FACES OF EXPATRIATION – CHINA
A Newark, NJ native and first born Trinidadian American, Hu John grew up in various parts of the United States. He went to High School in Pennsylvania and attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and resided in Santa Monica just before relocating to Shanghai, China where he has resided for the last five years. He attend Jiao Tong University in Shanghai focusing his efforts on learning the Chinese language. Prior to changing to the film industry, he was in banking for over nine years.
As the Founder of Shanghai’s Black Chamber of Commerce and CEO of SES ChinaTV, Hu John shows the citizens and visitors of China what life is like as a person of color in China. SES China TV is an online entertainment channel that allows people inside and outside of China to see what foreign lifestyle is like in Shanghai and the rest of China. It’s available on Youtube and Youku. SES China has three primary areas of focus: fashion, sports and (foreign) government events. From the fashion perspective, SES China covers projects like Shanghai Fashion Week. SES also promotes American sports, specifically basketball and football, teaching fans how to be fans, American style. We’re creating a culture of people coming together screaming and celebrating their favorite team’s victories. SES finds both local teams and foreign teams, to educate the masses how American sports fans immerse themselves in sports.
Hu John shared some insights on being an expat with Griots Republic:
How difficult was it for you to leave the US and live and work abroad?
I arrived in China in October 2010. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. Believe it or not, the hardest part was leaving the U.S. I needed to get rid of all the commitments that tied me down to the US: cell phone contracts, car payments, rent, etc. After I made the decision to embark on a journey overseas, it took me about 6 months to prepare. I did tons of research. Fortunately, when I arrived in China, the economy was so strong I only had a few obstacles to creating a lifestyle in Shanghai that I can enjoy. The biggest challenge was learning the language and assimilating into a new culture.
What challenges do you face professionally? Culturally?
In China, the market for working professionals isn’t prepared for an influx of black professionals. We think and do things differently. I would say that after 2010, there was a new wave of black Americans that relocated to China. Finding a job in China wasn’t easy unless one wanted to become an English teacher. Most foreigners come to China to teach English as a way to work in China with high hopes to work in other industries. One of my advantages in the professional market is my ability to speak fluent Mandarin. I strongly encourage black people to open their own businesses here in China. China is a country that breeds entrepreneurship.
There is a huge disconnect between the Chinese and Black people. Chinese people know little or almost nothing about our culture. Most of the education about Black people comes from movies or western news. Previously, I tried to “fit in”, but I soon realized that I will never be able to. Today, I proudly stand out. Yes, I get noticed and fortunately, I’ve had more positive interactions with the locals because they are eager to learn about my work and my culture. I must say that learning Mandarin is very important to communicate our similarities and differences to everyone, not just the Chinese.
Are there any resources that would assist foreigners in acclimating to Chinese life? Resources for individuals preparing to move abroad?
Shanghai’s Black Chamber of Commerce is a resource center that black foreigners inside and outside of China can utilize to gracefully assimilate into China. We have a plethora of information that is very useful whether one is looking for a job, a place to live, open a business, socialize with other black people, or even just travel throughout China. We have connected black people all over the country and we are building a bridge with blacks in other countries to create partnerships worldwide. Check out our Facebook page ww.facebook.com/shanghaiblackcham for more information about what is going on with black people inside of China.
Tell us about your journey to becoming the president of the Chamber of Commerce.
It’s quite an interesting story. After living in China for 5 years, I was a bit frustrated with the lack of black representation in the business community here in Shanghai. I was usually the only black person in networking events or business meetings. I would attend all sorts of community events always searching for a familiar face in the room. Then it dawned on me. Shanghai needed a place where people like me would feel more comfortable in a space to talk about business opportunities. So I created the “Black X: The Black Xperience.” Black X is an economic forum that speaks about solutions for the Black community. These solutions help identify Black leaders who are given the platform to develop and facilitate projects that serve in the best interest of the Black community. Our goal is to promote positive collaborations that create jobs to advance as a society. For our first event, we had a great turnout. Over 50 beautiful Black people came to the Black X event. It was exciting. I immediately talked to my good friend, William D. Frazier, about creating an organization that would accommodate the needs of this community. So, William and I co-Founded Shanghai’s Black Chamber of Commerce.
