Born: 15th December 1972

Anhui, China

Date of interview: 15th September 2006

Map showing where Ling came from

I was born in An Hui province which is in countryside, which is quite poor.
About the age of six, 'cause my dad was working in the city, so, and my grandma was living there, they brought me to the city, to be educated.

So, what would be the name of that city?


Nanjing? Where abouts on the map of China is Anhui?

The territory of China is like a chicken or a hen. Anhui is somewhere in the belly. It is in the south, ye, the south east. And Nanjing is in Yangzhou Province which is more ... developed, more developed and more advanced. So lots of people go in the city to find jobs. This is still going on for decades.

Do you remember the journey to the city at all?

I remember vaguely, 'cause my mum was not used to the cars, coaches. It was kind of coach sick. I can remember that she was sick on the pavement. My mum sent me to the city, brought me there.

Tell me about your family.

I have two brothers and I am the youngest one. [laughing]
My mum, my dad, my dad is my mum's second husband. In my, how to said, in my childhood, they always arguing. 'Cause my dad is eleven years younger than my mum. So they were always arguing, quarrelling, you know, that kind of thing. I have, I lived with my grandma for quite a while.

Tell me about where you lived, in the city.

'Cause my, how to say, you know my experience is very break down for quite a few steps. As far as I can remember, my childhood from the age of six or seven. 'Cause, you know in China, we count child's age when they still in the womb. By the time of child is born, she is, he is one. After the Chinese New Year, she is two even she is only a few month old. So, I can't really remember, in the Chinese style, calculation of age about six or seven, in Western calculation might be 4 or 5, that age. I can't really remember where I lived before that, then I came to the city. I live with my grandma. It was ... not a bungalow, it was kind of a shed.


Yes. At that time, everyone is not that rich. Not like China now, there is huge gap between the rich and the poor. So that was the place I lived.

Was it just one room?

Ya, I lived with grandma, so that is only one room, and there was another, I don't really know. It's kind of, how to say, there is a small room. Outside its extended a little bit. So that's the kitchen. We didn't have flush toilet at that time. So everyone have a kind of pot. I don't what that is called, pot or, you know, you did things there, in the morning, took to the public toilet and empty there and wash it. I stayed with my grandma about the age of, when I almost start my, when I need to go to the secondary school. I don't know. It's complicated. Because, I have to go to the rural area to pass, my high, no secondary exam entry. Because that is my root. There is one thing called Huko which doesn't really exist here. I think only in China they do this kind of thing.


Huko means that when we were born, we are attached to there. Although, you go anywhere, but when you ... get married, pass your, when you want for the further education, you still need to back there, to pass the exam, or to get the bureaucratic papers, these kind of thing, you know.

Tell me about what it was like in the rural area. Was it different than living in the city?

To honest, I quite like there. Although it's not, it's not ... as convenient as the city life, but ... I think the people are very nice there. They are genuine, open, frankly people. In the city, I probably, I remember when I first entered the city, that is the memory I still remember that. I was in a shock because I have never seen so many cars, at that time not as many cars as it is now. And everyone close their door. I remember I ... because I spoke the local, the rural dialect, and I, my parent put me in the primary school, I felt very lonely, nobody understand me. People from the city treat people from rural countryside, regarding you as ignorant, something like that. Not a very nice, not a very nice feeling. When I go back to the countryside, although I missed the convenience of the city life, but I found myself very, very happy there. There is one thing I have to point out, because I still missed the city, its convenience, something like that, but I was still lonely when I came back to the rural area, because I've spent so many years in the city.

So, what about friends?

I had one, I still keep contact with her. She is my first friend when I came back ... came to, not came back, when I first came to the city. We were in the same class. She was ... she is, how to say, she has the same experience, but not as, you know. She is a very very nice girl. In the Chinese Culture revolution, kind of, her parents, her mum went to the ... because Chairman Mao asked the graduates, sent the graduates to the countryside to educate the farmer or the peasants, they don't have the chance to read and write. So Chairman Mao sent these graduate and student from the city to the to the rural area to teach the farmer to learn read and write. In a way it is good. That is way, although China was very poor, had a very low GDP at that time, but the illiterate rate, compared to African countries, the illiterate rate is still, is still OK.

So you were saying about her mother.

Ye, her mother went to the rural area.

As one of these graduates?

