Today’s “Beckoned to Beijing” instalment features Jim James, who hails from England and founded EASTWEST Public Relations in Beijing in 1995. Below, he tells us about the benefits of raising his girls here, the challenges he has faced as an entrepreneur, and the advice he has for fellow British expats.
I came to Beijing in 2006 to open the offices of EASTWEST Public Relations. I arrived with very little expectation, as I knew very little about China. Plus,my ambitions were modest, mainly to set up a new office for EASTWEST PR.
It quickly became obvious that becoming a master of anything in China would be elusive at best. It is the pace and scale of the dynamism that has defied my expectations. My constant delight is to witness the courage and innovation of both Chinese and foreigners alike in the face of the seismic changes taking place in China. There is a collective commitment to embrace change, which is invigorating. From social policy, to upmarket hutong hotels, to the adoption of electric vehicles, there is hardly a facet of Chinese culture that is not hurtling headlong into the future.
The biggest logistical challenge I’ve faced, as an entrepreneur, is the USD 50,000 per year capital exchange limit. These limits create interesting funding challenges; but another aspect of China is that there is always a way to solve problems (and legally) if one perseveres. In that sense China is, ironically, a very entrepreneurial society.
My daughters, eight-year-old Amity Huan Huan and six-year-old Halo Mulan, are Chinglish girls. They were born in Beijing and vacation in Europe. They are bilingual and bivalent in their choices, and face the world drawing the best from both cultures. They speak the two most important languages in the world fluently, and will enjoy unique opportunities as a result. I am excited to participate in their future as their Dad – and to benefit from their Chinese translations!
Both of my girls were born at BJU. At the time it was the only foreign hospital with international staff and imported medicines.
My eldest daughter, Amity, is at BCIS. We believe that the “challenge based” learning approach alloyed to the IB syllabus is the best preparation for a world in which creativity, inquiry and problem solving will be the key skills needed in an increasingly automated workplace. And Halo, my youngest daughter, is at ECC, BCIS’ junior campus. We chose it for her because it adopts the Montessori system, which is a natural precursor to the Kindergartens— an amazing facility with very skilled educators.
Overall I have been massively impressed by the people and the philosophy of the BCIS schools. Plus, our girls have flourished and love to go to school which, as a parent, is about the most important gift we can give them.
IQ Air is the gold standard in purifiers. But for a domestic situation in a 250 square meter home, the costs can be pretty high at purchase and repeat filter time. We tend not to panic about the air situation— we take normal precautions, but if one constantly stresses then I suspect the stress will do more damage than the air. Good diet, plenty of water, exercise and trips out of the city mean that the body will compensate. We have not had any asthma, nor untoward side effects, other than some excessive boredom on polluted days. But Beijing has so many great indoor venues, and the BCIS schools are so well filtered, that we just carry on.
If and when I leave, I would take Beijing’s clear blue midwinter sky. It draws the colours out so beautifully, and makes the world feel brand new.
If I could offer any advice to my fellow British expats before coming here, it would be: make a bucket list of the places you want to see in China, as it is easy to find oneself trying to cram them all in over the last vacations before heading home again. When I first came to China, I took a clock face and laid it over the map— it gave me 12 places from N-E-S-W that I wanted to visit. You could have a top 10 or a top 100, as there are masses of places to see, but that is entirely subjective. I think it is useful to set up a list and a schedule, so that at regular intervals you have destination inside China to visit. Otherwise holidays are all back to see the family and China will have been a posting, not a life changing event.
Read Jim James’ blog here.