I wrote a story about Mo Li – fashionista, DJ, businessman, entertainer, all around fun guy in Beijing. He may sound like a party guy, but he has a pretty incredible story that reflects the times and places he has lived through in China and in the US.
Read it here or on China Daily:
From his hometown in Shenyang to Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Nevada and Ningbo, Li Mo came to Beijing via the long route. Along the way, Li – who prefers going by “Mo” – dabbled in many trades, working his way up from humble bus boy at an American chain restaurant to bartender in Las Vegas, to general manager at a fusion lounge bar. In between these food and beverage (F&B) industry stints, Li also recast himself several times – as an army man, a real estate agent, and most recently, an event organizer, party promoter, and DJ.
This year, Li is trying something new again, but this time it’s going to be different.
“This is a big year. I’m doing what I love,”he said.
That love is for a creative melange of fashion, music and entertainment. It took Li many years, trials and errors, and getting into “a lot of trouble” before he found his way here to make his dreams come true.
The child of a dancer mother from a high-ranking Kuomintang family and a military father from an equally staunch Communist family, Li was born into a home rife with creativity and conflict. A difficult childhood led down diverse paths before Beijing.
“My parents split when I was 18 months old and I grew up with my maternal grandparents,” he said.
When he was 14, Li followed his mother and uncle, both graduates of Liaoning Opera House who count popular 90s singer Mao Ning as a “shi di” (fellow student), to America, where they worked in a family-owned restaurant.
“At first, we went to Kansas. It was horrible. I was the only Asian kid in my school. I have a bit of a temper so I ended up going to three different high schools.”After passing the GED -an American high school level equivalency test – at 17, Li left home to try to make it on his own.
For 10 years, he bounced between jobs, trying to find something that would engage him. “I did so many things because my mom thought I ‘should’ be doing it.”
Then, in 2008, China came calling. A friend Li had met in Las Vegas offered him a job with a tools supplier for Home Depot, the American home decoration retail giant. The job brought him to Ningbo. Of this fortuitous job, Li says, “I spent every day at KTV drinking with government people, shipping companies, and factory owners. After two months, I couldn’t take it any more.” So, he called up his friend, packed up his bags and left his hotel for Beijing.
Once in Beijing, he started pursuing his passions, working as an event organizer, party promoter and DJ.
“Everybody knew me as a party guy.” Living the party life was good, but Li is realistic about making things work in the long term. “I could be a DJ, dancer, entertainer- would love to do that for a living. But I still have to pay the bills. The F&B business is something I know how to do.”
On May 21, Li and his partners launched The Beach, an upscale bar lounge on the rooftop of entertainment venue Block 8 in Chaoyang district. With their newly formed F&B company – Sigma – they hope to open several entertainment spots in Beijing and be part of the party scene for a long time.
This time, it looks like Li the wanderer is ready to settle down. “I’m here to stay. I feel comfortable.”
Q: After so many years away, is this your grand homecoming?
A: In the last two years, I’ve seen so many people come and go. Not many become successful here. They get destroyed because they can’t adapt to what’s happening in China. That’s the beauty of it for me, because it doesn’t mean everybody can make it.
Q: Where do you take your very varied career from here?
A: I’m at a different stage in my life now. I want to build something solid and use my different talents and experiences. I want to turn all the things I know how to do into one thing. I want to combine fashion, art, music, entertainment and put it all together.
Q: What makes you tick?
A: I love it when I tell people I want to do something and they laugh in my face.
I started DJ-ing just six months ago. When I first told people I wanted to be a DJ, they laughed. But I love to be on stage, it’s like I have a remote control in my hand. I give people how I want them to feel, when I want them to feel it. I’m definitely an adrenaline junkie – a lot of it comes from right here (points to his heart).