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?

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:

WordPress: Crimson China

Twitter: @crimsonchina

Facebook: Crimson China

Tumblr: A Rose Named Crimson

Instagram: @crimsonchina

Google+ (If anyone uses that anymore!): Crimson Porcelain

A Plane Crashes In My Hometown: I saw it for myself

A Plane Crashes In My Hometown: I saw it for myself

My condolences to the poor families of the victims of today’s deadly crash at Shoreham Airshow. I know this is totally unrelated to all the other topics on my blog (all China related) but I felt this was an important experience for me, and so here it stays.

This afternoon, a 1950s Hawker Hunter warplane crashed in my hometown, Shoreham-By-Sea, near Brighton killing eleven people and injuring fourteen more. The whole airport was put on lockdown for several hours, and I kept thinking about how I needed to write this down. I’ve never been at the scene of a disaster before, and I won’t forget it in a hurry, so I thought I’d tell it to you.

Clear skies, hot weather, a strong breeze and smiling families promised a fun, light-hearted Shoreham Airshow . Parents, grandparents, small children, teenagers and (naturally) pet dogs reclined in deckchairs and grass chairs eating homemade picnics, ooh-ing, aah-ing, wow-ing and OHMYGOD-ing at the antics of acrobatic warplanes.  My mum and our friends idly made light conversation beside me, and I dozed off with my hat over my face in the cosy summer setting, untouched by the loud whir of fighter planes,

Suddenly, like when one car collides with another, but a hundred times worse. there was a cacoophonous CRUNCH.  Next, an abrupt silence of the sort where a crowd can feel what has happened, before they really understand what they are feeling, and a chorus of exclamations returned in higher pitch. Countless voices recounted the crash, pointed at the smoke, or quietly embraced each other, and for a few moments everyone was sharing shock and grief.

My mother and I squeezed hands, and then she bravely said ‘I should go over there and help’ (she is a paramedic). As a child would, I tried to persuade her not to leave, but luckily she would not listen to me, and she disappeared into the crowd. Childlishly, I ran after her and tried to follow, but of course it was fruitless.A few minutes later, I decided I would like to leave the airport now and I tried to make my way to the exit. All around I heard useless exchanges which people spoke to cope with the situation ‘It was there, and then it was gone’, ‘How could this happen?’ and ‘I need a drink now.’ But, the exit was totally locked down so that the emergency services could get past easily. Most people stood around passively, but one man argued with the stewards: “I don’t want to go and look, I want to take my nephew home!” he shouted. The stewards yelled at him to “Have some respect!” and it almost came to blows, if the policeman had not told everybody to calm down. It seemed even the officials were in shock.

After that, I felt very depressed and went to sit on my own for a few minutes before going to find our friends.Every conversation I heard was about the crash, recounting stories, speculating causes, and passing on rumours. I found out two cyclists had been killed, and of course there were more to come. It was so tragic for them, and it could have been anyone cycling past. The smoke billowed behind us at the scene for a good ten more minutes, swathing Lancing College in putrid black smoke.

We found my mother in First Aid, helping the victims who had walked away from the accident the entire afternoon. Although we tried to take our minds off it by staring at trucks, gliders and motorbikes, we could not stop discussing the incident for the rest of the day.