Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 10 – The Tibetan Merchant (Danma JYID, Yakma Body Care)

Oscar Fuchs
Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Oscar Fuchs

In today's episode, Danmajyid tells the story of how her social enterprise YAKMA is turning nutrient-rich yak milk into high-end beauty products, and the effect this is having on her Tibetan hometown.

Original Date of Release: March 09, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 10 – The Tibetan Merchant (Danma JYID, Yakma Body Care)


OF: So if you meet another Tibetan from a different part, can you communicate?

DJ: No.


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.

From Belgian beer last week, we switch today to Tibetan yaks, with today's guest Danmajyid. You'll hear how I forced Danma to become an unofficial spokesman for all things Tibetan in this episode, so a big thanks in advance to Danma for managing this so well. Also in advance, keep your ears open for when Danma mentions Shanghai 交通 [Jiāotōng] University in our conversation, because that's the same university where I'm currently studying my Masters. I mention this because I was complaining about writing my thesis in the intro to Episode 08 of Season 02 with Jovana Zhang, and a few of you have since then been asking about what I'm studying. Well it's called a Masters of Modern Chinese Studies, which is the only course of its kind in China. It's a blended syllabus incorporating history, philosophy, literature and linguistics; it's taught in English; it includes Chinese language lessons; and my history professor Chang Chihyun, who featured in Episode 03 of the Season, has just let me know that the deadline for scholarship applications for the next intake is the end of March 2021. So I figured I'd do some free advertising, since I've really enjoyed the course. If you're interested, you can find more details by just searching anywhere for Shanghai 交通 [Jiāotōng] University Masters of Modern Chinese Studies, and I'd love to know if anyone out there applies.

OK enough of that, let's get back on track and talk about yak!

[Part 1]

OF: Well, thank you so much, Danmajyid. Danma, you are from a very interesting part of China, aren't you?

DJ: Yes. So I'm from northwestern part of China, 甘肃 [Gānsù] Province, a Tibetan area in 甘肃 [Gānsù], two hours away from 兰州 [Lánzhōu] city. So it's kind of pretty close to 甘南 [Gānnán] Prefecture. Yeah, it's just a very nomadic area.

OF: Well, before we move on to our conversation today, tell me… What object did you bring that in some way describes your life here in China?

DJ: Well, I brought my yak milk soaps. This is the business I'm working on at the moment.

OF: OK, well let me have a look. OK, so you've got three different soaps here, right?

DJ: Yes.

OF: OK. So I see the yak logo immediately.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: Explain what the product is itself.

DJ: So these soaps are made in my hometown in 甘肃 [Gānsù], the Tibetan area. And we use yak milk to make these products.

OF: Right.

DJ: And the purpose of using yak milk is like, yak milk is a main consumption in Tibetan life. Most families in the local area are, like, herding animals. So this yak milk is very readily available. So that's why we also support local women to make yak milk soaps, by using yak milk. Yeah.

OF: The yak is just this animal that's so emblematic of the Tibetan Plateau, right?

DJ: Yeah. When I was little, like, my grandparents were herding livestock, and especially yaks. And we have sheep just running around. And the environment is so, like, open grassland. All yaks have names.

OF: Oh really?

DJ: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we also, like… Each family, they use different colours to make earrings for yaks. So they can distinguish, like, which belong to which family.

OF: OK, you know I'm gonna have to ask you for a photo of a yak wearing earrings now.

DJ: Yes. I can provide one. Yeah, yeah.

OF: OK. These are obviously the yaks that are being herded, are their wild yaks too?

DJ: Yes, they are some, not a lot. Families are willing to offer yaks for the mountain guards. So they are free. It basically says, like, they belong to the mountain gods.

OF: Right.

DJ: So they can be anywhere they want to be, yeah.

OF: So your family originally were yak herders, like how many yaks did your family have?

DJ: There used to be, like, around 200 yaks. And recently they tried to reduce this, and I think like also because of grassland over-grazing, and people agreed to minimise the number of livestock. They think it's very important to protect the environment as well.

OF: Plus, it's very hard to remember 200 names.

