I have to admit, I’ve mixed feelings when it came to the Gemeindesaal (or Community Hall, a “mini” City Town Hall of sorts) in Zumikon, Switzerland. It remained to me a lesser-favourite part of Zumikon, the place I went to school in Switzerland, for a fair bit of time — simply because we sat exams there — and it was rather scary. A grand hall for upwards of 500, converted to a hall of around 200-300 students sitting exams!
However, the whole thing changed on 14 December 1996. I remembered an audience that almost filled the entire hall — parents, kids, everyone, as everyone joined our school for an afternoon of performances just in time for the festive period. On a conservative count, I figured there were at least 200; more recently, I was told this figure could have been upwards of 500. ▶
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! ▶
This was an evening very much unlike any other. For a long time, I had my eyes on China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala — itself often ridiculed. I wondered why eight emcees were needed — but loved it when in early 2011, a CRH high speed train model rolled into the studio.
I was totally unexpected for something like this to happen to me, for my remote control to be replaced by a microphone, and for me to be standing in the centre of the stage in front of thousands — instead of leaning back on the comfy chair.
This completely changed on Wednesday, 17 February 2016, in the city of Portsmouth, right on the southern coast of England. I was to emcee, along with another host (a lady), the Cultures of China, Festival of Spring Year of the Monkey gala to a massive audience in Portsmouth’s King Theatre. ▶
I absolutely adore the English language here. Make no mistake — the way I see it, the best way to get better at speaking onstage in a tone of voice that doesn’t get people snoring is — to travel on the Tube (or any other form of public transport — even planes).
I knew this happened to me because a few years back, I was asked to record a series of (very short) audio programmes for China Radio International in Mandarin Chinese (if I got my facts right). I was invited into a recording studio with a massive microphone, and they turned the machine on. I started reciting from memory.
The member of staff from China Radio International was completely flabbergasted. I was telling stories, not monologues, and it was all being recorded.
The tone of my voice isn’t the same ole same ole boring monologue for the simple fact that I’ve listened to station announcements on the Zürich suburban train (S-Bahn) system. In the 1990s, they had two female voices, plus another two voices from male announcers. I liked the one with the lady reading the station name in a tone which must have incorporated a warm smile (you could almost hear it!), and I was made slightly more nervous when Mr Nervous Announcer did his bit. As a kid then in his teens, these minute differences in tone meant a lot for me.
Here in London, my favourite announcements are those made on the S stock trains running on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. This is followed up next by 2009 Stock trains on the Victoria line. ▶
I took part in the Beautiful Hebei photo expo — an event where I absolutely did not regret being part of it. An extremely key reason for this being the case was because it was about Hebei, a part of China now about to be made famous by co-hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. In fact, that part of China, which the Western media preferred to think would be completely snow-less, was entirely snowed in just as this post went onto the Internet.
The celebration dinner tonight was a moment of appreciation for all who were part of this event. I took it very seriously as it involved something dear and near to me. My wife’s origins by family roots was from Hebei, that very same province that got highlighted there, and I actually taught for two years in Hebei (and would happily do so again in future). Hebei was a place for me to go to when I got fed up of Beijing (that would actually happen!… but not all the time), and I’ve basically explored all the major cities in the province, save for Xingtai and Hengshui in the south, and maybe Huanghua in the southeast. I wanted to be part of this event which involved a part of China that would host the Winter Olympics in 2022 because being part of the Games (even off the field) in 2008 was a great experience for me.
