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London – the diverse city where One Dear World was inspired (Part 1)

How diverse is London?

When talking about London, people may think of its iconic bits, i.e. the Queen, Big Ben, afternoon tea, red double decker buses, the British Foot Guards with fluffy Bearskin hats, etc. Actually, London has more to offer and is one of the most diverse cities in the world. To give you an idea of how diverse London is, here is the distribution of ethnic groups in New York City, London and Hong Kong.

 

The classification of ethnic group is slightly different in the census of these 3 cities. For instance, there is a separate category for Hispanic or Latino in the US but not in the UK and they are grouped as White in the chart above; population of Black and Mixed is so small in Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore that those categories do not exist. Yet the data provides us a good overview of the population makeup in these cities.

Map of London by the second most popular language

If you further look at the languages spoken by Londoners, the range of languages covered will amaze you. Below is a map of London showing the areas of London where, for each area, the second most popular language is spoken by more than 5% of residents, based on the 2011 Census. It clearly reveals London’s linguistic clusters, from Arabic to Yiddish and Lithuanian to Tamil.

 

How is it like to live here?

Just before Alex was born, our family has moved to Lewisham, a diverse neighbourhood in Southeast London. The first thing we noticed as we walked down the High Road was the number of hairdressers it has got on both sides of the road. In a journey of less than 600m, there are 16 of them! Are the people in Lewisham particularly mindful about their hairstyle? Maybe, but the ethnic diversity is definitely a major contributing factor of the booming hairdressing businesses here. Whether you are man or woman, African, Moroccan, Arabic, Romanian, Indian, Chinese, or other, you can probably find your ideal salon in one street.

Grid of hairdressers in Lewisham

 

Other than hairdressers, there are also supermarkets, restaurants, takeaways for specific ethnic groups too, so it becomes handy if you want to have food from around the world throughout the week, choices are pretty much unlimited. They range from Italian pizza, to African yam stew and plantain chips, Indian curry, Chinese hot pot, Romanian zacusca, Turkish kebab, Greek moussaka, etc. As some believe the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I think it stays true to women too, me for sure. Being in London trying and cooking a wide collection of world food truly opens up my taste bud as well as my mind. Life is never the same with new food experience here.

Living in a diverse area also makes it easy for multilingual families like ours too. UK is like our home now but living away from our family and home countries means our son gets minimal or even no exposure of our own mother tongue outside home. Rafael speaks French and Greek and I speak Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese. While these can be a lot on one’s plate, we want Alex to be able to master those languages so that he can communicate with his grandparents and have the flexibility to choose in the future where he wants to be. Thanks to social media, mum’s website like netmums.com, and the diverse community in London, we manage to find playgroups in our mother tongues for Alex, right in our neighbourhood! There are paying classes, free parents-led groups and something in between. You can even start or help organising one playgroup here and you will get to meet many amazing and supportive parents along the way.

 

That’s all about London for now. Have you been to London or are you currently living here? Or you’re living in another multicultural city? I’d love to hear about your experience too.

 

So, what does diverse in a city mean to all of us? How did I get inspired to create One Dear World? Stay tuned and I will cover that in Part 2.

 

Images:

London Notting Hill Carnival Crowd by Diliff (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Map of London by the second most popular language by Neal Hudson