Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 29 — The Protocol King (Murray KING, Shanghai Disney Resort)
Murray King took an early bet on China when he applied for a Beijing posting with the Canadian diplomatic service. Fast forward two decades, and he was part of the team that was bringing the Disney experience to China.
OF: You are not winning any friends right now. At least you've given me that coin.
MK: Yes, yes. You have your coin, yes.
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.
We’re almost at the end of Season 02. And for today’s episode we hark back to the first ever episode of the podcast, which was with Philippe Gas, the General Manager of the Shanghai Disney Resort. So if you want to hear that side of the Disney story, be sure to go right back to Season 01 Episode 01.
Philippe recommended today’s guest, Murray King, who is one of those people who took an early bet on China, so we spend the first ten minutes of our chat discussing those early days when he served as a diplomat in Beijing. I wanted to cover that part of his story, so that we can hear how he has been able to apply some of those skills to his current role managing Public Affairs at the Shanghai Disney Resort. What ensues is a mini-masterclass in government negotiations and public relations, especially in the context of how Shanghai Disney made global headlines when it became to first theme park in the world to reopen since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
And in contrast to last week’s episode with the content creator Zhao Huiling, where we talk about early career choices, Murray and I also talk about something very close to my heart, which is… After spending decades in Asia, what is your end game? And Murray actually has an answer to that question.
OF: Let’s jump in, then, to the conversation. So I would like you to listen to this.
OF: Are you ready?
[Start of Audio Clip]
Philippe GAS: So I'm thinking about a colleague of mine who has been working in China for now more than 20 years. His name is Murray King, he is the head of Public Affairs for Shanghai Disney Resort. He's, I think, a beautiful example of somebody who’s a blend of Western and Chinese culture, who understand the culture, speaks the language. So I think he would be a great man to talk to.
[End of Audio Clip]
OF: That was our friend, Philippe.
MK: Philippe, yeah. I met Philippe briefly when he was still the President of Disneyland Paris and I was at Shanghai Disney Resort. And we met in Hong Kong, briefly. And then, in the autumn of 2014, he was appointed as the General Manager of Shanghai Disney Resort. And, you know, I have a home in France, so we had a natural connection there. And yeah, we hit it off famously from the very beginning, and he's still a great friend.
OF: That's great. And of course, you would have been behind the scenes of allowing him to do the podcast with us last season anyway, right?
MK: I can't comment.
OF: What actually is your role? He mentioned it there, but what is your actual title at Disney?
MK: I'm the Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Shanghai Disney Resort. To help coordinate our strategies and tactics around building, enhancing and then also protecting the reputation of the brand of Shanghai Disney Resort. And to put that in the temporal context, from the very beginning when we first announced the project, it’s a major joint venture; through to the development; the pre-opening; the grand opening; and then the post-opening operation period, five years of operations.
OF: Well, we'll be getting into that later on.
OF: Before we jump in, what is the object that you have brought, which in some way exemplifies your life here in China?
MK: Well I thought really long and hard on this. And it's not going to be something that's going to be exciting, but it's something that everyone can visualise.
MK: A coin.
MK: A RMB1 coin.
OF: Quite a rare object these days.
MK: It is rare. I've been in China for many years, and coins have been part of my experience, because obviously we all use - or used to use - hard currency. It has a peony flower - which is the unofficial flower of China - on one side, and it has one 元 [Yuán] on the other side, and 中华人民共和国 [Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó] written in Chinese. So much of China's development has been focused on its economic planning. The purchasing power of the Chinese obviously has increased dramatically, certainly since I've been here. The value of the Renminbi has changed, and as it changes that's also changed China's development story, sometimes up, sometimes down, but broadly up. The way people use money - what they purchase - has changed dramatically, and people have built careers and reputations and businesses all around understanding that. And then now this is more like something that you put in a jar at home. The people are using different forms of money, obviously digital currency. And with COVID-19 it's becoming actually a very smart way to transact, because you don't have to touch something.
MK: Touchless payment. And so it just, you know, it represents a lot about China.
OF: Great. And in terms of your life, does it have a personal resonance in that case?
MK: You know, I've been in China now 22 years. The majority of my career in my adult life has been in China. And so we've I've been successful in my career - hopefully a little bit, I have - and financially, I have to thank China for that, and China's opening and reform.
