Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 28 — The Africa Vlogger (ZHAO Huiling, HuilinginAfrica)

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

Zhao Huiling was born in Shanghai, and spent the formative years of her life in West Africa. The experience changed her life, and still informs her work - and her world view - to this day.

Original Date of Release: August 24, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 28 — The Africa Vlogger (ZHAO Huiling, HuilinginAfrica)


ZH: Hit me Baby One More Time.

OF: Wow, she means it.


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

I'm really happy to be including Huiling's story in this season. Because up until now, whenever there has been a story about a clash of cultures, it has been in the context of non-Chinese nationals coming to live in mainland China. So the impression this might leave is that this is a China thing. But no, this is a universal experience, no matter where you're from and no matter with what new culture you're confronted. So that's why it's useful to hear the same story from the perspective of a Chinese person who has spent the formative years of her life living outside of China.

More than just that, Huiling also represents the mindset of the worldly young Shanghainese professional, who has enjoyed all the benefits of modern luxury that China's economic progress has given her, and is now asking themselves "What does it all mean?" And this is where the Mosaic we're building with this project isn't just about piecing together stories across cultures, it's also about the doing the same across generations.

[Part 1]

OF: Well thank you so much Huiling.

ZH: No problem.

OF: Can you tell me how I am mispronouncing your name? So your name is Zhao Huiling, what are the tones of your name?

ZH: Huiling.

OF: Ah, Huiling.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: OK, so it's fourth tone and second tone.

ZH: Exactly.

OF: All right, I’ll try to remember that. Huiling, nice to meet you here.

ZH: You too.

OF: We first met, oh, it must have been about a year ago now.

ZH: Yeah, time flies by.

OF: Yeah.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: And I have something to play for you.

[Start of Audio Clip]

Eric OLANDER: I am going to recommend that you speak with a wonderful woman by the name of Zhao Huiling, and Zhao Huiling is a vlogger. She spent an enormous amount of time in Africa, and now she's bringing African life to Chinese users on social media, through vlogs and WeChat posts and things like that.

[End of Audio Clip]

OF: That was our mutual friend Eric Olander.

ZH: Absolutely.

OF: So how do you know Eric?

ZH: I did a podcast for Eric on his China Africa Project.

OF: Yes.

ZH: We had a great time chatting. And, yeah, we developed a friendship out of that. He recommended me to you, and now I'm doing podcast for Mosaic.

OF: Thank you. And of course, Africa is the connection. But before we go into that whole story, tell me what object did you bring today that in some way represents your life in China?

ZH: So I brought a shuka.

OF: Show me. OK, she's getting it out of her bag. I have no idea what that word means. It could be an animal, for all I know.

ZH: So a shuka is basically something the Maasai tribe - which is predominantly in East Africa - they would wear. They’re nomads. And this is actually something very signature of their attire. It's very resistant to cold, because in those areas, it actually gets very cold at night. So they would wear this over their shoulder, just drape it over their shoulder. And the red is actually a flashy colour which the lions hate.

OF: Oh, so it's to make sure lions don't attack.

ZH: Exactly.

OF: OK. I suppose there aren't that many lions in Shanghai these days.

ZH: No, so I definitely don't use it to fend myself off from lions. During the winter, during the fall, I wear it as a gigantic scarf that keeps me from the cold. During the spring, sometimes it appears on my dining table when I have friends over for dinner, and I just want something a bit more festive, a bit more colourful. And I love giving it as a souvenir for my friends as well. So you know, it's really something practical they can infuse into their everyday life.

OF: Excellent. And what's it called again?

ZH: Shuka.

OF: Shuka, and that is in what language

ZH: It’s in the Maasai language.

OF: Swahili, I guess.

ZH: Yes, Swahili.

OF: OK. Well, you grew up where in Africa?

ZH: In Ghana.


ZH: Which is in the West.

OF: So tell us about your upbringing. How come you were in Ghana?

ZH: So I'm originally from Shanghai, until I was about 10. I think my dad was just going through a midlife crisis. He was like “OK, I don't want to be here anymore”. So he wanted to leave. At that time, my uncle and my aunt had already moved to Ghana. He was just supposed to go lie there on the beach, under the coconut trees, for a couple of months. Never came back.

OF: Which meant, who was left in Shanghai? You and your mother?

ZH: Me and my mom. And my mom decided that she was going to join him. And a few months after, I joined them in Ghana.

