A view of London Chinatown (IBtimes UK)
China is on the verge of an historic change in leadership, as current Vice President Xi Jinping is to take over the reins of the world's most populated country after President Hu Jintao's ten-year rule. However politics remains a taboo topic for Chinese residents, even in London.
Having a tea and a traditional almond biscuit in one of the many tearooms that break the row of Cantonese restaurants and little shops lined up in the streets of London's Chinatown, it is not hard to start a conversation with a customer or a waiter. Nevertheless it ends abruptly if you ask about the Communist Party's rule - especially if you state you are a journalist.
"We just don't like to answer this kind of question," a young Chinese man, sitting at a table in his family's restaurant, told me before putting his headphones back on.
The long arm of Beijing law, according to which subversion is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, seems to be a concern to Chinese people even in the UK.
The list of activists filling Beijing's jails for having made their voice heard is sadly long, so weighting one's words is a common precautionary practice.
"We still have to go back [to China]," I was told by a group of three young women who have been living and working in London for a few years.
The Communist Party's censors restlessly scan the internet, so even answering a general question such as 'do you like Xi?' outside of China makes expatriates uncomfortable, even dangerous.
After harvesting an endless series of "I don't know" or "sorry I cannot answer this" responses, I was surprised when, asking about Xi, a woman working in a bakery told me "He's crazy!" making the gesture of spinning her finger around the temple.
When I inquired further as to why she thought the current Vice-President was crazy, she suddenly turned pale, pretended not to speak English anymore - even though she had been speaking fluently throughout our conversation - and politely asked me to leave the premises.
Later, I discovered that I had mispronounced Xi's name and make it sound like the mandarin word for 'mad person'.
The woman had apparently been terrified by the fact that I was possibly going to write she had insulted the future leader.
The only voice of dissent I collected was that of a student from the semi-independent southern Chinese financial centre of Hong Kong.
Kit, 24, had no clear idea of who 'mystery man' Xi Jinping was and what his policies would be. However, like many of his fellow citizens who rallied in the streets of Hong Kong earlier this year, Kit strongly opposed the China-backed 'national education' reform, according to which classes that have been labelled as Chinese Communist Party propaganda were to be introduced in schools throughout the former British colony.
Concern about the authorities is not the only reason why many Chinese people are not too keen on talking about politics. Some just don't care, as the Party hierarchies' world is too far removed from their own.
Xi's appointment is being made behind the closed doors of Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where the 18th Party Congress is taking place.
Ordinary people have no say in what the Party's officials are deciding and the power play is not one of their daily concerns.
"I don't care about politics," Elly, a 27-year-old woman who works in a tea room, told me.
To her what matters is that, when she goes back to China next year, the country to which she returns is significantly more developed that the one she left a few years ago.
Elly believes Hu has been "a good President," because in his ten-year tenure China's economy has been rocketing.
When Hu assumed office in 2002, China was the world's sixth-biggest economy; now it has overtaken Japan to take second place behind the US.
Only 16 per cent of China's population of over 1.3 billion owned a mobile phone ten years ago. Today 74 per cent of the population has one in their pockets. Over the same period of time car sales have increased from 3.2 million a year to 18.5 million.
For Elly to give comment on Xi Jinping without having seen him at work was a step too far, but "as long as there is progress is good for me," she said.
A tea room in London Chinatown (IBTimes UK)
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