Return: A poem I wrote back in September

 

As the six month summer fades away

The skies are turning monochrome

As my mood flits with every day

I prepare to leave my home.

Last week I was a happy girl,

The week before a drag

Last month I was exploring

This month my heart has sagged.

A turbulent brain rode a turbulent plane

That day. From east to west

Anticipation paid its dues

And Nostalgia wore its Sunday best.

I departed from an airport in China

Waved off by my roommate and my man

I arrived in London Heathrow,

A totally foreign land.

Now as September withers

I ponder over this

What, on earth, does the place I’m in,

Share with the place I miss?

China: A summary.

China: A summary.

“What’s China like?”

Of course, any person who has been to China gets asked this all the time by people who haven’t. Could you begin to describe it? Surely it’s impossible.

I can never give a coherent answer to this question. Sometimes, if I think the other person might be able to relate, I don’t try to answer it. I simply try to describe an image. I don’t know why on earth this image summarises China for me so much, but …it does, and I can’t escape that! So…here you go:

It’s around 2pm. The sky is bluer than usual, but retains that ever-present tinge of grey. The air is not great, but it could be worse. It’s 30 degrees C, and it’s loud. Engines and blasting horns, but to me it’s faded into an endless buzz.

The highway I’m cycling along is about to curve around to undercut another larger highway that stretches across it, a hulking grey mass. All I can see in front of me is an enormous bridge and the dull sky. But my attention is focused on the foreground, not the backdrop. I’m the only person on a bicycle in this part of the highway right now (which is unusual in itself). There is only one pedestrian.

A man. Slight, quite small. His skin is dark, dark like a worker who has spent his life in the paddies, and his face drawn sallow from years of poor nutrition. He is dressed in a grubby white polo, and his black slacks are grubby, faded and ripped.

Despite his wasted appearance, he stands erect on that corner beside the roaring highway, and seems to have been there for hours. It’s hot, nobody is stopping for him, and still he stands. He points towards the cars. Clasped in his outstretched arms, he holds a rough, whip-like stick. Tied to the stick is a piece of string. Hanging motionless from the piece of string (of all the things it could have been) …  massive, stolic, majestic and sad-looking, but very alive… is a turtle. There is a LIVING turtle, dangling from the fishing rod of a poor man making his living on a busy highway in the suburbs of Beijing in the dry, harsh and dirty air in unforgiving heat, and it is considered entirely ordinary.

I continue on my way.

Bizarre. To me, it’s bizarre. To others, it’s probably normal, boring even to some people. But that’s social construction for you. Seeing this in the UK would be considered totally weird, bizarre, unheard of. In China, it’s normal.

Do you have an amusing or weird snapshot of a place you have visited, a culture you have experienced? Do you have a funny story? When you came back to the UK, did you have trouble describing your travels to your friends? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Was it all a dream?

Happy New Year! And with the celebrations underway I felt the urge to write a quick update!

I was in China this time last year. I spent an entire year there and now I’m back. Obviously lots of people ask me ‘How was China?’ in curious, surprised or even incredulous tones, and… and I’m ashamed to admit it, but I don’t really know what to say!

“It was … amazing.” I say, with feeling. Fair enough , anyone can understand that. But they say ‘Really? You don’t seem to think so!’

“Amazing!” The first syllable sounds loud and clear, enthusiastic and brimming over with pride. The second sounds sentimental, wistful, but maybe a little sad. And the third syllable is almost lost as my speech descends into a satirical…. snigger. That’s what throws them, the snigger. I feel only I can understand that snigger. It’s the snigger of disbelief. The questioning ‘Was I really there?’ ; the doubtful “Does it exist?” and the nagging “Was it all a dream?”

How can I explain this? It’s because I find that China is so…removed from England, so fundamentally different to what I know, that I cannot begin to describe it. It is another world. And when someone asks me ‘How was China?’ I’m thrown. I’m asking myself the same thing. How IS China? What is China? Why is China?

Unfortunately this all means that I don’t have much to say about China, and my memories of it don’t really come to me in everyday life unless I’m considering it really hard, because I can’t map them onto each other. My life in China cannot overlay my life in England. I was a different person there. A person that the ones in England just don’t know. The ones in China, the ones from China, they have met Crimson China, Grace from China. But they don’t really know what English Grace is like. They say that when you speak in a different language you are a different person. This is certainly true for me.

I hope I can meet Crimson China again some day.

 

A random thought: Small talk in China versus small talk in the UK

So,  I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. That’s because I returned to university in Birmingham this week, and met a whole lot of new people. It got me thinking about how people start a conversation in different cultures. What can you say, when you know absolutely nothing about a person? This is not a blog post, but more of a random thought.

Every so often I had a really generic conversation with someone I met in China. This is my impression of small talk from the Chinese people I met.  I’ve never been good at small talk, I guess, but it does seem to have a certain shape to it.

