Chengdu native Wei, 23, got married and moved to her husband's hometown, a small town near Winchester, England, just over a year ago, where she works as a teaching assistant for students with disabilities. We wanted to know what she thought of life coming from the East and going to the West, and she filled us in.
By the time you had moved to England, you had visited once, spoke English very well, and had plenty of contact with Western culture. Still, some things must have been difficult to get used to. What were those?
I have to say I'm still adjusting to the western way of being social with other people because sometimes I don't feel fully blended into the mainstream. For instance, when I am having a chat with colleagues, there are times that I found it hard to know things they refer to. This has less to do with the language level and more to do with language in a specific social-cultural context.
What surprised you the first time you visited?
Cars drove very fast even on narrow roads.
What British behavior do you find annoying?
I can't think of any typical British behaviors that annoy me, maybe because the Brits in general are reserved and in fact my personal experience so far tells me that they accept diversity and appreciate cultures different from their own. The only issue I came across was with the public sector which is very bureaucratic. In fact, to my surprise, the customer service here is quite poor in comparison to Chinese standards.
Do you have many British friends, or are most of your friends Chinese?
Before I started my job, I didn't have my own social circle apart from my immediate family, and for a while I even felt I was losing contact with society, which was quite scary, but I got to know new friends as soon as I started to work. I have local friends as well as friends from other countries. I also wish to know some Chinese locally but unfortunately I have met only one Chinese lady here since I came here.
What aspects of life in England does she complain to you about?
The capricious weather; lack of entertainment available at night if you live in the countryside.
Do you stay in touch with Chinese media, or have you converted to England's?
I surf Chinese websites every day! But I like watching BBC as well.
Do people frequently mispronounce or forget your name?
People misspell my name all the time, even when they copy it directly from my passport. But I don't blame them because the Chinese combination doesn't agree with the English pronunciation. However, I can't see the need to have an English name, and everyone is fine with calling me by my Chinese name.
Have you made any embarrassing social mistakes that you're willing to talk about?
There was one time when a friend and I went to have dinner. Noticing the restaurant was quite empty, we went inside directly and sat by a table. Not until other guests arrived did we realize that we had to wait by the entrance to be ushered. Most of the time when I sense there might be a big embarrassment, and I don't know how to deal with the situation, I will immediately seek help from my husband.
Are there moments when you think life would be easier if you went back home? What do you do at those times?
I talk about moving back to Chengdu every now and then, for the food and familiarity, but as soon as I calm down, I know there's always something to complain about wherever I am.
What is the first thing you do when you come back to Chengdu?
How is Sichuanese food in England? Are you able to find ingredients to cook it, or do you just eat English food?
I cook my own Sichuan food every day and even make hotpot once in a while. I buy ingredients from the local Oriental shops, and they are surprisingly authentic. Chinese vegetables actually are harder to find than these ingredients, so I grow my own.
You taught Chinese for a while. What was that like?
I started with greetings instead of basic Pinyin, as the period was very short and my students wanted it to be practical. I compiled my own textbook based on situational Chinese dialogues and showed them Chinese RMB and baijiu which they found very interesting.
How long will you stay in England? What does your family think? And how do you feel about leaving them behind?
I'd say it's indefinite and totally depends on how we feel about being here and where our careers will lead us. My family is very open-minded and always give me choices. Of course they want to see me, but they know keeping me by their side is not the right way to show love. I don't feel that I "left them behind," for the simple reason that now is the time for my parents to enjoy each other's company. We talk to each other on Skype often, and both my husband and I go back to Chengdu twice a year or vice versa, which is no different from those who work in a different city [from their families] within China.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 27 ("Faces"). Photo courtesy by Sam Boxall.