Let me be honest with you all: I find an equal amount of grave, dismal, even abysmal faults in China, as I find it to be one of the best countries in the world. It’s natural: I was born here, and until I was 18, I used to be a Chinese citizen. I still live here — with all of my family.
I am hardly alone in this, as I’ve learnt. Most people — expats included! — have this conflicting love and hate of China and of Beijing. But I am not willing to be sold out to either extremes. I’m a poor Swiss citizen if we’re to be seen as “the best of” viewpoint neutrality. So what I do instead is to reinterpret neutrality as a “smorgasbord of views”.
I’ll continue to have a love-hate relationship with the city — and the Middle Kingdom as a whole — as it’s a real, living, breathing experience — and because we all care about this place. Dearly. ▶
I cannot think of a more exciting place to take centre stage in than the city of Beijing. And I cannot think of a better way of pulling this off than with all the elements of Swissness.
You see, Switzerland is now such a big element of me that I simply cannot be myself without being Swiss. First things straight, I have a Swiss passport. This red booklet is a design classic and opens the gates to around 170 countries and territories — no visas needed! It also is one of Europe’s most multilingual passports, and there’s also a lot of “cantonal elements of Swissness”: on the first 26 pages intended for visas and stamps are printed the iconic buildings of every Swiss canton. The one that’s closest to me? The Wasserkirche of Zürich, just by the Limmatquai.
In the same canton, Zürich, I went to international school for just around a decade. The Inter-Community School gave me my first stage to perform on — things got off to a start when I read along with a fellow student, on a stage, in front of the microphone, a poem in French. Stage fright instantly disappeared, and my trek and path to bigger-still stages began in Switzerland, 20 years ago. (That’s why I call it “Stage Swissness” — made in Switzerland!) Equally 20 years ago, also in Switzerland, I coded my first HTML page that would eventually be one of only three websites to make it to the “wider” Internet — as a student page of the school on the Internet.
To not to be Swiss is impossible chez moi. ▶
You will note I am all for Swissness in everything I do. Indeed: Attributes with positive connotations, which include fairness, precision, reliability, political stability, nature-ness, precision, and cleanliness, should be summarised and be marketed overseas as something that is typical of Switzerland. (That’s if you take it from the German Wikipedia!)
My challenge every time I head onstage is how to either host an event or make a talk in such a way that the audience feel like it’s done with Swiss quality. This is particularly big for me, because having travelled to so many different places, one does really see the difference between Switzerland and the rest of the world. There are also the tiny bits and bobs that so define the country that you simply miss when you’re beyond the border.
Having myself been frustrated at times with “things from other places” that might not work the way you wanted them to, I felt it was important to give the audience an evening where everything simply worked like clockwork. I’ve been adding elements from Switzerland in such a way that I’d be happy as a member of the audience myself, and my idea is if I tested the waters with high standards, you as the audience should enjoy the show as well! ▶
Dear friends from across the world,
The year 2016 is with us. For me, this is a year of remembrance, gratitude, and progress.
In this new year, I shall look back at five years of marriage, and twenty years since approaching the microphone in front of an audience, and also of clicking my way online. I do treasure these precious moments of promising the love of my life my eternal commitment, of sharing thoughts with people, and of being a member of the Internet community. These are now fundamental and inseparable parts of my life. It is true that so much has happened since our promise of being for one another for life, my first speech, and Internet presence. ▶
It was a little over 12 years ago that one of the most important things in my life happened. For some of us, this might have been “just another evening in Beijing”. For a few, getting onstage in front of an audience of 600 (as I was told by organisers) was too scary (stage fright!). For me, it was just the right event at the right time.
(It’s amazing when you try new things — only to find it worked, much was the case for me when I did my first speech to an audience of hundreds on 14 December 1996.) ▶
In university, we truly did have people from all over the place, even though with 70% of the class from South Korea, you might have thought Korean was the official language of the class. But that was only part of the truth. We also counted students from Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Middle East, even from Africa, Albania… pretty much all major continents. This was why when I did give a written class announcement, it was a quadlingual matter — in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. To make sure I got all the words right, I did actually resort to taking extra classes in Japanese and Korean, if only for getting the hangeul and kanas right.
