The Transient Life of Beijing


In a global city of over 20 million people, it certainly comes naturally that people are literally at every moment coming and going. Still, you really only feel it when it  happens to you; when the phrase “coming and going” is more about the “going,” and the “going” really is someone close to you.

Lately, I’ve come to feel like Beijing has been a revolving door for friends and colleagues coming in and out. Take this weekend for example. I was alerted to no less than 5 “going away” dinners and/or parties for 5 different friends. Some of them have surely weaved in and out of closeness with me over the years, but the idea that they were “leaving for good” nonetheless gave me a sense of obligation to participate in each schwaree no matter how tired or over-booked I may have been.

There is a phrase I often catch myself using to describe life Beijing, and that word is “transient.” People of course come and go out of your life all the time, no matter where you live. I don’t think, on the surface, the transience of life is different in Beijing than it would be anywhere else. The transience of life is typically more evident when your are in your 20s and early 30s. So much about the course of your life is uncertain. You are youthful and are still ironing out the details on the most important, long-term relationships that will govern the rest of your life.

As I was reminiscing on this past weekend, on the 8ish parties I attended (people really hate saying goodbye. Most people “going away” held no less than 3 good-bye functions attended mostly by the same people!), I was trying to think about what makes the transience of Beijing perhaps different and more profound than in some other places. I was thinking about my friends Chris and Flamingo, who met here and are moving back to Seattle. He is an American, she is from Hong Kong. Or my friend Patrick, who is a Chinese-American who spent one year here in China to rediscover his roots and is returning to medical school in the U.S. And then there is my friend Evan – someone I’ve lost touch with while living in Beijing, but of course made sure to be at his goodbye party and wish him well as he returns back across to the Pacific to go to business school in Boston.

I then started to think about some of the people that come in and out of my life on a more regular basis. My friend Chris from Shanghai, who comes up to Beijing every month for work or pleasure. Or my friend Kate that just left for America and will be back next week. These are journeys of long distances, that cross through different cultures and time zones. And in many ways, for those of us that have lived in Beijing for an extended period, we find it old hat. Everyone is so well-traveled, willing and excited to accept diverse situations, and to constantly manage global relationships on a daily basis. We’re used to it, and it truly is something that we take for granted.

That, I think is the most profound part of the transience of Beijing. We have the privilege to be stewards of the revolving door, while living out our own unique, global stories. We can deal with the consistent heartache of saying goodbye to people we treasure, but inherently know that there are always going to be new faces to fill the void.

More importantly, we are learning how to manage the important people in our lives, wherever they are in the world, and whatever time zone.  And the longer we do it, the more we learn about our own endurance and who we really are. It is not an easy lifestyle, though it can be extremely fulfilling. In the end, it really is about you and your journey. Keep in mind that someday, whatever your threshold is, you may also be on the “going” end of a goodbye party. What story about your transient life in Beijing will you tell?

My TV Debut – 助跑80后 - Chinese Education Television

A few months ago, I posted about my TV debut on a Chinese television show called “助跑80后“ (The Road after 1980)。The episode was filmed in July, but was finally aired on Chinese Education TV, an affiliate of Chinese Central Television (CCTV) on October 24th.

You can watch the full show here:

Skip to about 40:20 to see me spitting some Chinese 😉

My Debut on Chinese Television
My Debut on Chinese Television

During the show, we interviewed the special guest, Fang Fang, Vice President of JP Morgan Chase Asia. It was a great experience, and I learned alot about how many Chinese young people approach the job hunting process in China. Chinese young people, just like Americans, often struggle to find a suitable job that pays a decent wage after college. We face the same pressures, and would do well to learn from each other.


And once again, this was all made possible due to the MSU Network. The host of the show was introduced to me by her husband, Ray Wu, a good friend and graduate of MSU. Go Green!

Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash 2013

One of the most unexpected joys of my time in Beijing actually has its roots in something closer to home than you’d think. While I am always of a mind that Spartans everywhere are changing the world, I am equally inspired by the work I see every day being done by Big Ten Alumni here in Beijing.

Since early in 2012, the Big Ten Alumni Clubs of Beijing has emerged as a dynamic group of individuals that are lighting this city on fire. As I mentioned in a previous post, til now we have hosted the 1st and 2nd annual Big Ten alumni Mixers, both bringing in alumni from around this city.

Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)
Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)

This year we tried something different: The Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash in Ritan Park. It is always amazing to me the different kinds of people that you meet that come from so many different backgrounds that show up when hosting these types of things. We even had one MSU alum that took a flight in from the city of Changchun, which is is somewhat like going from Georgia to Michigan, just to be at our party! #Spartanswill

We also had an endorsement from the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Dr. Robert Wang, for the event. Dr. Wang received his PhD from Iowa so is a fellow Big Tenner! Check out the video here:

It was a great success, with over 200 alumni from around Beijing coming out to celebrate this great occasion, including members of most of the Big Ten schools. And to be honest, I was impressed especially by the turnout from the University of Wisconsin…looks like there is another dynamic club in the making.

We’ve made some great progress for the Big Ten Conference here in China and the MSU Beijing Alumni Club looks forward to collaborating on future events and initiatives.

