Rachel Shaw

City of London Girls, 2013

Rachel Shaw

City of London Girls, 2013

Receiving our Travel Award in 2013, Rachel Shaw spent five months in China, four in Kunming, and one travelling to other towns and cities. The first stint of her journey was a 28-hour train journey from Guilin to Beijing; along the way she met and conversed with many other passengers. For a large part of the journey she had been taking turns sitting down with another passenger named Helen.

“We started talking, her in fragmented English, and I in even more broken Mandarin. As usual the people surrounding us, those in the seats behind us or stood in the aisle, jostled and craned to get a look at this laowai.“

For the duration of her journey much cultural exchange went down and Rachel spoke of what it is like to live in Britain and in term learned of the passengers experiences of living in China.

“As we neared Beijing, we were all so happy that our train ride was almost over, but also sad – or at least I was – that we had to say goodbye to eachother. Over the next six days I was taken under the wing of Manman and her five roommates. They lived in a dormitory that was provided by their call centre employers.“

“My experience has shown me how much travelling to another place can change you and your outlook on life.”

                                                                    — Rachel Shaw

Aside from the exceptional generosity of giving her a bed in their accommodation and refusing any kind of contribution to rent or food, they also insisted in taking Rachel out to see the Beijing sights on their days off. Many times she was taken aback by Chinese hospitality. Rachel found on many occasions in Kunming that her flatmates and friends gave so much of their time and attention and also whilst travelling, strangers would share their food, their seat, or their phone charger.

“One of the places I was taken to that I enjoyed the most was the 798 Chaoyang Art District. The art pieces were genuinely enthralling and wandering around the district itself reminded me very much of the industrial areas near my home back in London, with the giant pylons, iron walkways, massive disused chimneys and empty gas cylinders. Everything however was very clean, wide and open.“

A couple of days before she had to leave to Shanghai, Rachel stayed at the new apartment of Guangguang, who was moving out to rent privately with another girl from the dorm. The district she lived in was apparently a popular residential area for your regular working person. The atmosphere was completely different to the art district. Rachel's last week was one of the best out of her entire five month stay.

“I was touched so deeply the people I had only just met taking such great care of me. I am aware that being a novelty certainly explains some of the initial interest, but the continued generosity went beyond the bounds of what one might come to expect.

China has rubbed many things off onto me, altering my mentality regarding politics and family, my general outlook on life, and due to their beautiful language – even the way I phrase things. So although, on first coming back I feel caught in between the life I have been leading for the last 5 months and the one I am looking forwards to, this change is something positive.”

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