OF: Wow, and I guess it was Accra, was it?

ZH: Yes, yes.

OF: Tell me about your life there.

ZH: Hmm. You know, a lot of my friends in school, they didn't have hair. And there weren't a lot of Chinese kids whose parents sent them to the local schools. So I was attending a local school, and all my classmates were Ghanaian. The fact that I had hair was very interesting for them. So I became quite popular overnight. Because all the kids in school were lined up in front of my class, wanting to play with my hair.

OF: Wow.

ZH: Yeah. They were just like “No, I don't understand. How could you be born this way?” So that was really fun.

OF: OK, so that was the big culture shock, was it? Just the hair?

ZH: That was the big culture shock. So another one would be the way we eat. Obviously, by 10, I was already using chopsticks, right?

OF: Yeah.

ZH: So going to school, kids just took out their lunchbox and started using their hands. So that was a little cultural shock for me as well. And there's such a culture of sharing, that it’s unnatural if you took a lunchbox to school, and you wouldn't want to share it with your classmate next to you. But I, you know, grew to it pretty quickly.

OF: Yeah. I guess that's a great way for you to learn about the culture of food, just steal your neighbour's lunch, right?

ZH: Exactly, exactly.

OF: But I guess when you're 10 years old, are you more likely to accept new things? Or actually, are you more likely to be possessive about your previous culture?

ZH: OK, so this is a good question. Because my uncle and my aunt, they had a daughter - so, my cousin - who’s two years older than me. We actually spent the same amount of time in Ghana. She was sent to an international school, and I was sent to a local school. And she hated people touching her hair, she hated sharing her food. Because you have to take into consideration, we're all only children.

OF: Yeah.

ZH: Right, we're not used to sharing. I think it's just, you know, a level of resistance. She resisted it, probably a lot more than me. So up until today, she still counts that as a not-so-pleasant culture shock. While I just blended in and became one of them.

OF: Yeah. It's such a common story.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: Where now you can see people in reverse, people who put their children into international schools here in Shanghai, of course.

ZH: Right.

OF: And you can see that there is this cultural wall, which then gets reinforced.

ZH: Right.

OF: You're not really integrating. I mean, there are people here who've lived in China for X number of years, and they don't need to really understand the local culture.

ZH: Right.

OF: They can just live in their bubble, right?

ZH: I think the school is definitely a background in which, you know, the child gets their world view from. But I think what's even more than that is parenting. You know, my parents were… I mean, they’d never been to Africa. And this was a time where if you told your friends you're going to Africa, people prayed for you. They were like “Oh my god, I hope you come back”. So for my parents to go into such a foreign culture, such a foreign land, but to embrace everything, I think that was more important than the school I attended.

OF: Wow.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: So you're lucky you had those open-minded parents?

ZH: Yeah.

OF: So the reason we're dwelling on your childhood so much is, it has really informed what you do these days. And also, I guess, your entire outlook on the world, correct?

ZH: Right.

OF: Can you describe what that is?

ZH: There are some people who go to Africa for the first time, and as soon as they step off the plane, something captivates them. And they start crying, they become emotional. There's definitely certain reasons as to why this happens. And through my experience of living in Africa, I realised this is something we all strive for, which is freedom. You know, in Shanghai, I think on one hand, we're fighting for this individuality. On the other hand, you have this extreme conformity. People get lost. What is true freedom? And I think for anyone who has had the privilege of going to Africa, they might have some insights into that particular answer.

OF: Wow. Which is hard to describe, I guess. But is it something about the closeness to nature? Like, how would you describe what that feeling is?

ZH: Nature is definitely a big part of it. You don't feel like Homo Sapiens are on Earth to dominate other species.

OF: Right.

ZH: You know, you're just a guest. So that gives you a very refreshing perspective, which sometimes we forget. And secondly, I think it's the people that you would come across. Why are they so damn happy every day? They don't have the same measurement of success as us - buying a car, buying a house - they don't necessarily use those same measurements. It's being able to spend time with your family, being in nature. I woke up hungry, there was this coconut tree, I climbed it, I got a coconut, I'm no longer hungry.

OF: No worries.

ZH: No worries. No worries.

OF: Yeah. And I think it’s a dangerous image, because sometimes we can also romanticise that image as well, right?

