CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN)– They could not vote in today’s election.
But in their country, they said, there are no nights like tonight– nights when supporters of opposing presidential candidates gather publicly in huge numbers in the hopes that the person they support will soon lead the nation.
“We came here tonight for pleasure,” said Liuliu Pan, 23, of Chengdu, China. She is in the United States to study neuroscience at Northwestern University’s downtown campus in Chicago.
“We didn’t know how safe it would be to come down here tonight," said her friend, Yiqi Wang, also 23, also of Chengdu. He is in the United States to study finance at the Illinois Institute of Technology, not far south of here in Chicago.
They said they did not know what to expect in Grant Park tonight– this year’s long presidential campaign itself has been quite different from what they are accustomed to at home, and what they had heard, in advance, about the potentially massive gathering in the park made them uncertain about whether to try to attend. Like so many of the people in the park with whom we have been speaking, they have no tickets to the event.
But. . . .
"It just seemed that, because we are in the United States, and because we are in Chicago, we had to come look at this,” Yiqi Wang said.
Both of them said that what they heard about Chicago before they arrived here to study had not prepared them for what they would find.
“I had a very old impression of Chicago,” Liuliu Pan said. “An industrial, old-city feeling." The overall sense of what she was expecting to find, she said, was dark, almost grim.
“I did not expect such a. . .decent. . .city,” she said, choosing her words. “I find it to be more graceful than I would have thought."
Future impressions of Chicago– impressions held by strangers far away– may be formed in part by the shape of the events that are unfolding tonight in the park.
“I heard that in 1968 there was an accident right here," Yiqi Wang said. “An issue."
The Democratic National Convention of 1968, and the violence in Grant Park, did, indeed, feel like an accident to many of those in the middle of it.
“I don’t think I will feel unsafe here at all,” he said, now that he had arrived at the event, and together the two of them walked toward a night that, however it turns out, will become a part of the history of the country, and– perhaps just as important– the city.