Challenges of the New Millennium in the UK

A Foreigner’s Story

Originally published in 1998/1999, Issue 2

Just recently, Chris Patten wrote a book called ‘East and West’.  His book is based on his own experiences as the last Governor of Hong Kong and his knowledge on Eastern democracy.  He witnessed key events such as the Tiannamen Massacre and the most important of all, the British handover of Hong Kong to China on June 30th, 1997.  Whatever he experienced in Hong Kong and in Southeast Asia may be a comparison to my experience in the United Kingdom.  I had witnessed the ‘fall’ of the Conservative Government in 1997 and seen the Welsh people voted ‘yes’ for a Welsh Devolution where the Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies saying, ‘It is a very good morning for Wales today’.  I would not compare that saying with ‘Good morning Vietnam’ but the Welsh deserves to have their own Parliament.  However, I am not going to list historic events but I am going to summarise my observations and experiences in the United Kingdom and in Aberystwyth.

I always question on how the United Kingdom are able to work in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society.  I never had quite seen such tolerance among vast types of societies and communities in this island country and still, at the same time, holds a ‘British’ identity.  I still bear in mind that these multi-racial societies did not come here by accident but by ‘British assimilation’ from their former colonies.  In simple terms, the United Kingdom exploited the colonies and at the same time assimilates the societies and cultures in these colonies into the UK.  So, we may see a diversity of cultures that exist in the UK.  So, I see people here buying Indian dishes such as chicken tikka or Chinese takeaway.  Even in a small town like Aberystwyth itself, there is about six or seven Eastern restaurants and takeaways and even supermarkets which sells a variety of oriental sauces such as instant Biryani rice.

Cities that I visited such as Birmingham are also a mecca of these diverse races and societies.  I would call Birmingham as a ‘lost’ colonial city or to be more precise, ‘the City of the East in the West’ because I had never seen such diversity and variety of people that are not native in the United Kingdom.  In short, what we get is a Venn diagram where these diverse societies intersect each other.

The intersection of the Venn diagram means tolerance among all societies that exist here in the UK.  So, with all of the diversity of cultures and societies, how are these societies able to tolerate each other?  This is what I have observed for the past three or so years in the UK.           

I had learned that the UK had experienced changes in the native society and acceptance of foreign societies from ex-colonial countries.  Most of these foreign societies came to the UK for work or exiled from their native land.  So, once these societies adapt to the conditions in the UK, they began to tolerate the native society in the UK.  Then, the foreign societies are unconsciously assimilated into the native society.  So, what we get is a multi-cultural and racial society in the UK.  In other words, half of the World’s cultures are included and assimilated in the existing British culture.  Therefore, history and colonialisation prompted the cultural and racial diversity in this country.

However, some groups within these societies are harder to accept such as homosexuals but due to the course of history and the changes in time, these groups are able to co-exist with the societies that were once against them.  I would be considered native if I were to say that this country rebukes or even offend any group of people but I would be wise to tolerate them.  In the end, it is really up to the British to decide their own fellow British men and women on their decision to be what they wanted  to be.

However, not all my experience in the UK are as sweet and as pleasant because I do remember individuals who take their British pride until they got out of hand.  I can still remember during the match that when Germany defeated England because of a single penalty goal sparked increased security warnings that one must not leave home unless it is necessary.  One of my colleague’s friend got stabbed because the attacker thought he was German and in Trafalgar Square a German made car got smashed and this was on national (and international) television.  I thought if the Germans did not play against England, what would the outcome be?  This is quite a contrast to what I see the UK as a country of multi-racial background.

So, I see that there are a small number of individuals who are still uncomfortable of other individuals, groups or even societies.  I always presume that this country had overcome discrimination but there are still many instances by which discrimination of all sorts exist.  This is one of many experiences that I learn and I guess that the West; whether it may be the European countries or the United States and Canada, are not as ‘free’ as I had anticipated from what I had read and seen before I arrive in the UK.  However, times are changing and we are all learning from our mistakes and experiences.

As this century (and with it, the millennium) draws into a close, a new one is just a few months away.  This country is privileged to have experienced so much: the rich cultural diversity and treasures of the colonial countries (such as gold and priceless minerals), the transition to democracy and so much more.  So, I am privileged to meet with fellow British men and women whose gratitude and hospitality is unpayable.  As for the Welsh people, I pay them the greatest honour because of the challenges they will receive in the next century.  For me, it had been a unforgettable experience in the West as if I went through a long ‘journey to the centre of the Earth’.