ZH: Yes. So where is the balance? We are chasing this GDP? Does higher GDP really bring a better life to people? And if that's true, what is the definition of that? I'm not saying everybody should just go climb a coconut tree. You definitely need to have water, roads, basic necessities for people to have security. So how do we strive for the balance between preserving the nature around us, developing sustainably, making sure that the things we do measure happiness with are the true factors that bring fulfilment to people. And through the work that I'm doing, through the content that I'm creating, maybe that would raise some questions.

OF: Right. So let's talk about that, then.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: So what is it that you do now?

ZH: So I am a vlogger. Every time I travel back to Africa, I shoot a lot of footage of the people I meet, of the organisations I come across, and the works they do. So I create all of these into vlogs, which I publish on my social media.

OF: OK, very succinctly described. Let me pick away at what you just said, then. So first of all, social media here in China, what channels do you use?

ZH: So I am on WeChat, 公众号 [Gōngzhònghào], I have an official WeChat account. I am on 微博 [Wēibó]. And all my vlogs, I have English and Chinese, right. So if I'm speaking Chinese, I have English subtitles. And the other way around.

OF: When you and I first met, I remember you mentioning 西瓜 [Xīguā], you used to use 西瓜 [Xīguā].

ZH: Yes.

OF: And 抖音 [Dǒuyīn] as well, right?

ZH: Right.

OF: Do you still use those, or have you now narrowed it down?

ZH: So when we first met, I just started this vlog project. And we have the saying in Chinese - especially for content creators, which anybody that's doing the same thing would have a huge resonance with - which is 用爱发电 [yòng’ài fādiàn], you're generating power with love.

OF: Oh.

ZH: But that can last you for only so long. So at the beginning, what I was 用爱发电 [yòng’ài fādiàn]. I was so passionate about it, I loved what I was doing so much, it was really pure love. And then eventually, I realised “OK, I need to figure out a business model. How can I be compensated to allow me to continue to do this?”

OF: Right.

ZH: Right? So it came down to the idea of doing bespoke tourism for Chinese to Africa. So that was the direction I took. Not working so well this year…

OF: Yeah, right.

ZH: But before the whole COVID-19 hit, I was actually having some really happy customers, who gave great reviews with their experiences. So, to go back to your question about 西瓜 [Xīguā] - which is ‘watermelon’, this short video platform - the audience is much more third, fourth, sometimes fifth tier cities.

OF: Really.

ZH: So it's not really my target audience. If I wanted to create an ecosystem where the views could actually come back in as inquiries - and then eventually turns into leads - then that wasn't the platform.

OF: Right.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: So you've moved away from 抖音 [Dǒuyīn] as well?

ZH: I've moved away from 抖音 [Dǒuyīn] because it was so much work. And if eventually you want to do e-commerce on 抖音 [Dǒuyīn], the products that would work well are things which are probably lower than 100快 [Kuài].

OF: Right.

ZH: You know, because it takes much less thinking, for people to just click and buy.

OF: Yeah.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: Which is not what you're going for.

ZH: No, no.

OF: You’re going for a big holiday…

ZH: Right.

OF: …To West Africa, or wherever.

ZH: Right, right.

OF: OK, so how do you think now the image of Africa in China has changed? What are the images that Chinese people in general still have of Africa?

ZH: If you speak on the basis of how you think people in Africa live, a lot of the misconceptions have remained. Because I get a lot of questions like “Oh, when you guys were in Ghana, did you guys wear clothes? I mean, did you have cars?” So a lot of these questions, I still get asked. I'm like “Did you ever consider there was also an urban life in Africa, which is very very vibrant?” They actually get really shocked. One of the first vlogs I made was just simply me going out in Nairobi, going to the parties, going to the clubs, you know, hanging out with artists. People were like “Whoa, never thought of that”.

OF: Wow, yeah.

ZH: Yeah, that's interesting.

OF: Yeah, it's this funny mix, where actually you can see the ignorance, but at the same time you can also appreciate the curiosity. Like, at least…

ZH: Right.

OF: You don't want to completely throw cold water over that curiosity, right?

ZH: No. You don’t. I mean, I've also learnt through my process of creating content, how to address these kinds of questions. Because before I would just get so mad. But I've also learnt, it was my responsibility to address it, and hopefully, turn it into a more positive perspective…

OF: Right

ZH: …Of seeing this.

