Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 22 – The Fashion Journalist (Casey HALL, The Business of Fashion)
Casey Hall has spent the last 14 years in China as a journalist, most recently at The Business of Fashion. And through the lens of the fashion industry, we can learn a lot about the way Chinese people live their lives.
OF: I like it when you say a phrase that has obviously been translated from Chinese: ‘Human-flesh 代购 [dàigòu]s’.
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Today's episode is with the journalist, Casey Hall. I'm always grateful when a journalist agrees to talk with me on this podcast, because the one thing they all have in common is that they never want to be the subject of the news themselves. The other journalist who has come on the show before was Eric Olander from Season 01 Episode 03, so please check out that episode if you haven't done so already. Where Casey's story differs the most from Eric's is that Casey's recent focus has been on reporting trends in lifestyle and consumerism. If you would like to hear us talk more about her earlier career in news journalism in China, please subscribe to the PREMIUM version of the podcast on Patreon internationally, or on 爱发电 [Àifādiàn] if you're in China. Just head to https://mosaicofchina.com and follow the links there. Right, on with show.
OF: Thank you so much Casey. I'm here with Casey Hall. And Casey, what is your title?
CH: I'm the Asia Correspondent for The Business of Fashion.
OF: OK. Well, we'll come to that. But before we do, I wanted to ask you the burning question, which is, what is the object that you've brought that in some way defines your life here in China?
CH: It is a vintage copy of my Lonely Planet guide…
CH: …Which will be of absolutely no use to anybody anymore. A vintage copy of Lonely Planet in China, in a place that changes so quickly. It was my gateway to China, initially. When I first came, I was with my friend and we backpacked around China for three months. And we used our Lonely Planet to decide where we were going to go. We didn't have a plan, we were just kind of going from one place to another. And at that time, after reading through the whole Lonely Planet guide, I made a list that was three A4 pages long of all the places that I wanted to see in China. And after 13 years, I am more than two pages through, I'm getting there.
OF: Oh right! Well, thank you. And that book opens up such a lot of conversation starters, one of which being that you are a journalist. And you have written in a similar style, I would say, to Lonely Planet, in that you tend to focus on society and culture, and things that have a bridge between China and the outside world.
CH: Yeah, absolutely.
OF: Well, tell me about your experience then, where does your work in journalism start?
CH: In Australia. I did a degree in journalism at RMIT. And after graduating, I went to work for a commercial TV station. My first job was answering the phones, answering the news-line. So people would ring in with their story ideas, and it was my job to decide whether it was a story or not. Which is great training, it's a good way to also become a little bit immune to criticism, and what other people think. A lot of, you know, not the most stable people in the world like to ring into TV stations. So…
CH: It was good, though. It had a really good grounding. And I went from there to becoming a researcher and kind of field producer on that show. And then after doing that for three years, my boyfriend at the time - who's now my husband - and my best friend had decided independently that they were both moving to China. So I thought, maybe that would be the thing to do. I came with very little expectations about what my work life would be like. And what I found then - and what I think is still true today - is that the English language media sphere in China is small, and it's transient. So just by virtue of being here for a long time, I've been able to come across a lot of really great opportunities. Just because, you know, it's easy to build a network with people who want content from China. And I've been here from 2007 - so, before the Olympics - till today, so it's never been difficult for me to find work here.
OF: Right, absolutely. And I know where you are today, The Business of Fashion. But that's not the starting point, is it?
CH: I worked for a magazine that was part of the That's network, it was called ‘News, Views and Reviews’: ‘NVR’. And from there, I went on to become the Managing Editor of a city lifestyle magazine network, Talk Magazines. There were six magazines around the country. And as a newcomer to Shanghai, it was a phenomenal way to get to know the city. You know, it's a way to get to know every restaurant, and every shop, and all these people in the in the community.
OF: You're really in the traffic of what's going on, right?