DJ: Yes. Yeah, it was true, like very hard to remember which one you lost. You know, too many. These days they just, like, take photos of each yak. And then they just… When they check, they say "Oh yeah, this one is lost", and, you know, they remember it. And also the good this is like, WeChat is so popular, and they have all these groups, and when they lost a yak, they just send the photo, and if other people see it, they will just tell you.

OF: Oh right.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: "I saw your yak down in that valley".

DJ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: How funny. So, talking about, then, the produce. So anyone who's been anywhere near the Tibetan Plateau will know about yak milk. It is ubiquitous, right? It's everywhere.

DJ: Mm-hm, yeah.

OF: What role does yak milk play in your life up in 甘肃 [Gānsù]?

DJ: Well, yak milk is our main consumption. So we drink yak milk tea a lot, when people visit or you go to someone's house, like they always offer you butter tea and yak milk tea. So, I think yak milk tea plays a very important role, because that's how the community builds connections, and spends time with each other. But these days, like you know, people drink tea, but like, don't talk much. You know, because they are playing on the phone a lot. You know, it's just the change happens enormously.

OF: Is there a market for Yak milk in China?

DJ: Not much actually. But Tibetan yak milk is really, really superior to other milks. I mean, I also did all kinds of research, and even compared with camel milk, it's so interesting because Yak milk has like all kinds of nutritions like there are so many. We used to use yak milk as face cream, because like, yak milk is so rich, and very creamy, very good for the skin. And especially like cracking skin, they use yak milk to heal it. That's why like, we think yak milk is really good for soap.

OF: So how does that process work? Is that something which is a traditional thing that you used to do before? Or is it entirely new?

DJ: For the community, this is a very entirely new idea. So this skill, is like, we also got from an American couple. They have a soap project. So they always teach around the world about making soaps.

OF: Right.

DJ: So I emailed them, and then explained myself, and they came. So, they spent a month in the village and taught women how to make soaps. All of these soaps, we try to use local resources, like a local herbs and finding alternative resources to use in soap, rather than just buy from Taobao, yeah.

OF: Yes. So what actually is the setup that you have in the village?

DJ: There are not many big machines, I mean, it's still like kind of a medium level. The purpose of this business is, we want to create more jobs for people. So that's why we don't have big machines to replace people.

OF: Right.

DJ: Just the blenders to mix in the oils, and we also have a soap cutter. So it's just all manual operated machines. Yeah

OF: And, like, did you have to build a building? Or what was it, where is it?

DJ: We started the business just at home, and then we registered the business, and lots of stuff like happened, you know. And I feel like I wasn't able to sell actually. In 2015, we started like, the kind of experiment stage. And we were like, not that confident, we felt like our soaps are not ready for sale. Like, we would keep doing and doing, but like, you know, the women started losing interest. And that was a big, difficult time. You know, local level people are more realistic, it's not always a good way to really talk about big ideas. You know, like "You have a mission" and all this, it doesn't work, you know. And I ended up having two women who stayed with me. But it's a great way to be creative, like because soaps, you can make different colours, different shapes, you know whatever they would like to do. You know, it's just like, they really enjoy that. That's why they wanted to stay. So in 2016, three of us were like, started from selling to friends. You know, some friends running businesses in Lhasa, so we asked them whether they can take our soaps, and then they started to sell, and we started to gain a little confidence in that. Actually we were like thinking too much about the soap, not thinking about the sales, you know. But after selling that we felt like "Oh, actually, you know, some soaps we like, but not necessarily the customer likes", especially like colours and flavours. It was really interesting, some soaps we really didn't like, but the customers liked a lot.

OF: For example?

DJ: So we had a pink clay - a soap made with pink clay - so we feel like "Oh, it's not that soft". But people really liked it because it was really good for scrubbing dead skin. And also detoxing, you know, clay is really good for detoxing. Also we used lavender. We felt not that happy about lavender, but people liked it, you know, so we had to continue to make it. So yeah, it's so interesting. And that's why, like, we slowly got back on track.

OF: Right.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: And then today, like, what is the setup now?

DJ: Now, like, we have 12 women, and we also moved to a primary school in the village.

OF: Oh, the primary school.

DJ: Yeah, so the school was run down for many years. So that's why the government said we can use the space.

OF: Nice,

DJ: And we want the community to use the space as well.

OF: Who is your market?

