I’ve recently returned from a trip to the UK with V and Milan. I know the place too well to write anything interesting or original on the subject, so I’ve asked V to write down what she thought. It was her first time out of China, and she’s written quite a bit, all of which I find fascinating.
* I can’t believe the countryside is so neat and organised. Who takes care of it all?
* The landscape changes completely every two hours journey.
* Houses are made of bricks but can be beautiful – brick houses are ugly in China.
* English people care about making everything look nice, even grocery stores and trucks.
* There’s lots of help in public areas for women with babies and disabled people.
* English trees look arty – like a display in a gallery.
* Supermarkets are the size of factories.
* There are aisles and aisles of fresh food and so many choices of fruit juice.
* You can buy fruit and vegetables ready-prepared in boxes.
* Baby formula is five times cheaper in the UK than in China.
* There are charity shops everywhere – selling second-hand things and the profit is not for shop keeper but for charity, so it’s easy to be charitable.
* Harrods is a magnificent building, inside of course the people’s smiles are just regular sales manner. The point is China has some huge shopping malls, but they are just gaudy, covered in advertisements and logos trying to catch your eye. The famous window displays show a good sense of humour.
* English old women make themselves up, put on skirts and tights even on cold days and wear red lipstick.
* People behave nicely in public, I feel relaxed interacting with strangers.
* Meeting James’s grandmother felt like meeting the Queen.
* In the wedding of my sister-in law, English relationship of relatives seems not so distant. Generally Western society emphasises independence of individual life, so we heard relatives’ relationships are cool in western countries. Maybe just I am lucky to meet the close-knit family. I guess it is credited to James’s grandma since I heard James’s grandmother ruled the family before.
* Most houses in England are more than fifty years old, and look as good as new. Even houses over 100 years old are well maintained and people still live in them. It is incredible in China, only a few cultural relics can be so lucky to be taken care of.
* I love large kitchen / dining rooms with high ceilings
* Kitchens and bathrooms are always so clean, like a five star hotel.
* Why do so many people have water filters when you can drink the water?
* There are pictures and mirrors on the walls in every house I visited, it looks common in England.
* People really treasure their family history – you can always see old photos on the walls. Not only photos for immediate family, but also extended family like family’s sister or brother or grandparents, and the pictures show them when they are young. In Chinese homes, if you can see photos of older generations on the walls, looking like they never had youth in their pictures, they just look so old and serious that they scare children.
* It is quite funny that every house has the same few large rubbish bins like in the Chinese park. Is it helpful for waste sorting? Anyway, they are really much more serious about waste sorting.
* I like English food, but it can be too rich, perhaps I’d better stick to more simple food until I’m used to it.
* I liked
– Cheeses, particularly the ones with fruit inside and some blue cheese.
– Fresh parsnips (these are just used dried as medicine in China)
– Breakfast cereals
– Fresh salmon (much cheaper than in China)
– Dried fruit (so many choices, much more meaty)
– Good crisps
* People drink fruit juice all the time. In China imagine drinking real fruit juice every meal! It’s too expensive.
* Fish and chips is really good, for English food.
* English breakfast is good food when you are ravenous, or you have a good appetite.
* I heard European countries are good at making deserts, especially cakes, but in the UK it’s not easy to find a amazing baker. This is why the UK is an outsider in Europe?
* English salad is beyond our imagination of western style. It is completely fresh leaves with vinegar and oil, no sauce like thousand Island dressing or mayonnaise, and the leaves look like they’re alive in the salad bowl. By the way, I like this style, just fresh and simple.
* Bexhill reminds me of a French movie. I still think about it when I walk around Beijing. It’s a romantic and peaceful place for young people. Why do old people live there? Are they all romantic? I’m from a landlocked province, and I always look forward to being close to the sea.
* Brighton was nice but couldn’t really enjoy it thanks to English rain.
* James’ friends in Brighton were a big surprise for me. It’s exciting to talk to them, they are not formal and stereotypical, even the older people.
* Often I’ve seen some beautiful and quiet country scenes on tv or on greeting cards. I wish I could have been there. Herefordshire is exactly that place, but I wish there had been in better weather so I could’ve seen more.
* There’s a medieval Gothic style Cathedral, and flat-topped hills with grass, nice lakes and rivers can be seen everywhere. It is a landlocked area, but not as boring as mainland China. I am sure it is really good for young couples with kids to live there, make you peaceful, no mood-swings – the hand-made rural lifestyle. Maybe that’s why James’s father lives there.
* Whitbourne was my favourite place to live – it is old enough to take my long life to imagine and stay with it.
* Even on a first visit, York seems to be a very old city. It reminds me of Viking people in old legends, but everything seems very convenient, I enjoyed shopping there.
* I liked the small town and countryside more than London, but London stands for the UK, so I should get to know it. Also, as a big city, compared to Beijing, London seems to connect to people living urban lives. I can walk through every street in London, even lie down on the lawn in the center of London. Why is this special? Because this is the open place in London, you can really breathe with this city, you can feel existence with this city. Our lawns are usually in parks, but behind a wall.
* The transport in London is too expensive, but it’s nice to walk
* When I saw some old movie poster on the wall of a cinema in London I really felt overjoyed because I heard of but never saw art cinemas in China. Now I’ve seen that I can watch a whole series of films by one director, if I have time. This is never possible in China.
* I love Victoria Station, especially the glass roof and the way you could see the trains arrive on the platforms inside. It takes you back to the golden age of the Industrial revolution, no rain no wind only sunshine. It gives me so much sense of security.