CH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, even then, there were lots of ‘old China hands’ that were saying “You came too late. It’s not like it was in the old days”. And for me, actually, the biggest difference in my China experience is, after the first four years, I went to school full-time and studied Chinese. So for the first four years, I was here, I had survival Chinese. But after studying full-time for two years, it was like I had been a blind and a deaf person. Writing about a place where if you're there for a couple of days, you can write an article; if you're there for a couple of months, you can write a book; and if you're there for more than a couple of years, you can't write more than a line.
OF: Yes, I've heard it said in different ways, but that's a very nice one. You see people come in, they fly in for that week, and they write the article which then goes global. And you must think “Oh god, what do you know about that, though?”
CH: Yeah, I do, when it comes to some things, for sure. And I think that, in some ways, that tradition is unhelpful to the mutual understanding of what is happening in China, and the way that people read that outside of China. So if there's any frustration, it is that. I think, what seems to always be the stories about China are ‘Big China, Bad China, Weird China’.
CH: And I think that just having that portrayal - ‘Big Bad Weird China’ - is not helpful.
OF: I've never heard it said so succinctly. Thank you for being part of this project, which I hope is not ‘Big Bad Weird China’. Let's go on then, what was the next phase?
CH: So I couldn't work full-time, but I had time in the afternoons where I could start freelancing. I did that for the next six years, basically. I’ve not felt particularly limited in terms of the things that I can cover. My attitude has always been that there is a way that you can cover the country in a meaningful way that is more nuanced, and based more in society and culture, than it is the top-line government and what's important to them.
OF: Yeah. And that's, I think, the line that all of us who are in China have to navigate. So who were your client then, during those times? You say they were international publications.
CH: Oh I worked for a lot of different publications. The Wall Street Journal, Asia, I did some stuff for; The New York Times International Edition, they have a section called ‘Great Homes’, and I was doing their Shanghai Great Homes for them, which was such a fun job. To get to go into people's homes and sticky beak around, it suits me.
OF: Can you think of an example?
CH: There are so many. So I saw a lot of great renovated lane houses. It's also about interesting ways that people live in a space. So one of the most interesting ones I did was actually a warehouse that was at the end of Metro Line 3 near the Forest Park. It had been like a warehouse conversion, basically, like they made it into a huge kind of apartment.
OF: Oh, I'll have to ask you for a photo of that one.
CH: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
OF: And you mentioned The New York Times. What other ones did you work for?
CH: One of the main ones I worked for was Women's Wear Daily.
OF: Women’s Wear Daily?
OF: Oh right.
CH: ‘WWD’ was a fashion trade publication, they were looking for someone in mainland China to be their contributor. I mean, I wrote a lot about - and I still do today - I wrote a lot about the development of China's consumer culture. That's been one of the themes that's really kind of run through a lot of my work. For example, about the battle between coffee and tea in China.
OF: And this is the new phenomenon of the tea shops that are kind of using the Starbucks model in China, right?
CH: Yeah, exactly. I mean, Starbucks has had phenomenal success in China. But I think that a lot of people are not necessarily convinced it's because Chinese people love coffee. I think it has much more to do with having somewhere to meet up with someone; having somewhere to spend your 15 minute break at work; and somewhere that's just easy to set up your laptop. I think those things are probably more important than the actual coffee product.
OF: I see. Yes. And you're right, because I've been to places around China, and then you see Starbucks, and you walk in, and it's this clean quiet environment. Whereas the outside might be very different. So I guess that's the kind of atmosphere they're trying to emulate.
CH: Yeah, it's a huge, huge thing here. Hey Tea is phenomenally successful. And I'm still writing about Hey Tea - weirdly, from a kind of fashion and beauty perspective - because a lot of these tea companies - 乐乐茶 [LELECHA] as well - have partnered with beauty brands, and done cross-promotional collaborations. Which is not something you necessarily see a lot in the West, you know, beauty brands collaborating with food and beverage. But in China, it's really a thing. Maybe it's also because the tea drinks are quite colourful.
