Konnichiwa, Thinking Japlish readers. Today I have an exciting gem of a blog post: an interview with another fellow Eurasian and dear friend of mine who is half Chinese, half British. I hope that you enjoy the interview below, when we asked our guest all about her experiences of biculturalism.
Alexandra, thanks so much for joining us on Thinking Japlish. Could you introduce yourself to our readers please?
Yes! I’m Alexandra. Bit of an identity crisis – I’m also known as Alexis. Naomi is my oldest friend in the world. I’ve known her since we were four, when we went to the same school together and we found out that we were both bicultural with the same pairing of a British mother and Asian father. Our mothers got on really well and still do.
Yes, they’re still best friends. Oh and I remember when we were younger, people at school used to think that we were twins. We both had long, dark plaits.
Yes! Except Naomi had green eyes which I was very jealous of. We share very vivid childhood memories.
Definitely. So that was in Leeds, and now you are a fellow Eurasian at Oxford which is pretty cool.
Yes, I study History at Lincoln College. As for my cultural heritage, I’ve lived for half my life in Asia and half in the UK. I’ve spent ten years in each place, on and off – I’ve lived in Singapore, Southern China, Beijing, Leeds, London, and in Oxford. So, quite a mixture.
Yes, wow. What do you think is the best thing about being bicultural?
I think that that’s an interesting question because it really changes with time. There was like a stage when I was probably about eight or nine when I really hated it. I really just wanted to be British because all my friends were British and I didn’t really see any point in being Chinese – and especially then because I didn’t know how to speak Chinese and wasn’t really part of the culture. I remember that when I first moved to China I was extremely resistant to learning Chinese. My parents would always say to me, “Learn Chinese! It’s going to be the next superpower in the world! Learn Chinese because it will be so useful.” But I was really, really resistant – I wasn’t having any of that. But then I suppose as I spent more time in China – I kind of got more in touch with my Chinese culture. When I came back to the UK again – I was around fifteen, at that angst-y age – I really appreciated being able to speak Chinese, and I appreciated having my time in China, but I didn’t really see the significance of my cultural upbringing, and how this could impact me. It didn’t really bother me much.
In the last two years, I’ve begun to really appreciate having a bicultural upbringing. I realise it’s something incredibly unique – it’s a unique genetic make-up but it’s also a unique cultural make-up, and it’s something that could really impact your life in the future.
Fascinating. What was it like living in China?
Well obviously there were loads of ex-pat families, parents who sent their kids to international schools, whereas my parents were all about plunging me into the deep end. I was literally going to local schools because in China you’re drafted – just like I suppose in the UK – you’re drafted into the local state school in your local area. It was something that was totally extraordinary when I think back on it now. Because now I’m very used to living in the UK and the UK style of education and they literally couldn’t seem further apart – massive classes which were very rowdy, but at the same time, ready to discipline themselves the second the teacher walks in. The respect they give to teachers there is absolutely mind-blowing, and the respect given to education as a society in Asia is amazing. Parents will run the extra mile and might even consider selling their own organs to give their child a good education.
You mentioned that you’ve come to appreciate those experiences more in the past two years. How has this affected your experience of Oxford so far, do you think? Does it help you to stand out? Are people interested? Do people ask you about it?
Well I do get asked about it quite a lot. I think mostly by people who are curious about my appearance, about my ethnicity. But it’s something that I’m a lot prouder of now. It’s something which identifies my appearance, but it identifies my character as well. In a way, I think it gives you a code to live by because it’s a very special gift to have, to have two cultures running through you.
And perspective as well?
Yeah, perspective of two cultures, definitely.
Hm, so, which do you prefer more, English food or Chinese food?
Uh such a hard choice. I think I would go for Chinese food though.
And what’s your favourite dish of both?
I’m actually a massive fan of Japanese food rather than Chinese food.
Haha that’s not what our Chinese readers want to hear!
No, but I love Chinese food! I think one of my favourite things about Chinese food is the variety of food you can get there, the variety of fruit and vegetables – there are certain things I miss so much, like sharon fruit and kumquats, and – oh I can only remember these things in Chinese now – like lychees, and certain fruits and certain vegetables which are so difficult to come by here. You see certain vegetables in Chinese food so much more than in the UK, like ladies’ fingers or certain gourds. I love braised pork belly. I love the use of chilies in Chinese food. That’s something I miss here, so I like getting my chili fix when I go back to China.
Are there any Chinese restaurants you can recommend in Oxford?
I’d recommend Zheng. I know Naomi’s already been there and recommended that but I would do so again. You really can’t beat it. Apart from that, SoJo is the back-up to Zheng, always. But apart from that, my family are big fans of Zheng – we had our Chinese New Year family meal there. We had half a duck and pancakes and lots of other tasty things. We had braised pork belly which is my favourite.
Mm that sounds so good!
Thanks so much to Alexandra for her time and for featuring on Thinking Japlish! If you would like to read more about Oxford’s Zheng, check out our review of it.