Saturday, January 1, 2011
My 2nd Five-Year Plan
For our annual New Year's party at CIPG, I was asked to give a speech on living in China and working for CIPG. A broad topic yes, but I focused in on the goals I've set for myself while living here, if only in a comical way. The Chinese staff liked the speech so much I wrote it up as an article that will be published in an upcoming issue of Beijing Review.
Three years ago, the thought of moving to and working in China was just about as foreign as the country itself. I certainly had the means and interest to visit, but I really had no desire to move abroad – it wasn’t part of my five-year plan at the time.
But then this thing called the financial crisis swept the globe, crashing markets and putting millions out of work. With no jobs in America, particularly in the communications field for a recent college graduate like myself, and with unemployment skyrocketing, I found myself with a sudden change of heart toward working abroad.
I considered my options. With no job prospects, I could: stay at home and live with dear old mom and dad; or accept an internship in China and move to a country I’d never visited before, didn’t speak the language, knew little about the culture and where I had no friends or contacts.
Now, you may think it was a difficult decision to make – leaving my home and giving up everything familiar for a life abroad where I would essentially be pressing the reset button on my life – but, then again, you don’t know my parents. I certainly don’t want to imply that they are bad parents, they’ve actually been the most prominent guiding forces in my life and have helped me at every major crossroad I’ve faced throughout the years, but I’m just one of those people who needs a major change of scenery every now and then. And you don’t get a much bigger change of scenery than moving from the hills of Pennsylvania, my home state, where there are more cows than people, to Beijing where there’s a mountain, and a sea, of people. So China it was.
I’ve been here for almost two years now, no major complaints or qualms.
Even before coming to China, I’ve tried to map out where I wanted to go with my life, usually in five-year intervals. Graduating college, working for my nationally esteemed college newspaper, and finding a job working for a major publication were all part of my 1st Five-Year Plan. Seeing that the five-year plan seems to be working pretty well for China, now in it’s 11th Five-Year Plan, I decided to stick with this development model and formulate my 2nd Five-Year Plan.
First of all, I want to learn Chinese. Since moving to Beijing and taking my Mandarin lessons seriously I’ve made major improvements – I can say a lot more than just “ni hao” (hello), “zai jian” (goodbye) and “zai lai yi ge pijiu” (bring one more beer) – but I want to get to a level where I can have conversations with people or solve certain problems that arise in my daily life. And grunting and pointing like a caveman when I want something or when I’m trying to communicate with people is getting kind of boring, not to mention embarrassing.
I want to be famous, or at least experience what it’s like to be a celebrity. The Chinese people have been extremely helpful in allowing me to realize this goal. Whenever I go to the Great Wall or any other major tourist site at least one Chinese person will request to have their photo taken with me. Apparently I look like a mix between Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Now all I need is for someone to ask me to autograph a T-shirt or movie poster.
I want to write a book. After living in Beijing for almost two years I feel like I have enough material for a short memoir, a “What to do” book, a “What not to do” book, some poetry or maybe a nice “Where’s Brandon?” picture book where you have to find me, the foreigner, in various photos full of Chinese people, like Tiananmen Square on National Day or the subway terminal at rush hour.
I want to get married, which means I’ll have to find a girlfriend first. This will probably be the easiest goal in my 2nd Five-Year Plan to accomplish since at least five girls tell me they love me every time I go to the Silk Market. This complements the “Hey, sexy man” remark I get as I peruse the different clothing stalls which makes me feel like a celebrity.
I want to stay in shape, something that’s somewhat difficult since I spend most of my day inside and in front a computer screen. But, despite my increased lethargy and unwillingness to take the stairs in lieu of the escalators, after using Chinese squat toilets for almost two years my legs, midsection and lower body are in the best physical condition they’ve ever been in. And we’ll just leave it at that.
And, on a more serious note, I’d like to visit Mount Everest, because it’s there. And by there, I mean here, in China’s back yard. From Beijing, it’s still a lengthy journey, but compared to the United States it’s much more convenient and accessible.
Will I accomplish all these tasks? Of course not, but it’s a framework to living an interesting and somewhat coordinated life. And what I don’t accomplish in the 2nd Five-Year Plan will just have to wait for the 3rd Five-Year Plan – and depending on how the second plan works out, I may still be in China to continue it.
PAST AND PRESENT: I talk with one of the former editors in chief of Beijing Review about life in the Middle Kingdom and working for the magazine