CH: So for example, there was one collaboration that was a peach drink - so it's kind of like, you know, a pretty orangey-pink colour - with a blush, which is a similar kind of colour. So in a way, it works more naturally. But I also think from a consumer point of view, people are more accepting of it, there are less stringent rules in people's minds about what is appropriate or not appropriate.
OF: Yes, we seem to have got these lines of convention about certain things. And then you go to a different culture, and you don't have the same history with these conventions. So you can go over the lines, can’t you?
CH: Yeah, I think with China, something I've always loved is the way that people dress without ‘codes’ in a way. Like, unless you went to a very big law firm or something very very serious, it would be very rare to see people wearing business attire, in a Western context. You know, like, that sense of ‘making it up as you go along’. And it wasn't bound by what is appropriate in a workplace setting.
OF: Well, let's take this chance now to fast-forward to your life today. So you are the Asia Correspondent of The Business of Fashion. What are you seeing from that perspective?
CH: There have been huge changes, between generations in China. And generations in China are only five years. People talk about, you know, the post-80s and post-90s - and then the post-95s, and then the post 2000s - as being vastly different in the way that they think about things, and the way that they buy things. You know, I see younger consumers in particular - and I see study after study backing this up - that there is much more of a focus on an individual unique identity, and expressing that in the way that you might put your clothes together, or you might express yourself on social media, so that other people can see what kind of person you are. There's not just one ‘this is good’ and then there's the rest; there are so many variants of what is good, what is cool, what people want to buy into now.
OF: …Which you would say is similar to what fashion and luxury is in the West, right? Because in the West, you don't wear head-to-toe brands, you are able to mix-and-match it with ‘this is a cheap thing,’ ‘this is something I found in a market’, ‘this is something I found while travelling.’ And then the skill of putting it together is what makes you fashionable, right?
CH: Yeah, ‘the skill of putting together things that suit your personality, and can make other people appreciate who you are’, is what most of us would call a ‘fashionable person’, I think. And I see it even, not just across different generations, but across different cities in China. I always see girls from 成都 [Chéngdū] for example, who are just able to put together a look that another person would not be able to put together, in a way that looks cohesive and effortless. But those girls, they have a knack.
OF: There's something about 成都 [Chéngdū]. More and more, I'm hearing people say that if you want to go where there is cool, it's actually 成都 [Chéngdū], right?
CH: Yeah, I would agree with that. I love 成都 [Chéngdū]. The way that people seem to live their lives there. And I'm saying this as a visitor of a few days. So it's like, going back to what we were saying before, you know, like it's making a judgement based on a very limited experience of life there. But just the way that people's attitude seems to be very relaxed. And when you go into a shop, almost universally, when you're leaving people will say “慢走 [Mànzǒu]”, like a ‘travel safely’ kind of send-off. You know, you don't hear that in Shanghai.
OF: No, it's all got a little bit too impersonal here, hasn't it?
CH: Yeah, Shanghai is a very commercial place. It is a financial centre, and I think that in any world financial centre that same feeling - that same kind of focus on commerce - does give it a different kind of sheen.
OF: Yes, the idea of wealth has been normalised here.
CH: Yeah, the idea of wealth, and the focus on it, as a pursuit.
OF: And so with that in mind, who actually is your readership?
CH: So I write for the global Business of Fashion site, which is read by business fashion professionals from around the world, who are interested in the China market. Some of it is quite consultative, like how to approach China. The most important thing that I offer is an understanding of what is happening, and how it's important. You know, how people are going about their lives, how they're shopping, using e-commerce, for example, social media. I think those things can be quite difficult for people to understand, and they are so important for doing business in China, for any segment.
OF: Yeah. What do you say about the market these days, what changes have happened?
CH: I spoke to someone quite recently, who called COVID-19 ‘The Great Accelerator'. And I think that that is a very apt description. A lot of what I'm writing about - in terms of the trends in the market in China - are things that were happening anyway. But COVID really pushed it to the next level. So for example, a trend for wellness - and therefore sports, and therefore sportswear, and sports brands - that’s been happening for quite a long time. But you know, you get a deadly pandemic on the scene, and that's going to increase their focus on health and wellness. The pivot to digital, that was already something that China was doing ahead of other countries, but Coronavirus really pushed that to the next level. Also, I think that there has been a pride in China and how it has handled COVID-19, and so I think that that represents an opportunity for domestic brands that might not have been as popular. The change in that mentality has been accelerated by COVID as well. And finally, I mean, I was recently writing about the 代购 [dàigòu] trade.
