Another aspect of student life that struck me was the complete non-existence of a drinking culture as we know it. I asked a lot of students what they did in the evenings, where they went to socialise, what they were going to do to celebrate the end of their exams and so forth. The reply would always be surprising even though I had a strong feeling before I asked that the answers would be really quite different to ones I would be sure to hear in the UK. Although the response would sometimes be drinking beer with friends, more often I heard responses like watching a movie on their computer, playing basketball or chatting on ‘QQ’ or MSN. The same question in Guildford at least, would precipitate an average response of something along the lines of ‘big night’. ‘Being cool’ comes into this too. It marks out going out in the UK as far too distinctive for its patent mission to be seen out and certainly the social emphasis and widespread hubris, if you like, in getting drunk is an absolute departure from the drinking culture in China. Of course, if you head into Beijing or Shanghai there will increasingly be a set of young trendy twenty-somethings who probably take drinking and partying to a whole new level that would certainly put the Guildford folk in Spoons on a rowdy and potentially violent Saturday night at least, to shame. A world away within the University in Qingdao, there was a greater and very apparent hard-working mentality and refreshingly bars less pressure to be seen out doing ‘cool’ things.
Having said this and in fear of undermining everything so far, I saw and heard a lot over the two months which reinforced my view that all humans around the world are more or less the same. Broadly speaking, a harsher and more turbulent national history especially in the modern era, a considerably larger population leading to higher competition for jobs and undeniably stricter parenting for the great majority fuelled by the fight for University places, has injected into the average chinese student psyche a desire to perferm well that seriously belittles my very average efforts at George Abbot school. For many, they are the first generation accessing higher education, and although this is the case for many in the UK too, myself included, it seems that this has a greater significance in China where a substantially more profound dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in society can be seen. Generally speaking, this reflects in more diligent attitudes to work and also, I think, in more respect for teachers. This most probably stems tenuously down from confucius teachings of respect for one’s elders too, but even in cosmopolitan Shanghai where the word ‘modern’ sometimes seems an understatement, teachers are held in no less regard. This is demonstrated by placing ‘lao shi’ after their family name, rather than their given name.
Having barely scratched the surface of eastern and western distinctions, it is probably most wise to end here and wait until next time when I hope to be able to come at this mammoth task with greater maturity and with a greater confidence in my observations. For now, it is safe to say that my eight weeks on the other side of the world have been an unmissable opportunity and without doubt, a welcome reminder of what technically makes up half my world.