A colleague who took 10 months off to study in the UK recently returned and we met up for lunch today.
He looks a bit skinnier from last July, but his eyes show he has seen a lot.
Before they went, they were anxious about how expensive London would be, wondering if they could survive in a foreign land so far away.
But it seems their experience has opened up their eyes to the western world, how things are done, how societies are governed and the difference in living standards.
They thoroughly enjoyed the lifestyle, jogging in the many parks, wandering through the free museums like the British Museum and the Tate Modern, and the Thames River.
With their savings, they traveled as much as they could through England, going to Oxford, Cambridge, and mistakenly discovering a nude beach area in Brighton.
Living costs were expensive for them -- they calculated things were 15 times more expensive than in Beijing, with transportation particularly hitting hard in the wallet. But when they said a monthly tube card cost about 720 pounds, it sounded about the same as other major North American cities and I told them so.
They kept costs down by cooking alot, and in the end vegetables and meat were just a bit more expensive than in Beijing.
He observed people there live with dignity. "A construction worker is happy with his work, he's paid well, enough to feed himself and his family," he said. "Not like China, where migrant workers are paid dirt wages and work with blood and sweat to put up buildings."
He also said the government there was to serve the people. I explained that's because they have elections -- once they don't do what the public wants, they will vote them out in the next election.
"In China, the government serving the people is only on paper," he said, shaking his head. He didn't mention corruption, but we all knew what he was talking about.
They said that when they came back two months ago, Beijing had completely changed. Although it looked green for a "Green Olympics", it seemed like the city was only looking nice for the Games, planting flowers and trees for looks and diverting water from places like Hebei Province as well as electricity from other parts to ensure enough power for the Chinese capital.
When the torch relay went through London, they were very proud of China and debated people, defending their homeland.
But when they came back, they were dismayed to find the country hadn't progressed as fast as the cosmetic changes and felt contradicted about China.
On the one hand they are proud of China as it is their homeland, but on the other they are disappointed to see its weak points, making a long list.
They are mulling over the possibly immigrating to another country, but feel their lives will be difficult, trying to integrate, but at the same time they are young, and if and when they have children, they will live better lives.
Their observations are so interesting as they are starting to see things to way I do. I didn't point it out, but they probably realized that.
And this would never have happened if they hadn't gone away.
I wonder those who are so eager and desperate to leave China realize they will see the gap between what they perceive the country to be and what they will see from a distance.
It's the biggest lesson they will learn about China, but have no solution for it.