OF: 代购 [Dàigòu], what’s that?
CH: It’s surrogate shoppers. 代购 [Dàigòu] has traditionally been a big part of China's luxury industry. People who are either students living overseas - or people working overseas, or people travelling overseas - buying and and reselling luxury products or beauty products back to China. There's a huge trade coming out of Korea.
OF: Yes, of course. Because when I go to Korea - or even other parts of the world - you see a lot of Chinese tourists at these luxury malls. So these malls aren't for the local market at all, they’re for the travelling Chinese.
CH: Yeah. I think I'm right in saying that in 2019, Chinese travellers took 150 million outbound trips.
OF: Woah, yeah.
CH: So there are a lot of Chinese travellers who are travelling around the world, and buying luxury products while they're outside. But then there's a professional element, the 代购 [dàigòu] who sell to their contacts in China, often via WeChat, and send them back. Or in the case of Korea - 제주 [Jeju] Island is a duty free island that's very, very close to China - they are ‘human-flesh 代购 [dàigòu],’ so they themselves bring suitcases of duty free stuff back, and resell it in China.
OF: I like it when you say a phrase that has obviously been translated from Chinese: ‘human-flesh 代购 [dàigòu]s’.
CH: Yes, ‘human-flesh 代购 [dàigòu]’. The pandemic has really, obviously, affected this industry.
CH: When people can't travel, they can't just pop over to Korea and pick up a suitcase a beauty products.
CH: But the story I was trying to get at is whether it might be the end of this tradition of 代购 [dàigòu], which is accountable for a large percentage of luxury purchases from Chinese consumers.
OF: Right, so I guess the foreign brands that you write for, they would rely on these 代购 [dàigòu]s for a lot of their sales.
CH: Yeah, absolutely they do. And that's an uncomfortable situation, I think, for a lot of foreign brands. Because brands don't love a grey market. A grey market lessens their control over the messaging, it lessens their direct relationship with their customers.
OF: Right, so you mean that the company can do all its marketing in China. But then if the products are purchased overseas, the marketing department for the China office of the brand doesn't know if their marketing was successful or not. Because the shopper in China has actually purchased it from a whole different market.
CH: They’ve purchased it from a whole different market, and they’ve purchased it after seeing the photos that have been supplied by the 代购 [dàigòu], not by the brand.
CH: These are not kind of high end beautiful images. It's what works for a 代购 [dàigòu], but it's not something that a brand would necessarily like to see as their marketing images.
CH: A lot of the 代购 [dàigòu] are more like personal shoppers. Like, they have a relationship with their group of clients. And they're really trusted. Like, they’re almost like mini-influencers within their own groups. And so they have a lot of power and influence over what people buy.
OF: Fascinating. So it's not just parallel importing, it's parallel branding.
CH: It is. And brands don't love it on the whole, but there is definitely an opportunity in kind of, you know, you've got…
OF: Harnessing the 代购 [dàigòu] as an influencer, yeah.
CH: Yeah. I mean, it's different than working with another kind of influencer. But if you were a small brand, and you wanted to seed some interest in your brand, then I think that people could do worse than trying to tap into a 代购 [dàigòu] network, because they already have such influence. In 2020, especially in a year in which sales are harder to come by, the loss of 代购 [dàigòu] sales can be significant to a company. I mean, a lot of companies are really working hard to pivot their sales to a re-shoring within China. And that's been happening, you know, there's been a huge bounce for a lot of luxury players in terms of their in-China sales.
CH: But whether that makes up for what they're losing from the Chinese sales overseas is an open question, so I would say it's very unlikely to make up the whole amount.