Ya. But you know, because she was brought up in the city, she found difficult to settle in the rural area. That's where she met her father. Her father was, a kind of the director of the, of the county, the village of the Communist Party. He helped her to go back to the city. Because she wanted to go back to the city.

You met her in the primary school?

Ye. I met her in the school. She was brought up in the country, in the rural area, but because her mum back to the city, and her mum split with her dad. So she's a bit lonely, we were very close.

Tell me about what school life is like in the city there when you met your friend the first time?

The schools ... I think the teachers are very strict, compared to, you know, the children here ... We had to, it is a different pedagogy, the teaching style. We have to listen to what the teacher says ... to ... and have to respect the authority. I am still doing now. Respect our teacher and some, anyone above me which I think I have to change. You know ... The children are quiet,[pause] in that time we started our English lesson in primary school, about third year, in year three in primary school.

Do all the children learn English in school in China?

Yes. Nowadays, they even start from the kindergarten, nursery, which I don't like. I think for the children, I am not that kind of, how to say. We are, we need to respect our root first, you know, to learn our own language first, and then adapt to the other, second language. In China, if you can speak a very good English, and you get a degree, you can get a very good job. That is why the parents are pushing their children at very, very young age to learn English.

And your language is Mandarin?

Mandarin, Yes.

So you went to primary school and then you went back to take your exam for the secondary school. And you then came back to the secondary school in the city. What was that like?

I had to pay a lot of money [laughing]. Because, in China we call it Jie Du Fei. That means that you are not belong to the catchment area, you are from other places. If you want to stay this secondary school, you need to pay. Kind of contribute to, make a contribution.

Is it free to go to your own, if you went to the school in your own area? Is it free or do people still have to pay for this?

It says free. In China, we have Nine Years compulsory education, but you still need to pay ... other fees.

Ok, so how you did afford this? You said you have to pay. How much did you have to pay, for that education? Was that because you wanted to go to that particular school?

Yes. It is difficult for me to put it into dollars, into pounds because ... that was twenty years ago.

How much was that in Chinese currency, do you know, then?

Then it's about 500 Yuan. 500 Yuan for a year. That was still a lot of money. Well, my dad worked very hard. Like every Chinese parent, even grandparents they work hard for their children, for their children's education.

What did your father do?

My father is a craftsman. He taught himself to draw, you know, painting, craft this kind of thing. He is very clever.

My father is a craftsman. He taught himself to draw, you know, painting, craft this kind of thing. He is very clever.

Crafts, craft, crafts.

Craft is making something.

Ye. Making something. He can make table, chairs. Like carpenter, but like cabinet maker, we might say. He design things and draw things.

Did your mother work?

No. She worked in the land. But after that ... you know, she doesn't work.

So he was able to afford to send you to this particular school. What was the school life like there?

It is like a water, I mean, doesn't have so many flavour, but you have to go through that, have to take it [laughing] ... I can't really remember what kind of particular exciting things.

Did you like school?

At first I didn't. I did it because my parents worked so hard, and just like every Chinese, you know. If you bump into a Chinese student in the UK, ask them, you know, do you like to study here, they will probably say, my parents work very hard to send me here, I have to do, have to do, you know, perform my best.

You lived a lot with your grandmother, did you have much contact with your brothers? What was family life like?

My two brothers are quite older than me, much older than me. We have contacts for the Chinese New Year ... mid August, like Moon Festival, you know, big festivals.

Moon Festival. What is the Moon Festival?

Moon Festival, it's ... has a legend. In ancient times, there were ten suns in the sky. There was a hero, he just shoot, nine suns. There was one sun hiding underneath beneath the sea, so he didn't...then the goddess wanted to award the hero and she gave him the thing, take, kind of medicine. If he took it, he will not die. But his wife wanted to try first, she took it all and she became light and she flew to the moon. On that day, the mid August, the Lunar, Chinese Lunar Calendar, she and her husband can meet, but because she is kind of, up in the moon. On that particular day, if you want to have a relation with someone, you pray. [laughing] That is Moon Festival. Everyone, so, on the day, everyone is ... on that day the moon is bigger, brighter. If the weather is nice, you can see, admire that moon. It is kind of reunion, the hero and his wife. Like Chinese New Year.

Sort of romantic time as well.


