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I feel like I should re-introduce myself, it’s been so long.

This is Zhongnanhai, a blog that was started in 2007 in Shanghai, just after I was among several people laid off from Jongo, a fledgling internet startup (which is still running, bare-bones style, here). I got into China blogging back in the good old days, when Sinocidal was still around and the Olympics were still a few years off.  Those were heady days, and the China blogosphere has fallen off a bit since then (as discussed in this Sinica podcast).

At one time, we had 4 regular contributors to Zhongnahai: myself, Chris Chaplin, Rich Bradbury, and Paul James. Of us, only Paul James remains in Beijing (Chris has moved onto a career with the WWF in Singapore, Rich is with a radio station in Kuala Lumpur, and I am now in Hong Kong). So times change, and the very nature of China means that the population — especially the expat population — can be rather transient.

At its peak, our little blog was getting over a thousand views a day, and was linked to from a number of other sites, including mainstream news outlets.  It’s helped me, personally, build on my background in broadcast journalism with side gigs doing China punditry for overseas media and a regular newspaper column in Canada.  But all of that has fallen off, much like the China blogosphere, as the Olympics faded into memory, the financial crisis took hold, and people’s attention went elsewhere.

Me, I decided early on that as much as I loved Beijing, and the feeling of living on the edge and being part of something special, that it wasn’t a long-term home.  China, and Beijing in particular, is a big piece of who I am. I maintain that, when I’m old and gray, I will look back on my years there as one of the highlights of my life.  But at the end of the day, as my 30th birthday was approaching, I was looking with an increasing focus on a long-term career in a more stable and competitive environment. One where I was challenged more and needed to perform to a higher level. So I decided on Hong Kong, a city I fell in love with over frequent visits during my time working in state-run television in Guangzhou. Hong Kong will never have that gritty and charming underbelly of Beijing, but it also has a lot that Beijing doesn’t, like cleaner air, a super-efficient mass transit system, beautiful beaches to be enjoyed in the summer (and winter, usually), the widest range of cuisines from all corners of the globe, and a stable system of laws with almost zero corruption. (Not to mention no snow, and no sand storms.) And as a bonus, unlike moving back to “the west”, I’m on Mainland China’s doorstep, and frequently pop up into the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai, and Beijing to visit old friends.

When I originally moved down here, 2 months after the close of the Olympics in November 2008, I took at job with the MTR Corporation, Hong Kong’s urban train network. The job was unlike anything I had experienced before, and was a huge wakeup call into what it’s like to work in Hong Kong: incredibly long hours (not uncommon to leave work at 11pm or later), lots of responsibility, an unbelievable amount of stress, and cut-throat competition. I’ve never been in an environment quite like it, and it was daunting, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. And is a primary reason I haven’t blogged much over the past two years.

As much as I enjoyed the job, and the opportunities it gave me (our team launched the Corporation’s Facebook page and organised several visits for VIPs such as Michael Bloomberg, Gary Locke and others), the pace was simply too fast and was taking away from things I like to do, like read, learn Putonghua (or Cantonese!), and blog. So following the expiry of my two year contract, I took up a job with Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Clearing Limited, which operates Hong Kong’s stock exchange and clearing houses. It’s also busy, but a bit more manageable, and came with a much better office location (Central… I can walk to work!) and a raise to boot.  So I can’t complain. Although I do lose my free travel on the MTR.

Over the past two years I’ve had countless ideas for blog topics, but never had the time to write them. I also wasn’t a fan of the stale nature of the previous blog design, which wasn’t very blog-like.  So I’ve reverted back to a typical WordPress blog, which should make things easier.

As for those blog topics… well, I’ve taken quite an interest in a dynamic which is little discussed outside of Hong Kong: how this territory can integrate with the Mainland. I lived in the Mainland for four years, and Hong Kong isn’t usually mentioned unless we’re discussing a June 4 vigil or the stock market closing numbers. But Hong Kong is surprisingly independent of the Mainland, and the way people think here is in marked contrast to the way Mainland people think. They are very questioning of authority and have a vibrant independent streak. I’d like to expand on this more in later posts, but in almost every sense, Hong Kong is a different country.  Merging it with the Mainland politically, while difficult, will be a much easier job than merging the two entities socially. I’ll explore this more later.

Also, with a bit more free time, a friend and I have registered a business and will launch it on January 28. It is called The Nanfang, and can be found here: www.thenanfang.com.  I will write more about this in the coming days, but needless to say we are incredibly excited about it and its potential. For random items I find around the internet, other than posting them on Twitter (@zhongnanahai), I’ve become a big fan of Tumblr. So you can stop by Forget Last Friday (www.forgetlastfriday.com) for a glimpse of those (although a VPN is needed from within China… I recommend 12VPN).  Not much China stuff there, but it’s a repository for the random stuff I don’t want to bore you with here.

When I moved to China in 2004, it was supposed to be for one year.  Like others have experienced, life here has a way of pulling you in and not letting go.  So as we turn the calendar to another year and stare down 2011, I’m somewhat surprised but also feel fortunate that I’m living on this side of the world at this point in history. While the world’s gaze may be on other things now (I’m noticing a strong increase in India and Vietnam stories these days), China remains as fascinating as ever. And while most China bloggers are based in Beijing and Shanghai, I hope I can bring a different perspective writing from the south.

It’s good to be back… and I hope you’ll be back again too.



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