OF: Well, thank you. For someone who evidently does not understand fashion - just take one look at me - you’ve made it very, very interesting. Thank you so much for that.
CH: Any time.
OF: Let’s move on to Part 2.
OF: OK, we're onto Part 2.
OF: Question 1, what is your favourite China-related fact?
CH: Big numbers in China. I think as a Chinese language learner - I don't know whether you've had the same thing, but - big numbers are the hardest thing for me.
CH: The way that Chinese people organise big numbers is by tens of thousands, and then by hundreds of millions, which is not a natural thing for an English speaker to be able to translate directly. So I will write down a number - and have to put all the zeros, and then count back, and do a comma after every three zeros - in order to be able to do it. And my Chinese friends do the same thing when they hear English big numbers.
CH: But they have to do a comma after four zeros…
CH: …So that they can understand it.
OF: Yes. So if that wasn't clear to anyone who doesn't know the numbering system, basically we would have one comma and then three naughts, for 1,000. But they would have one comma followed by four naughts [1,0000] for 10,000, right?
OF: OK, Question 2. Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
CH: I do. It's not one you come across very often.
CH: So I think for a lot of foreigners, a phrase that would be very frustrating is ‘没办法 [méi bànfǎ]’.
OF: 没办法 [Méi bànfǎ].
CH: Which means 'there's no way, no method, no way of doing something’. And I have - in a few times in my life - come across someone who, instead of saying “没办法 [Méi bànfǎ]” says "想一个办法 [Xiǎng yīgè bànfǎ]”, ‘I'll think of a way’.
OF: Oh, 想一个办法 [Xiǎng yīgè bànfǎ].”
OF: Oh, that's great. That really turns it around.
CH: Yeah. And it's happened to me a few times where you would expect someone to shrug their shoulders and say “没办法 [Méi bànfǎ]” but they've gone the other way, and really surprised me. And so I think it's because it pops up in these situations where I'm least expecting it that it’s my favourite favourite phrase to hear.
OF: Oh, I love it. Because the ‘没办法 [méi bànfǎ]’ has such a resignation about it. And it's just like “Don't even try, just forget it”. And it seems so final. So yeah, I love that.
CH: Yeah, the first time I ever came across it was, I was trying to park my bike in a crowded bike parking space. And I looked at the bike parking attendant basically like “Is there a way I could do this?” And he said “我想一个办法 [Wǒ xiǎng yīgè bànfǎ].” And I said “Thank you”.
OF: Oh, wow, I want to hug that guy.
CH: He was a wonderful man.
OF: Yeah. Great. Next, what is your favourite destination within China? And I'm looking at that book still in front of us, and the thing you said about having three pieces of paper.
CH: Yeah, I've been able to knock over quite a few now. There are still quite a lot of places in the south - in 云南 [Yúnnán] Province - that I haven't been able to get to. So that's where a lot of my final piece of paper is concentrated on. I do love 四川 [Sìchuān] Province. Many years ago, I went to 九寨沟 [Jiǔzhàigōu] National Park, which is just one of the most spectacular places I've ever seen. A few years after I went, there was a major earthquake, which damaged the park. And I would be very interested to go back and see what it looks like now, and see how different it is.
OF: Yeah. Next question, if you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?
CH: 煎饼 [Jiānbing]. I’ve said for so many years that people should be exporting 煎饼 [jiānbing] into the West, because we foreigners all love that stuff. And it's a wonderful hangover cure.
OF: And how about the things that you wouldn't miss?
CH: I think I would not miss the level of bureaucracy. If I never had to go to a Chinese bank again, I would be a happy chappy.
OF: You have to take a whole file of paperwork, don’t you?
CH: You have to take a whole file of paperwork, and half a day, and even then I'll probably have to go home and get more paperwork.
OF: Yep. Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?