OF: Well, we're going to jump into our conversation, but I should note immediately that I'm quite trepidatious about this one. Because you're someone who is very polite - you’re Canadian, after all - but I know that you are going to be hard for me to get answers out of. I'm an expert winkler. But I think as much winkling as I'm going to do, you are going to parry the winkle pretty carefully. Because it's part of your job, right? So you deal with a lot of communications, you mentioned straight away about reputation management, how does that work on a day-to-day basis at Disneyland?
MK: Well, I think every brand has natural attributes. You know, people say it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and just a moment to lose it.
MK: The Disney brand has decades of history, it goes back to the 1920s. So in that sense, you know, you start from a position of advantage. But obviously it's more complicated than that, because we're not just bringing a brand, we’re bringing an experience into China. And it's in a new country. And we opened this resort for the first time in a more complex environment, it’s the first time in the age of social media, the scale was very large. And the familiarity with the brand was different than in other markets. So my job is to help navigate the complexities of the market, to emphasise the positive attributes of the brand, to work with other teams to ensure that we build success into the how we represent the brand in this market, rather than try to fix mistakes. A preemptive, broad, culturally-sensitive and relevant strategy to make the brand relevant for this market. And you know, the consumer at the end of the day, consumers here are very savvy, they understand a brand's attributes. They want to experience the same quality of those attributes as any other consumer in any other marketplace. And that's what we strive to do.
OF: How did you fall into this line of work?
MK: I studied history and English literature - and then law - at university in Canada. And I practised corporate commercial and then human rights law for several years. And then I joined the Canadian diplomatic service with a focus on trade promotion. So in Canada at that time, the ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Trade were merged. And so I was part of the Foreign Service, with a focus on promoting Canadian exports into the Chinese market; and inward investment promotion, so investment from China into Canada. And I had an interest in China. And at that time, it seemed - this was kind of mid 90s - that there was not as much interest in foreign service officers in coming to a market like China, there was more interest in Europe and more traditional diplomatic postings. For me, it was clearly a number one choice.
OF: Well, where did that come from? Where did you get your interest in China at that point?
MK: I had grown up in an international environment. I actually was born in England to parents of Scottish and English descent. And we were moved to Montreal because my father was in the aerospace industry, and he had an assignment in Montreal. So from a young age, I grew up in a French-speaking area of North America. Eventually stayed in Canada, eventually became a Canadian citizen. My father transitioned to the airline industry, and free tickets are an important feature of the compensation package for family members. And so I had the opportunity to travel on free air passes around the world. And so by the time I finished university, I'd seen a lot of the world. And so I had just this kind of multicultural upbringing, and I always thought - even though I had pursued a career in law initially - that I wanted to see the world more broadly, and to work overseas. As I was thinking about what a career outside of Canada could look like, my heart actually pulled me towards Latin America. Great culture, fascinating history, complicated politics, beautiful landscapes and geography, and just so diverse and exotic. But a difficult place to build a career, if you have a sense of ambition. You can, and particularly in certain industries like natural resources. But when I went to China, I saw a lot of the same excitement and fascination that a 20-something-year-old would be interested in and would be drawn to. But I also saw a real potential economically, and from a career perspective. And so when I eventually joined the Foreign Service, that kind of had the right alignment of everything for me. I always say to friends, it's akin - from a career perspective - to if I had bought Apple stock when it was Steve Jobs in his garage building computers. I took a gamble on investing my time - to learn a language, and embrace a culture, and change my career path - because I believed in China, and China's future.
OF: Yes, that's exactly what I feel like with people who came in the 90s. So what was it like when you first came, and what were you doing back then?
MK: When I came originally, it was not easy to use local currency. You could not make purchases in most locations. You had to use friendship stores, even in big cities like Beijing.
OF: And it was in Beijing that you were, right? You first came to Beijing.
MK: Yes. My posting in Beijing was in the trade section of the Canadian Embassy. And you know, it was exciting because it was the age of big national trade missions. That was the time when that was a successful business model, and it wasn't as easy to get access to local companies and local regulators.
OF: So when you're dealing with relations at that level - we're talking about the head of state - what does that entail? Do you have to get really involved in a lot of the red tape, or were you just getting the programmes together?