DJ: In the past, most are foreigners. But this year, we also want to focus on the Chinese markets as well. You know, more Chinese prefer natural products. So that's something that we really want to focus on.

OF: And let's talk about this packaging, because I can see on the packaging that you have some Tibetan writing as well, which I love. And this obviously is the language that is your first language, right?

DJ: Yes.

OF: So tell me about Tibetan language, like does it have any similarities at all to Mandarin?

DJ: No similarities.

OF: Right.

DJ: Yeah, yeah, a different language, and there are three main dialects. Amdo, Khams and Ü-Tsang. I speak the Amdo dialect.

OF: OK. And the other two are where?

DJ: Khams is in 四川 [Sìchuān] and Ü-Tsang is like in central Tibet.

OF: Right, I see.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: So if you meet another Tibetan from a different part, can you communicate?

DJ: No, sadly.

OF: Oh wow.

DJ: Yeah, people who studied - and who can speak more in an academic way - can understand each other. But like if we speak in dialects, like it's really, really difficult to understand. Even thought my language is Amdo, when I speak like my own dialect from the village, it's also hard to understand…

OF: The next village?

DJ: Other parts of the Amdo area.

OF: Yeah. And we've talked about your village, what's it called?

DJ: Daichen.

OF: Daichen.

DJ: Daichen Village.

OF: And in terms of other differences you have between different parts of the Tibetan Plateau, What other differences are there?

DJ: Different areas have their own costumes. In my hometown, like, you know, they have like coral and conch.

OF: Conch?

DJ: Yeah conch. Conch and coral, like.

OF: Like from the sea?

DJ: Yeah, from the sea. So I don't know, like why? Like, you know, we are far away from the ocean, like, so interesting. You know, especially they make necklaces. And yeah, so it's interesting.

OF: Right. Because from what I know about that kind of lifestyle is… Because you were nomadic, you had to carry your valuables with you. So I'm guessing that if you have something made out of coral from many miles away, that would be very valuable, right?

DJ: Yeah, maybe.

OF: But you don't know.

DJ: I don't know. I don't know, probably you are right.

OF: But here we are in Shanghai. So you're living here now?

DJ: Yes.

OF: So what was that decision?

DJ: A tough decision. But like, I mean, I like all the opportunities here, especially as a businesswoman.

OF: Right, because your market would basically be here.

DJ: Yes. In Beijing and Shanghai, so it's easy for me to travel between the cities. And also like, I started to make friends in Shanghai, and I'm kind of well-connected, slowly connected to the community.

OF: Yes.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: Yes, and I have this idealised image of the plateau with the big sky, and no people.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: And I imagine you, here in Shanghai, with millions of people. How do you cope?

DJ: Well, I have to take a month to recover every time I come back to Shanghai.

OF: Right.

DJ: Especially on the subway train, I feel like "Oh, just too many people".

OF: Yeah.

DJ: I feel like, just not that motivated to go out. And it would take about three weeks to recover until I feel comfortable to go out.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: Yeah. I still do my chanting every morning.

OF: What's that?

DJ: So, morning chanting like, you know, I have a mantra book. And every morning, I'll do my chanting. Yeah, wherever I go later, you know, I just did like, automatically just chant, yeah.

OF: Well, I love that we have our conversation about today. And then we can talk about your past and your childhood back in 甘肃 [Gānsù]. How did you get to where you are now?

DJ: I finished my middle school and then I went to an English training programme in 青海 [Qīnghǎi]. That programme really changed my life.

OF: And 青海 [Qīnghǎi], that's the neighbouring province, right, to 甘肃 [Gānsù]?

DJ: Yes. 青海 [Qīnghǎi] Normal University. That's how I learnt my English. So after that, I graduated from the programme, then I also worked for different international companies in 香格里拉 [Shangri-La], 成都 [Chéngdū]. Then I applied for university, because I always wanted to do something different, especially about some subjects that are hard to find it in China. So that's when I started looking into overseas universities. I met some Australians in 香格里拉 [Shangri-La] and they recommended a university for me, and I applied for it, and got in.

OF: Great.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: So that was when you went to Australia?

DJ: Yes.

OF: And it was when you were in Australia that you did that TED Talk. And that's what I have seen on YouTube. I think you're too embarrassed to watch it yourself these days, right?

