Social Life [Life in GZ, Ed. 13]

Startup Grind fireside chat with Xiaomi co-founder KK Wong

What I love about living in cities? The opportunities to attend a variety of events and meet new people, no matter how useless they end up being (to clarify: events and people LOL).

As I’m sure you’re all dying to know, how’s my social life here? Let’s review with some recent events.

1 — Fireside Chat with Xiaomi Co-Founder
For the Asia-uninitiated, Xiaomi is the Apple of China. When I found out its co-founder KK Wong would be speaking in Guangzhou, it was as if Tim Cook were coming. Naturally, I had to go. INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, this was the same night I backward planked on a slippery slope, narrowly managing to avoid cracking my head open. With my head still in tact, I shared a Didi with a stranger through the despicably slow traffic to this event in a classy café in Tianhe. Despite the pouring rain, the room was packed—stereotypically with mostly Chinese men with glasses, sprinkled with a few women and foreigners. I managed to find a seat near the front, and just my luck, in front of a Chinese man who creeped me out. Within minutes, as the event organizer kicked off the introductions, he tapped my shoulder and asked me something I didn’t understand. And then for my WeChat. I realized that I can’t bring myself to say “no” to people who ask for my WeChat. Note: Next time play the American card and claim you don’t have one.

Startup Grind fireside chat with Xiaomi co-founder KK WongAnyway, this event was entirely in Chinese, with a WeChat group for attendees to help live translate the most important points—a group I didn’t find out about until after the talk. While I failed to understand most of the talk, I made notes of what I found interesting from a foreigner’s perspective.

Having recently graduated from Boston University (wait, there’s no way it’s almost been a year #TIMEFLIES), where I attended my fair share of “fireside chats,” especially hosted by the School of Management (or Questrom, whatever), I found this chat to be, well, less of a chat than it was a monologue with some meager-looking Chinese dude seated also on stage, looking anywhere but the actual guest and every once in a while reminding audiences of his role of asking questions listed on his phone. This was certainly no chat, I thought, as I sat listening to KK Wong speak facing the audience with almost no back and forth with the organizer on stage and occasionally slip in an English word here and there: 我就是一个typical nerd, or geek, 因为我很喜欢看书。Unfortunately, everything else just went in one ear and out the other, as I realized I still can only understand the “proper” Beijing Mandarin, spoken slowly, nonetheless. This fast-paced southern Mandarin had me straining to understand.

What made me smile was the fact that attendees were given these gigantic name tags to stick not on your chest or even the back of your hand but on the side of your upper arm, not unlike Red Guard armbands, except that these were white and that’s the only comparison I could think of.

Startup Grind fireside chat with Xiaomi co-founder KK WongWhen KK finished his monologue, he answered a few audience questions, which reminded me of every other event where someone would inevitably start with, “I have two questions…” and prompts everyone to roll their eyes, as they ask long-winded questions that they end up having to repeat and clarify.

After the two on stage both stood up from their seats and signaled the conclusion of the event and after the audience clapped, some dude insisted on asking his question, raising his voice above the clapping, which effectively made us all stop clapping and turn around to see who this persistent man was. Since my Mandarin comprehension was particularly poor that night (can I blame it on nearly sustaining head trauma just hours earlier—no, I know), I don’t know if the question he asked was even a good one, but let’s just say it wasn’t.

Immediately afterward, the man sitting next to me turns to say hello, and although the first few lines we exchange in Mandarin were perfect (as in he seemed surprised to learn otherwise), I inevitably ask if we can speak English, after learning he’s spent many years teaching in Australia and is now working on his startup that essentially adds voice recordings to presentations, eliminating the need to have someone make presentations in person. #startups

After making some small talk with a few others that night, by nearly 11 p.m., it was time to go home. As I walked to the bus station, my body ached. Rain poured. I couldn’t wait for that massage the next day.

Startup Grind fireside chat with Xiaomi co-founder KK Wong
Audience questions

2 — “Magic”
I’ve always been interested in magic. I remember on one of my first trips to Vegas, back when my parents would go often and take us underage kids, I bought a deck of cards that “magically” levitated one card from its box. I never did figure out how to perform it well and figured I shouldn’t bother trying, instead just resorting to watching David Blaine videos on YouTube and silently rooting for all the magicians on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Magic trick at Bondi on Xingsheng Lu in GuangzhouThis week, I discovered that a Chinese magician would be showing off some tricks at a weekly networking event on Guangzhou’s famous bar street. Woo! Too bad this magician (“president of his magic club in college!” LOL) should’ve done what I did and stuck to admiring magician idols from afar. Because his performances were fucking pitiful.

80% of magic is about the performance, 20% the actual trick. So when your performance sucks, the entire act sucks. Allow me to elaborate: The alleged magician was using a lighter to make some pen marks on a piece of paper disappear, so he took his darling time to make his exact marks on the paper, without saying a word as the audience just sat there watching in total unimpressed boredom. Sure, the best magic tricks don’t require any talking, but sitting in silence watching this one was just pitifully painful. The following tricks he did after his basic PPT presentation in broken English of why he loves magic (lol) aren’t even worth mentioning. (Ironically, one of his slides even highlighted the importance of performance).

Magic trick at Bondi on Xingsheng Lu in Guangzhou
Huge-ass QR code on the table is more interesting.

Meanwhile, a drunk Chinese woman stumbles into this bar, being supported by a man who reeked of a “too cool for school” attitude, with his sweatpants and hipster glasses, even walking by and apologizing for his unfortunate companion. Throughout the rest of the night, we hear the woman shrieking with drunken fervor.

My favorite part of the night was a video of a magic trick from his favorite magician, Liu Chen, performing for the 2013 CCTV Spring Festival show. (Side note: Because I’ll be in Taiwan, I sadly will be missing it this year!!) We watched in fascination, which was easy to do considering what we just witnessed.

Of course, the audience asked questions afterward, and I’m sorry—I have to point out a particularly stupid question. A young woman asks in broken English essentially if magic is dangerous. As the magician answers with “depends,” the woman interrupts to give examples of dangerous magic acts, such as sword swallowing and head cutting. OK, lady. If you’re going to ask and answer your own stupid question, don’t ask at all. *end rant*


So I’m happy to report that I have had plenty of more positive social experiences since moving to Guangzhou. But it’s these less stellar ones that I believe are worthy of writing about. Over the months, I’ve certainly met many interesting people and subsequently have had enjoyable experiences. Maybe in another edition, I’ll indulge you in some 😉

In the meantime, please share with me any magic videos you like! I miss AGT.


⇒ Wet Markets & Phone Shops
Renter, Love & Care
Camera, Coffee, Clarity
The Catch-Up
⇒ Holidaze
⇒ Passing By
⇒ The Familiar
⇒ Misfortune, Pt. 1
⇒ Misfortune, Pt. 2