Oh goodie, a chance to write about one of my favorite topics – love! (Remember those “Dear Q” love agony emails I was receiving in 2009-2010?).

But one can’t very well write about love in China without writing about Marriage and, of course, about Property! So here goes, my take on modern Chinese relationships and what keeps the real estate “bubble” going, published in the January issue of NewsChina (available in print in the US, Canada, and China).



What do Chinese people want?

I write research for an investment company for a living. Because the sector I cover happens to be consumer goods and retail, I obsess over what Chinese people want, in the literal sense. Is it LV, Gucci, or Prada? KFC, Chongqing-style fast food, or fine dining? A new car, a bigger house, or a ticket abroad?

As I traveled around China last year talking to people about their material desires I realized that their intangible wants were more compelling. Here’s what I found on self-actualizing in the pseudo-communist-capitalist state, published in the December 2012 issue of NewsChina.

Copy of NewsChina 2012-12


Life, unplugged

The joys of writing and publishing continue, thanks to an indulgent editor JS for humoring my ambitious whims and to my husband FM for providing daily inspiration of newer crazier things to try!

This time, I write about my experience with unplugging from email, Blackberry, Facebook – you name it – in the October issue of NewsChina.

Publishing again!

Between 2009-2011, I spent two happy years as a writer / editor plugging away at my keyboard making social / political / cultural commentaries for various English publications about China. Some of my work is still on this blog, but a lot of it was lost in an IT-ineptitude-induced episode of “Oops, someone stole my domain name” (in truth, I forgot to renew it). When I have time, I’ll repost the old columns I published on this blog.

For now, the more exciting news is that a magazine I used to contribute to monthly – NewsChina – has asked me to start writing again. I happily share with you my first publication after a year-long hiatus, during which I traveled around China plenty and wrote a lot (for private consumption by my indulgent and encouraging investment-colleague readers at my company), here. If you don’t have a subscription to NewsChina you should look into it – Obama himself is a reader :).

Click on this link to read a PDF copy:
NewsChina Sep 2012

P.S. Sorry for the blurry image. One day I’ll figure out how to be a real blogger.

Me and The New Yorker

Exciting news! The piece I researched for The New Yorker magazine’s China correspondent, Evan Osnos, has been published. As a lowly researcher, my name isn’t credited. Nevertheless, it’s immensely gratifying to see the work I did make it into the final story. (I was tasked with finding out all there is to know about Lin Yifu…I would’ve PAID to have been allowed to accompany him on work trips, like Evan did).

Favorite things about working on this project?

  • Learning about my country, our history and economic development again (haven’t done that since college)
  • Watching a journalistic pro (one who has been on The Colbert Report, no less) go about writing his story
  • Interviewing octogenerian Mao Yushi laoshi in person (China’s older generation of intellectuals are so inspiring!)

Here is a link to the story. If you don’t have a subscription but are dying to read about China’s “boom doctors”, email me and I’ll try to finagle a PDF copy your way.

Really? This was censored?

In case you’re wondering why my article didn’t appear in the papers yesterday as usual, it’s because the tongue-in-cheekness doesn’t go over well with the “lingdao” (leaders) over at the Daily. A magazine will be running a longer version of the story in December, so there’s hope yet for self-deprecating humor in China! Read below for what didn’t make it into yesterday’s newspaper.

My life in a danwei

I’ve joined a danwei.

Well, sort of. The publication I now edit is owned by China’s oldest publishing house. Like many large historical enterprises, it operates in a nebulous quasi-state-owned zone. Regardless of its actual structure, it feels like a danwei to me, a novice at working for a Chinese company.

I started feeling the danwei-ness as soon as the hiring process began. It resembled nothing of the structured Round 1, Round 2, Final Round battle-style interviews I encountered in my previous life as an investment banker. At each meeting, the very professional conduct of the office HR representative contrasted with her need to seek further directive from the lingdao (“leaders”).

The nomenclature alone gives the danwei away. A lingdao implies, above all, seniority; a “CEO” highlights professionalism. Back and forth I went with the HR lady. After each interview she would conclude, “I will seek the leader’s opinion.”

Finally, the leaders and I decided we wanted each other. Then, on the most important negotiations I found myself speaking to two leaders separately about essentially the same things. A three-way conference call would’ve been easier. Or, the leaders could’ve debriefed each other directly.

