I was born and raised in Hong Kong and I have been looking for opportunities abroad for years. I try not to stay in Greater China so that I can widen my horizons by being immersed in whole new cultural environments. I would have to learn from the beginning to live like a local. It has been painful but I believe it is worth it. I love the fruit of building a new cultural character. You will be able to explore the views that you cannot see as a mere traveller with a luxury travelling package. Apart from the benefits of this, I need to deal with my living in another country first. And this is never an easy part.

It wasn’t easy to get a job in London, that I bet you already knew if you had ever lived there. The job market there is super competitive and people from other countries come to the British capital to look for opportunities. My idea was to work and live like a local, so from time to time I would know the ways that they work and think, but, first, I could not even get into the door. So then I came to consider another question: How should I position myself in a whole new place?

I have to admit the fact that I am an Asian outside and inside. I eat Asian food and have a very Asian mind. I may need to spend extra effort to join the West. But do I really get to the place that I want even if I am willing to work hard and try to be a local? I am afraid that my time would not wait for me as I am no longer as young and robust as before. I have even doubted my ability to live in a western country. Perhaps I should go back to Asia forever and give up the idea to ‘conquer’ western society. And then I have another inspiration during my stay in Astralship.

Crew members contribute their cookings to communal meals voluntarily. I love cooking so I am one of the regular chefs here. As I have been eating Chinese food in most of my life, my skills and my tongue are already too Asian to change. When others cook, quite often I do not know the name of the dishes even though they are very common here. I have been the only Asian member here and I know I am different. I am sure that I can never make better European food than the others do, neither is my tongue very fond of the taste. Instead of imitating what others are good at, I chose to do what I know, which is Chinese food.

I messed up a bit at the beginning of my cooking in Astralship. I took a few weeks to adapt myself to the kitchen and the ingredients. We have a vegetarian kitchen and a European food basket. I felt grateful for others’ mercy on my mess. Then I have been getting better and better, and I can fully realise my idea of food in this kitchen now. And people love my food most of the time. And I believe that others are not likely to make better Asian food than I do (except the American chef who is fond of Asian culture). I know I have adopted the right philosophy in the kitchen, which should also be adopted in my career abroad.

I was working in the media industry for years in Hong Kong. Chinese writing is my passion and profession as well. Apparently, my profession is not very likely to help me get a stable job here, but I should focus on what I have, rather than longing for the skills that I can’t possess easily, for example, hoping to write in English better than native speakers. Perhaps I can localise my Chinese skills and my Asian knowledge, but it is unwise to wipe out my original identity and start a new one. I can do things in an easier way. Perhaps I can teach westerners Chinese or translate English pieces into Chinese, just anything that I do not stray away from my nature too far. The process is only about localisation, but not transformation.

There is a story from Zhuangzi, who was one of the pioneers of Taoism: There was a guy from the country Yan trying to imitate how people walked in Handan, the capital of Zhao, as he considered their steps beautiful, but then he forgot how he originally walked and crawled back home without acquiring the walking way of Handan people. Zhuangzi insisted that everyone has their own nature and we should go with the flow, instead of imposing any external constraint to distort our true characters to make us all look alike.

Before coming to Britain, I even dreamt of acquiring an RP accent which has been fancied by general Hong Kong young people. Now I do not intend to fully mimic the accent on purpose. It is not only about a language, but my positioning in another country as an expat, and respect to my own character.

ARTWORK CREATED BY EM GERBICH & MANUEL CHENG. Follow Em on Instagram @houseofgerb.