Feature: China's rapid progress in the eyes of a British scholar
Before the advent of high-speed rail and bullet trains, getting around such a vast country like China was never easy, recalled Patterson, a PhD candidate in space and planetary physics at Lancaster University.
Patterson moved from Wales to join his father, an English teacher, in Datong, northern China's Shanxi Province, at the age of eight in 2003. In the subsequent years, he and his parents lived in several cities across China, including Qingdao of Shandong, Lianyungang of Jiangsu, and Zhanjiang of Guangdong.
While the nomadic lifestyle enabled them to explore more of China, traveling in itself wasn't always pleasant. When his family relocated from Lianyungang to Zhanjiang, the trip on the old-type "green-skinned train" took them one and a half excruciating days.
Now with bullet trains and an unmatched high-speed rail network, life has become much easier. Previously long trips have been shortened to a matter of several hours. These modern, sleek trains are far more comfortable. A coin placed standing on the table of a fast-moving carriage wouldn't budge, he said.
"I'm grateful that China has it now," he said. "The changes that the bullet train has brought to China are absolutely mental, to think that what you can do with it now."
Though his primary schoolmistress in his Cardiff hometown was shocked by the decision of Patterson's father to whisk the boy away to China at such a young age, Patterson said few would doubt that decision now as "it's changed my life in such a big way."
Gradually, fame found its way to Patterson. Initially a local celebrity in Cardiff who held his peers spellbound with his recount of experiences in China, he solidified his stardom in 2015 with his impeccable Chinese when he finished second in the global finals of Chinese Bridge, a worldwide Chinese proficiency competition for non-Chinese university students.
In the same year, Patterson had another highlight of his life: reciting a poem about China's role model Jiao Yulu at the opening ceremony of an annual meeting of Confucius Institutes and Classrooms in Britain.
A poem about Jiao was not a choice Patterson arbitrarily made. Teachings in Chinese classrooms about the local official, who succumbed to cancer after dedicating his life wholeheartedly to improving living standards in central China's Henan province, have long left an indelible impression on Patterson. He understood that people like Jiao kept propelling China's progress.
"Jiao was a man who was dreadfully ill towards the end of his life, but still carried on working to help people, and basically to his last breath trying to give it all to make sure that the world came out a better place after he's gone," Patterson said.
"And this kind of spirit that he had is really quite honorable. Something that even today, especially today, that we should take something away from and that we can learn from," he said.
With his bilingual skills and familiarity with the cultural nuances of China and Britain, Patterson has considered it his calling to deepen the understanding between the two peoples.
Over the years, he played a succession of roles that attest to his steadfast maturity as a "cultural ambassador" and a volunteer in Lancaster University's Confucius Institute.
"I would be very happy to act as a bridge between the UK and China. It's always been a big part of my life," he told Xinhua.
"In the world we live in nowadays, I think it's really important that we have people that understand the UK and China to help get past the differences," Patterson said.