So, regarding your family then, did you, tell me what the typical day would be like at home or when you come back from school, what would you do?

In school, there was lots of homeworks, that one thing I should mentioned before. Lots of homeworks. With heavy bags, the bags full of books, text books and exercise books. It's a long, lot of homeworks. Because, you know Chinese people the emphasize on the education, that come from Confucius theory. So you have to, in order to, in order to promote yourself, you have to work hard, study hard. Because of Chinese educational resources were limited, so everyone try their hardest to get to the best school, get to the best university. Very, very competitive.

Do you have any social life, as a teenager?

[pause] We go out in the school holidays. But in the school holidays, sometimes we still need to work. Work hard, during the school time we can go to friends' houses, visit, stay there for lunch, or something like that. I didn't travel a lot. I really wish, in China, there is song saying when you have time, when you have the time, you don't have the money to travel; when you have the money to travel, you don't have the time to travel. [laughing]

Describe the landscape for me.

In the city?


Grey. Not so many greens in this country.

Do you mean no parks, or ...

There is some specific park, but it's not like here park everywhere and every ... what else ... lots of shops. You go every street, I think you go every street, if it's big, main street, there are shops on the ground floor, and the flats upstairs. And with the flat, in the front of the flat, you can see lots of clothes hanging outside.

What is the climate like there?

Climate. Nanjing is very hot during the summer. It is one of three stoves in China. I think because in the, because of the geographic location of Nanjing city makes a bit difficult for the cool air, a bit difficult to come inside.

Yangtse river goes cross. I don't know why it's hot and humid there.

OK, what age do you leave school, the secondary school?

Secondary school, about 18 years old. Because of my, my grade wasn't high enough, or I am not good enough to, 'cause the universities have second class university and there is first class university. I didn't go to the first class, I am in the second class college. I studied English. And just the kind of teaching English.

And how long were you there?

I was there three years. And after three years, I got a job just to teach at the primary school. At that time, English, English education was booming in China. So that, the place I worked is privately owned ... college, kind of institute of languages, just teach children and adults in the evening and on weekends.

So there is state education, and then there are private schools and colleges?

Yes, that was the first, I think was the first one in Nanjing. Yes.

So you will have to be, have quite a bit of money for your child to go there, would you?

Yes, you have to pay, pay a lot. But you know, as I said before, Chinese parents will do everything for their children's education. So they pay quite a lot. You know, in my own, I only worked in the evening and on weekends, I earned enough money for me to get to another, second, another diploma course.

So you were study in the week, and working at this school. How long did you do that for?

About three years. About three years until I met my husband and then I came here. How to say? He graduated after he got ... his Masters degree, and then he stayed in the city and then worked there. He was employed by an engineering, kind of translation and interpretation of the engineering and construction industry. I worked part time, because they need someone to type, at that time, not everyone has computer and know how to type. Because I earn quite a lot of money through teaching, taught in the school, taught English, so I bought myself a computer and learnt how to type. He actually, I typed his translation.

So what happened next?

We were out, not out, you know ... kind of dated for a few months, about 8 months. And then he found, one day he told me that, he got, a scholarship from Lancaster University. And he said the 'I want to study there.' Well, in a way, I wanted to say: 'no, please don't go.' [laughing] ... but ... because I quite like him, although we didn't really say 'Do you want to be my boyfriend? Do you want to be my girlfriend?' we were not like that. But I said: 'Well, congratulations', that kind of thing. But he said: 'Well, what do you think? Do you want to go with me?' you know, that kind of thing. I said: 'Give me a week.' [laughing] So I shut myself up. I do not, He knocked my door, he phoned me, but I don't want to, I said: 'Give me sometime, I will to think about it.'

What were your thoughts?

[pause] In China, at that time, we think that somebody go abroad, it will get him corrupted, [laughing] in a way. It is not corrupted, but, you know, he will be a different person.

How do you mean? Explain that.

Different person. Well, I think, the foreign education and the foreign experience will make you different. Your thinking and the person you loved before maybe not the person, you know, love few years later. This kind of thing you never know. I was a bit worried at that time. My friends said: 'Well, you can go with him. Married him and go with him.' But in way, I want ... I don't want him to think that marrying him just because he's coming abroad, you know. I don't want that. Then the other day, I told him. I said, 'Well, this is the thing you want, you want to do, then you should go for it. But I am not going to, you know, go together, you know, go to England with you. I want to, I give you two years. After two years, if you do not come back, then we, just a kind of finish'. Which is very generous, two years. He said, 'I will not let you wait until two years.' Then he came here to study, and worked very hard.