DJ: Yeah.

OF: But tell me about what I saw on that TED Talk.

DJ: Well, I was just talking about the water project I did in my village. Because that was back in 2008, while I was doing my English training programme at university. In my hometown, winter is really challenging because all the water is frozen, right.

OF: Oh right.

DJ: And it's really hard to get water for people and livestock. They had to go to different areas to search for water. Most of the water is just like small rivers from the spring. Just very unstable in the wintertime. Also, women spent lots of time just carrying water, fetching water. And I felt like maybe there is something I can do. To use pipes to carry the water from the spring all the way to each household, like there will benefit 60 families, including a primary school. So that can be about 200 people. So I wrote a grant proposal, and I was supported by my teachers at the English training programme. After a year - it actually took a year to be funded - and surprisingly it was funded by an exchange programme at 交通 [Jiāotōng] University in Shanghai. So, yeah, we got the grant, you know, a lot of money at that time. But the problem at the beginning was like, not many people believed me that I can do that.

OF: Yeah, because you're pretty young now. Like, how young would you have been back then?

DJ: I was 19. I think probably, I was too young. And they thought like, how come I could find that much money, right?

OF: I guess - long story short - you made these pipes, right?

DJ: Yeah. Yes, so it took two years to complete the project.

OF: Oh.

DJ: It was quite a lot. And we we did a really good job.

OF: This is while you were still studying?

DJ: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So every weekend, I would just go home, and check the project.

OF: Wow.

DJ: Yeah. But now, the local water bureau, they took over the project, and they are looking after the whole project. So it's pretty good, yeah.

OF: Really good.

DJ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: And I'm thinking about you being from that village, right?

DJ: Uh-huh.

OF: That must have been a big risk, right?

DJ: Yeah, I mean, pressure from my family as well, because they don't want me to say anything about that. Because they felt like I'm giving false promises.

OF: Right. So if you come in saying "Hey guys, I'm going to do this". But then if you fail, that… Yes.

DJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So my parents were very worried about it. Because people will say it to them, not me. So…

OF: They have to be your spokesman, right?

DJ: Yes. So that's why my parents were not that happy at that time, yeah.

OF: Interesting.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: I mean, what is next for you, then? Do you have big projects with the soap? Or do you have other ideas?

DJ: The soap business will continue to grow. And we also hope, more local women - especially younger ones - can join us like, you know.

OF: But I guess this is part of your project, right? Because you're empowering the women in your project now.

DJ: Yeah. Even like, the soap. We just say, have financial independence.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: And we want to say this is, you know, reducing gender inequality, you know.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: It's automatic. Women can come to the soap production space, they just spend time with each other and make soaps, and automatically, like, their husband is at home doing most of the housework.

OF: Oh that's great.

DJ: So it's like, in some sense, like, not need to really be that clear. You know, it's just like, interconnected.

OF: Yes, it's very organic.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: Because you just create a different situation, and then equality just seeps in, somehow.

DJ: Yes, yes. And for the bigger picture, we want to become a natural cosmetic company. Yeah.

OF: Well, thank you so much Danma.

DJ: Thank you.

OF: Let's move on to Part 2.

DJ: Sure.

[Part 2]

OF: So the 10 questions. Are you ready?

DJ: Kind of! I'm sorry.

OF: These questions are hard. They seem easy, but they're hard.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: Question 1. What is your favourite China-related fact?

DJ: I would say my hometown. That whole area, the region is very famous for white yaks. So our yaks are all white, and no other Tibetan areas have that. So sometimes they just try to take so white yaks to their areas.

OF: I've seen them! I saw a white Yak in northern Yunnan Province.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: But that was probably from your area.

DJ: Probably. Yeah, so we have the white yak, and not many Tibetan areas have it.

OF: Right.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

DJ: I would say 四海为家 [sìhǎi wéijiā].

OF: OK, 四海 [sìhǎi] is like 'the four seas'.

DJ: Yeah. 为家 [wéijiā] means, like 'make your home.'

OF: OK so 'four seas like home'?

DJ: Wherever you travel to is your home. Because like, I want to be a traveller as well, you know. And also because of work, I have to live in Shanghai as my home. That will make me feel more comfortable to live here.

