I’ve heard so many condescending things from Westerners about the East – and yet the first thing I notice whenever I come to the UK is how dirty everything is. Cigarette butts lay discarded on the pavement as though the streets were a public ashtray. There’s garbage everywhere. Empty packets of chips. Vomit. Gum tracks. And the list goes on.
Born and bred in Singapore – I was taught in school was that you don’t damage personal or public property – and you definitely don’t litter. If you do decide to vandalise, you are slapped with harsh penalities. And if you do litter, you will be fined. People always tease (or lecture) me about Singapore’s many strict laws – but my home city is clean, clean, clean.
In other news, I also haven’t seen so many brown people all gathered in one place in a long time. After living in Japan for close to 4 years, I began to think that I was the only one – but now that I’m back in the UK, I re-realise that this is not the case.
Believe it or not – it’s also strange to speak this much English on a regular basis again. And pretty much everyone I meet tries to make small talk. I’d aptly grown accustomed to working and living in a Japanese-speaking environment. Not that I miss that. I was pretty fluent in Japanese by the time I left, but I never connected to the language. I learnt and used it out of necessity – nothing more.
But forget English…
It’s been YEARS and YEARS since I’ve spoken this much Gujarati – or heard it spoken in so many different accents. Whilst it is common for two Gujarati people of my generation to speak to each other in English – this is not the case with my parents and grandparents generation. They will speak to you in Gujarati. And they will expect a response in my mother tongue – especially if you are a woman.
The joy… Anyways…
While the buildings and the structures around me have remained the same – the character of the UK has somewhat changed.
In some ways it is the same UK that I remember growing up. My cousins are all still here. I’m still close to the ones that I was close to as a child. They remember me and I remember them. They remember that I used to run around London by myself at the age of 16. It was my first taste of independence, freedom and… responsibility. I still know the streets, remember the food and know how to make my way around.
But in other ways, the UK has changed. But let’s not get into a political discussion – I’ll leave that to the locals to debate over dinnertime whilst I sit there feeling like an uncomfortable guest.
That’s the thing about being a Third Culture Kid. Home is everywhere and nowhere. You always have to leave 25 percent of yourself at the door wherever you go.
But that’s my life – and I’m old enough to realise that I wouldn’t change it.