CH: I'm going to answer this in a little bit of a less light-hearted way. I think that for my husband and I - who have been here for such a long time - one of the things that we would say has been a surprise, over the entire time we've been here, is that we don't have that many close Chinese friends. And we have some - and some wonderful, wonderful friends - but there is still a difficulty, I think, with forming widespread meaningful relationships between foreigners and Chinese people. My communication skills are quite good, I can speak Chinese quite well, I feel like it's not a language barrier. It is much more of a cultural barrier that is difficult to overcome. I guess I thought that over time, it would become easier. But in many ways it doesn't. Like, it’s easy to have a lot of acquaintances, but a kind of more deeper-level relationship with Chinese people, we’ve found really hard to execute.
OF: Yes, I agree with you. I think there are a number of reasons for that. I think Shanghai being a big imposing city is one of those reasons. It would be the same if you were in London, you know, if you were in London, you would gravitate towards other non-Londoners basically.
OF: Because a lot of people in London would have friends since they were at school, and they're not interested necessarily in newbies, who may be transient and might leave.
OF: I think though, with the cultural piece, yeah, what you say is true. And it is something which I see especially with people who are in relationships with other foreigners. I think if you have one of you who is Chinese, then just naturally you tend to hang around with more people who are Chinese. And it just is a little bit more difficult when both of you are non-Chinese.
CH: I think that it's very fair to say.
OF: What is the answer?
CH: I don't know. I don't know. And it's something that has been, for a long time, something that was surprising to both of us.
OF: Yeah. Next question, where is your favourite place to go, to eat or drink or just hang out?
CH: This is a question that's changed quite a lot since we had children. We have three little girls who are five and three and one. And gosh, so much of our leisure time now is spent just doing kid-related stuff. I have always hated malls my entire life, and I spend so much time in malls now. I can't say it's my favourite place still to be, but it's an awfully convenient place to get some kid-related activities. And in a place like Shanghai for example - where the weather's not always good, the air quality is not always good - also very convenient. Oh, where do I love? I mean, just this morning I was at Shanghailander café in 五原路 [Wǔyuán Lù]. I just love being there.
OF: That’s quite a new one, right?
CH: It is quite new. And I go there to work sometimes. But to be honest with you, I go there more when I just want to have like a little break from everything. I started knitting last year as a hobby. And at least once a week I like to go to Shanghailander café, and drink a flat white, and spend an hour knitting and listening to a podcast. You know, it's not the most exciting life I lead, but that's my self-care.
OF: Oh I like it. What is the best or worst purchase you've made in China?
CH: If it's Greater China, the absolute best gift that I've ever given anyone was an original Star Wars poster - that was in a cinema in Hong Kong in 1978 - of the first Star Wars movie. My husband loves Star Wars, and his parents met and married in Hong Kong. I loved giving it to him. And I told him months and months ahead of Christmas that I got him the best present ever in the history of the world. And he was like “You might want to manage expectations a little bit. You're building it up a lot”. I said “I'm so confident that this is the greatest present that anyone has given anyone”. I will take a photo for you.
OF: Yes, please. Next question, what is your favourite WeChat sticker? OK, send it to me now.
CH: It is a sticker of Elon Musk on stage in Shanghai doing a really awkward dad dance, looking like a bit of a tool. The reason that I like this sticker so much is that I use it in so many different contexts.
CH: I mean, I use it in celebration, like “Yay". I also use it as like “Well, that was weird”. I also use it when I want to say that something's failed. It's the one sticker that can mean so many things.
OF: Oh, you're right. It's like a blank canvas upon which you can put whatever emotion you're feeling.
CH: Exactly. And you might not realise it at first glance, but you can use it in 100 different scenarios.
OF: Yes, I see that. Amazing. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
CH: These days, I've become a lot more au fait with Disney songs over the last couple of years. So I could bang out any number of Disney classics right now at karaoke. And…
OF: In Chinese even? Let it go…
CH: “随它吧 [Suí tā ba], 随它吧 [Suí tā ba]” Yep. I don't know any of the other words aside from “随它吧 [Suí tā ba].”
OF: That’s good enough. And finally, what other China-related news sources do you rely on?