He went to Lancaster?

Yes. He went to Lancaster. Then about 18, 19 months later, he phoned me. He said that about Easter time, he had some holidays. He came back to marry me. Because, you know, in China, it is difficult for ... the unmarried couple to, I have to get married in order to, in order for me to get to a visa to come to England. So he had two weeks off. And everything is shoo, shoo, shoo, doing paper work. Go to the authority to approve, for my boss to say: 'yes, she is allowed to get married.' [laughing]

Your boss at work?

Yes. My boss at work had to say she is not married.

Oh, I see. Through the official demonstrate that you were not already married.What about your parents' attitude to marriage in China? What is, do they have any influence over who you marry or ...

I think because of, because I am always very independent from them. They kind of, whatever, whoever I marry, as long as I am happy, they are happy. We get married on the 20th of April 1998. And in July, I came to ... I came to England.

So you travelled to the UK. What were you thinking about before you made that journey?

Before made that journey? ... I would, thought about ... to meet, to live with the person that I never lived together before [laughing]. It is kind of exciting, and at the same time not very sure, but you know ... about England, I didn't really think more about that. Because I think it is the person that attached to the place that matters, it is not the place that matters.

So where did you fly from in China?

From Beijing. Beijing airport. Beijing to Manchester. Yes. Yes. At the airport, I had to go through lots of, how to say, the control, Immigration control. I waited there. The person is very nice there, people is very nice there. After everything sorted, he said: 'Your husband is waiting outside for you.'

So when did you come to Reading?

Two year, Two and half years ago. I lived in Newbury for four years. After my husband graduated, he got a PhD degree, he found a job. We stayed there four years. During the four years, I had my, well, in Lancaster, before left Lancaster, I had my daughter. And then we came to Newbury and I studied in Reading University.

What did you study?

In education. Master in Organisational Planning and Management in Education.

When you first arrived in the UK, early on you'd been worried about him going and being 'corrupted', that's the word you used, how did you find life in the UK?

Life in the UK. It's ... compared to ... I don't really think it's a better life for me. It's difficult for me to get a job that fully developed my potential, use my ability. Lots of, you know, when we in Lancaster, lots of Chinese, you know, my friends, there were doctors, there were teachers. But because of the language barrier or something else, they couldn't find a job that really, really to use their knowledge. It's very difficult.

So you came, when you came to Newbury, you had your first child. And your husband was working and you then, you began to study at the Reading University. Tell me some, tell me more about the life in the UK, and your thoughts about it.

I think because I have a child, the health care and ... the health visitors, kind of professional, they kind of very caring, very professional. Also, there are lots of toddlers groups. With child, you can easily make friends. So in Newbury, we, formed MOSAIC, that is an international group, we got funding from the West Berkshire Council. For the, you know, the people from every different countries, they got together, sharing things once, every Saturday, the first Saturday of the month. Sometimes we need people from the same experience, come together, to give support to other people.

So this is kind of multicultural group, of people from?

From Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Korean, we got people from Korea, Africa, Indian. And I am the ... event co-ordinator for that group. I am the committee member of that. I was very keen on it. I don't know what is ... [pause]

Tell me more about the support that you feel about that gives to people.

I have a one lady who was very ... I think it's a misunderstanding ... [pause] It is because of the cultural thing, she doesn't really say, communicate with her husband. She had a little child. She needed support, but her husband, you know, she doesn't really, she felt not very, she doesn't want to give another burden to her husband. Because she thinks sharing her problem is a burden to her husband. She was very, very stressed and very depressed. So we, me and another friend just to go to her place, to chat with, to talk with her and her child can play with my child. And just something around her.

If there isn't a group providing an important support mechanism for people, what happens?

