I still had nearly a year left on my student visa, so I didn’t need to worry about things for a while. Therefore, I start my second experiment of “integrating into the mainstream”: looking for a job in a British company!

First of all, I love the Chinese language, I love creative writing and things relevant to it (i.e. working in a publishing house). Secondly, it seems that all my experience is not transferrable, because people just don’t read Chinese in this country. That means I have to combine my Chinese-language skills with something else. And I had an idea: translation!

Luckily, I’ve translated two books and many newspaper articles, so I have something to write on my CV. But soon, I realize how slowly people can act: after I sent out nearly 50 copies of my CV, I hear nothing back. Nothing in the first month!

When the second month comes, I start to look for something else while in a bad mood. I don’t want to find a job that has nothing to do with the Chinese language. I don’t want to find something that is irrelevant to literature and creativity. But what can I do? For now, I had to compromise. I need to make money, I need to live.

As I type “Mandarin” for the job type and “London” for the location, a lot of things come up. Among these, there is one vacancy that “urgently” needs a candidate: Mandarin-speaking telephone interviewer. So I change my CV a bit, delete all my translation experience, and add the customer service and sales experiences I earned during university, then send my CV out. Soon enough, I hear something back.

The good news: I got the job and it allows me to work from home. The bad news: I have to wake up at 4:50 am every morning to match the time in China. Basically, there’s someone out there who’s interested in Chinese restaurants and food, and he needs Mandarin-speaking candidates to call up restaurants in China and do questionnaires. So I wake up at 4:50 am every morning, make myself a cup of coffee, and start work at 5am.

Endless outbound calls. Endless questionnaires. And you know what? The questions designed are just stupid and boring. Let me show you some examples:

First question: do you use dried noodles (up to 12 months shelf life)? Options: 1, tried once; 2, use occasionally; 3, use every day; 4, never tried.

If a person uses dried noodles every day, that means I need to tick options 1, 2, and 3. Stupid, isn’t it?

Question 7: which of the following types of dry noodles do you use in your restaurant/takeaway? Options: 1, chop suey noodles; 2, extra-fine noodles; 3, rice vermicelli noodles; 4, rice stick noodles; 5, broad noodles; 6, Japanese ramen noodles; 7, udon noodles; 8, mung bean/cellophane noodles. Options: 1, tried once; 2, use occasionally; 3, use every day; 4, never tried.

Seriously, can you recognize all these f**king noodle types? What is this bloody “chop suey noodle,” anyway? I can’t even pronounce it right.

And I also need to stay energetic and enthusiastic from the first call to the very last of the day, as I need to use my attitude to influence restaurant workers who aren’t interested in the questionnaire.

I’m pretty sure this is not “the mainstream.” I feel tired.

The job is project-based. After one month, the project ended, and I didn’t go for another telephone interviewer’s job. And then the agency called, asking about my translator role.


Finally, an agency has put my CV forward for a translator role in a trademark company, one with maternity leave. Soon after, the company sends out a competencies questionnaire and asks me to complete it.

If you could see the questionnaire, you would understand my distress. For example, they give you five options, and you have to choose one that “best describes you.” But it is hard to choose, indeed. Do I admit I lack leadership? Not paying attention to the company’s needs? Not wanting to develop myself? Not a good team player? Or do I lack the ability to execute things on my own? Damn. Who designed these bloody questions?

And there was also a time limit. I needed to finish all these questions in 12 minutes. So I went for “lack of leadership.” Whatever.

Two days later, I had unexpectedly passed the questionnaire. But the next thing is that I made a series of mistakes in the face-to-face interview. Of course, I only realize this when the interview ended.

Firstly, I wear a white shirt with many little sheep images on it. I have never tried to look for a job in a British company, and I don’t have a proper white shirt. Last time I wore this little sheep shirt to an interview was with Sino-U.K. Magazine; it worked and I got that job! I wouldn’t have been aware of this mistake if the interviewer didn’t frown at me at first glance.

Secondly, I didn’t prepare for each interview question. I thought all I need to do is just to say my true thoughts, as I did with the Sino-U.K. Magazine interview. What’s the point of memorizing answers? Is it any different with lying? So when she asks me, “What was your university life like?” I reply, “There were a lot of Americans…” When she asks, “What’s the difference between Hong Kong traditional Chinese and Taiwan traditional Chinese?” I reply, “Very big difference…” And then I just had nothing more to say. These were the worst interview answers I have ever given.

Lastly, they gave me two short paragraphs to translate. I am okay doing English to Mandarin, but when it comes to Mandarin to English, I mistakenly wrote “marketing documents” instead of “propaganda documents.” Gosh…what can I say? I once read in a dictionary that those two words meant the same thing. So now I know even dictionaries are not totally trustworthy.

To no surprise, I didn’t get the job.


I’m still not integrated into the mainstream. I am anxious about it.

The third interview opportunity finally came. This time, it was a customer service role in a luxury fashion company.

The agency lady calls and, with her strong Italian accent, explains to me all the job descriptions and asks me to amend my original CV to match the job descriptions. I do what she says.

