There is an ancient Chinese phrase which Rujing Guo uses as her motto: “To grow as a person, you must walk 1,000 miles and read 1,000 books”.
Moving to Ireland in August 2020 from Shenzhen in eastern China has been part of this journey, Guo says, although the pandemic has stopped any further foreign travel for now. She has kept reading, as it was through literature that she first became acquainted with Ireland.
George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats and James Joyce are among her favourite authors and poets, and since arriving she has sought out opportunities when lockdown eased to visit places mentioned in their works.
“Literature is a way of learning the culture of a country. If you read the most important books of a country, you get to know the history of the place, especially if you’re reading realism, instead of romanticism.
“It’s great to see that all the Irish literature I’ve read is resonating now. I can testify what is true, what has changed and not changed.”
Reading Shaw’s work in particular, and the way the author is perceived in China, helped her to build a picture of Irish society.
“George Bernard Shaw has a high status and reputation in China – he visited China in the 1930s. His plays were about social issues and caring about people who were oppressed.
“That’s why Irish people and Chinese people have a lot in common, we both experienced a period in history of being invaded, or being oppressed by imperialism, or some other external forces.”
Guo went to secondary school through English, and attended university in Manchester and Oxford, studying linguistics. Because of this, she finds the way English is spoken in Ireland of great interest, and is keen to pick up new phrases.
“I first thought what is ‘what’s the craic’? What is ‘craic’?. That’s a new sentence I’ve acquired since moving here. Also, ‘coola boola’, that’s another one.”
Another discovery she has made, but one which resonates more with her experience of life in China, is people’s inquisitiveness, especially among older generations or family members.
'I'm happy to share my stories, there's nothing to withhold – there's nothing to keep us as an island'
“The elders in China, especially from your neighbourhood or your relatives, they love to know what happens to everyone – who’s getting married, who’s having an affair, who’s making lots of money, whose kid went to Oxford, or something like that.” she says. “They’re very enthusiastic to get those stories – the gossip. This is similar, across the two cultures.”
She doesn’t take offence, she says, when Irish people or family members back home ask her about such areas of her life. “I’m happy to share my stories, there’s nothing to withhold – there’s nothing to keep us as an island,” she says. “That’s why I’ve adapted to Irish culture so fast, because there are so many commonalities, and because I feel so comfortable with this [nosiness].”
But getting to know people in Ireland has been difficult – arriving into a country which soon went into a restrictive lockdown presented challenges. Because China handled Covid-19 in a relatively localised way in Wuhan, its surrounds and other hotspots for the virus, Guo had not experienced as severe a lockdown as she has since arriving in Ireland.
“After I came over, at first I wasn’t used to having all the closures – restaurants, cafes, pubs – but I think it’s because I’m quite positive, I sort of developed other ways to get used to lockdown.”
Based in Dublin and working in communications for Huawei, she formed a social bubble with co-workers when lockdown arrived, and they developed new hobbies to pass the time. Guo feels that lockdown and its impact on socialising allowed her to build stronger relationships with her new colleagues in Ireland.
“We played games and did jigsaws, and we had more in-depth conversations. If there had been no lockdown, we wouldn’t have had the time to just sit and really talk to each other.
“Previously, at weekends, everyone would try to think of ways to hang out – go for drinks or take a trip to the west, for example. In some cases, we’re focused too much on these triggers, these entertainments. Now, it feels great to be able to really reflect upon what we’ve gone through with each other, and what we want to do after lockdown is over, to really share our histories, and future plans.
“It is an opportunity to focus inside, instead of pursuing external entertainments. Of course, in-depth conversations can happen in those environments too, but it’s different. We’re more focused now, it’s a purer experience with other people, when you have no option, but to sit quietly and to really engage with such conversations.”
'That's what lockdown triggers us to think, that there are the smarter ways, the more efficient ways of working'
This new approach is something which she wants to maintain after the pandemic, she says. And although she has enjoyed lockdown socialising, she is also happy to return to the office on a hybrid basis, and to build other working relationships.
“If you’re working from home completely, it limits your opportunity to get to know people quickly. Face-to-face conversations still matter.
“After experiencing the lockdown and working from home, it’s really wise to have a hybrid way – working from home, and working in the office.
“There’s a philosophy here, and in China too, to not go to extremes in either way, to adopt a doctrine of medium, to have a taste of both. That’s what lockdown triggers us to think, that there are the smarter ways, the more efficient ways of working.”
When lockdown lifts fully, Guo hopes to continue adding to the “1,000 miles” of her motto, and to see her family in China again.
For now, though she says she will keep reading and adding to the “1,000 books” instead.
“I read the Dubliners about two years ago, when I first went back to China after I finished my studies in the UK. I didn’t even know I was coming to Ireland. Fate has been telling me something.”
We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. @newtotheparish