November 8, 2016, marks my one-year anniversary of residing in Beijing. I look back to reflect my journey in the P.R.C. I’m grateful for my connections who have helped me settling into a new city and understanding the local culture.
Fresh off the plane
- With two suitcases, I parachuted in Beijing from Hong Kong to join a media startup’s founding team. Thanks to my college friend Andrew Buck, I rented his spare bedroom initially until I found my apartment a month later.
- I quickly settled on a 45 square meter single-storey house in a hutong tugged behind a busy restaurants street known as Ghost Street (簋街). My Beijinger and haigui (or “sea turtle” in Chinese. The term refers to overseas Chinese returnee) friend Mo Su helped me move into my hutong apartment. I’ve known him since 2001 from our days in Berkeley, California and he loves making fun of me. He commented how I along with most foreigners fell for the exotic charm of living in a hutong.
- I’m tasked to cover the fast-changing tech industry in China. It’s such a broad field within the industry, and I’m finding my focus. After eight years of covering general news, I discovered my passion for journalism is the tech beat. My mission now is to bring more China’s tech coverage to the Western world. I’m learning more about business, finance, and the different industries that are being disrupted by tech.
- I conducted a one-hour live interview in front of 50 attendees about WeChat marketing. Some members of the audience got my jokes when I introduced my guest with amusing anecdotes. It was a fun and lighthearted discussion. Although it was my first time hosting a live interview, it felt very natural.
- I was invited to moderate a panel in Mandarin with two investors and one entrepreneur to discuss raising venture capital at Peking University. It was a challenge first to moderate in my third language and second to moderate a topic that I have limited knowledge. I reached out to my private Mandarin teacher and my advisors for help. I have to particularly thank my advisor Parker Fairfield who brainstormed questions with me. I practiced my pronunciations until the wee hours. I also received constructive feedback from one of my panelists, Zheng Xiaochen, how to improve my moderating skills going forward.
- I’m happy to help others. I have guided young journalists and female peers navigating life. It’s my way to give back from the mentorship I received over the years.
- I rely on e-commerce to deliver groceries, daily necessities or shop anything I may need. The logistics of the leading e-commerce platforms in Beijing is fast-paced. If I’m in a hurry, I order from JD.com, and I receive my item on the same day. I order groceries from Tmall supermarket before I go to bed and I receive them the next day after work. I also use a one-hour convenience store delivery service.
- Mobile payment has become the new normal. I have left home with my smartphone only, and I’m able to commute with ride-hailing services, find my way via Chinese maps apps, communicate on WeChat, and pay for services. I’ve been converted to a WeChat believer. This homegrown Chinese product is the most advanced messaging app at the moment, beating its Western counterparts.
- China is big on sending verification codes via text messages upon online registrations. From bank accounts to any internet service accounts require a Chinese mobile number to complete the registration.
- I’m ethnically southern Chinese, but I have been mistaken as Korean a few times, mostly from the service industry individuals. I often asked them why they think I’m Korean. The typical response I received was my Mandarin is “odd” regarding sentence structures and my intonation “doesn’t sound like them.” One native Mandarin speaker said my written Chinese reads like the results of Google Translate. My Mandarin is not colloquial enough yet. Here is an example from a conversation with an Uber driver after I had a few drinks. I was sober. But the male driver was astonished the fact that I was not drunk after my drinks. He instantly thought I was Korean because of the stereotype that Koreans have a high alcohol tolerance. That made me wonder if Chinese ladies generally can’t handle their liquor. I did not correct the driver, and I played along, in which I pretended to be a business traveler. I use my imperfect Mandarin to my advantage sometimes when I turn away sales pitches.
- I eventually left the media startup eight months in because it was not a good fit. I had a messy break up with my former employer. I want to thank all my support from Beijing to Hong Kong, Singapore, Miami, New York, and the Bay Area during a challenging period.
- I spat out a piece of glass/hard plastic when I was eating coleslaw at a British-style cafe. I was shocked and confused. I then messaged some entrepreneurs to discuss how to negotiate with the cafe manager. I told the manager to check all the coleslaw making sure no residue left in the bucket. It’s endangering other customers. The manager attempted to take the plate away to show the chef. But I was advised to save the evidence on the table and raised my voice to alert other patrons if the manager ignored the problem. Another piece of advice is to take this on social media. Fortunately, the manager was reasonable. He gave me a new plate and compensated my meal. However, I don’t think I will return to this cafe.
- I had a bike-related incident with a middle-aged Chinese man. I hit his bicycle’s handle when I passed him on my bike. He fell off his bike and kept yelling at me. I looked back, apologized, and stopped cycling to help him get back up. He kept screaming while I helped him. He had no apparent injuries. When I prepared to take off, he grabbed my bike seat and stopped me. More pedestrians joined in and sided with him. I was surrounded by a crowd. He demanded money as he said his bike is messed up. I had no idea what his bike condition was before the incident, but it definitely didn’t seem any major damages. I panicked. My hands were shaking. I tried to stay calm and called a trusted friend for help. Thanks to Viktor Lau who advised me to call the police right away and stop speaking to him. I became mad and put on a poker face. He took advantage of my empathy by trying to extort money from me. I didn’t speak a word for 15 minutes. In the end, another older man asked me to apologize again to resolve the situation. He accepted my calm apology, and I was allowed to go. I cycled for about 300 meters and stopped in front of a traffic light. To my surprise, this man followed me, and he insisted wanting money to repair his bike. I said to him with no emotions, “Didn’t we resolve the situation?” As the light turned green, I cycled away as fast as I could. A New York Times article depicted how these types of scams are common in China, in which the Chinese fake road injuries.
Other germane topics
- I was accepted to a three-month entrepreneurship program offered by Stanford University in Beijing. But I was not awarded the scholarship. After discussing my situation with three advisors, I decided the program won’t fulfill my needs. Therefore, I walked away from the program and saved myself US$10,000 tuition fee.
- Cycling has become my preferred choice of commuting. I control my time better without being stuck in Beijing traffic or dealing with the crowded subway. I’m also more used to Beijing’s chaotic traffic when a motorbike is going against the traffic flow on the side road. What baffled me the most is when foreigners learned the bad habits from the Chinese and rode their motorbikes against the traffic flow.
- I also completed my first 80-kilometer bike ride in one day on the outskirts of Beijing and back. I was happy with my achievement. Thanks to Max, aka. Viking Salmon‘s guidance. He taught me how to navigate urban cycling in Beijing.
Year one in China has been eventful. I have learned and grown personally and professionally. I thrive when I adapt to a new environment and to overcome challenges. I look forward to traveling around China more and experiencing different cultures. Many more “Chinaversary” to come as I’m on my way to becoming a tech reporter and industry observer in China.