My Chinese Television Debut – 助跑80后

One thing that impresses me about Beijing, despite its shortcomings and inconveniences (as I write this, the pollution level has surpassed 500 on the PMI 2.5 scale – read about it here in Bloomberg today), is that people are just generally interested in foreigners. After all, of the population of over 20 million in Beijing, only about 200,000 are foreigners, roughly 1%. For locals, its simply curiosity. For Chinese society, foreigners treading on China’s land is an essential part to China’s strategy to continue to expand and grow in the modern economy.


As a result, it has become common practice on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) to periodically feature foreigners as part of their programming.  Quite frankly, any foreigner worth his salt really has to be featured on a Chinese television show at some point during “the China experience.” Its a right of passage, a sign that one has stayed here long enough to almost be considered a “China – hand.”

For almost 2 years living and working in Beijing, the TV opportunity had escaped me. And then suddenly – it happened. Actually, it was the Spartan Network that finally delivered the opportunity to grace the bright lights and cameras of Chinese television. My friend and fellow MSU alum, Ray Wu, invited me to part of the show his wife, Cici, hosts on CCTV 7 农业节目电视台(Agriculture and Education Channel) this week, and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

The show is called “助跑80后” (english translation:The Road After 1980), and the program involves Cici inviting famous entrepreneurs or public figures that have had success in the “New China” since the economic opening up in the late 70s – early 80s.

The set of 助跑80后

My role was to be part of the hudongtuan, which essentially is a group of 3 to 4 people that sit on stage and engage the guest and the host in a meaningful dialogue.

I participated in two shows, and among other things, it turned out to be a great networking opportunity. The first show featured Zhang Cai Ming, CEO of China’s largest underwear and lingerie brand, Aimer. On the second, we spoke with the CEO of JP Morgan’s China Investment Banking Division, Fang Fang. In the latter, I was able to give a major shout out to the Michigan State University Beijing Alumni Club when discussing networking techniques in China, which I felt pretty great about :).

While the shows both went smoothly, as a foreigner, it is a bit of an exhausting and challenging experience. Quite obviously, everything is done in Chinese, from the pre-production planning meetings, to the backstage interviews, to the on stage dialogue. For anyone that understands how difficult it is to communicate in a foreign language, you know that it is more than just being able to have a conversation and use the vocabulary you know. One has to simultaneously demonstrate cogency in the Chinese language while following the flow and dialogue of the show. These are very much professional skills learned over years of training.

The "Hudongtuan" in Action!
The “Hudongtuan” in Action!

I think I held my own up there, but most of my comments remained short. I was, indeed, the “token white guy.” Honestly, that really was the point. I learned that, regardless of my ability to contribute substantially to the show, in the end it did not matter. It is just important to have foreigners periodically show up in Chinese domestic productions to demonstrate China’s efforts to reach outside its borders. It will be difficult for China’s culture and production to really expand out into the world. Most people do not speak Chinese, which makes it difficult to recruit foreigners like me to take part in production, or even watch their movies or television. But as genuine efforts like this continue to grow, and Americans grow the confidence to use their Chinese participate in these types of productions, these exchanges can lead to some extremely beneficial results for U.S. – China relations.

The show debuts in a few weeks. I will be sure to send you all the link when it goes up online! Another great example of the power of the Spartan Network!


Spartans Unite at Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball 2013

Since the beginning of 2012, I began taking an active role in the “Alumni Clubs of Beijing”(ACB). This group is a consortium of clubs representing over 60 universities, mostly in the United States but also including a few in the U.K. and China, that are organized here in Beijing. The mission of the group is to: “Provide a platform to strengthen and offer resources for Beijing’s university alumni clubs, such as sharing best practices and enabling cooperation for larger scale events. Together we can tackle the challenges that no one individual club is equipped to handle on its own.”


As the President of the MSU Beijing Alumni Club, I am not only responsible for organizing and hosting events to bring together Spartans here in Beijing. I want to make sure that MSU’s presence and the “banner of Sparty” is heard and felt throughout Beijing and China. I became involved in “ACB” because I saw it as an opportunity for the MSU club and for the university to make itself known in Beijing among others that share their passion for their university.

2nd Annual Big Ten Mixer, April 15, 2013

Moreover, it is also an enormous resource I can share with our club members that are looking for a job, a project, or anything to “get their feet wet” here. Beijing is indeed one of the world’s most important cities; it is also one of the largest, and thus easy to get lost. ACB is a tool that can be used to really take advantage of “six degrees of separation” to move more efficiently.

I am proud to say that among the crowd of universities involved, MSU has really been recognized as one of the most active, successful clubs. We have now co-hosted a first and second annual “Big Ten Pre-Alumni Ball” Mixer, in 2012 and 2013, respectively, each year bringing around 200 folks out for networking and fun.

This year, MSU once again participated in ACB’s signature event, the  2nd annual “Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball.” As you can see from the picture, MSU was well represented by a group of top notch Spartans. We sure do look good, eh?

MSU Spartans at the 2013 Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball – Kerry Hotel, Beijing, China

As my friend, Scott Westerman, Director of the MSU Alumni Association always likes to say, there are Spartans everywhere. Here in Beijing, we are uncovering a gold mine.