MK: Well I was involved in, I think, five Prime Minister visits. Trade missions, all of them trade missions. And usually what happens is - if you work in an embassy - you get assigned to do one part of the programme. So in 2001, the programme in Beijing included a state banquet. So typically - from a protocol perspective - on arrival, the Chinese side would host a state banquet to welcome the foreign leader. And then our ‘Team Canada’ model had a reciprocal banquet hosted by the Canadian Prime Minister for Chinese counterparts in government and in business, and then to leverage that banquet to invite the Canadian businesses that were part of the mission to come and participate in essentially what would be a major networking opportunity. So in 2001, I was assigned the responsibility to organise a dinner. But a dinner for approximately 2,700 people at The Great Hall of the People, which involved about six months of preparation. I think it's still the largest foreign government hosted event ever held at the Great Hall of the People.
OF: Oh wow.
MK: Because after that, they started to… The trade mission concept changed. So the largesse of those kinds of missions became less popular. And the banquet was extremely complex, because it obviously was much more than a dinner. There were multiple VIP and VVIP receptions; there were cultural performances; there were multiple arrival points at The Great Hall depending on which level of invitation you received; there were incredible security protocols, because this is essentially China's parliament building. So it involved a lot of negotiation with relevant ministries on both sides. A lot of fun. Stressful. And, you know, at the end of the day, it's a dinner.
OF: Right. It just reminds me of someone's wedding, where you realise “Yeah, it’s just a party”. But this is expanded on such a huge level. And you're in the firing line, because if you get it wrong, they're gonna blame your department.
MK: I was definitely in the firing line. And many others. I mean, a great team effort to help make it work.
OF: Well you mentioned the team just then, it makes me want to jump forward. Let's miss out a little bit of your story, and we'll come back to it. Let's jump forward to today then, where you're at Disney. What lessons did you learn from those days that you can apply now?
MK: I think years in market - you know, sometimes making mistakes yourself, and sometimes seeing others make mistakes - teaches you a lot about culture. And also helps hone your skills and your instincts. I'd say there are a few things that that I definitely focus on. One is always trying to understand the perspective of the stakeholders that I'm working with. Especially when there's a regulator involved. The government, you know, has certain focuses; the community has certain needs; and then the company has certain advantages. Where do you find that alignment between those different competing interests? And I don't just mean in big projects. Even if you don't necessarily agree with the agenda of the person sitting opposite you, if you don't understand what that agenda is - and you can't come up with some common ground, and next step - then the meeting doesn't take you anywhere. And, you know, sometimes you won’t get the second meeting. So always try to do a little bit of homework and understand - based on your own knowledge and experience, but also your team - what is the agenda of the team that you're meeting with, or the stakeholder? And how can you help them be successful, while also delivering on your own objectives? That's the sweet spot of success here. Secondly - and this perhaps is more relevant in this market - is understanding the decision-making ability of the person sitting opposite you. It's quite common - I think more in our western world - to believe that when you sit down and you have a discussion with someone, that if you're trying to reach consensus on something, you find common ground by conceding some points and holding on other points. That works well if you're engaging with someone who has the same level of ability to make those decisions. Often, people show their hand too early. You know, sometimes the person sitting opposite you wants to reach an agreement, but actually then has to report back on the discussion to someone who's more senior, who then may press the reset button. And you've already shown a hand, so you have to go to your second position. Patience - understanding the shared and the differing agendas of individuals - is important in anything here.
OF: Well, let's go back to your story. We were talking about Beijing. But here we are in Shanghai. So when did you move from Beijing to Shanghai?
MK: I officially moved in July of 2001. I had made the decision because Shanghai in 2001 was probably the hottest economy in the world. It was double digit GDP growth year on year on year. Not just double, like 12-14%. And, you know, the physical infrastructure that is so iconic today - the 陆家嘴 [Lùjiāzuǐ] 浦东 [Pǔdōng] skyline - was still relatively early in its build-out. And I got to see a lot of that. And I kind of wanted to stay, and test the private sector waters. So I was offered an opportunity to work for an American public affairs - and trade and investment - consulting firm called APCO, to manage their Shanghai office. And in fact, I could probably do more for companies because there were some limitations of what you could do in a Trade Commissioner Service. I could work with companies in a broader range of sectors; I could work with companies from different countries; I could also work with other government agencies; and I could work for Chinese companies. You know, if you were a smart consultant, you could find the right opportunities where there was the most potential. And that's kind of what myself - and a great team at APCO - did, over the years that followed.