My role at the meeting was as event host. For the rest of us, that translates to people who do little else than go onstage with a microphone, saying the right things, and trying to connect the dots for the audience. But that was only part of the story. With key events, you had to have two — a lady and a gentleman — so I had to get in touch with the lady presenter, Shuo Zhang, early onwards and try to figure out just how the scripts would work. A huge amount of details were put into the cue cards (which we tried to ignore as much as we can, just to appear more natural). I made more than the usual dashes to Waitrose, if only for the extra caffeine, because I’d be keeping late nights (up to 04:00 once!). No detail was spared — not even the back of cue cards, which could be spotted by eagle-eyed members of the audience. There was no complaints whatsoever: we just wanted to put on the best possible show for the audience. ▶
Train G1067 was my best introduction to Guangzhou as I actually hopped off the plane from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport to Guangzhou North Railway Station. The train zipped through a tunnel to central Guangzhou at 315 km/h — very much the fastest trip for me on a train going through tunnels. Before long, I was at Guangzhou South, where I had my breath taken away first before I had the chance to take the audience’s breath away with a totally smashing lineup of speakers at TEDxCanton.
I was the lead host of the entire show, along with others including Robert Kong Hai, known otherwise as @weirdchina on Twitter, and his kids (even!). There were also a few local hosts I shared the stage with. Lonnie Hodge pulled this event together with such spectacular results.
Just like TEDxGuangzhou in 2009, which I spoke at, we had a full house of over 600 in attendance, plus the usual whispering translators. Being held in the exact same venue as TEDxGuangzhou last year, it was newness in a familiar part of the world for me. I loved the late-night chatter that went all the way into the wee hours. ▶
Looking odd here? All red, white, and yellow? Read further inside this post to see why this is the case!
Yesterday, the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall, where I’m at as part of my Beijing 2008 commitment, had a rather special evening. Virtually nobody at the exhibition hall had any real in-depth international experience, and yet they wanted to be as multilingual as possible — those posts around town in a great variety of languages might very well have been the reason why. They picked me as event host in a gala that included a lot of dancing and singing — in front of everyone, city officials (such as a deputy mayor) included!
Me working at this place meant that I often had to deal in matters directly related to very high-level visits. In comparison, hosting a city mayor was far less of a tall order for me. I had to, however, do my bit in English, German, French, Italian and Korean, and you knew a simple Google Translate might not always do the job well. Even more importantly, I had to remember as many phrases off by heart as possible.
To make this a uniquely Chinese event, I was dressed in very Chinese shades — red for me, and yellow for the other host. Those of us who knew China well, though, wouldn’t be surprised: the emperor of dynasties past would always choose yellow, and red was what was donned during festive, not “warning”, events. So I do admit I’d look a little weird in “all-red” in the West, but in China, this would be far less of an issue. ▶
One of those things that I love doing is to give a speech or just host something — just like that, out of the blue! Turns out I got one of those chances at a recent marriage of a TV station employee here in Beijing, where I was interning in.
One of us (that’s a TV employee) got married — on a Sunday. The wedding reception wasn’t huge; he had his big reception elsewhere in China, and was only finishing the Beijing leg. Still, there were about 25 to 30 people to entertain.
I never expected to be a host this time — hey, I never did any weddings! Still, the new bridegroom asked me to be a host — one of those things that, just like what happened December 5, 2003, I never hesitated in saying “yes” to. They got the mic and I was on. ▶
The hosting of the Dyned Cup Finals late last year was so good, that the President of the Student Council for my university’s English Department decided to handpick me to host the Lenovo Tianji English Speaking Contest, which was held yesterday.
I was also very much encouraged to be onstage again after what became an outpouring of congratulations almost right after the last such event finished — both from foreign teachers and from locals, as well as people behind the scenes at the event.
This time, my stage was the main hall in a massive, “audio visual hall”, which was much larger than the last event. This meant facing even more people in the audience. It was, once again, a great time.▶
It’s been pretty close! I promised to host the final part of a China-US culture event on the very last day of the year, and this meant that I had to be quick to complete my exams!
Thankfully, the topic I had that day was relatively easy; I was quite familiar with the topic, so I could easily finish it early. Then it was upstairs to the room where I would be hosting part of the show all the way to the end.
And thus closed out the year 2003, a year that started on an encouraging note after the many active events of late 2002 — and that had a very unexpected development in the spring with the onset of SARS. Things then started to turn back to normal following the autumn, where I started taking on some English courses, plus hosting events. ▶