Yep, after two years in China, we’re back in the UK. And there is definitely a sense of reverse culture shock. Crossing the road here, walking through the supermarket, making lunch all of it is somehow different and requires getting used to. Lets have a look at some of the things we’ve noticed as different (good and bad).
It’s so quiet…
Here a car drives past, time passes, a child shouts, time passes, a lawn is mown, time passes… There’s no one walking around at eight in the morning calling out ‘knife-sharpening, rubbish collecting, general labouring’. People don’t walk about shouting their conversations, spitting, clapping their hands, rolling exercise wheels.
The streets aren’t filled with hundreds of people, a thousand cars hooting and clamouring for position and all in all it just feels a bit too quiet. It’s almost a little eerie, and in the silence there is also a lack of the energy and drive that comes from having so many people around you.
I’ve forgotten how to cross roads
Most foreign visitors will find China’s erratic driving and mass of cars difficult to navigate but I’ve come to be quite used to the mad ways of China’s drivers. Learning to cross the road again in the UK has been a funny experience and for the first week Jonny and I were nervously holding each other’s hands as we crossed. What I’m still not used to is when drivers give way to let pedestrians cross the road – this NEVER happens in China so I’ve learnt to zone out and wait for the car to go past, which must confuse the poor British driver patiently waiting for me to cross and wondering why I’m not.
Enough said. Blue skies and clouds. It’s gorgeous.
I’ve mentioned this before but sometimes it seems surprisingly difficult to get into the countryside in China. Sightseeing spots are normally so well paved as to feel almost man-made. Despite that we have seen some truly breathtaking views.
There’s actually been a moment of readjusting to UK beauty too, China definitely is incredible, though the prettiness of it tends to be obscured by the pollution which gives such dull light. And it can be beautiful in small ways BUT it excels more in the extremes, for example:
Whereas Britain will normally be more beautiful in the twisting of a stream, the gentle incline of a hill amongst trees. I think it’s taking a little while to rearrange our expectations.
Screw you “beautiful”, screw you “humorous”, screw you “convenient” never again will your putrid vowels offend mine ears!
Speaking the language again
Negatives: You now understand the absolutely moronic conversations that people have in the street, on the bus, in a shop. Seriously it is such a pain after the bliss of ignorance.
Positives: Going into a shop/outside is no longer stressful, every. single. time.
In China politics was hard to come by, Chinese politics is opaque and without having the news around you you start to feel disconnected. Being back, being able to speak one’s mind without a single drop of concern, reading The Private Eye, all of it allows you to feel like a person engaged with the running of a country again, and it’s great.
Charity and Community
Linked with the previous is the existence of charity and local groups. Last weekend we went to the Kirkstall Festival and almost every stand was a charity, big or small, or people raising awareness about some community issue. It was great to again see people actively contributing to their society, which in China was rare to see. Charities were very hard to find evidence of, and local advocacy groups etc. were almost non existent as far as we could see.
Friends and Family
We made some good friends in China but when you leave they go back to far flung places like Oklahoma and London. Living in Britain though there’s no confusion about timings, no crappy internet, no reliance on e-mails. It is actually possible to call your friends on the phone and talk to them.
A few things things I’m missing
Ambling along the streets in the early evening, passing the many restaurants with people sat outside, and smelling the chilli and sichuan pepper. Not having to apologise profusely like I’ve done something terrible every time I accidentally bump into someone in the street or lightly graze past them. Cheap fruit. Being able to hop on the light-rail a short walk away from my house and explore somewhere new. Cheap public transport (why are buses in the UK so expensive?!). No-one giving a shit about what you wear.
-Fi and Jonny