OF: And then this is what eventually led you to Disney, right? They were one of your clients at that time.
MK: Yeah, I started working with Disney about 10-11 years ago, and officially joined in 2011. And it was just a small team at that time. We were tasked with building up a team that could help support the development and construction, and start to build up awareness of what we were going to create and open.
OF: And so, what most people nowadays will remember - when it comes to communications and Disneyland - is when Disneyland reopened after the Coronavirus. That was something where I remember hearing about it. To what extent were you involved in that process?
MK: My team was involved heavily, obviously. Because of media and, you know, the public announcement. A very emotional time. I think - this isn't unique to Disney, it isn't unique to China, it isn’t unique to you and me - that Coronavirus has been hugely impactful on people's lives. In ways that I don't think any of us realised in the 21st century could happen. And the journey of the pandemic is different in every country. And obviously, it's well known that in China, it was an earlier journey. And in some markets a later journey, and some markets a much longer journey, more painful. But everyone has been negatively impacted. And there was so much negative news, and so much tragedy. And the world was kind of ready for some hint that we could turn a corner, globally. And because our role in the community is to create happiness and joy for people, what’s needed most at a time of challenge like this, is what we were unable to offer. And so when we were able to finally meet the conditions, and were confident that it was the right time to reopen - even though tentatively, and with a lot of safety and health measures in place - we fully believed that that was an opportunity to inspire, and to help show people that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And that was a tremendous burden, a tremendous pressure, but a tremendous opportunity. And so we were nervous, we worked hard, but we were also excited about the opportunity to help turn the page. Because it was just the right time for people to get some good news. And we were able to do it in a responsible way. So we were very pleased with the result.
OF: And just hearing you talk about it, I can feel the emotion. Do you count that as one of the highlights of your time in Disneyland Shanghai?
MK: It certainly will be a memory, not just for from my time in Shanghai though, but it will be a highlight of my time in China. And my whole life, I think.
OF: What other highlights stand out that come close?
MK: I think when I moved to Shanghai was also very exciting. Beijing was wonderful, I loved the experience. I still love Beijing. But when I came to Shanghai, it felt like home. I've learned to take more risks in life. You know, when you come on a diplomatic posting, there's a lot of looked after for you. And taking the risk of stepping out of that bubble, that position of privilege that's lent you - the status, the apartment, the role - taking the risk to try something outside of my comfort zone was kind of scary. But at the same time, it was really exhilarating, and exciting, intoxicating almost. And hopefully - even though I’ll leave China - I’ll take a risk somewhere else, and do something else and, and know that you're always the better for the risk that you take. No matter whether you fail or you succeed. Hopefully I'll succeed though.
OF: And you mentioned leaving China. So is there an end game? Like, where do you see your future?
MK: I don't know. I'm quite happy living in China. And the tale of China, it ebbs and flows - its success, its economy, its relations - but I have wonderful friends here. My community, my life, is here. So I don't have any end game. Now, practically speaking, there probably will be a day when I retire to some warm, comfortable climate where I escape from the hustle and bustle of a big city. You know, I bought a home in France years ago. And so I have a parallel life - that’s not Canada, and not the UK, and not China - where I spend time on holidays. And there’s a community of friends that I have that’s completely disconnected from my profession, from the places I grew up, or the places I work. And I love that escapism. And so that's an option, some days. Maybe the south of France wouldn't be the worst choice.
MK: I do know of friends - older than me - who have spent 20+ years, 30+years in Asia, and have retired to another country. Sometimes it's hard in China - for regulatory reasons, visas, and healthcare, and other reasons - you decide to leave, even if it's your home for many years. And when you're in your 60s and you make a decision to buy in a place that you don't know, first of all it's harder to say “Hey, I made a mistake” when you've committed at that age. It takes longer to know whether it's a place you want to live. And so I think for me, having that parallel life - that allows me to know what that community is, and whether it's a place I'd like to live one day - having the time over many years to do that has been a good experience.
