Humphrey PATON FS2016-18, The University of Oxford | to Beijing
During my time in China, I was able to dip into a huge wealth of cultural phenomena. At the start of the year, I tried joining a few societies at Peking University. I attended the Tea Appreciation Society which I found particularly interesting and have developed some rather helpful basic knowledge about Chinese tea. My going to their events also proved to be quite helpful because I was able to put a friend of mine, an entrepreneurial Japanese in touch with the club. His story is particularly interesting because he is part of Japan’s Korean ethnic minority and it was through his Minorities School in Japan that he was brought to learn Chinese in Jilin, where he mixed with the Chaoxianzu. His dream is to bring his knowledge of Chinese tea back to Japan with him and start off into that world. In a strange way I felt an affinity with his story because while out in China I naturally felt a little foreign in my surroundings, and from the sounds of things my Japanese friend was very familiar with the situation. From an early age, he had learnt to balance two cultures and two identities in his mind, and I felt that he was someone I could learn from because of this. Also as he couldn’t speak a word of English we would be forced to converse in Chinese, which I thought a very good idea. And so, during that first semester the key memories of note were the dinners or events I went to with my Japanese friend and the enormous numbers of Chinese friends he would introduce me to at these events. However, I did try to explore a few other avenues. I looked into making friends at the squash club, learning Chinese medicine, and attending a discussion at Peking University. The university laid on a number of extracurricular things of interest but the most interesting I found were the activities I laid on for myself with the university’s help.
I returned to China after the New Year break and my interests and focus over the break shifting to trying to make the Chinese I was learning more useful to a future I’m attempting to build for myself in the world of gemstones. At Peking University, with the help of a professor I befriended at another local university, I managed to enrol myself on a course in gemmology taught in Chinese. At first it was tough to keep up but gradually I got used to the specialist language and built up a bit of knowledge in coloured stones, primarily the big three: ruby, sapphire, and emerald, as well as improving on my Chinese.
With this knowledge, I was able to explore a newly discovered emerald deposit in the west of the country and make friendships that should hold me in good stead in the emerald industry in the future. What’s more the experience has helped carry me through a summer job where I’ve been lucky enough to handle communication on a number of sapphire purchases made by a Taiwanese jeweller with a Sri Lankan friend of mine. Still though, the thing I actually found most rewarding about those classes was the opportunity to take classes alongside other Chinese students on a topic of mutual interest. It was during these classes that I felt that feeling of foreignness fade the most, while I was out in Beijing. This is the experience that I am most grateful to the Victor and William Fung Foundation, as without your contribution this very colourful life that I’ve lived over this past year would likely have been far less colourful and far less rewarding. I now feel as if I have properly experienced China at a grassroots level, and engaged in discussions with people I would likely never have met. Thank you so much for providing this scholarship that has given this Oxford year group so many opportunities to experience some fascinating cultures.