CH: Because of my work, I get a lot of newspaper subscriptions paid for, which is great. But there is one that I pay for myself, which I feel like is a glowing endorsement of how important I find it, if I'm willing to fork over money for it. It's called Sinocism, Bill Bishop’s?
OF: Oh yes, yes.
CH: So I pay an annual fee for that. And I open it every day, and read it every day. Because it just gives such a wide-ranging round-up of what's happening in China, you know, you're getting a fantastic curation.
OF: Well, thank you so much, Casey.
CH: Thank you, Oscar. I've really enjoyed it.
OF: Me too. And before you leave, the last thing is, out of everyone you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?
CH: I would recommend you interview Eric Liu, who is the CTO of a Chinese tech company called DIGITWIN Technologies. His company does a lot with smart cities, technology, big data. I should also say that my husband works there, so that's how I know about them. And I think that, you know, it's an area with so much potential. And where China is leading so much of this technology, it’d be really interesting to talk to him.
OF: You had me at ‘Big Data’. Thank you again, Casey.
CH: Thank you.
OF: So, the updates. Since we recorded this episode, the age of Casey's kids are now 6, 4 and 2. And as we speak, the family are all preparing to set off on a summer holiday to 云南 [Yúnnán], so hopefully Casey will be able to cross off a few more destinations from her original list. Also, I realised that I never actually allowed Casey to reveal the conclusions of her piece about the current status of the 代购 [dàigòu] trade in China. She let me know that it is still going strong, and hasn't been killed off by the pandemic. And as for human-flesh 代购 [dàigòu], they still can't travel to 제주 [Jeju] Island in Korea, but instead they've been going south to the Chinese island of 海南 [Hǎinán], where duty-free policies have been relaxed over the last year.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, there is of course an extra 10-15 minutes from my conversation with Casey in the PREMIUM version of the show. Here are a few clips...
CH: It was kind of like the job that I had dreamed about at journalism school.
CH: Meeting people, and talking to people, are the things that I most enjoy about journalism as a career.
CH: There are red-line topics that you know, that you can't write about.
OF: But how do you prove anyone exists?
CH: How do you prove anyone exists?
CH: It’s very difficult.
CH: It will be much harder for a Chinese censor to pick up the tone of what you're writing.
CH: My mother-in-law, she was like “Nope, not enjoying this at all”.
[End of Audio Clips]
To follow the graphics alongside today's episode, please find us on Instagram or Facebook, or add me on WeChat at ID: mosaicofchina and I'll add to you a group for listeners there. There's a lot there today, not least being Casey's object, the Lonely Planet book; her favourite WeChat sticker of a dweeby Elon Musk; some fashionable girls from 成都 [Chéngdū]; and that amazing mint condition Star Wars poster from 1978 Hong Kong.
And did you notice any of the connections with previous episodes of Mosaic of China? Casey's story about 没办法 [méi bànfǎ] was very similar to that of Wendy Saunders, the architect from Season 02 Episode 12; her favourite destination of 九寨沟 [Jiǔzhàigōu] was the same as Sebastien Denes, the diversity and inclusion advocate from Season 01 Episode 11; Casey said she would miss 煎饼 [Jiānbing] if she left China, and so would Lexie Comstock, the cookie entrepreneur from Season 01 Episode 20; she would not however miss Chinese bureaucracy, and neither would Chang Chihyun, the humanities professor from Season 02 Episode 03; and finally Casey's favourite China news source was Sinocism, which was the same answer as Noah Sheldon, the documentary filmmaker from Season 01 Episode 09.
Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. We're now halfway through the calendar year of 2021, can you believe it? Coming right up is a catch-up chat with Vy Vu, the fitness community leader from Season 01 Episode 08, and I'll see you again next time.
OF: Hello to you, Vy
VV: Hi, Oscar.
OF: We are doing this remotely because you are not in Shanghai right now.
VV: No, I’m actually now in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. So sort of have been here for now over a year.
OF: What is the story then?
