10 Lessons from Organising a Birdwatching Trip

Having organised a number of events in Beijing, I kind of get a little bit critical of myself over how they are managed and turn out. However yesterday’s trip to YeYaHu Wetland National Park to go bird watching with Terry Townshend, was properly kick-ass.

People had a lot of fun and gained a lot from it, which is what it is all about!

 

So here are my 10 reasons why:

  1. Invite an expert

Beijing is fortunately blessed with one of the world’s renowned birders, originating from Norfolk, Terry Townshend, runs a Birding Beijing Blog, consults the Chinese Government on Climate Change and is also a really nice fellow. The initial date of the event depended completely on his schedule. He chose a day that coincided with the start of a 3 day Chinese holiday. Not great for traffic leaving Beijing, but he provided the intellectual knowledge that enabled attendees to learn something from coming. Terry’s expertise was the marketing and the focal point of the day.

  1. Power of WeChat

Baring three cash payments, all 50+ transactions for the day (accumulated worth: RMB 5030) were done through this messaging app, as well as that: communication to attendees, marketing the event, sharing pictures was all over WeChat- it goes without saying to organise an event in China- you 100% need a solid WeChat game.

  1. If it is niche enough, then there is no need to over promote, people will come

Me organising a Birding event even a month ago is laughable. I’ve never given two hoots about the art. However because it is such a peculiar hobby, it was perfectly engaging for the British Young Professionals and the Beijing Energy Committee (two groups I’m a part of) for one day people to give it a try. I was confident it would fill up so there was no need to over share. Over promoting raises expectations, people get sick of reading about seeing this event advertised and allows the people who have found the event to feel like it is more valuable and almost edgy!

  1. Building a Tribe

People want to feel special upon joining the tour group before coming. A simple message welcoming each member into the WeChat group goes a long way. It encourages people to feel comfortable and confident to speak out and allows for better cohesion amongst each other. A friendlier tour group makes for a more memorable time.

  1. Hire people who are reliable

In terms of the logistics planning, hire people who you have a prior relationship with and you know are reliable. First impressions are not so important in China, it is developing a relationship which really ensures rewards. Our long term relationship with one bus company has ensured we get a decent rate with friendly, punctual drivers and comfortable plush buses. My 100% reliable man, Li ShiFu, never lets me down.

6. Give honest communication

The traffic to YeYaHu Wetland National Park was seriously  jam packed. We’d left at 6am and it was now 9:00am, I’d stated we’d get there by now but instead we were in a big jam on the G6. Pressure was rising. People needed to receive verbal communication in times of uncertainty. So I got on the mic and told the bus honestly that the initial estimations were off but also promised hope from receiving the (real) news that a person in the group who travelled by car had arrived and the traffic would subside. Soon enough it did!

    7.Always value your group

During this mega jam, we had two people asking for a bathroom break. The thought crossed my mind to open the doors and get people to relieve themselves at the side of the road. We were moving pretty slow and that is what we’d do in my family car!

Thankfully the thought subsided, I acknowledged the calls for the bathroom, and after trundling on for a little longer, we pulled up at a roadside toilet. If overall the day is a great experience, people forget that you arrive 20 minutes or even 2 hours late to a place, but they would never forgive someone showing a lack of respect by asking them to pee behind a tree!

  7.1 …...but especially value your guest speaker/tour guide

Without a doubt, your guest speakers or tour guides are the most important part of a trip or event. They are giving up their time (usually for free) and to ensure that you as an organiser are seen positively for future events, it is imperative that a thoughtful gift is prepared (a card is more personal). The day after all must not be a chore for them but an enjoyable, mentor-led experience.

   8. Networking is most important

Despite the education that took place: to do with bird watching and a wetlands ecosystem; the biggest gain from any event is meeting new people. Allowing time for breaks, picnic lunch, extra time at ice cream stalls and the countless spottings of birds gave people ample time to chat with each other which when you compare that to typical panel/speaker-led events, is a rare and valuable thing.

   9. Altruistic marketing

The day in itself was pretty budget- the cost of a ticket was RMB120 ( I even sold some for RMB80-100), overall that included a 6 hour bus ride, Terry’s expert advice and a flat RMB 50 entry fee. That said all proceeds from the profits (of which there were some!) went to the environmental charity volunteering group- Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots. This attracts attendees who are conscious of where there money goes.

  1. Pictures sell

First off, to my delight birding is actually a very subtle art. We spotted over 25 different species during the day and experienced some great sights. Everyone shared their photos at the end of the day which allowed you to create a bank of great photos from which to market the next event whenever it comes 🙂

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At the end of the day, organise things that excite and interest you, and quite honestly going bird watching was one of them! Beijing Birders For Life!