I don’t want to make the same mistake as last time, so I spent £300 and bought a proper business suit and a white shirt. And on my way back home, I received a call from the Italian lady: the company’s going to give me a telephone interview at 9am the day after tomorrow.

The very next day, I spent the whole day preparing for the interview. I wanted to make sure I never made any stupid responses again. I wrote down all the possible questions and answers and memorized them by heart, just like every other liar. See the following:

One, why do you want to work here? Two, what do you know about our products/services? Three, what will the main tasks and responsibilities be in this job? Four, why do you want to become a customer advisor? Five, what experience do you have from previous jobs? Six, what was your university life like? Seven, where do you see yourself in five years’ time? Eight, what motivates you? Nine, what makes a good team member? Ten, wow would you describe yourself?

I prepared for all these questions and a bunch of the so-called “behavioural interview questions,” such as “give an example of a time that you changed a customer’s emotions from frustration to joy.” I also prepared for a bunch of “situational interview questions,” such as “what do you do if the customer is wrong?”

I memorized those answers all day long. At the end of the day, I feel secure. I’m pretty sure I have a good chance of getting this job. I now have the confidence that I never had before when looking for a job in a British company.

But at 9am the next day, nobody calls. 9:15 am, nobody calls. After confirming for a few times that there’s nothing wrong with my phone, at 9:30, I call this Italian lady.

She said this is unbelievable on the phone, and then makes a fumbling effort to check the schedule. At last, she says to me with regret: “Oh, Chu, the interview is supposed to take place at 10am…so my mistake…”

So I wait until 10am, nobody calls. 10:15 am, still nobody calls.

I call the Italian lady again, she explains to me, “Maybe they’re just too busy with candidates to interview…I’m so sorry they missed the call. But you know what? I will move you directly to the second stage: a face-to-face interview…because this is our fault…”

Obviously, this lady’s words don’t come true, as I again waited for another week, and my phone never rang.

This was probably the worst week I had that year. My mood went up and down and up and down. I felt desperate and frustrated. Now the £300 suit was hanging in my wardrobe, staring at me, like it’s looking at a joke.

You know what? Waking up at 5am to make endless calls asking people about noodle types has nothing to do with “mainstream.” And “mainstream” trademark and fashion companies just don’t want me. I am not “integrated into the mainstream” and never will be. All the fumbling efforts I made now just look like a joke. Even though I have lowered my standards—I no longer look for something that is relevant to literature or creativity—they still don’t want me.

I am a joke, indeed.


One week later, on a light rainy day, I wander the streets. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where to go. But I just need to take a walk.

As I wandered the streets, I made an international phone call to my mum and explained my situation to her.

“Oh…my poor child…you should go to a church. God will light your way…” she says.

My mum became a Christian in the year 2008, when she paid a visit to Switzerland. She thought the sky there was so low and the tolling from the churches there was so touching. She thought this must be the closest place to God. So when she was standing in a church listening to the choir, she cried for some mysterious reason and decided to become a Christian.

But, really? Is there really a God? If there is one, why do we suffer sorrow? If God is there high up in the sky or by our side, why do we still cry? Why do we feel pain? Like what I am feeling right now?

We stay on the phone, and my mum keeps talking, like this was the only way she could remove my pain. I realize I am coming to Canada Water now, as I arrive at the gate of the Underground station.

I am standing there, and suddenly, my mobile phone got stolen.

I knew there was someone behind me. But I didn’t know he was riding a bicycle. And I didn’t know he was a robber who was interested in my mobile phone, either. It was an iPhone 4.

So he quickly rode past me and at the same time rapidly grabbed my phone from my hand. Within ten seconds, he was 500 metres away from me. I didn’t even need to chase him because it was just impossible for me to be as fast as he was. His face was covered in a hoodie hat, so I didn’t need to report him to the police, either, as I wouldn’t recognise him even if he was standing right in front of me.

So I was just shocked and speechless, standing there like an idiot. There was the loud sound of wind in my ears. I felt that tears were just about to burst out, but they didn’t. I raised my head and looked at all the short or tall buildings around me, asking in my heart: where do I belong in this country?

A young gentleman with a guitar and a speaker in his hands came out of the Underground station. He stopped just a few steps away from me, set his speaker in the right place, took the guitar in his hands, and started to sing.

He starts with a few songs I don’t recognize, and then suddenly, he began to sing the song “Whatever” by Oasis:

 I’m free to be whatever I / Whatever I choose / And I’ll sing the blues if I want / I’m free to say whatever I / Whatever I like / If it’s wrong or right, it’s alright…whatever you do / Whatever you say / Yeah, I know it’s alright…

The next thing I realized was that my face was finally covered in tears.

Yes, I’m free to be whatever I choose. If it’s wrong or right, it’s alright.

So goodbye to all those noodle types. Goodbye to the interview questions. If I want to be an author in this country, the only thing I need to do is to grab my pen and start writing.

Today, when I get back home, I’m going to write a story. It will be called “The Mainstreamer.”


For all installments of “The Mainstreamer,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1