“Writing can be cathartic, and doing it without deadlines or quotas is truly liberating.”
Hi, nice to meet you.
This is my blog. Thanks for stopping by and reading, because I’m never quite sure how people end up here! There’s something quite comforting about writing, even if one assumes that nobody reads it. This site also contains work I’ve done over the years in radio, television, corporate communications and digital.
Many years ago, when I lived in Shanghai, I launched a rag-tag blog called Zhongnanhai. It happened a few hours after I arrived at work that morning at an upstart internet company called Jongo. After sitting down at my desk and pouring a morning coffee, I was summoned into the managing director’s office and told investors had pulled the plug, that the site would close, and that I’m free to go home. After leaving the office for the last time it occurred to me that this was the first time in my adult life when I had absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to be — so why not enjoy a pint and write something?
By pure luck, my timing to start a blog was nearly perfect. Blogs were booming, social media was still in its infancy, and the original iPhone was set to launch a month later. It was also a very optimistic time in China, with millions of people entering the middle class, buying cars, and enjoying the fruits of country’s renaissance. The global media spotlight was fixated on China, too, as the world prepared for the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in a country without a free press and still run by authoritarian leaders. It was a time when “China experts” were being minted regularly, when writers felt snubbed if they weren’t on somebody’s blogroll, and the comments sections were wild with colourful characters, many of them regulars.
I spent four years in Mainland China, living in three of the ‘big four’ first-tier cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. I was so fortunte to pack so much into those years. I first worked at China Radio International hosting news, sports, and language learning shows before moving on to China Central Television to write and voice news stories and documentaries for the country’s international news channel. The next stop was Guangzhou, a city that I still adore. I was part of the launch team and hosted a daily news program for Guangzhou Television’s English Channel, the country’s first municipal English-language television channel. I’ve also studied Chinese at Tsinghua University, attended an open-air Nine Inch Nails concert (!) in Beijing, judged a televised singing competition, and was the token laowai at countless banquets with an ever-changing cast of inebriated government officials pouring thimbles of China’s pungent rice liquor, baijiu. Those years were some of the most fun I’ve had in my life.
All of that began 15 years ago or so, yet the world feels entirely different today. Social media nearly entirely killed off blogs as writers were able to post their hot takes in bite-sized nuggets and get immediate feedback. The internet, in many ways, became more corporate, with conversations happening on the platforms of only a handful of big tech companies, and China has grown to become more assertive in international affairs and even toughter on dissent at home. China’s leaders deserve praise for executing economic reforms that pulled millions of people out of poverty and raised living standards that, in some cities, rivals and even surpasses the west, but it has also become more threatening to its neighbours and less hospitable to foreign guests. The mood has shifted, too, if only subtlely. Chinese people may seem optimistic on the surface, but vast flows of capital out of the country would indicate otherwise.
The Beijing Olympics served as a perfect bookend of my time in Mainland China. It was the first time I had been in a city hosting the Olympics, and the two-week party seemed almost magical. The city had an energy that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
Once the games ended, it was clear that it was time for me to get more serious about life. I knew, on some level, that I had to move on from the fun, carefree ‘expat’ (a newly controversial term) lifestyle in Beijing, where a can of beer was cheaper than a bottle of water. I was about to turn 30 and knew China wasn’t, and still isn’t, a great choice for a foreigner to put down roots and stay for the long term. I had my heart set on Hong Kong, and I landed here on Halloween in 2008 (with my boxes of stuff, sent by ship, arriving about five weeks after me…)
“It was the first time I had been in a city hosting the Olympics, and the two-week party seemed almost magical.”
Hong Kong was an even bigger culture shock than arriving in Beijing. During an early dinner with my soon-to-be manager at the city’s subway operator, MTR, she told me that the Hong Kong media can be relentless so I should prepare for many busy days. Having worked as a media spokesperson for a provincial government in Canada, I smiled politely but thought to myself, how bad can it really be? A few days later, at an all staff welcome lunch, I asked one of my colleagues what time people leave the office each day. There was some laughter, followed by some debate over whether the technical end of the day is 5:30pm or 6pm. Then somebody chimed in and said, in reality, it’s usually after 8pm. Again, in my naivete, I scoffed and figured this is all for show.
The working hours and frenetic pace in Hong Kong took some time to get used to, especially following the lifestyle that we enjoyed in Mainland China. But looking back, it was a badly-needed wakeup call and a valuable lesson on what it takes to succeed in a highly-competitive economy. It is an ideal place for highly-motivated people, because the hours can be long but the rewards can be substantial.
After a two year stint at the MTR, I spent just over nine years with HKEX, the company that owns and operates the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, London Metal Exchange, and other trading venues. I joined as a kid, and feel like I left the company, in early 2020, as an adult. By the time I resigned, I was the head of its digital communications department overseeing its web properties, social networks, and anything remotely digital like the online registration system, live streaming of events, branding, chatbots, intranet, Salesforce, and more. I also ghost-wrote the Chief Executive’s blog during the entire nine years, producing more than 60 of them in that time! Needless to say, I learned a ton.
These days I’m the Senior Director of Global Communications for a large, listed internet and technology firm, an incredible job at a fascinating company. My team work in the global media office, working day and night to build out the company’s international communications capability, boost engagement online and with media, and ultimately build relationships with stakeholders to help demystify the company and build trust.
I have still maintained that freelancer spirit, and continue to work with the World Economic Forum on its Annual Meeting of New Champions held in Mainland China each year, and attended my first Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland in 2020. I also do regular digital and productivity training for individuals and teams, and publish practical how-to videos on a new channel called Executive Productivity. I also speak semi-frequently at professional events and on university campuses on digital communications, social media, the internet landscape and trends in China, digital marketing for corporations, and developing one’s personal brand online. Finally, although I’ve been out of the journalism game for many years, I still receive calls from overseas news organizations to appear when news happens in Hong Kong (which has been very very frequent recently… 😉).
I have wanted to put a proper website together for many years; a single spot where I can blog, keep archives of radio and TV appearances, and even share newsletters. That plan has been put off dozens of times because of time constraints, lack of funding, fluid plans, and a whole plethora of other reasons — but now it’s done. I owe a huge thank you to Nisha at Blanco Digital Studio in London for bringing this website to life.
“These days I’m the Senior Director of Global Communications for a large, listed internet and technology firm, an incredible job at a fascinating company.”
Thanks again for stopping by. If you like some of the content here, please feel free to sign up to the newsletters (you can pick the topics you like, or take everything) or subscribe to the site’s RSS feeds. (I highly recommend Inoreader!) If you’re into PR, communications, digital and marketing, I also publish Digital Bits, a newsletter with some of the best content from around the web on those topics. You can sign up here.
I can always be reached anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again, and have a fantastic day,
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