OF: Lovely. When someone asks me "Where is home?" I don't quite know how to answer. So maybe I'll just say 四海为家 [sìhǎi wéijiā].

DJ: Yes.

OF: Nice.

OF: Yes.

OF: Next. What is your favourite destination within China?

DJ: I really like Lhasa, central Tibet.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: When I went to Lhasa, I really liked the style, and it made me feel really connected to the culture. Yeah

OF: Yeah, I would love to go to Lhasa. If you left China, what would you miss the most and what would you miss the least?

DJ: I really missed Tibetan food. Momo.

OF: What's that?

DJ: Momo is similar to dumplings, but we also have, like, steamed momo. Yeah, it's really special.

OF: So like, 馒头 [mántou], is it?

DJ: Yeah 馒头 [mántou], but also inside you have fillings.

OF: Like what? Like…

DJ: Yak meat.

OF: Oh, I knew it! I knew it.

DJ: Yeah, yak meat and herbs sometimes, yeah.

OF: Nice.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: What about, what would you miss the least?

DJ: Snow.

OF: Snow.

DJ: Yeah, just, yeah.

OF: Tell me about snow when you were growing up then, what was it really like?

DJ: We got heavy snow, and sometimes it would take a week just to melt. And then it keeps snowing, sometimes, like a month.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: The road is all blocked. And, yeah.

OF: Next question. Is there anything that still surprises you about modern life in China?

DJ: Yes, a lot. In my village people are following all kinds of social media. They also buy all kinds of stuff, like from Taobao and 拼多多 [Pīnduōduō], you know, all these apps. And the 快递 [kuàidì] delivery person would send stuff to us, like to our soap production space, because that is more convenient for them, rather than just go to each household. Because in the nomadic area, they all live far away from each other, right?

OF: Right.

DJ: So our place becomes a collection area. So sometimes the families would ask us to bring stuff to them, you know "Oh, bring my parcel, bring my parcel" you know. So yeah.

OF: Right, because I guess that is the most prominent address in the whole village, right?

DJ: No, the delivery person is lazy.

OF: Yeah, right.

DJ: Yeah, he doesn't want to travel to each household. He would just drop everything at our place.

OF: Yes. Where is your favourite place to go, to eat or drink or hang out? And I guess it could be here in Shanghai, or it could be in your hometown, or anywhere you've lived in China.

DJ: I really like Charu in 成都 [Chéngdū].

OF: Oh what's that?

DJ: So Charu is a Tibetan co-working space in 成都 [Chéngdū]. If you ever go there, just visit them.

OF: Yeah.

DJ: I really like it there, because like you often see people you know, just run into people you know. And it's just nice to hang out and have a cup of coffee.

OF: Nice.

DJ: Yak milk.

OF: Oh yak milk coffee.

DJ: Yes.

OF: How does that taste?

DJ: It tastes really nice.

OF: Yeah, I don't believe you.

DJ: You can give a try, if you ever go to 成都 [Chéngdū].


DJ: Probably I'm so used to yak milk, yeah.

OF: Next. What is the best or worst purchase you have recently made in China?

DJ: Well, I bought a jacket, and the colour was not right, quite different from the picture. I tried to return it back, and the guy said "Oh, you just chose this colour". And then I put a comment, I said "The colour is quite different from the actual picture". And then the guy replied to me immediately, he said "Delete your comment, and I will let you return it back."

OF: So did you do that?

DJ: No. I also accidentally took off the tag, so yeah.

OF: So now you have that jacket still?

DJ: Yes. It's a big lesson.

OF: I'm gonna ask you for a photo of that jacket.

DJ: Yeah.

OF: What is your favourite WeChat sticker? OK, I'm having a look now. Cute.

DJ: I sent like, a little happy monk.

OF: Oh, he's a Buddhist monk.

DJ: Yeah, Buddhist monk

OF: Of course he is, I should have got that by the clothing. That's nice. What's your go-to song to sing at KTV?

DJ: I haven't been to KTV for so many years.

OF: Maybe it's because you don't drink alcohol, is that right?

DJ: Yes, that's probably it.

OF: Totally. But maybe if you drink enough yak milk, you'll get some kind of high.

DJ: Hopefully.

OF: And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?