OF: Yeah. And this is kind of why I look at you as a more successful, better version of what I'm trying to do, for people who don't understand China. Because, you know, part of what I'm trying to do is to have the image of like “Oh, well yes, there are some things which you might disagree with. Fine, but if you just go down to the people, people are all the same.”

ZH: Right.

OF: Right? The amount of prejudice there is against Chinese people is massive out there, as well. And that's half the reason why I asked you about how you do it, because I also don't know how to do it, and I thought you might have a better answer than I do.

ZH: Yeah, I definitely don't have the answer to that. We do also have to hold the media responsible. You know, if we can ask every media outlet to exercise their journalistic morals, maybe we would have an audience that is more objective, and willing to look at the bigger picture of things.

OF: And is that what you are achieving, in your way, with your vlog? Like, what has been the feedback that you've received from the work that you do?

ZH: Very encouraging. You know, from people who actually do have a very great impact in the dialogue that I'm speaking in. Like Eric from the China Africa Project, down to people who haven't heard any discussion regarding the China/Africa topic. Yeah.

OF: And what does your family say about your project?

ZH: My parents are always supportive with everything I've done.

OF: Nice.

ZH: So yeah, they're super happy.

OF: Right. And so is this now your full-time gig? Or are you still working in your daytime?

ZH: It's, let's say, my part-time gig. Because the goal for this year was really to focus on tourism. Now, given COVID-19, it's hard to make a sustainable business out of it.

OF: It’s on ice, right? For when the world…

ZH: It's on ice, it's on ice. But I'm trying to find different mechanisms to tell the same story. So for example, the clothes that I'm wearing, I just started a fashion brand, using African fabric. There's a huge amount of great African fashion brands. And they seem a bit intimidating for the Chinese audience. Because they’re very loud, they’re bold. So it's taking elements of those expressions, but infusing them in a more practical and everyday-wear format.

OF: Great.

ZH: So that's the essence behind the fashion project. It's selling quite well. This was something that came out of COVID-19.

OF: And you designed it?

ZH: I designed it.

OF: And how did you get it manufactured? You sourced the factories here?

ZH: Yes, I found a factory in 浦东 [Pǔdōng] actually.

OF: Wow.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: Amazing. To have something which is unique, and which has your eye on the Shanghai take on African fashion, I can see the story straight away.

ZH: Right.

OF: Tell me what the brand of your vlog is. And then does your fashion brand already have a name?

ZH: Yes. So the name of the vlog is 慧玲带你非 [Huìlíng dài nǐ fēi]. It's actually a play on words, because 飞 [fēi] in Chinese stands for ‘flying’ as a verb. But it's also 非洲的’非’ [Fēizhōu de ‘fēi’]. So it’s a play on words that basically says ‘Huiling takes you to Africa’.

OF: Nice.

ZH: So that's the name for the vlog project. The clothing, it's called Ankara. So ankara is the technical name for African wax fabric.

OF: Ah.

ZH: It’s an ancient technique of printing patterns.

OF: And then you wash the wax out, and the colour remains on the fabric.

ZH: Yes.

OF: That’s similar to batik in Indonesia.

ZH: Exactly.

OF: Right.

ZH: Actually it derives from batik.

OF: Really?

ZH: Yes.

OF: How funny.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: And so the object that you brought in - I'm still looking at you, you've been holding it the whole time - looks very comfy, by the way.

ZH: It’s very.

OF: So is it going to be part of something which you put into your brand? Or is it just a personal effect?

ZH: It's a personal effect. But I think the pattern can definitely be an inspiration of a future collection. Yeah, why not?

OF: Tell me how has your work affected the way that you live your life?

ZH: If I have to be honest, I think the work has actually made me more pessimistic. Because I set out with a particular purpose of, you know, doing good. But the more involved you get into it, you realise the limitations of what you as an individual can do. You realise how much more inequality, ignorance, is out there? And you wonder if that's the trajectory of us as a species? It's something I've been thinking about.

OF: I hear you. I think, if you didn't feel that way, you probably have your head in the sand this year.

ZH: Right.

OF: I think everyone who is surviving, is doing so on the barest thread of sanity right now, the barest thread of positivity. And I think we are all getting on with it, we're putting on a brave face. But I think most of us are inside thinking “Wow, where is the world going?”

ZH: Right.