OF: Yeah. Smart. Well I guess if it hadn't been, then you would have been selling up and trying a different country by now. So yeah, seven years later, it looks like it's working out.
MK: Right, exactly.
OF: Dammit. I haven't done that yet. And I'm going to have to figure out what that place is. Well, thank you so much, Murray. On to Part 2.
OF: The 10 questions, they start here. So I ask these questions to every guest. We will start with Question 1. What is your favourite China-related fact?
MK: The word ‘Shanghai’ means ‘up from the ocean’. 上 [Shàng] means ‘up’, and 海 [hǎi] means ‘ocean’.
MK: And I think many people use that name without ever stopping and thinking "Why is it called Shanghai?” So this is one big river delta. It's just silt deposit over hundreds and thousands of years. And we're about maybe a metre or less above sea level. So literally, this is a city which hasn't just risen vertically in the last 20 years - as we see the beautiful skyline of 陆家嘴 [Lùjiāzuǐ] - it's a physical creation that has risen up from the ocean. It's still being created. If you've ever seen those… Maybe when you land at 浦东 [Pǔdōng] airport and looked out at that coastline, there are mud flats that just stretch out into infinity. And the water is a very brown colour, it's silt coming down the Yangtse river and being deposited in the East China Sea. So Shanghai is continuing to be created.
OF: Wow. Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
MK: If I were to choose a couple of words that should be part of the English language… 厉害 [Lìhài], because it's a word that's both positive and negative. You know, somebody who is 很厉害 [hěn lìhài] can be really strong. And it can be pejorative, it can be quite negative. You know, “His attitude is 太厉害 [tài lìhài]”, he's too strict, he’s too strong, he's not flexible enough. Or his personality. But, you know, you can also describe someone who's 厉害 [lìhài] as really good at something, who’s really got great competency or skill. It can be very different meanings depending on the context.
OF: Yeah. The contextuality of it is so rich. Which 厉害 [lìhài] are you, do you think?
MK: If you asked one of the people who works with me, they might say the negative one. I like to think that I'm both. And neither. That I'm just me.
OF: Yeah. The second thing?
MK: 讨厌 [Tǎoyàn]. 讨厌 [Tǎoyàn], the literal context, means disgusting.
OF: Oh, ‘dislike’, right.
MK: Yes. But if a girl were to say to you “你很讨厌 [Nǐ hěn tǎoyàn]” they're saying it in a positive way.
MK: Almost in a flirtatious way.
OF: Right. No-one flirts with me, Murray. It’s a sad story.
MK: No I'm sure that someone does. I'm sure that someone does.
OF: That's great, thank you for that. What is your favourite destination within China?
MK: 平遥 [Píngyáo], 平遥古城 [Píngyáo Gǔchéng]. I think maybe others have said that too.
MK: It's incredible. I would recommend it to anybody. You know, it's a walled city - about six square kilometres - it rises up out of the agricultural plains of 山西 [Shānxī] Province. And it is a tremendous experience, it feels like you're stepping into a 明 [Míng] Dynasty movie. And within that walled city… It's a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, so there's really no development on the outside of the walled city. So it’s mostly just farmland. Of course, there are a few tourist things that have popped up. But within the walled city, there really are no cars. You can rent a bicycle, you can bike around the city on the wall. There are lots of traditional hotels, and restaurants, and great food, and great people. And it’s just a wonderful experience.
OF: The photos I saw from my friend's holiday there did show a mass of tourists, though. So that's the one downside, right?
MK: Well I was lucky enough to go 20 years ago.
OF: Ah. If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?
MK: The most is the excitement of every day. Every day, something is happening, I learn something, I'm challenged in some way, I also feel like it can contribute in some way. I just feel like it's where everything's happening. So that's what I would miss the most. What I would miss the least is the fast pace. I don't know if that makes any sense. But when I do get out of the country - and when I go to my comfort zone, to France or somewhere else - you know, it's really nice to not have a fast pace. And every so often you need to kind of recharge your batteries, I think that's obvious. And the problem is, when I'm there I miss the fast pace after a couple of weeks; when I'm here after a few months, I need a break from the fast pace. So I'm never going to be completely happy in either.