DJ: I mean, WeChat is the big main source for me. I use it a lot. But I also like… WeChat recently has channels. I really like that, because I feel like if my WeChat friends like something, then I can also receive the similar feed.

OF: Right.

DJ: So that's so interesting.

OF: That's a new thing, yeah. Well, thank you so much, Danma.

DJ: Thank you.

OF: Just having had this conversation, I can tell how, in Shanghai you're a certain version of yourself, and then when you go home, you're a certain version, right?

DJ: Yes, yes.

OF: Well, the only thing I have to ask you now is, out of everyone you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?

DJ: I would highly recommend Dorjee.

OF: Oh Dorjee.

DJ: Yeah. So Dorjee, he runs another social enterprise, in 青海 [Qīnghǎi], 西宁 [Xīníng]. So he's also like a community leader. And he does all kinds of work that really connects to his community. So I really want him to be on your programme.

OF: Wonderful. Well, I can't wait to meet him. And does he live there, or does he come to Shanghai as well?

DJ: He lives in 青海 [Qīnghǎi],


DJ: Yeah.

OF: I hope that I can go and see him, thank you so much, Danma.

DJ: Thank you.


OF: Well I still haven't been to Lhasa since recording this episode with Danma, but I have been to 甘肃 [Gānsù], and I highly recommend it. We timed it a little late, and by the time we reached the Tibetan part in the south, it had become unseasonably cold, so we didn't stay there long enough unfortunately. But anyway, go to the transcript of this episode on, where I'll post a link to the video we made there, and I'll see if there's a way I can also share it on Facebook and WeChat. You'll also be able to find all the other images there that Danma shared with me, including photos of her family, the costumes from her village, the white yaks wearing earrings, and of course the process of making the soaps. To order the soaps internationally, go to, and in China there's a WeChat mini-program which I'll post too, where the whole store has been discounted by 9% on all purchases made by March 19th 2021. Just place your order there, and the discount will appear automatically upon checkout.

As with every episode this season, there's an extra 10-15 minutes of content if you subscribe to the Patreon page, here are a few clips from today's episode…

[Clip 1]

DJ: I lived in the tents when I was little like, But now people think tents are too inconvenient.

[Clip 2]

DJ: The children are raised by community members, or grandparents.

[Clip 3]

DJ: We use juniper to, like, have that purification ceremony.

[Clip 4]

OF: They also wanted to have modern conveniences themselves, right?

DJ: Yes. Yeah, yeah, conflict.

OF: Yeah, there's a conflict there, right?

[Clip 5]

DJ: Every season, you move to a new place, you have different neighbours.

[End of Audio Clips]

Danma represents the first tile in the Mosaic of China who is from one of the 55 officially recognised ethnic minorities in China, so interviewing her made me realise that there's still such a lot of diversity to uncover in future series. I also really appreciated having an episode with a heavy focus on one animal, the yak. It reminds me of one of the most popular episodes from last season, which was Episode 14 with Emily Madge, who talked about her work in transporting a couple of beluga whales from an aquarium in China to a semi-wild sanctuary in Iceland. So be sure to check out that episode if you haven't heard it yet.

Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. After the credits there's a catch-up chat with Gina Li from Season 01 Episode 06, who also hails from Gansu Province. And I'll be back again next week.

[Catch-Up Interview]

OF: Hello, Gina.

GL: Hello, you.

OF: You make me smile whenever I see you, which has…

GL: Never changed.

OF: Yes. And you are one of the people from Season 01 who, like me, has been stuck here in Shanghai most of the time.

GL: Exactly. I think probably over a year already.

OF: Oh, yeah.

GL: Yeah.

OF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I have actually seen you quite a few times, especially just on the street, randomly.

GL: You are everywhere. I just see you everywhere. Whenever I was like "Am I gonna see Oscar?" Yeah, here you go.

OF: Yes. Well, the reason I brought you in today especially...

GL: Yeah

OF: …Is to record this little update chat.

GL: Yes.

OF: So we did our original recording, gosh it must be now almost two years ago. We obviously had the COVID situation.

GL: Yes.

OF: But your life was changing even before that, wasn't it?

