Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

8 Years On, Still a Tourist

Justin Cheuk: When HK Meets UK

By this time next week, I will have stayed a full eight years in the UK. To think that will ever happen at the start of all this, it’s just incredible.

It was back in some late August day in 2005 when I first got to London. Aged 11, the youngest by a few years, and knowing practically nothing about the city, the country, I played safe and stayed in the Hongkonger circles, becoming one of your stereotypical international student: stayed at home all day, catching up on gaming or home TV programmes; believed everything is so much better at home (food, internet, things to do, you name it) thus would be off on the first flight when the holiday had started, only to be back at the latest possible time. Minimal interaction with home students. Refused to try new things (e.g. Rugby), disliked it when I had to, even if I actually made the team (OK, it was U-13 Cs, but…).

While it was a blessing for me to have those Hong Kong friends who took me in and treated me very nicely (withstanding a moaning year 7 is no small feat for the years 9-11, I later found out), I came to realise that, since I have the years to come in England, I would need to blend in to the society when they leave.

Hong Kong in reality is not ‘Asia’s world city’ as it self-proclaimed. People are only interested in a few things to start with, and that small number drops even more dramatically once the focus is shifted out of town. So really to understand the world, I decided that I would need to go out and explore, I would have to leave the (Cantonese-speaking?) comfort zone.

So I started to try. Got more proactive on school trips to London or language trips aboard over the holidays. Went into London just with friends then by myself (if only to Chinatown at first). Read, listened and even played Football Manager to get my English beyond textbook levels. Tried hard (sometimes succeeding, sometimes not) to strike more friendships with classmates or other boarders.

Safe to say I managed. My English and essay-based subjects improved. (top grade in English Literature? Really? Although the ‘asian’ maths faltered…)

I worked out my way around London, visited most attraction listed on the Wikitravel London page, including the not-so-attrative neighbourhoods for the groceries and occasional movies. Knew the places around much better than my Hong Kong geography, to the point that tourist started asking me for directions. And I could.

Managed to watch and understand most TV in-jokes. (just too many Doctor Who episode to catch up though)

Learned to appreciate rugby, hey even cricket: sat, not slept, through twenty20s.

Friends’ surnames on phone contact greatly diversified.

Got my Nectar and Tesco Clubcard.

Oh, and most importantly, took Crewe and Lincoln to the Premier League, producing a few English internationals in the process. Similar results on FIFA Manager (sorry) for Cordoba CF.

When I left my school, I had many friends from all over the place. Again I was so fortunate to have met so many people who were extremely kind to me.

After 7 years of London life, I felt it more natural to answer the question ‘where are you from?’ with ‘London’. Hong Kong remained hometown, but London was home. I suppose that’s when it became strange that, me this Asian guy became more ‘british’ than some of his British friends.

(Especially when I chose Spanish for A-level, and got a lot of ‘Are you not Asian?’ or ‘Have your parents disown you yet?’ tease lol)

Because at the place I feel most natural I don’t technically belong. There are moments when this stick out, the most obvious being at the immigration counter (I dare say I spoke more ‘british’ English than the Indian gentlemen who grilled me) Or when trying to apply for a learner’s license.

When I moved to Durham for uni, I felt it was another opportunity to explore this country that I live in. Of course the North-East is very different from London. There was another round of sightseeing: Durham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, York…

Perhaps it was the accent. Most new friends I made in Durham didn’t even realise I am not a home student. But there was a hell lot of explaining my life story, to which you have just read a detailed version above. Did get lots of appreciation and support for what I have done though.

Is that something to be happy about? I don’t know. It’s not like I no longer care about Hong Kong. But being here feels right.

Nevertheless, thanks to the exodus of East Asians to study aboard, there are times I was faced with patronising questions such as ‘Do you know how to use the bank?’ And I genuinely felt disheartened, as if all the ‘work’ I previously done to blend in has perished. As if I have to start again.

But then what I cannot change is that I am originally from Hong Kong. And despite my life experiences I am proud of it.

I have been here eight years. I probably (and hopefully) have many more here. I say I am already a Londoner. Maybe I will be never be British, let alone English (if even Mo Farah is not being referred to as such). Maybe in someone’s eyes I am no different from another Chinese tourist.

But hey, I love traveling, and I certainly was one. What’s wrong being one?

8 years on, still a tourist.

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