When we agreed on the details I asked about an offer letter. My future leader assured me, “Don’t worry, we keep to our word.” For the first time in my short but multifarious career, I violated these golden rules:  “Get It in Writing” and “Leave Your Options Open.” I declined other job offers without first signing on a dotted line. I felt a little reckless, like a Victorian lady turning down one marriage proposal without bagging a better one. Would I end up a Marianne after the betrayal of Willoughby?

Fortunately, my leader kept his promise. My first week was surprisingly busy. In the first six days, I attended four big meetings. Really big meetings.

In size, these powwows resembled annual meetings at western companies. Everyone save the receptionist was called in to listen. The meetings were also big in that they were long. With so many people crammed into a conference room for four hours at a time – no scheduled intermissions or clear agendas – the meetings felt epically long.

Speaking of agendas, it seems my leaders like to call gatherings with little advanced notice and only vague indications of what might be discussed. This might be why most of my colleagues sat fiddling uncomfortably for hours, unsure of when they would have to present, nor when to slip out for a cigarette, perk up or doodle.

After Behemoth Meeting #2, I decided that doing things strictly the danwei way would slowly drive me mad. Tentatively, I approached my leader and offered a humble suggestion: could we make an agenda with talking points and time limits?

The leader then did something very un-lingdao-ish. He agreed. Let’s institute the changes, he said, provided that I would do the work. When the next meeting rolled around, I thought I heard an urgency in everyone’s voice. We finished in two hours. Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Danwei or not, there are always adjustments to make when fitting into a new company. Luckily, mine also comes with particular danwei perks. I’m in possession of a circular clearly stipulating that working beyond 5pm accrues over-time, which must be compensated with time off. Should I so desire, I can lay my head down on the desk at noon for a snooze without anyone coughing in embarrassment (as I did the first time I spotted a Chinese coworker napping). And, my favorite of all, there are danwei “outings.”

On my third day, I put on sneakers and met the entire publishing house staff in a parking lot filled with chartered buses. We set off for the “autumn outing”, a hike in the hills outside Tianjin. The last time I went on a seasonal outing was in grade school. The even more endearing surprise when we arrived at our destination? Our leaders distributed lunch money to everyone. It was so very Chinese.

As I sit at my danwei desk everyday I think how much my mother must chuckle over the idea of me adapting to a Chinese company. It’s certainly not what I envisioned when I joined the hoards of eager young Wall Street-ers years ago. But, for now, I like my life as a danwei employee. My leaders may not be western-style smooth operators, but at least they keep open minds on how to improve.


Read more of me (us) at…

The World of Chinese! Last week I started working as  Senior Editor at an awesome bi-monthly publication on all things Chinese. Linguistics nerds, serious Sinophiles and people who love the quirky and weird in life as much as I do, I urge you to give the strangely retro-looking magazine (Project #1 – redesign for 2011) a try. The writing is stellar and with every issue I find myself chuckling to the sublime humor of our scribes (Bravo to AD, NR, CC and everyone else).Here’s a sampling from our most popular section, “The Hard Seat” (more on our website):

The Perfect Shoe

When I was first introduced to Feiyue shoes, I was told they were once worn by China’s famed Shaolin monks. I’ve never confirmed this fact, but I do know that Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt have both recently been spotted sporting these Chinese classics.

Monday, October 04, 2010 BY BILLY CHUNG KWOK
E-mail // Share Print

When I was first introduced to Feiyue shoes, I was told they were once worn by China’s famed Shaolin monks. I’ve never confirmed this fact, but I do know that Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt have both recently been spotted sporting these Chinese classics. This news, of great interest to China’s fashionable youth, exploded on the Internet and within minutes they were a hit with China’s vintage clothing connoisseurs.

Feiyue shoes experienced their heyday in the mid-’60s. They were produced in Shanghai and 1.6 million pairs were shipped across China annually. They were the dependable, go-to athletic shoe. Not trendy per se, but reliable. A generation and a half later, these shoes are back with a vengeance. Distribution numbers may have fallen to a few hundred thousand per year, but bloggers, hipsters and even a French designer have taken great interest in this Shanghai classic. – B.C.K.