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Special Report  

Lights, Camera, Beijing

British Filmmaker Seeks Inspiration in the Chinese Capital

By staff reporter XING WEN

WHEN he first arrived in China in 2010, Hugo Tickler, 25, did not expect his life in this country to be filled with so much excitement and so many opportunities.

Hugo was born and raised in Oxford, England. After graduating from the University of Winchester in 2009, he dove into film and media production and looked set for life in his home country.

That changed one year later, when Hugo made the decision to suspend his budding career to seek out different life experiences in China.

"I knew little about Chinese language at that time," Hugo recalls. "But I've always wanted to study a language that is very different from my mother tongue. Besides, China lured me in with its amazing history and culture." Believing that the best way to study a language properly is to live in the country for a time, Hugo came to China in 2010.

Life, China-style

Hugo first worked as an English teacher in a middle school in Yueyang, Hunan Province.

Having never lived alone abroad, he says the first few months were quite a challenge. "I couldn't speak Mandarin at that time, let alone the Hunan dialect, nor did I have any friends at first," he says. He quickly adapted to the local life, making friends with school colleagues, his students and even local workers as he joined a football team organized by nearby factories.

Though there were difficulties, Hugo feels lucky he had the "real" experience – it taught him to live independently and helped him to mature. He quickly adapted to the local life, making friends with school colleagues, his students and even local workers as he joined a football team organized by nearby factories. He was warmly welcomed by the locals, who would often invite him out for dinners and parties. "As I got to know some Mandarin, we hung out, chatted and talked about cultures – both sides learnt a lot from each other."

In Yueyang, Hugo got to know two philosophies essential for living in China – mianzi (saving face) and guanxi (social networking). "Mianzi is especially interesting to me because it pops up in situations you wouldn't except in England. For example I have some friends here who would say they are busy with other things and cannot meet if they are low on money. In England, friends would just say, 'I don't have any cash,' and we'd do something cheaper or I would just lend them some money. We don't worry about what people think as much as is the case in Chinese company."

Hugo says he has also witnessed similarities between Chinese and British. "People in small cities seem much happier than those in metropolises," he says. Countrysiders may not earn as much as their urban counterparts, he points out, but the stronger ties between family members and neighbors in rural areas seem to compensate. "Even in the smaller cities in China there is a sense that society is community-based, and people help each other out a lot. But in big cities I see that less," he laments.

"Big cities all over the world resemble each other in that people living in them are never satisfied. They want more and more stuff and feel compelled to live life in the fast lane, all of which leads to heavy pressure and excessive consumption."

Hugo says life in Yueyang was enjoyable and meaningful, but a move to Beijing was also necessary. "I'm a professional filmmaker, and this is where the action is," he explains. "Having learnt much about Chinese society, I would like to shoot some films about the country that has come to mean a lot to me."

In 2011 Hugo entered the Beijing Film Academy to improve his language skills while continuing to work on film projects. For a while Chinese was the focus, and he passed the intermediate level of HSK (the state-sponsored Chinese language proficiency test). He is currently preparing for the highest level of the test.

Does Hugo think his Mandarin skills will give him an edge in the job market in the future? "Of course! Mandarin is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, but the number of English people who have mastered the language is rather limited," he says.

"Companies expanding their business to China are hungry for bilingual individuals like me," Hugo confides. Indeed his language proficiency, understanding of both English and Chinese societies as well as his skills in filmmaking should stand him in great stead wherever he decides to work.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us