VV: So like most people, I had actually gone on holidays for CNY. So at that time, didn't think that the breakout in 武汉 [Wǔhàn] was a big deal. But obviously, it wasn't to be like that. But I had gone on holidays to Malaysia at the time with my partner. Me and my partner had at that time being doing a long distance relationship. So he was already living in Vietnam. He actually proposed to me on that holiday, that particular holiday. So…
OF: Oh. Congratulations.
VV: Thank you, thank you. So it was a funny decision to make. I had planned on going into Vietnam with him, and then eventually going back to Shanghai. But it just got to the point where we just… we had to make a decision. And it was the decision to go into Vietnam now, already knowing that Vietnam was really quite strict on closing the borders. So that's what's happened. And so I've not been to China since.
OF: That's interesting, because actually, in my mind, you were in Vietnam on holiday, and you just got stranded there. And actually, your story is a little bit better than that, because you had already planned to be in Vietnam, your partner - now fiancé - is in Vietnam, and so your life was there, ready for you to live it. You just did it a little bit early without any goodbyes, basically.
VV: Yes, exactly. So yeah, there was the intention of coming here anyway. And so at this stage, we had actually never lived together. So it was a very quick way… it sped up the relationship. I'm really grateful for this time, because what COVID actually helped me to do was slow down.
OF: Let me interrupt you there, because I think some people who may not have heard our original episode, wouldn't know. You had a job in a French fashion company, and you were also the Co-Founder - and one of the leaders - of FitFam, which is a fitness community.
OF: So you were already juggling a hell of a lot. So what actually is the story now? Are you still with that French company? And are you still involved with FitFam?
VV: So I am still the executive director of FitFam. In December 2019, we actually switched to virtual workouts anyway. So at the moment, I still lead 3-4 workouts a week. I am no longer working for the French company, I actually had planned to leave that company anyway. So I finished up with them in March last year. And now that I'm in Vietnam, I learn Vietnamese full time.
OF: That's great. That's how you make lemonade out of lemons right there. And FitFam is still basically your baby, like I see the passion in your eyes when you talk about it. Tell me about how FitFam looks today.
VV: So currently, we're in 14 cities, Shanghai, Beijing, 杭州 [Hángzhōu], 苏州 [Sūzhōu] 无锡 [Wúxī] 温州 [Wēnzhōu] 深圳 [Shēnzhèn]. And outside Mainland China, we’ve got Taipei, Hong Kong, Germany, France. U.S., we also have Singapore as well.
OF: Can I interrupt you? Because did you actually mention Ho Chi Minh City in that list?
VV: No. No, I didn't actually, and I do have a confession to make. And it's why I haven't started Ho Chi Minh City. So we actually did officially get married.
VV: But we're also expecting, so…
OF: I had a feeling you were gonna say that.
VV: Actually, not a lot of people know that. But we’re due in July. And that's why FitFam Ho Chi Minh City hasn't quite happened. Because I, first of all, was unsure of what was going to happen in the future. And now that we know what's going to happen in the future, it just might take a little bit of time. But I do plan on doing that, at some stage.
OF: Wow. And I can quite clearly see the different chapters, how the Vy before you came to Shanghai didn't really know herself, and then grew in Shanghai and became the Vy that I knew. And then now, I do see this as being a whole new story, which, obviously you're still writing.
VV: Yeah, I'm interested to see what the future looks like. I have really missed working full time, that interaction of working in teams, being in and around the apparel industry, and things like that. I really value that independence.
OF: Well, let's see. I have a feeling that whatever you do, you're going to do it with the full 120% that is the usual way of Vy Vu. I'm gonna have to let you go. It's been wonderful to catch up with you.
VV: You too.
OF: And I should say also that unfortunately, the person who you recommended for the next Season, like you she had a change in her set-up, and she couldn't end up participating in the project. But we found a nice replacement. So I'm going to be releasing this update chat alongside that new replacement. So you know who is going to be your pseudo-connection for Season 02.
VV: Oh, fantastic.
OF: Thank you so much Vy, and congratulations with all of your news. Please keep in touch, I hope we see each other again soon.
VV: Thank you so much.