That one word in Korean I learnt as one of my firsts left a deep impression my end. 감사합니다 (kamsa-hamnida) it was — in Korean: Thank you. ▶
Ten years ago, what used to be the Beijing Macintosh User Group had its most important meeting in that very year. We even got the media excited. It was a truly unforgettable event — made all the better since everyone came together to pull off one of the year’s best-attended events.
Less than six months later, we made history for our group again, by organising an event for over 100 attendees — very much a record that was incredibly hard to beat. We had probably less than a dozen people in the organising team, but everyone was resolutely determined to make this event totally rock. There were some fun moments as well, such as an impromptu birthday party (some of us had cake lobbed at us!… but it was a time to have fun as well), and we even had a Mac group come in from Hong Kong to talk to us here up in Beijing.
We topped it off by organising the user group’s 2007 key event, which saw a huge Mac museum, a very novel way to start the meetup, and even the COO of a local music site come onstage to announce a new partnership (even if it was still in the early stages). Events such as these showcase the power that collaborations have. ▶
What has happened on 13 November 2015 in Paris is certainly disconcerting. This is no way to enjoy the night late on Friday. Much as we are aware increasingly of the risk of attacks that “just happen” in the post-9/11 world, nobody expected things to — boom, just happen like that.
Obviously what happened in Paris is just dreadful — it is just so totally wrong when harmless, innocent lives are taken. The fact it happened just on the opposite side of the English Channel also meant it wasn’t too from home, here in London.
World reaction, though, was just one of outright sympathy. Every city that had a major landmark lit it to the colours of the French national flag. The countries closest to me did so as well. Just as of late, Bern donned its Federal Palace the French tricolour; the same happened in Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower. The news from China, in particular, that they decided to join in this, was encouraging, because hitherto I had thought China to be rather ideologically removed from the rest of the world. But it is a positive sign that the country is being taken seriously as a key player on the world stage these days.
But what took my breath away was how this was done in London. ▶
I still remembered the “big moment” for the previous five-year general plan for China when it was first announced in late 2010. It, for the first time, made mention of high speed rail for China, at a time when the rail authorities took the wraps off the Beijing-Tianjin, Wuhan-Guangzhou, Zhengzhou-Xi’an, Shanghai-Nanjing and Shanghai-Hangzhou HSR lines, each an absolute screamer perfected for speeds up to 350 km/h (217 mph).
However, there were loads missing from the last plan — now more a general blueprint than a Swiss-precisionist order list — that had to wait five years until the present, 13th, five-year plan was rolled out. Amongst some of the new policies I loved were the following:
- Scrapping the one-child policy: It did what it had to do: halt China from growing too fast, but now the time for that has come and gone. Scrapping it now was a smart move.
- Using Residence ID to replace “temporary inhabitant ID”: It’s totally ridiculous to have merely “temporary inhabitant” status if you’re a PRC citizen in your own home country!
- Improving China’s universities. This can only be reality if lecturers and professors quit with boring the heck out of students. I’ve always been in favour of a more open academic community serving the real interests of society at large. It would also be great if China’s universities would take a bigger leading role as a whole. ▶
I enter November 2015 completely refreshed, as I realise that only by loving what you do to the fullest, will you get the most results. My end, this includes just about anything — from emceeing events to academic research.
Facebook alerted me to a very worrying trend — that as you are constantly denied what you want, worries and eventually hate will breed. Ultimately, hurt people hurt people (nope, that’s not a typo!). I’ve been in this devilish cycle for a fair bit of time. My wife, Tracy, grew increasingly worried at a trend she saw as excessive pessimism.
Tracy got me home and we had a heart-to-heart on all issues impacting me — many, many times. She wanted me to be more active, and so got me involved in a great number of projects. I had lots of hour-long calls with other members of the family. Slowly, things started to change. The event that Tracy encouraged me to host on 31 October 2015 was the tipping point. Fyvie Hall was awash with mutual appreciation even amongst total strangers. ▶