Life Outside of China
Coming to China is a bizarre yet fulfilling experience, no matter how long you plan on spending here it always finds new ways to surprise, delight, excite and sometimes just annoy you. Yet, I found one of the strangest things about China is the day that you come to leave it and the legacy it leaves with you. I have lived in China for the past 18 months, six months in Beijing and 12 in Xi’an, not that long when compared to some of the other foreigners I occasionally bump into, but long enough to really feel part of the place.
Having spent the entirety of last semester living with a Chinese family in a suburb of Beijing with next to no other foreigners it took me a while to really get acquainted with some of the cultural differences, which divide us. Just as I felt the differences narrowing, there I was with my passport and boarding pass in hand boarding my flight home via the Ukraine (don’t ask).
Arriving back in the UK I was immediately overwhelmed with hundreds of really tiny and insignificant questions, problems and observations such as “why are all the signs only in English? How will foreigners understand them?” Or “Why is it so cold here? I thought it’s meant to be summer?”
Leaving the airport did not make things much better either, my dad who was so delighted to see me, turned on the car radio… “WOAH!!! Adverts I can understand!” “Wait… Are we driving on the left again?” “Why are there so few cars?” “Look how polite everyone is being, using their indicators to properly signal.”
It got worse further still once we finally got home:
“Dad, can I get some water please?”
“Yeah, help yourself.”
(For the record, China has no safe drinking water plumbing, meaning that everyone drinks cheap bottled water).
I’m (sadly) not joking when I say I spent nearly three hours walking round the house and verbally stating “In China it’s not like this…” much to the annoyance of my family. Being brutally honest, it took me a few days for me to really appreciate that I wasn’t in China anymore and that here I was, on holiday to my own house. It got me thinking though; I cant be the only one who feels like this, right? I therefore decided to go on a fact-finding mission and find out.
My first opportunity came about a week after arrival as I got the chance to meet up with a former CSA student by the name of Miranda Jarrett. I’ve always had a lot of time for Miranda, so I was very interested in hearing how she was finding it fitting back into life in the UK. To my surprise, she didn’t really understand my issues towards fitting back into UK daily life. She told me her time in China had flown by so quickly, she hardly had time to appreciate being away from the UK. I did note that perhaps it came down to the time difference between the length of our stays, Miranda had only spent two months in Beijing compared to my six (and 18 in China). As I pressed her on specific details though I found she did come to agree with me more on a few other points such just how quiet her local suburb of London was compared to Beijing, how ‘cold water’ in the UK was actually cold, not tepid and that generally speaking, how much more consideration was expected in daily British life.
Next I moved on some of the Chinese international students living in the university (Royal Holloway) near my house. I’ve always wanted to know how Chinese student really felt in the UK, and if it was anything like the way I felt in China. The two Chinese people they told said they loved the quiet and general order the UK offered them, but felt the place could be a little boring at times and were scared to venture away from certain ‘trusted’ areas fearing that they could be walking into the middle of a gang war their parents had warned them about. I of course laughed off most of their comments, but the tables were soon turned when they in turn quizzed me about ‘life after China’ telling me just how ridiculous I was being.
Despite my protestations being met with mostly deaf ears I’m still not convinced I’m the odd one out. But alas, it doesn’t matter, for I am certain I’m not done with China yet. Which is why I sit here now writing this blog back in the CSA office in Wu Dao Kou telling everyone how cool my ‘holiday’ back home was.
As for me, another semester at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) awaits.
Onwards and Upwards!