Saturday, 15 September 2001, Language School Year, Warminster, England

My hometown, Shijiazhuang, changed a lot during the fifteen years I lived there. Farmland and fields gave way to bungalows, and bungalows late on were replaced by low rise, low rise by mid-rise and mid-rise by high rise residential towers. Dirt roads got paved and repaved before having overpasses built on top; and the tallest building in my area changed from the office building of the diary company next to my primary school to that new shopping centre, then to the new hotel building and then started to change so frequently that I lost count. Watching that happen gave me an expectation what UK, one of the richest countries in the world, would be like. Travelling to Beijing to catch the flight and seeing how far ahead Beijing was in the path of modernization compared to Shijiazhuang only re-affirmed that expectation. Beijing, judged by the intensity and height of its buildings, was probably a decade ahead of Shijiazhuang. Wasn’t UK at least a century ahead of Beijing? It must be an amazing scene.

If England was a century ahead of Beijing, then time must had gone backward here somehow. England, if anything, was a lot like Shijiazhuang, and that was the Shijiazhuang when I was small. On the way from Heathrow to Warminster where my school was, I saw endless field of greens, but none of the skyscrapers or factory complex. Most houses were two-storey high and looked ancient; there were a few mid rises here and there, but all had seen better days. If that office building from the diary company from my childhood was here today, it would have retained its title as the highest building, at least amongst the ones I saw that day. And just as in Shijiazhuang a decade earlier, there were stacks of straws in the farmlands next to the highway. But given there were made into cute shapes of humans, tractors, hippos and caterpillars etc, I imagined the farmers here probably wouldn’t be too happy if I jumped out of the car and went to burn them. They were missing a lot of fun.

Two hours into the journey, the taxi driver pulled over in the middle of nowhere, pointed at a pile of stone enthusiastically and tried to tell me something. I didn’t understand a single word of what he was saying but this surely was not the school… or was it? Was it possible that the advanced form of civilisation was not in the type of futuristic society I saw in Sci-Fi movies but in a traditional village with 2 storey houses and school under a pile of stones? [1] After so much effort of building those high buildings and factories in China, were we going to tear them all down again later so that we could be as rich as the British? Whatever the answer to that was, I was very glad when the driver started the car again and continued the journey. And when we finally arrived at my school in Warminster shortly afterwards, the two-storey building it was in looked to me the most beautiful house in England. Anything other than a pile of stones would do by now.

Score: Me: 1, English: 2

[1] Which I discovered to be the Stonehenge and later on I would equally enthusiastically show to my visitors.