July 24th, 1860, London.
The sun never sets on the British empire, but if that's true, then this must not be part of Britain. There's always a thick blanket of smog above the city, an ugly gray color in the morning and evening, ugly brown at midday, and an ugly black at night. You can't see even the faint outline of the sun through the clouds, so the moon and stars are pretty much out of the question. I haven't seen the pure virgin sky since my trip to Crimea, ten years ago. I wanted to go there after graduating, it has beautiful scenery, but with the war, it was impossible. Any British civilian would be at risk there, much less a Chinese. If you are some nosy person reading this in the far future, then it must be surprising to you to learn that the person writing this is someone of yellow color. Well, if there is still the prejudice against colorful people when you read this, I assume. I am what is called a BBC. Like the radio channel. But I am not a broadcasting system, I am a British Born Chinese.
My parents were born in Shanghai, in China during the Manchu dynasty. My father was born in 1799, and my mother was born in 1810. They met and married in Shanghai in 1835 and married soon after. I was born in 1839, by the way, after my two older sisters. But I wasn't born in China. In 1838, things were leading up to the Opium War, and my father, being a merchant, was worried about staying in China. So, he leased his fleet to Britain and fled with my mother and new born sisters to London. I was born in their first year here, and I have stayed here since.
It turns out that in return for safe passage to Britain, my father got out on the winning side of things. By 1842, he was given half his fleet back and a sizable manor in Eastern London. It wasn't perfect, mind you, it didn't have electricity or running water, and it had a serious rat problem, but we made it our home. Chinese people are very resourceful. We took in stray cats, which quickly solved out rat problem, and we did as the British did, hired people off the street to do our wiring and plumbing, as well as get rid of the rotten floor boards and moldy wallpaper. The first few years of my life I remember being surrounded by workmen, some of whom were kind and let me hit nails or throw out garbage. By the time I was five, our house had been transformed from a decrepit fall-apart house to a very clean and stable manor. We took in some of the construction folk and their wives as servants, and they built a servant's quarters out behind the carriage house. If they ever resented us, they didn't show it. I was still unaware of the problems of being Chinese.
My parents never let me speak Mandarin outside my home, and told me to always use English when speaking to other people. They hired a nanny for me and my sisters, to teach us to be proper English children, although I must admit, we terrorized her quite a bit. I'm fairly certain I came out of the whole experience with more spankings than grammar.
I didn't start school until I had already hit puberty, when I was twelve. I went to a boys school, a day school. My parents were concerned about sending me to a boarding school, for fear I would be bullied. And in truth, I was, but not horribly. I was always very good at making friends. My eyes were wider than my parent's, my mother was from northern China, where they have fairer skin and sharper faces, and I inherited her looks rather than my father's. So I didn't stand out too horribly, and I came from a better standing than several of the boys, which led to some resentment and misunderstandings in my first year, but things were soon smoothed over. We all united against a common enemy; the students of the sister school next door. Living with two older sisters, I was somewhat wary of the girls, but in order to fit in, I teased them just as horribly as anyone else. I was less cruel to a girl I liked, by the name of Marie, but she did not care for yellow people, so I in turn ignored her.
It was in secondary school that I started to flourish. I sped through readings and mathematics, and despite my color was a favorite of some professors, who would go on and on about their travels abroad and boast of disgusting native dishes they'd eaten in India and China. Now, I'd never been to either places and the closest I had ever come to eating native food was when my mother made dumplings on New Years, but they always seemed to overlook that fact. I graduated near the top of my class, and went to Cambridge, to study law. I had wanted to go on vacation to celebrate my graduation in Crimea, but during this time there was a war there, a real mess of a war too, but you no doubt know of this, so I will not digress.
In the present day, I am twenty-one years old, and nearing the end of my education at Cambridge. However, there is a very daunting final assignment ahead of me. For my class in particular, I have to go to one of the colonies to study the law applied there, it's effectiveness on the native peoples, and whether or not it should, in fact, be in effect. I wasn't keen on going to a prison colony like Australia, and in all honesty, sea travel make me ill. So I decided to go by airship to India. In fact, I am writing this to you as I wait in line, it has been very long, and the heat is sweltering. But soon, I shall be aboard the S.S.Sky Hawk, a steam-driven zeppelin that is the latest of it's kind. Unlike older airships which rely on a mixture of steam power and coal or oil or gas to function, the S.S.Sky Hawk is entirely powered by steam. A new kind of steam-generating device powers it, I don't know the specifics, it's very hush-hush, but they say it will change our reliance on coal and natural gas forever. To a renewable energy that won't pollute the skies and seas. Steam.
Ah, they've called my ticket. I must go.
They young, bespectacled man scrambled to put his book in his pocket, grabbing his bag and hurrying to the guard checking tickets. He handed over the slip of paper, which was then punched and handed back to him.
"You're in room 394." the guard grunted in an almost ape-like voice. The man nodded thankfully and hurried onboard.
The inside of the ship truly was a sight to behold. Plush carpets, crystal chandeliers, exotic potted plants, it seemed like the inside of a fancy hotel! Truly, no expense had been spared for the comfort of the passengers. The entire ship itself was enormous, it stood five floors high, and ran the length of a luxury vessel. It included two exercise rooms, four luxury bath spas, a swimming pool, twelve bars, seven restaurants, a glass-cieling garden on the top floor, a viewing deck below, a sick bay for easily-ill passengers, a casino with several VIP rooms, a ball room and more than 400 rooms onboard. They were separated into three classes, low classes, near the bottom of the ship who had very little access to the facilities, and shared rooms. Middle class was in the middle of the ship and did not share rooms, and had access to almost all of the facilities. Then there was first class, where he was. Being of a wealthy family and high education gave him access to everywhere he wanted to go, except for places that were off limits to everyone but crew. There were fewer people in first class,
he was probably the only person of Chinese descent in first class, perhaps even on the whole ship.
A bump on his shoulder made him jump, nearly losing his glasses. He turned and saw that he had been standing in the way of the elevator, which was taking in a lot of people to the higher floors. He apologized as he scrambled inside and waited for it to reach the top floor.