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Chaos on the Streets of BeiXinQiao

Monday 9:10am

Coming outside for the first time in the day is a great part of living the nomad life. You’ve just woken up and lo and behold you are in this chaotic, characterful and compulsive fast-paced place.

This Monday morning was a bit more chaotic and fast-paced than most.

Today the routine route to work by bicycle was anything but. Cycling out on to BeiXinQiao San Tiao- the truly non commercialised, local Hutong I reside upon, most famous for its lamb legs, had some noisy, disruptive visitors.

img_4405An assembly of workers were all flanking the street, spades in hand, ready for action. What action I was by no means sure. Big diggers were trundling up towards me. It may have just been a routine project had it not been for the large amount of security personnel. Some armed with riot shields and batons. Trouble was expected.

My bike weaved between the masses of people all congregating at 9am on a Monday. Behind my smog mask I was aghast with the mess and noise the diggers were causing, as they tore into a used to be salon at the bottom end of the street. Gathered crowds watched on.

Coming from a home back in England, which has been painstakingly worked on for the last 4 years. I found the whole operation initially quite refreshing albeit mental. This was a clear indication of things getting done with a quite a large force.

I had read something about second rate service based businesses in Beijing being moved out to provincial cities to make room for new-age technological industry. Perhaps it was that. It is also well known that the Hutongs have experienced a lot of redevelopment in the past so many years to make way for more space or for tourists. Perhaps people like me are to blame.

It was at work that I found out that the Government does do routine destruction jobs on properties which have been built on Government land. The property prices are so high in Beijing it is not surprising though. Luckily my house sits on the 5th floor of a building off the street, surely they can’t tear this down I thought!

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 Monday 6:30pm Update: Post work the hutong has changed pretty dramatically there was shards of grass on the floor, there was piles of rubble outside buildings. Workers smoking, smiling post work happy with their days demolition. A lot of the places were bricked up. I am not sure if this is paid-for-workmanship by some atrocious bricky or they are closing off a shop.

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Tuesday 22:20pm Update

I had initially thought that the work was being done on just a collection of businesses. As I returned tonight it appeared that most if not all buildings have been severely affected. Any businesses that stray out into the road have been dramatically cut back. Grotesque brick jobs that would make my lime loving, cement hating Mother shake in her boots have been replaced.

I am actually quite furious. It’s quite extraordinary how ugly this job is. I am sure it has happened before but to see it done so quickly and emphatically is just mind-blowing.

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I regularly go to the fruit and veg stores, seen above, and other convenience stores, and it broke my heart to see the owner shrug his shoulders and laugh at my shocked expression. ‘Xi JinPing’ he said.

The Party Secretary sneezes and the country shudders.

 

Sino Spiritual Sun Salutations

I would not describe Chinese people as religious. Yes there are plenty of Buddhist monasteries about but I think a lot of them have been rehabilitated post Cultural Revolution  for tourist purposes. That said, Chinese people are spiritual.

When one describes Chinese spirituality they often refer to Confucius beliefs. Now what does this pertain to?

Essentially having Confucius beliefs, is that one must lead not through laws or requirements, but by virtue. Confucius led his disciples to spread the word of moralism. So in modern day, Confucius followers are not religious, but more seeking to behave more morally.

Modern day China is seeing a switch of mentality in this moral ideal. Fitness is taking off in China and as one put it, ‘ While China was once about strengthening the mind, we now are looking to strengthen the body too’.

One company that is encapsulating this like any other is Lulu Lemon. I’ve been to a number of their events and the practice of sweating is seemingly their core belief. Their staff will ask me ‘ If I am ready to sweat’?. Originating from Canada, they are a global yoga apparel brand that has strong ‘better mentality, better life’ marketing. In Beijing they have grown their brand by hiring a fun-loving, fit, approachable team and they host love-filled, active and meaningful Party Yoga events.

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In the summer, Lulu Lemon pulled off a killer launch event in the Forbidden City. It was attended by mainly Chinese female youth. I think me and the DJ (MC Yogi) were one of the few Western guys.

Here is the thing.

Why they are so successful is because they are filling the spiritual void that is so apparent in China’s increasingly materialistic world. This is so apparent in Chinese young people. The youth are looking to find a social community and willing to engage with this culture that Lulu Lemon generates. It helps that this culture is international-leaning and is good for your health. Forget that the Yoga Pants cost $80.

Lulu Lemon espouse values like ‘friends are more important than money’, ‘do one thing a day that scares you’, ‘the pursuit of happiness is the source of unhappiness’ which resonate so well with the current climate of Chinese youth who are searching for meaning, lack opportunities for decent wages and whose Chinese psyche is naturally hesitant.

