A desire to obtain a master’s degree and live in the England she has seen in the movies of Hugh Grant brought Parita Tulyasingha here. It hasn’t quite met her expectations though. Robert Davies reports.
Her face is horizontal and flat on the café table; she opens her eyes wide, puffs out her cheeks, leans back on her chair and then sighs. “I thought they were going to be nicer. Like how they are in the movies. Like in Notting Hill and Four Weddings.” She then rolls her eyes.
I wanted to know what Parita thought of English people before she arrived here. The body language and facial expressions say it all to me. The verbal explanation confirms it. “They weren’t what I thought they would be. I thought they would all speak like Hugh Grant. They all spoke too fast.”
Pla, as she prefers to be called, is talking to me in a café near her home in Earlsfield, south London. Pla is 34 and from Thailand. She has been living in Earlsfield for 18 months now. In January 2010 she came to the UK to complete a master’s degree in Fashion and Entrepreneurship at the University of Northumbria. When she completed her degree she decided to stay here to look for work in the fashion sector.
Today is a good day for Pla. She has just heard that after more than 300 job applications, she has found work in her chosen industry, albeit as a sales assistant at a popular high street clothing store. “It is only for four hours a week and just for Christmas, but I am happy.”
During completing all these applications Pla has financed her stay in London by working as a Thai massage therapist. Despite working for a reputable spa, there are still many people who want something ‘extra’. “I tell them ‘no’. We are professional people. We don’t do that. ‘I will give you more money’ they say. I tell them that we don’t do that. My mom says she wants me to stop to do this job, as she is worried about me. I have no choice if I want to stay here.” She smiles at me, raises her eyebrows to indicate that she has finished talking and then sits on her hands, in preparation for the next question.
When I ask her how she felt when she came to England, she grins. “I wanted to go back straight away because the immigration lady was so rude. She was, how to say, very fierce. She said ‘why do you come here? When does your course begin?’ I was scared, as I had come here alone. I landed at five in the morning. I left the building at nine. I was with immigration for almost four hours, because of a long queue.”
It wasn’t the most comfortable of beginnings in this country for Pla but even when she is describing this experience and all her other setbacks, she does it with a beaming face that indicates she takes all stress in her stride. Pla smiles and laughs a lot through our meeting. She is definitely a happy person but perhaps the jollity masks her lack of confidence speaking English. She checks a dictionary on her phone now and again to confirm that what she is saying is correct. A lot of my questions are greeted with a blank face. I have to tone down my Black Country accent and try to adopt a newsreader’s inflection.
Pla tells me about what life was like as a student, which confirms how she has struggled with English. “In lectures it was difficult. I didn’t understand everything that was said. Luckily everyone on my course spoke English as a second language so the pace was slow. I would wait until the end of the lesson then ask my Thai friend who spoke better English about what was said.”
“I enjoyed the course a lot. My favourite project was about Fred Perry, which is an English brand I like. I made friends with other Thai students and also girls from Korea and Taiwan. We all spoke English together. We had lots of good times. Many have gone back home, but I am still here.”
Despite Pla’s cheery nature I don’t think that the questions have allowed her to express her happiness in words, so I enquire about the highlights of her stay in England. “I have enjoyed shopping in Harrods, seeing where Harry Potter has been filmed, meeting my English boyfriend and seeing snow then making snowmen for the first time. I wanted to see snow when I lived in Thailand.”
I end by asking if her boyfriend speaks like Hugh Grant. “No,” she screams with laughter. “He says buzz instead of bus.”