I think would be very difficult. I have been through a very difficult time myself. So I relied on a different source to support me which it couldn't give me enough support. Like I relied on my doctor and my health visitor. Because at that time I had a very bad Post Natal Depression. [pause] So I relied on them, because of the cultural, again it's a cultural difference, I don't know whether I want to say, but ... I said, 'I love you' to my GP, which is a man, who was a man and he was panicked, he thought that I am going to have a relationship with him. But actually that is kind of gratitude of thanking for being there to support me, but that 'cause enough ... He said, 'Well, I can't look after you any more.' I was, What? I was collapsed in his room. It is like he was my last rescue, I tried hard to hold on you. Because I said silly things, you just, you know, that kind, in a way, I shouldn't do that, but at that time, I can't, I was desperate to hold on someone. So, and then, I found it is very important for us to have an own group, we support each other, we know each other.

So now you are in Reading. Is there a similar support group or friendship group that you are involved with?

Here, there is Chinese Christian Fellowship. There is a Chinese community here. And I am involved with teaching Chinese, which is voluntarily to help, you know, teaching Chinese for the people, the Chinese people's children, here, in Reading. We have funding from the Borough Council. And ye, I am involved in that.

Where does that take place?

Caversham. Hill down School?

Highdown, Highdown school. Are there many children who attend?

Yes. Because Chinese ... is Mandarin and Cantonese. They all say Chinese, but it is different dialect. Chinese and Mandarin, Mandarin and Chinese. So altogether about, I think there are more than a hundred students.

And why is it, why is the school there? What is, it teaching the children Mandarin? Is it because they are not speaking it at home?

Like me, I want my child to learn Chinese because that is my cultural and also because China is more and more developed, economy, become a superpower. I don't really want to say 'superpower', but the ... the economic growth couldn't be overlooked by the world. So it is more and more important, for my child, to know the cultural and the language. Not only because that's my root, but also, you know, good for them. Even now, the British government and elsewhere know the Mandarin is, the Chinese, on the whole is an important language for them to learn, even the youngest generation in England to learn Chinese. So I think that is very important for my child to know that.

Now you have two children, so one is at school and you have a two-year old boy. How does your daughter find going to school?

She is happy there. She is, she is very happy. Because I was educated, you know, very strict, very pushy. I try not to do that to my children, but, in a way, I push him, push her very hard. I teach her Chinese at home as well as ask him, ask her to attend, take her to attend the Chinese school in Hill, Highdown school.

What do you think of Reading, as a place? Why did you move to Reading?

Because my husband got another job and also I got a job. It is easier for us to come here. But gradually I quite like here, because I got a Chinese community and even a Chinese supermarket. [laughing] Near Reg Vardy. I don't really know the name, but I know where it is. [laughing]

Why is it important to you?

In China, we say, you can change everywhere but you can't change your stomach. [laughing] You know, I am fed Chinese food for so long, it's very important for me to get, you know, that kind of ingredients, to cook real Chinese food.

How do you find mixing with English people?

I think the people are the same, you know, everywhere. You can, you get some nice people and you can get some nasty people, even in my country. Some people will say, well, being discriminated; you know that kind of thing. But I wouldn't think that. Here I met some lovely lady, very very beautiful person. She is English. But you get ... I met somebody even in the, on the train. When I was travelling from Newbury to Reading on the train. Because I was pregnant at that time with my second one. I wanted, I felt very hot, very dizzy. So I wanted to open the window. And there was a lady who was very nice, you know, she saw me opened the window and she moved from the seat to elsewhere. I felt, I said thank you. There was a gentleman, he stood up and closed the window up. I said: 'well, I need some fresh air.' He said: 'no, I don't want the breeze coming to my face.' You can get the people like that. You know, if you are lucky, you get some good people.

How do you see the future now?

I want to, I want to because ... a counsellor. Just to help, people from other, like, coming from, like immigrants, you know, help them ... to find, you know, to think positively about their life here ... I probably will go back to China for a few years, or, that's depends on my husband. But I will definitely will go back to China, you know. It is a, it is like the leaf from the tree, it always comes back to the root. Maybe when the children get a bit bigger, I don't know.

Have you visited China?

Yes. There is a version, a word of re-cultural shock. Re-cultural shock. When you go back, you come from there, and you spent a few years outside there, when you go back there, it is a shock. It is the development makes me shock. And I think every society has a dark side, you know, I don't really want to say which society is the best and I am not going to say England is better than China. The society is different, but in one particular aspect, I would like to say, I found England is much easier. It is an easy life than China. Because everyone has to, in China, has to very competitive to earn money, to get the social standards, you know. Here you can live your own life, you want to be, whatever you want to be.

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