A Chinese in London

We met up with a girl from Beijing a few weeks ago, who was on her first visit to England.

Perhaps because, most notably, it was her first trip ever outside of China, many of her questions and comments about London amused and baffled me at the same time.

Her first question about the country: Why don’t people beep their cars here?

On her first visit to London: Why is everyone in a rush? Why do they walk so fast?

On her first ride on the Tube: Why is everyone reading?

On Essex: There is absolutely no noise at night! It’s dead quiet! Very wierd.

Her overall impression of England (of what she’s experienced in Essex and London anyways): I don’t like it, esp. London. Essex is alright, with all the greenery. But I don’t like London.

It was only by chatting to her did I realise the huge cultural gap between her and I.

Mind you, she is not some peasant girl in rags from the poor countryside who’s never seen an escalator – although originally from Mongolia, she has a big city job, earns enough to have just bought an apartment, eats out and hangs out and dresses like any other city girl.

Coming from the massive city of Beijing, and having been there a few times myself, I would imagine that people walking fast wouldn’t be such a novelty, and that the silence of the countryside would be appreciated. But apparently not. Thinking more about it, I wonder if busy streets and city life is considered privileged and prosperous while the dead quiet of the countryside is frowned upon for associations with poverty and deprivation? Yet, she liked the greenery and it certainly does not explain the everyone-walking-too-fast thing.

As for reading on the Tube – I guess it’s less common than I thought. Isn’t reading on public transportation somewhat universal? Don’t people get bored? But I have to say, the PSP or the Nintendo DS is a more common sight in Hong Kong. I once sat on a bus with a husband on my left and the wife on my right, battling it out on their Nintendos, calling to each other through my ears. Unpleasant, to say the least.

She speaks English well. Not fluent, but able to hold her own in a noisy pub conversation, which is probably better than anyone’s French in this country.

So language is not a problem, nor is big city life.

Surprising myself, I was a bit miffed that she didn’t like London. Like any place, I don’t expect anyone to love everything about it, but there surely must be bits of it that appeal to different people? The museums? The riverside? The parks? The theatres? The markets? Even just a little bit? Surely the air is nicer than dusty Beijing? Saying that, she was in town for only a few days, and I do recognise that the things I love most about London, the little gems hidden here and there, take time to discover.

However, she is not the first Chinese I know that dislikes London.

I remember Xindy, an ex-flatmate from southern China who was doing a Masters degree here. She never ventured out, ate only Chinese food and told me she was going home as soon as she could when her course finishes. She did not enjoy being here at all. I do wonder,what’s the point then? Isn’t experiencing a different culture half the reason itself to study abroad?

Based on our combined experiences in China and with the Chinese, Nasty and I think that it’s not London, and it’s not England that’s the problem. It’s basically anywhere that is “not China”. It’s as if they have this stubbornness in which things must be “just like China” to be right. If not, then they can’t adjust to it.

I went on a work trip once to New Jersey with a colleague based in the Beijing office. He shunned salads because they were “cold, tasteless, uncooked vegetables” (which on second thought, is what they precisely are).

I can’t speak for everyone, and I’m sure there are many others who enjoy being in London, or anywhere else, but I can only write what I know. Those people above that I’ve spoken to, it seems to me that it’s food and the overwhelming differences in culture that are too great to overcome.

And let’s be honest, there isn’t much in the food here to write home about, is there? ;)


4 thoughts on “A Chinese in London

  1. Hmmm. I hang out with 4 Chinese people at work. They seem to adapt well. I think the culture shock is far huger for them than for me, but I am still not used to some things here after 6 years! Some of my Chinese friends seem more English than the English, others not, but they all seem totally open to sampling the culture. I think we all have fun being weirded out by stuff together.

  2. I have been here for quite a while now, but have to admit that i don’t really have many Chinese friends :(. The Chinese people I met are either born here and adapt very well, or not born here and adapt pretty badly.

    I guess there are people who just refuse to adjust to a different lifestyle. I have seen many cases where people just refuse to speak English, and only hang around in China town with Chinese people…..

    And, not all people appreciate parks, museums and bookshops. I have had friends who visited and complained that there’s no shopping malls (!) here…

  3. Ah, that’s very true. The “refusal” to adapt. Is it refusal? Or unable?

    Oh gosh, I didn’t know there are Chinese people like that! Refuse to speak English and survive on Chinatown alone?! I think that is a very very sad life.

    On the other hand, I know WAY too many English/Australians/South Africans/Scots/name-an-expat in HK who never learned Cantonese, even when they’ve been there for 7+ years, and survive by using only English (because they can) and by going to restaurants and places with English menus.

    To think of it…I don’t think I’ve been in a shopping mall here either! Westfield isn’t attractive enough to make me want to trek across town….

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