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Lulu Lemon is an example of company that has developed its brand expertly in the social context of China today, but I also think it is on a fine line with the elephant in the room, the Chinese Communist Party (‘CCP’).

Heard of Falun Gong?

Falun Gong were  a group of spiritual like practitioners, that closely followed the teaching of Qi Gong. Initially supported by the CCP, the Founder, Li Hongzhi, accrued 70 million followers rivaling the total CCP membership numbers.

In 1999, the CCP provoked by a Falun Gong peaceful protest to gain legal recognition declared a crackdown on the group. They saw it is as separate from the state, speaking different truths to the state-line and had by all accounts developed into a mass group. The crackdown by all accounts was quite severe.

The link with Lulu Lemon is through the spiritual awakening of Chinese people who have since forgotten the Communist ideals the party stood for. Lulu Lemon, being a company rather than an organisation, surely evades the same scrutiny and I do not think from memory that Chinese Restricted Companies include Yoga Apparel.

However just me making that link goes to show the deeply communal embracing brand that Lulu Lemon have developed and i hope will continue to their success in the Chinese market.

Chinese Culture: Parks

If you are looking for a place to go where you get to experience Chinese culture, look no further than your local Chinese city park. It is here amongst nature that you will the Chinese cultural traits of: collectiveness and elements of Qi.

img_4243Collectiveness: the park is where groups of people congregate- to dance, to sing, to play sport- usually badminton, table tennis, basketball or a form of volleyball with your feet. This mentality of being part of a larger collective unit underpins the Chinese practice of guanxi, face and the family-principled society.

Qi: The park is a place to practice Qi Gong and Tai Qi Chuan. These artistic flowing movements are the basis of Kung Fu. Chinese people believe water defeats a rock, if you are able to allow an opponent to slip off you, they fill be defeated. Tai Qi is practiced in parks because of the intertwining with nature. The Taoist methodology believes there is a union with the body and nature and states that nature will take its natural course.

I believe these two characteristics are fundamental belief systems for Chinese people and the park is a good place to see them

As for my favourite park: Ritan. It is where a group of Tai Qi Chuna practicers took me in and taught me the virtues of ‘eating the noodles’ to fend off opponents!

MoBike Less Problems

I don’t usually love brands or follow companies religiously, but MoBike is different. Before explaining why here are the bare essentials of MoBike.

MoBike is a bike-sharing App that allows you to access the use of MoBike’s fleet of bicycles around the city. A MoBike is found using the app’s GPS location device. To ride the bike, you scan the QR code found above the back wheel, once your phone acknowledges the bike the lock will automatically come off to open  and free up the back wheel. You are then charged RMB0.5(5pence) for 30 minutes of cycling. To park the bike, you find a free space on a curb, then you lock the lock on the back wheel.

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MoBike in my eyes has transcended being a brand, it is a lifestyle choice, a city accessory. The beauty of it is its simplicity, its carbon-neutral option, its cool chic yet sturdy design.

In August 2016 it launched in Beijing. Like wild fire, they were all over the city within days.

I had a head-start on this craze. The weekend before I had been down in Shanghai, the first city it launched in (despite being a Beijing company). So enamoured by its design and simplicity, the trip was fondly remembered for downloading this app, paying the 299RMB deposit and trying it out this technological masterpiece for the first time.

So why am I such a fan?

  1. Cool look. The first version of the MoBike was a BMX style model that you see above you. Although riding it was heavy on your thighs, they looked appealing and the rider looked cool. There are many other bike-sharing App companies in China, the biggest competitor being Ofo. I believe MoBike has stolen the market and my heart because of this first version that made riders stand out on the street.
  2. Adaptability. Extended on to Point 1 is MoBike’s willingness to bring out a new style of bike to manage the problem of its first version being tough on your thighs and also being quite pricey. Their MoBike Lite is not only cheaper to use but a much more comfortable ride.
  3. Environmental Footprint. It is a success of the modern day market. Previously the Government had been putting out  bike-sharing stands that were a good initiative but frankly no-one used. Then through ingenuity of its Chinese and former Uber executive founders, the market has given us a better option. The city and its inhabitants can move without making a carbon footprint. The company is making a real impact on city mobility.
  4.  Navigation. What the the government scheme bike stand lacked was a location sensor, you need only take one look on your phone to find a MoBike. There are now 100,000 bikes in each of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, plus they have also launched in 13 other cities in China, soon to be Singapore and further abroad. You do not need to go far to find one.
  5. The last-mile. This is the problem which the company promotes itself at solving and boy it does. Ever been late for a meeting/class/ date? or perhaps you just want to get to a club/concert/ your home a little faster than your legs can carry? By transporting MoBikes strategic points (subway stations), MoBike allows its uses to cut the time of that last mile, giving you back your time.
  6. Chinese. It is often a critique aimed at China’s home grown production, that the country has produced too few Global Brands. This is changing with the likes of HuaWei, Lenovo, XiaoMi etc. However I think MoBike is a brand, that can Go Global*. I also believe is a world changing device because of the impact it has on people’s lives in a city in an urbanising world. It makes it all the more special that it is from China.