OF: All I would say to you is just to think of this year as a blip. And hopefully, we will all come out of it a bit more positive. When things are a little less fraught, and there's less of an excuse to throw blame across borders. But I share the same view.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: But I'm 20 years older than you. So I want to encourage people like you - who have have been so positive, and have been pushing yourself out there - to inject positivity into the world. To not focus on the negativity, which even people like me exude.

ZH: Right.

OF: But to focus on the likes of the Greta Thunbergs out there. The people who are younger, who do represent the next generation, who can hold my generation and my parents generation to account, and say “Well no, this is not the world that my generation will stand for.”

ZH: Right.

OF: People who are Generation X - which is my generation - we're stuck in between the boomers…

ZH: Right, right.

OF: …And you millennial types. We look more towards you. We’re like “We are stuck, we really… We need you”. And that's where I really hope that you will continue what you're doing, even though it's just one voice. Maybe what it needs is more of an orchestra - more of a choir of voices - to create more of a noise that we need. Because we do need people like you.

ZH: I think at the end of the day, I ask myself, does the fact of knowing that I'm not able to change the world, does that stop me from being passionate about these causes? Wanting to tell their stories? It doesn't. So you just still have to continue doing what you do.

OF: Well, that's a great way to end the first half of this discussion. Thank you Huiling.

ZH: You’re very welcome.

OF: We will now move on to Part 2.


[Part 2]

OF: So let's go on to the 10 questions. I'm looking forward to your answers.


OF: Question 1, what is your favourite China-related fact?

ZH: So my favourite thing about China is safety. Before moving back to Shanghai, I was living in New York. So coming back to Shanghai, going back home at any hour of the day I want, it was such a luxury to me.

OF: That's right.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: And it's funny because New York has improved.

ZH: Yes, yes.

OF: But it’s definitely still edgy.

ZH: It definitely got its edge.

OF: Right. Question 2, do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

ZH: Oh, OK. So there's this new thing, 后浪前浪 [hòulàng qiánlàng]. It describes the millennials. 前浪 [Qiánlàng] literally translates to ‘waves that came before’.

OF: Yeah.

ZH: And then 后浪 [hòulàng], it translates to ‘waves that came after.’ So I consider myself as 前浪 [qiánlàng].

OF: You do?

ZH: Yes.

OF: Oh god.

ZH: Because because the kids who are considered 后浪 [hòulàng] are basically 18 by now. So that's just something funny that's been trending on Chinese social media.

OF: Oh man. If you’re 前浪 [qiánlàng] then what the hell am I? I must be, like, in the middle of the ocean. There's no wave involved.

ZH: No. Didn’t make the wave.

OF: And is that basically ‘millennial’? Is it an equivalent, or is it a whole different concept?

ZH: I would say it's a new concept. So basically, it describes the culture gap between different age groups, right? So a kid that's 18, he's talking about a particular way of dressing or an underground culture that I don’t understand. He might just finish the conversation saying “啊,你是前浪 [A, nǐ shì qiánlàng]!”

OF: And then that's just it. You can’t…

ZH: That’s just it.

OF: Internet culture, it’s terrible everywhere around the world.

ZH: This was made famous by 哔哩哔哩 [Bìlībìlī].

OF: Ah yeah, right.

ZH: 哔哩哔哩 [Bìlībìlī], so they made a marketing video for their platform, to position themselves as a platform for the millennials. Yes, the young kids.

OF: OK, that's why I'm not on 哔哩哔哩 [Bìlībìlī]. I bet you have an account there.

ZH: I do. Because in my head I'm like “I'm still eighteen”.

OF: Yeah. Question 3, what’s your favourite destination within China?

ZH: 云南 [Yúnnán].

OF: Yeah.

ZH: 泸沽湖 [Lúgū Hú], beautiful. This big lake.

OF: Yes.

ZH: We watched the sun rise over that, and then we went to this very famous National Park. It was very pristine.

OF: Question 4, if you left China for good, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

ZH: What would I miss the most? Convenience, with Alipay, with 饿了么 [Èleme]… No. Can I change my mind?

OF: You can.

ZH: OK, what I would miss the most, the Chinese food.

OF: OK, but that's too obvious.

ZH: I know but there's certain characteristics to the food I like. So it's something soupy, hot, which basically translates to comfort food for me. With coriander.

OF: Oh, has to have coriander.

ZH: Yes. Very flavourful. Can be a bit spicy. Yeah.