OF: Thank you for saying that so well. Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?
MK: Yes. I can't tell you what they are, because it’ll be tomorrow’s surprise. But there are definitely things that surprise me. But sometimes, surprise me in special ways. I'll give you kind of a unique example. I remember when I first came here, you know, I had the opportunity to travel domestically, and this was like 27 years ago. And in those days, you got a boarding pass, you went to a small airport terminal. And then you would be bussed out - or you'd walk out - to the aircraft on the tarmac. It wasn't anything like it is now. And even though you had a reserved seat, you know, there was a scrum to get onto the flight. And I mean, it was a rough scrum. And you knew you had your seat, in theory. Sometimes you had to remind people who got your seat that it was your seat, it would always work out. And then, the same thing on an escalator, everybody would just push in. And there are a lot of reasons for that, and it's not a criticism. But I remember, it was like about eight years ago, I was on an escalator going up to the second floor in my office building at the time. And I looked up and I noticed that everyone was standing to the right. Everybody, without exception. And it just made me realise, everything you thought you knew was different. Because people are progressing, and society is changing so quickly, and so dynamically. And it's just the smallest of things, but it's exciting to see it. And it's exciting to be part of it. And I kind of almost felt like I was the one who was kind of standing on the wrong side. So your perspective changes.
OF: Yes. And when you see it - as a stark image, like you said - then it does hit home.
OF: Very good. What is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or just hang out?
MK: M on the Bund.
OF: Oh, there you go.
MK: And I hope it exists forever, at least as long as I'm here. I almost feel like it's named after me because ‘M’ for Murray. It's not for me, it’s for Michelle who owns the restaurant. But I love the restaurant, I love the location, I love the cuisine, I love the branding, I love the feel of the place. I also love 武康路 [Wǔkāng Lù], it's just a beautiful area. And 安福路 [Ānfú Lù], 湖南路 [Húnán Lù], 兴国路 [Xīngguó Lù], that whole area. So I spend a lot of time at the little cafes and restaurants there, when I have a chance to come back to the 浦西 [Pǔxī] side of Shanghai.
OF: Yes. I think that's where we first met, in one of those cafes there, right?
MK: That's right.
OF: What is the best or worst purchase you have made in China?
MK: I bought a 1920s house on 武康路 [Wǔkāng Lù] years ago.
OF: Damn you! You’re one of those people who got in early enough.
MK: I made the brave decision to buy the top of a 1920s house - a standalone house, the top part of that house - in about 2005. And lived in it for seven years, and had a wonderful experience. And then I sold it. And you know the old adage ‘Buy low, sell high’ definitely applies to real estate in Shanghai.
OF: You are not winning any friends right now. At least you've given me that coin.
MK: Yes, yes. You have your coin, yes.
OF: Now the hardest question, what is your favourite WeChat sticker?
MK: It's a great question actually, because I communicate more by stickers than by text. So there's a series of WeChat stickers which is called 小刘 [Xiǎo Liú], Little Liu.
MK: And it's actually, you know, a couple of characters. There’s a duck, and there's a cat, and I think there are a couple of other characters that occasionally make an appearance. And I just think that the designs are brilliant. And it's just super fun, and a little bit naughty. And yeah, that's me.
OF: Now, here's a funny thing. When I interviewed a diplomat in Season 01 - he worked for the New Zealand consulate here - he was always careful about stickers, because they can be misconstrued. And when you give me this cheeky naughtiness, that's kind of what he was slightly worried about. So he doesn't use WeChat stickers. Do you think if you were still a diplomat, you would have these stickers?
MK: I think these are cheeky and naughty, but they're not even close to crossing the line of being inappropriate. Although there are some others that are probably less appropriate. I think if I was still a diplomat, I would be more careful about using WeChat.
OF: At all.
MK: And I would certainly be careful about what I used. But I think these are harmless enough. I think the world has changed a lot as well.
MK: You know, people are communicating more primitively, and yet in a more sophisticated way through things like videos and photos.
MK: And abbreviations, and emoticons, and gifs, and things like that.
OF: Yes. Let's go into the societal history about hieroglyphics, because that's what we're doing really, using gifs and using emojis, right?
MK: Right, right.
OF: Very good, these are super cute.
