s, and your chief of staff’s …

BREED: [Silence]

TEACHER: Okay last question, class.

CHILD 6: Tell you what. We’ll give you our pandas but only if they are safe. Can you promise us they won’t get stolen? We hear everything nice in San Francisco gets bipped

BREED: No promises, children. But I’ll do my best!

Scott Alan Lucas is a former editor at San Francisco magazine whose book, “Last Night in San Francisco,” about the death of technology executive Bob Lee, will be published next year by Steerforth Press.

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