Ever since I connected to the “World Wide Web” for the first time in the 1990s, I’ve wanted a proper website. Back then I had aspirations of becoming a radio or television journalist, and figured my own site would give me a leg up on the competition when applying for internships or part-time jobs. Then, after broadcasting school, I thought I could use a website as a repository for my work so far, but tools like Squarespace weren’t around then and building a website meant serious time and money.
Life carried on until I arrived in China in 2004, right around when the China English-language blogosphere was really taking off. The years leading up to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008 were a true golden period — and it’s not just nostalgia, either. China’s economy was really kicking it into high gear, more and more people were arriving in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere in the country looking for opportunity, and the government seemed to be taking steps towards greater liberalization. It was an exciting time to be in China and the online community reflected that.
There were only very rudimentary social networks back then, so blogs and the famous “blog roll” were ways to connect people who shared interests. The highlight of my “blogging career” was during that brief window, when so much was happening and every day seemed like an adventure. The China blogosphere was filled with entertaining, witty writers, historians, human rights activists, and other “China Hands” faithfully documenting China’s rise – just like me – from a front row seat in Beijing. Ah, the glory days. (Okay, maybe this is coloured a little bit by nostalgia.)
The blogosphere wasn’t just thriving in China, either. Blogging tools like WordPress and Movable Type opened up publishing to anybody who wanted to do it, and lots of people did. It felt like the wild west. Some of the best writers in the United States from that time have built super successful careers and huge audiences that sustain to this day — people like Ezra Klein at Vox or Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine. (For the record, Ezra Klein’s podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, is podcast gold and a must listen if you follow the news.)
Blogging would probably have declined naturally, as things do, but the rise of Twitter and Facebook nearly decimated it overnight. Once people could share their thoughts and opinions in 180 words on Twitter, the inspiration to sit down and write long-form pieces seemed to evaporate.
I built my first blog the day after I was laid off from Jongo.com, an internet startup in Shanghai which paid me a lot of money to relocate from Guangzhou only to shutter the business a few weeks later. I remember waking up and thinking, for the first time in years, I have nothing to do today. So I took my trusty Windows XP laptop and headed to Malone’s (RIP) on Tongren Lu. I still remember sitting there mid-afternoon with quite the buzz (and while responsible people were in offices, doing work, I guess) and throwing my first blog posts together. I’ve never quite been able to shake the desire since.
The blog, called Zhongnanhai, had a decent run with strong traffic for a few years. Other writers even joined, and we began publishing some great content from people who were very familiar with China. But once the Olympics wrapped up and I decided to move down to Hong Kong, life changed. I just turned 30 and, I quickly learned, working at a financial company in Hong Kong doesn’t exactly leave a lot of free time for pursuits such as blogging.
I tried, though. A friend and I ran The Nanfang from 2011 to 2016, a news site with multiple writers and a strong following online, but we rarely wrote for the platform ourselves; instead, we were tasked with running the business, hiring staff, editing, and all of the other unglamorous tasks that come with administering a business. Nobody ever talks much about that part.
After that, I took a break. I needed a break. I wrote the odd piece here or there, some of which struck a nerve (in a good way, of course). But I was never happy with a blog that seemed dull and a site that was perpetually under construction.
I’ve been involved in so many different projects in the past couple of years — mostly hobbies but some more serious — and I’ve been dying to write about them. From iPad productivity to investing in foreign real estate, from PR crises to Hong Kong politics, and from airline reviews to podcasts, there’s just so much interesting stuff out there. It’s a never-ending sea of content and interesting things, so rather than bombard my friends and family with long iMessages and meandering emails about topics they aren’t interested in, I figured I’d do that here, instead. For you. So, thanks!
This site isn’t just a blog though, it’s a place for me to centralize everything. I’ve done plenty of radio reporting in the past, been a frequent guest on international radio and television to discuss Mainland China and Hong Kong, and even done some rudimentary television in China (once you see those videos, you’ll understand why I never made a career of it.) I shudder watching or listening to some of it now, and I wondered whether it was worth putting online, but why not? It’s me — or at least who I was, at the time.
I have also done newsletters periodically over the years, but now a proper service has been set up and is ready to rock. If you would like to get posts delivered to you by email the second they’re published, please do! You can sign up here. I’m also beta testing a Weekend Reads newsletter that is sent out every Thursday, full of links to really interesting or noteworthy content found online. It will start out random, with zero restrictions on the kinds of content or topics involved, and I’ll monitor it from there. If you sign up for Weekend Reads, please let me know what works and what doesn’t.
I’m really happy to have a proper home online, and I can’t wait to begin. While I love and appreciate the fact you’re still reading this, I’ve never sought out huge audiences. Writing is therapeutic for me, like it is for so many others. It helps put things in focus and, over time, hopefully get a better understanding of the world around us — and of oneself.
It may have taken 25 years, but I finally have that website. Now it’s time to do something with it.
Thanks to Adam Carolla for the title.