OF: This is not Shanghainese food though, right?

ZH: No. Not Shanghainese food, anything but Shanghai.

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

ZH: So I think the least will be the limited access to platforms like YouTube, Instagram. Wink, wink.

OF: Wink, wink. We all know why we can't access these things in China. Unless there's a special magic fairy.

ZH: Exactly.

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

ZH: The pace of life. I still feel, on a daily basis, I have to learn a great deal to catch up with the millennials. To know how to speak their language in order to communicate with them.

OF: Yeah. 前浪 [Qiánlàng].

ZH: 前浪 [Qiánlàng], exactly.

OF: I just give up on all of this. What is your favourite place to go, to eat or drink or just hang out?

ZH: This little coffee shop downstairs from my house.

OF: Nice.

ZH: I would go with my coffee mug. It's basically a coffee shop where the owner is a serious biker fan. So sometimes I'm sitting there surrounded by all these really serious bikers, they’re wearing these heavy leather jackets, I was like “Whoa, I feel like I'm part of their little subculture.”

OF: What is your favourite WeChat sticker?

ZH: So it's my newly favourite sticker. It's a smiley face. But it's a very awkward smiley face, with the eyes all twitched up.

OF: Oh.

ZH: Basically, you know, the brave face that we have to throw on, as adults in this world. Knowing the negativity is out there, you just still have to continue.

OF: Yeah. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?

ZH: Ooh, something from Britney Spears.

OF: Oh, nice.

ZH: Because that's all I know by now. I stopped listening to pop music after that.

OF: But if there was one, which would it be?

ZH: Hit me Baby One More Time.

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

ZH: I rely a lot on social media. So 公众号 [Gōngzhònghào] is how I get a lot of my information. I go on 微博 [Wēibó] every now and then. And that's about it.

OF: Right.

ZH: Yeah.

OF: Well, thank you so much Huiling.

ZH: Thank you for having me.

OF: And finally, out of everyone you know in China, who should I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China.

ZH: OK, so my recommendation will be Yilei. She's a Chinese girl, she has a buyers shop in 静安 [Jìng'ān]. She’s been in the fashion industry for about a decade now. What is also interesting is that her dad also lived years in Africa.

OF: Oh, right.

ZH: Yeah. So now her buyers shop is dedicated to finding more boutique brands from all over the world, to bring them to the Chinese audience.

OF: Great. I can't wait to meet Yilei, thank you so much Huiling.

ZH: You’re very welcome.


OF: I know there are other creators listening, so maybe you can also relate to the phrase Huiling used, '用爱发电 [yòng'ài fādiàn]'. I know I certainly do. It's that part of you that's trying to generate power just using the fuel that is the passion you put into your work. Sometimes that tank is full, and other times you're just running on fumes. Luckily for us, Huiling still does have plenty of fuel in her tank, but she has not been able to travel to Africa since the start of the pandemic, so it should come as no surprise to hear that there haven't been any new vlogs these days. And in fact, she's now working as the China brand manager for an international cosmetic brand. But she continues to look for any opportunities to work on China/Africa projects in preparation for the day she can next travel there again, so definitely reach out to her if you have any ideas. The most recent thing she did was a crossover collaboration between a Chinese fashion brand and an elephant orphanage in Zimbabwe. I've posted some photos of the sweaters they made, and I've also posted some from her fashion brand Ankara, where you can see how she's using African prints and colours in a way that's more accessible for the Chinese consumer.

I've also posted a few screenshots from some of Huiling's favourite vlog moments, so you can find those on the website or on the social media accounts for Mosaic of China, where I've also included links to her channels on YouTube and 微博 [Wēibó]. You can also just do a search for 慧玲带你非 [Huìlíng dài nǐ fēi] on WeChat. And apart from that, you can also see photos of her object - the shuka - not just as a scarf, but also as a table cloth, and a picnic blanket; as well as photos of the biker café that's her favourite place to hang out.

There's a longer version of this episode available for PREMIUM subscribers to the show. If you're sick of hearing me say this every week, then subscribe! You'll be able to hear, on average, 10-15 minutes of extra content for every single episode of the season. Subscribe with one click by searching for Mosaic of China PREMIUM on Apple Podcasts; or find us on Patreon, internationally; and 爱发电 [Àifādiàn] in China. Here are some clips from today’s show.