MK: You'll be converted quickly, because there's a great range of stickers. All of my stickers are 小刘 [Xiǎo Liú] now.
OF: Beautiful. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
MK: Yikes, I haven't been the KTV in a while.
OF: You know, many people say that now.
MK: Yeah, well you know, times have changed.
OF: Times have changed.
MK: Times have changed.
MK: There are a few. But I guess the one that I like to sing - if I can sing with somebody else, because it's probably more known as a female song - 后来 [Hòulái], 刘若英 [Liú Ruòyīng].
MK: It’s a song by a Taiwanese singer that probably is 15-20 years old now. And when I learned Chinese - and I tried to improve my colloquial Chinese - I did it by trying to listen to more Chinese pop music. It’s a great way to entertain yourself and learn a language. And it's just one of the early songs that you know… It's kind of just a tune that stuck with me, and gnawed at me, and stayed with me. And so you have to learn one song. Right, you need your karaoke song. So that was my song, because nobody would have expected I could sing that song, right?
MK: It’s not like 对面的女孩看过来 [Duìmiàn de nǚhái kàn guòlái], which is very common.
OF: I have learnt 对面的女孩看过来 [Duìmiàn de nǚhái kàn guòlái], because it's the easiest for me.
MK: It's a fun song too.
OF: And finally, what China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?
MK: I try to look at everything I can. So, South China Morning Post is a great way to get some of the mainland news in a less filtered way. Strangely enough, I like Shanghai Daily, their Metro News is great, it's a great way to get a fix on local news. Sinocism is great.
MK: 上海发布 [Shànghǎi Fābù], the Shanghai Information Office. Everybody should have 上海发布 [Shànghǎi Fābù] on their WeChat as a subscription. And you know, the best news I get is just what I see and hear.
OF: Yeah, exactly. Well, very good, thank you so much Murray.
MK: It's my pleasure.
OF: The only thing left for me to ask you is, out of everyone you know in China - and this could include your 20 years experience - who do you think I should interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?
MK: It’s a good question, Oscar. There are lots of choices, actually. But I thought I would try and orient you in a different direction, and try someone maybe from a different industry. And so I would like to recommend Diana Xu, Xu Jidan. She is a lady from Northeast China - from 吉林 [Jílín] Province - who in 2012 was crowned Miss Universe China.
OF: Oh, wow.
MK: So she's a beauty queen. But she's a very smart lady as well. She went to Las Vegas and represented China in the Miss Universe pageant, and won Best National Costume.
MK: A Guo Pei design. And she had an incredible experience as a young woman - in a unique place, at a unique time - and then obviously came back to China, fulfilled her duties for one year, and then has gone on to build her own career and business.
OF: That's great. Well, once again, thanks for your time Murray.
OF: So I mentioned that there had been another diplomat on Mosaic of China, but I forgot to name him. Well let me correct that, it was Tom Barker from Season 01 Episode 25. And it struck me that, unbelievably, Tom and I talked about a fictional diplomat by the name of ‘Murray’’ in his episode. I wish I had figured that out a little earlier than right now, although perhaps the real Murray from today’s episode wouldn’t have been too amused by the comparison.
Regular listeners’ ears might have pricked up when Murray mentioned that his favourite KTV song was NOT 对面的女孩看过来 [Duìmiàn de nǚhái kàn guòlái]. Because it was the favourite for two previous guests, Stephane de Montgros, the events company CEO from Season 01 Episode 19, and Vladimir Djurovic, the brand naming expert from Season 02 Episode 13.
And the final fun connection came when Murray was explaining the how the phrase “你很讨厌 [Nǐ hěn tǎoyàn]” can be used flirtatiously. This reminded me of the kind of Shanghainese female that Nick Yu, the playwright from Season 01 Episode 13 was describing with his favourite word in Chinese, 作 [Zuò].
As always, type ‘Mosaic of China’ into Instagram, Facebook or WeChat, to see all the accompanying images for today’s show, spanning Murray’s whole time in China as well as his parallel life in France. And head to the website to follow the transcript from the conversation, or to subscribe to the PREMIUM version of the show. I covered a lot more with Murray than I could fit into this regular version, and here are some clips to prove it.
MK: I was here when SARS reared its ugly head, and that was 2003 in the spring.
