It’s cold, like always. Stepping into Tesco and feeling that gust of warm air only makes you dread having to venture out again after doing your shopping. You ignore the sign labelling the Asian food section as “Oriental” and choose instead to contemplate the limited selection for the fourth time this week. On your way out, an elderly lady, presumably a local, mumbles “You stink.” Trying not to show your alarm, you instantly wonder if it’s a comment made due to your race. Discreetly sniffing your hair, no stink or otherwise pungent smell can be detected. Well, perhaps she was speaking to someone else, someone you did not see.
The encounter is soon forgotten about as you meander on towards your next class. This one is on Shakespeare, King Lear to be specific. The lecturer finds it fascinating that Lear constantly asks people around him to tell him who he is. Looking around the lecture hall, a myriad of blond and brown-haired heads are bent over their notes, scribing down every last bullet point. Your own black hair is the proverbial sore thumb and you still can’t quite decide if you like it or not. When speaking to your friends after class, it becomes apparent just how often people try to ascertain their own identity. Nods and agreements blur into agreements and nods.
Fast forward a week or so, and you are at a dinner table with your Chinese friends. You settle comfortably into your mother tongue as the topic of the hour surrounds a mutual friend. One of them suddenly announces that there are two types of Chinese students in St Andrews: the ones who hang out with other Chinese people, and the ones who consider themselves “too good for us” and befriend Caucasians instead. You focus on your food as your friends laugh and drink to that.
Following a meagre dinner, you brave the cold, insistent rain during the walk home and relish the warmth as you finally cross the threshold of your room. The scent of diffused lavender and the ugly white light finds you as you shrug off your coat. It takes time to prepare a late-night snack, but the preparation is the best part. In a state of hazy stupor, the motions are slow and monotonous, it lulls you in to the familiarity.