 

*There is the problem that all payments for the bike are taken through WeChat.

Women’s Role in China

(While interviewing a University girl:) When men have been drinking they come out with a set of definitions for women. Lovers are “swordfish”, tasty but with sharp bones. “Personal secretaries” are “carp”, the longer you stew them, the more flavour they have. Other men’s wives are “Japanese puffer fish”, trying a mouthful could be the end of you, but risking death is a source of pride. And for their own wives, they are salt cod, because it keeps for a long time and when there in no other food, salt cod is cheap and convenient’

Xinran: The Good Women of China

As adjudged by the above text from Xinran’s revealing and far-reaching book, Chinese women’s social status was very low in the past in China. Women would have no legal rights,  no choice on education or career pathway and little of a societal role.

This is an issue that fluctuated in the 20th century, pre1949, women were either wives or concubines. This led to the horrific, I mean horrific practice of  food binding, that was deemed as beautiful as women appeared as an almost mythical lotus-like creature that would  walk with her dainty footsteps across the Chinese courtyards.

Modernisation came late to China and the role of the women has significantly changed. Mao to his credit emphatically said that women held up half the sky and removed the food binding and other prostitution practices. The opening of the market in the 1980’s and the one child policy reversed this trend as women found themselves a desirable sex.  Women head leading-companies, lead delegations and have much more of a voice across the whole of society.

For me, the women rights movement is more visible in Beijing than in any other city I’ve lived in, probably because there is still such a need for it. Its hard to judge on how this has changed policy at government or corporate or high level, but there is a spreading awareness for women’s issues.

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Below are five initiatives I’ve come across since being here:

Beijing Women’s Network

Starting in 2015, this group has grown from an initial 12 sitting around a table to encompass a group of 1200. The Founders Kristen Carusos, Samantha Kwok and Jessie Wang, have engaged this audience by providing fortnightly Spotlight Dinners and monthly business and personal development events. (The latter is open to all members of the public). As a regular visitor to their  sessions I

Women’s Watch

One of the first companies I came across in the hunt to find new Host Companies was Women’s Watch. Li Xia is a retired lawyer who has set up an NGO practice to defend the rights of women in rural areas. Societies outside of the city still persist with age-old traditional views of women that cause them to be mistreated.

Women Entrepreneurs

Set up by Wen Li. Who for want of a better word is pretty direct and has good ideals. She openly criticised the BWN for not achieving alot. She aims with this entrepreneurial platform to incubate young talents. The proof is in the pudding, but with her apparent Government connections and her convinced nature I’m sure something will come of

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Interviewing Wen Li in December

Starfish Project

Great institution that helps women on the streets to achieve a more meaningful life. The charity openly offers women positions at their office in Wangjing to be educated and to make jewellery that gets sold in the U.S.

Crossroads Centre

Host an annual Beijing Womens Film Festival that gets international coverage and attracts film producers to come to Beijing to show their work. On a day-to-day basis they raise human equality issues to consulates as well as hosting weekly events.

 

For a country to be fully modernised and developed it has to readily accept all different societal groups. Women’s involvement is readily coercive, interdependent with others and in my mind they are the most effective/practical people of getting things done properlhy and efficiently.

 

 

A Zhende 啊真的 Oh Really?

 

My agenda in writing this blog is to give a wider audience an understanding of the goings on in China.

For others it is to have an ‘Oh really?’ moment, to learn something new or to be surprised by a new way of seeing something. Learning how to live in a different manner is the essential skill you learn when you choose to live away.

landscape of modern city ,beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, wasn’t on my world life map when I was younger. It wasn’t even on my mind to live here when I’d come back to China a second or even third China following a year in Shanghai, detailed in another blog.

Contrary to the above picture, I initially viewed the city as cold, vast, and smoggy. I’m happy that these thoughts have now subsided. I now believe it to be full of stories, communal and niche.

For me being planted here is a natural progression of jobs, mindsets and time. My motivation for staying is the pace, the lessons and the attitude.

So this is how Beijing ticks in my eyes….