OF: Which do you prefer, Beijing or Shanghai?
MK: Do you prefer your father or your mother?
OF: Errrr… OK.
MK: There was a message on my phone with a draft press release to close the resort. Two days later I was on a plane back.
MK: Disney has been in China since the 1920s. Snow White premiered in Shanghai and in 南京 [Nánjīng]
MK: Even if you're not a person that generally gets emotional, sometimes a little show helps.
MK: We talk every day - obviously, he’s my brother, he's my twin actually - so…
OF: Do they actually know there's two of you, right?
MK: They do, they do.
[End of Audio Clips]
Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. I’m still in touch with the person who referred Murray to the show, Philippe Gas from Season 01. But Philippe’s extremely busy these days working on a USD8 Billion entertainment project in Saudi Arabia, so I couldn’t find my way into his calendar to record a follow-up. Instead, I’m including a catch-up from one of the other most popular guests from last Season, which was Emily Madge, the sealife conservation expert from Episode 14 of Season 01. So please enjoy listening to her voice once again, and I'll see you next week with the last new guest of Season 02!
EM: Hello, how are you?
OF: I’m well, but you! You look amazing.
EM: Do I? Thank you.
OF: Well, let me jump straight in. So Emily, yours was one of the most popular episodes of Season 01. At that time, you were based in the Shanghai Sea Life centre, right?
EM: Correct, yes.
OF: So tell me about where I find you today.
EM: So since then, I've moved over the waters to Bangkok. So I'm currently based in Sea Life Bangkok Aquarium, doing the same job just in a different region. And loving it, loving my life in Thailand.
OF: I can tell by the way you are smiling. Your face looks tanned, your hair looks blonde.
EM: You know, I've been hitting those beaches, checking it out, it’s great.
OF: Your move was planned, wasn't it?
EM: Yes, it was. It was actually delayed a little bit in China. And then fortunately, I got to Thailand just before the borders closed, and everything. So I actually left China for vacation in January to go to New Zealand. And I came here a bit sooner than expected. And my company helped me move my stuff from there. So I've never actually been back to Shanghai since I left.
OF: Right, I was wondering whether I'd missed your goodbye party.
EM: No, you would have got an invite.
OF: Well, I mean, the big thing about our episode was the huge job that you and your team undertook, in terms of relocating a couple of beluga whales from Shanghai to Iceland.
OF: So the obvious question is, what is the update with the whales?
EM: So the whales are doing really well. They went straight into a kind of holding facility that was indoors, just to get them acclimated to everything. And then they've been released out into the bay, just practising recall. We fed them up, so they had a nice layer of fat ready to go over for the colder waters. But there are also other factors. So for example, the whales, they breach the surface to breathe. In Iceland - when it's stormy, and they're not used to having to breach - they’re having to acclimatise to their new environment. We've had some wonderful videos where they've been to the bottom, and been picking up starfish, and bringing them to the keepers, out of curiosity. And a lovely, lovely video with both of them just breaching the surface and just sat there feeling the rain on their skin. Obviously, the first time they felt rain. Very heartwarming to watch.
OF: And their future will always be within that semi-wild sanctuary. Or will they ever be released beyond that?
EM: No, it'll always be in that sanctuary. They've just been in captivity for too long, it's too much of a risk. They don't have those kind of natural instincts to survive in the wild. It must just be a different world for them, to just have constant change in environment all the time.
OF: Yes. I think about those beluga whales going to their natural environment. And then I look at you and you're this kind of Welsh mermaid, and you were stuck on land here in Shanghai, and it now looks like you've been transplanted into your natural environment.
EM: That's how it feels for me, that’s how it feels. In close proximity to the ocean and to beaches. I did struggle, I did. I'm not a city girl. And I did feel that kind of city vibe in Shanghai. As wonderful as it was, and as wonderful as the people were that I met, I am happier closer to the sea.
OF: Yeah. Thank you, Emily. I'm really happy that we had someone who represented something so unusual in the first season. When I met you at that party, I knew that I had to get you on to the podcast. And now that’s it, you're stuck in the Mosaic for ever and ever.
EM: I'm happy to be a part of it. And it's lovely to catch up with you. Thank you so much for having me on here.