GL: Exactly. Like, after we recorded, I was selected to be a delegate Chinese innovator, to represent China, go to APEC. I went to Chile, I have seen a lot of people from around the world. It's the Asia Pacific Economy Conference, it's meant to be the 21 countries from around the Asian Pacific. The really interesting thing is, there are certain bits of, like, political influence of - you know, like certain countries versus China - there were some different opinions. So there were very blunt questions, just asking various sensitive questions that you try not to answer. And also, yeah, like, it's just the total atmosphere started to make you review whether… Do people care that you're from China, or do people care about who you are. Yeah.

OF: Right. So what I'm hearing is, it wasn't as welcoming as you would have wanted. You were sort of questioned, not about your business, not about your innovation, but more about you as representing China, right?

GL: Exactly. Like, no one even bothered… Like for three days, people didn't remember my name. So that made me reflect a lot on the business I did, the career planning I had, and it's just all of a sudden become a question called: "Me and myself: are they aligned?" Like, I had never thought about that.

OF: Well maybe I should, at this point, introduce what you were doing, for people who did not hear your episode.

GL: Yeah.

OF: So at that time, you were the CEO of a product innovation company.

GL: Yes.

OF: And when you talked about the things you did, it was things like a telescope, and things like… a new way of doing candy floss…

GL: …Like robotics and delivery systems, things where I was like, "I'm gonna change a lot of things".

OF: Right.

GL: Yeah. But I think because of the APEC, that was the first time in my life, I thought what other thing could I do to benefit myself? So after Chile, I did sit down with my partner and my investors - or the advisors - to tell them, maybe it's time to make a change. And I didn't know where the change would go. But it's definitely not going to be the same direction. So there were different opinions, but I was quite lucky, my business partner was very supportive. And he understood that for years, I'd been working 20 hours in the office, never thought about having my own life, I barely see friends. And quickly - just long story short - we decided to close the company. And after that, there was a period of time I tried different companies. So, like a big update is, I got assigned with one of the very amazing innovation firms here, it's called ?What If!

OF: ?What If!, right?

GL: Yes. ?What If!

OF: Yes, I've heard of that.

GL: Really?

OF: It's an innovation part of Accenture, right?

GL: Yes. It's a really great team. And then after battling through the year, there's something I really want to dedicate work on. And, let's say, heal the past. And then really open up a new future.

OF: Ooh.

GL: Wow.

OF: Yeah. And this reminds me of our episode as well, because when we talked on that episode, the first five minutes straight was you talking about how you had got to the journey of becoming an innovation CEO.

GL: Yeah.

OF: And you had already gone through many reinventions. So I'm almost not surprised that you were about ready to do another reinvention.

GL: I'm like, I think this thing evolved. It started to work even faster. Like, I rebuilt a new routine, I got up early, I start work early and go to the gym, I adjusted my diet. I realised there are so many things in life, you gain, you lose, there are so many problems and issues you have to face, and you're struggling when the time happens. But there's nothing better than you feel you still have yourself. That is amazing. It's more amazing than being chosen to represent a country to go to a conference.

OF: Yes, isn't it funny. And I think many people during COVID have gone through a similar transformation, where they thought… the things that you really thought were important before…

GL: Yeah.

OF: You realise, no, no, your health, your family, your friends, your connections, those are what's important, right?

GL: Yes. And I was writing the review of 2020. And the interesting thing is, I don't remember any of the bad times. I don't remember any of the days where I was struggling and didn't know what to do. All I remember were the days when friends came to my house to support me, because they didn't want me to stay by myself. I remember seeing you on the street, I was just laughing and giving you a hug. Everything I remember is happiness.

OF: Yeah. I think we are wired to not think about the troubles of the past. It's been such an interesting period. And most people have gone through some kind of change.

GL: Yeah

OF: But yours is quite dramatic.

GL: Yeah, as my life will always be.

OF: Um, so just to wrap up this conversation, the person who you recommended in the end couldn't be part of the podcast.

GL: Yes, yes.

OF: But I found a really good replacement. I think you'll be happy with who we found.

GL: Yes.

OF: And I'm going to be releasing this compensation at the end of that episode.

GL: Oh, wow.

OF: So you will have some kind of connection with Season 02, and I hope that you and I will also stay in touch in the future.

GL: For sure, for sure. Let's do it.

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