[Clip 1]

ZH: We went to the counter, because we were told that there was a flight. They said “No, you cannot get on”. So I had to unleash the kraken.

[Clip 2]

ZH: You don't know what you don't know. If you have never been freed, you won’t know you're conforming.

[Clip 3]

ZH: Oh my god, what are you guys cooking? Is that soil?

[Clip 4]

ZH: There was a particular employee of my dad who stayed with him for over 20 years.

[Clip 5]

ZH: I would get so excited, and we would buy fried yam.

OF: I can see your eyes light up just talking about that.

[End of Audio Clips]

The biggest overlap between Huiling and previous guests is with Noxolo Bhengu, the South African actress, writer, community leader, and entrepreneur from Season 02 Episode 14. Both she and Huiling share the same philosophy of using casual association to improve the understanding between cultures. And I can’t wait for the two of them to hopefully meet each other at the end of Season party that I’m just starting to organise. So please listen out for more details about that if you’ll be in Shanghai on September 8th. Apart from that, the way Huiling questioned how we measure happiness totally reminded me of the episode with Lori Li, the GM of the private members club Yongfoo Elite from Season 01 Episode 10, where she described how the concept of luxury in China has evolved from material wealth into more spiritual wealth in this new generation of young Chinese leaders. Of course the mixed feelings that Huiling has as a content creator is reminiscent of my conversation with Michael Zee, the ‘Symmetrybreakfast’ Instagram influencer from Season 01 Episode 07. And if you want to hear more about the fashion angle, and the way a particular Chinese VIP customer dresses, then you need to drop everything now and listen to the fashion Designer Octo Cheung from Season 01 Episode 30.

Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. I had to make three different versions of the ending to today’s show. If you’re listening to the PREMIUM version, you’re now going to be treated to an amazing 15-minute catch-up with the person who nominated Huiling for the show, Eric Olander from Season 01 Episode 03. If you’re listening to the REGULAR version internationally, you’re going to hear 7 minutes of this, which is… fine. And if you’re listening to the REGULAR version in China, you won’t be hearing any of it. Eric’s original episode is one that I can’t get put back online in China, no matter how many different ways I try to edit it. So if you want to hear it, you know where to go.

[Catch-Up Interview]

OF: Eric, nice to see you.

EO: Nice to see you, it’s been a long time

OF: Hasn't it just. And the world has changed 180 degrees since we last met each other.

EO: Well, here in Vietnam, we haven't had much COVID. So… we don't have any vaccines, by the way, but we have no COVID. So I don't know, is that..? OK, I'd rather have no COVID and no vaccines than COVID and vaccines.

OF: Well, that is the major update, because you've already let the cat out of the bag that you are now in Vietnam.

EO: Yeah, so we left in 2019. So right before you and I spoke is when - right around that time is when - when we left.

OF: Exactly, I alluded to it in our chat, saying that I got you at a busy time. But I did not mention at that time that it was literally three days before you were leaving the country.

EO: It was my parting gift to China, was to speak with you.

OF: Well, tell me then. So what happened? Why are you now in Vietnam?

EO: Well, I was working for an American advertising agency with an American client. And that American client was all run by Chinese managers. And they came to us and said “We do not want anybody on our account who is not Chinese.”

OF: Really?

EO: Nationals. This was not a racial thing, it was a national thing. When you leave, you obviously lose your visa. And so I could have probably found something. But it wasn't as exciting as what I came up with, which is to take the China Africa Project - which is this thing that I talked about with you prior, that I've been working on for 10 years - and then go full time with it. And it's been just a roller coaster, and exciting and fun. And being here in Vietnam allows me to be right over the border from China. So I'm in the same time zone, I'm close to people on WeChat discussions. And at the same time, as a journalist, and as an independent writer about China, I don't face the same pressures as if I was in China. And that has been nice, it takes a little bit of that anxiety.

OF: Yeah.

EO: I never really self-censored myself that much. But now I don't have to think about it at all.

OF: Right. And you were saying that actually, this had been a side-hustle for you while you had that job in advertising. But then, what is it now?