“你好”

  • “您好”
  • “你是哪里人?”
  • “英国人”

–          “啊!英国!英国的足球比赛很好!看足球吗?曼彻斯特!”-          “很好! 我不看足球”

  • “…”
  • “哦。在中国干什么?”
  • “学习汉语”
  • “阿!你说得很好!”
  • “谢谢”
  • 。。。

Roughly translated this means:

  • “Hello”
  • “Hello”
  • “Where do you come from?”
  • “Britain”
  • “Oh! Britain! Football! British football competitions are really good! Do you watch football? Manchester United!”
  • “They’re very good. I don’t watch football.”
  • “Oh….”
  • “…”
  • “What are you doing in China?”
  • “Studying Chinese.”
  • “Ah! Your Chinese is very good!”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “…”

Back in the UK, the conversation you have when you meet a stranger goes slightly differently. Imagine it’s the first meeting for a club of some sort, and no one really knows each other. Picture the scene. How  would the conversation go?”

  • “Hey.”
  • “Hello.”
  • “…”
  • “So what course do you study?”
  • “Maths.”
  • “…Oh. Cool.”
  • “You?”
  • “Psychology.”
  • “Oh, I know someone in Psychology! Do you know *xxx*?”
  • “No.”
  • “Oh.”
  • “…”
  • “Where are you living?”
  • “*insert halls here”
  • “Cool. Me too.”
  • “Cool.”
  • “So do you know *xxx*?”
  • “No.”
  • “Oh.”
  • “…”

People have certain questions to fill in the missing information about a person, and  the concept of small talk seems pretty similar across the cultures I’ve spent time in (which, admittedly, isn’t very many). I conclude one thing from these two very basic and essentially made up conversations.

In China, my experience of small talk was a culture of complimenting the person, and showing them you appreciate their culture. In the UK, my experience of small talk was a culture of discussing people and experiences, seeking mutual friends and hopefully finding some common ground that way.

Can small talk be a cultural statement? Does it change across cultures? Is it just me being too introspective and generalising? Why do people need to understand such basic information about a person before they get onto the real stuff, even though it probably doesn’t have any relevance to them? Thoughts?

“Chinese People Are Shy.”

“Chinese People Are Shy.”

When describing interactions between Chinese natives and foreigners, or between Chinese natives and natives, there is one thing that my Sichuanese roommate would always say: “Chinese people are shy.”

On the street, lots of people will not make eye contact with me, but if they make contact it is usually to start a conversation. They’ll not think twice of taking me, a total stranger (and a foreigner to boot), to dinner, or shouting a friendly ‘Hello’ on the street. Chinese people are not shy. Such a sweeping statement is ridiculous.

However, the more I think the more I realise that she probably meant (if you’re heavily generalising) “Chinese people are introvert.” In the UK, a student who doesn’t go out at least once a week may be considered uncommon. (By the way, they’re very very common in reality) In Tsinghua University, students are rarely judged, no, they are encouraged to spend long hours in their room recharging (or studying) with their roommates.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement recently, and it’s partly false. Many people from many different places would treat me with courtesy and kindness fit for a queen. Across China, I would be treated to a meal , given gifts, offered lifts, invited out and welcomed into an acquaintance’s home. The people I met were incredibly friendly and curious in general. However, I would probably only meet them once or twice.

To develop a close relationship with the people I met, which I only managed a couple of times,  was something quite removed, something incredibly special. My fellow students would mostly gather in small groups, to go shopping or eat hotpot, and would rarely spend time together one on one, perhaps only with best of best friends. I met one Chinese native, in all my time in China, who willingly sat down with me and opened up (even once), and that person was not my roommate.

I always wondered what she meant by that sweeping statement. “Chinese people are shy.” All 1.5 billion of them? Surely not. She couldn’t have meant shy in the individual sense, but perhaps she was touching on an integral part of Chinese culture and I just didn’t realise it. Altogether, the part of Chinese culture that I only glimpsed, a part which is kind, welcoming, and always reserved.

About Me

FeaturedAbout Me

Good morning, good afternoon,and good evening to you!

Call me Crimson. I started my blog when I was 20 years old, in 2014, to keep my friends and family informed about my time studying abroad in China, but for ages I wouldn’t show it to them! Until one or two hitchhiking cyberspacers praised the honesty, integrity and vivid description in my writing, I was far too shy to share it on Facebook. Pretty crazy, huh? Who wants an invisible blog?
However, since sharing my stories I’ve begun to realise that there is something special in sharing. You’ll find more essence of me in these blog posts than you ever would in person. I’ve never been good at telling stories, because I have trouble describing what I feel in words. I feel China has a charm about it that is all its own, and there is so much I want to say

Just so you know, I do not find joy in popular tourist destinations and that is not what I write about. There are places I visited in China which I cannot begin to describe verbally, stories I yearn to tell. I feel that the experiences I have had while exploring new cultures (and, recently, since returning to the UK) I can only describe in writing. The deep emotions, the strange observations, the mood changes and the incredible people I have met during my year abroad can only sufficiently be described in words.

I believe honesty, trust and directness can get you places in life. So that’s how I write. Welcome to my world! Feedback welcome.

Update: I have just started another blog which will be TV reviews (scifi, hopefully) and book reviews. Again, I’ll try to be totally honest about my feelings towards the characters, the plot etc.

Please do follow/like me on:

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