EO: Yeah, so I really enjoyed it. I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I'm not in that business any more. My roots and my heart are in editorial journalism, which I've been doing for 35 years. And so the trend I saw was that I don't need to go work for CNN again, or for the BBC again. If I want to tell the stories that I want, there are platforms out there that I can just do it myself. And I'd already built an audience of, you know, 1-1.5 million followers on social media. And so I said “OK, let's find a way to monetise a tiny, tiny percentage of that audience. A half of a percent, a quarter of a percent. And if I'm able to do that, I would have a perfectly fine living”. And that's what I've done. So relaunched the website, created a daily newsletter, also created podcasts, and giving consulting services, and talking to people. Most of it, though, comes down to this newsletter. And I spend almost 12 hours a day to produce this newsletter.

OF: Yeah.

EO: Which is crazy. I start every day at 5:30 or 6 in the morning, and I don't stop until 9 or 10 at night. And yet, it never feels difficult. But if I was working that much for any of my old employers, I would be burned out and frustrated, and I would just be so annoyed all the time. But because we're building something here, that's what makes it fun and exciting. And that's the thrill of it. Yes, it's not a lot of money right now. But it's a five year plan. And that's the key to success that I find in the media business, particularly in this social media era. It’s just persistence.

OF: Yeah. Well, going back to our episode, at the end of our interview…

EO: You're not gonna make me sing again, are you?

OF: No. That was the highlight.

EO: I have not progressed in any of my karaoke tunes, so…

OF: I'm not going to embarrass you with anything like that. But at the end of the interview, you said that one of the best news sources you liked were the guys at SupChina and The Sinica Podcast.

EO: Yeah.

OF: And then, lo and behold, half a year to a year later, you bloody well joined them.

EO: Yes, so I'm part of their podcast network. Those guys are great, Jeremy Goldkorn, Kaiser Kuo…

OF: Firstly, where's my finder's fee? Because I put you guys together.

EO: Did you really?

OF: No.

EO: Wow. Your finder's fee is the next time I come to Shanghai, I'll take you out for a frozen yoghurt. There you go.

OF: That is more than I expected.

EO: That’s you finder’s fee. So yeah, so we joined the Sinica network. Last year, we saw our podcast audience grow by 26%. And I think that is all because of the SupChina affiliation. And it's been a great partnership. And the work that those guys do is just rockstar in my view.

OF: Great. Well, I'm going to be releasing this update at the same time as the episode with Zhao Huiling, who was the person who you recommended for Season 02.

EO: Oh. Zhao Huiling represents that really exciting part of the China/Africa relationship that needs to be celebrated more. People making connections on the individual level. When she travels throughout Africa, she's been there for a long time, she knows people, they know her. And it's amazing how quickly people can transcend the cultural and language divides, with the right attitude. These perceptions that we create about each other - through the news, and through geopolitics - break down quite quickly when you're on the ground. And Zhao Huiling is really just living proof of that. And I encourage everybody to go onto YouTube, to see the videos that she's made. And the way she is in those videos is literally the way she is in real life.

OF: Nice. Well, thank you for the referral. And thank you for being part of this project, Eric, I feel like I can fake being serious with you, and you can fake being fatuous with me.

EO: No, it’s… No. And it's wonderful, because I remember you and I had lunch in 静安 [Jìng'ān], and you were saying “I'm gonna start this podcast.” And I was like “Oh, OK.” You know, everybody says they're gonna start a podcast. And then what they do is they start the podcast. And three, four, five episodes into it, all of a sudden they get busy, it just kind of falls off. That is 99% of the people who start either blogs, social media, or podcasts. And I'm just so proud of what you've done with this show. 90% of the people on the internet are consumers of content. Only 9% of people on the internet are editors. Editors are the people who actually get in, and comment, and actually just modify somebody else's content. Only 1% of the people on the internet are creators. And the fact is that you've been able to do this for more than a year puts you in an even more elite group, because I think that's the 1/10 of 1%. And that's really neat. And so you should be proud of it, I should be proud of it. Anybody who has stuck with this - for as long as we have - should really celebrate that, because it is it's not easy to do. It's not easy.

OF: Well thank you, man. I am going to obviously edit all of that out, because I can't accept praise from you.

EO: No, you must keep it in. I'll be very disappointed. And if you don't, I'm recording here and I will publish it myself.

OF: Eric, I hope it's not too long before we are sharing beers either on a beach in Vietnam, or here in 静安 [Jìng'ān] again.

EO: Well, hopefully if I have a Chinese vaccine thrust into me, then I'll be up there in Shanghai. Hopefully sooner than later.

OF: Alright man, great to see you.

EO: OK, cheers.

OF: Bye.

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