How difficult is it for a foreigner to open/start a business in China? What does the process entail?
If a foreigner is a part of a community like Shanghai’s Black Chamber of Commerce, it’s actually quite easy. We have access to many resources and information that would help an individual register their business here in China. We have a network that expands to many cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Suzhou and Wuhan. The first thing we recommend is to plug oneself to the community and let the community know what you need and what you have to offer. We have a process that would include involvement with attorneys, accountants, marketing personnel and others. The best part is in the beginning, knowing Chinese is not required, although we strongly recommend enrolling in our Chinese classes, this platform can serve as a stepping stone to eventually sell one’s product or services to the Chinese.
What advice would you give a person considering owning/operating a business in China (or abroad)?
My best advice is to learn as much as one can about his or her trade. Become a master of it and then sell it like one’s life depends on it. I believe people around the world will value one’s skill if it does two things: adds value to people’s lives and leaves a lasting positive impression. One also needs to know the market. Doing proper market research would help minimize risks and unwanted costs. Be prepared to invest in yourself.
What are 3 things you would advise anyone considering moving abroad?
Get a passport, find friends that live abroad and visit the country they live in first, and just quickly make the decision and move. Don’t wait for the “perfect” time because there isn’t a perfect time. Friends and family may discourage you because they will miss you, but it’s your life. It will be the biggest decision of your life and probably the best one ever.
How do race relations differ in China vs. the United States?
In China, people do not sugar coat that you are different. There aren’t any policies that are in place to accommodate us, which is a good thing. It encourages us to actively come together as a community and depend on each other for support. People are identified by their nationalities. Race does play a role, not negatively, but from an economical position. If you have no money or give the impression that you have no money, then generally there is no interest. Some people prefer “white” skin because they believe it would afford them the best opportunity, but I believe it’s because they do not know about black people and our culture. We have a niche and we are a special group of black people from around the world. If a Chinese person has a black friend, their outlook towards other black people is always positive. The more one learns about our culture, the more they see opportunity. When a foreigner comes to China, Chinese people see them as just that: a foreigner. Black or white, we are all still visitors unless we have some long-term commitment to the country. Examples of this commitment would include marriage, operating a business in China, and raising a family here.
What continuing education opportunities are there for expats in China?
There are many continued education opportunities here in China. Universities are giving out free scholarships for master’s programs and PhD programs. The vast majority of Africans that live in China are here pursuing higher education. I would do research on which area of studies one is interested in. Not all of the universities are located in a big city like Shanghai.
What are your thoughts of the current political climate?
Which political climate? Since my relocation to China, I’ve been exposed to many countries’ political climates: South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad & Tobago, US, Brazil, and China. If you are talking about the U.S. political landscape, I’m not surprised that Trump has won. What would you expect from a population that has an excess of 200 million white people? I hope this election has given black people an insight to our position in America. We are the only group of minorities that cannot be deported. There are over 40 million Black Americans whose jobs are being replaced by cheaper labor. Black Americans should realize that Africa wants and needs their support in all areas. Imagine being in a country where everyone looks like you. This means that our client base would exponentially grow because we can sell to everyone.
What plans do you have to return to the U.S.?
When I come back to the States, I visit my family and close friends. I do however plan to educate Black Americans about the opportunities that are waiting for them abroad. We will build bridges from those who are seeking to get products made from China or Africa and help import products into America. We want the Black Americans to be able to compete in today’s market and create jobs for Black people in America that promotes bilateral trade.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from living abroad?
There are so many big lessons that I’ve learned. One of the lessons I would say that is very important is to NEVER GIVE UP. Life has its ups and downs, but eventually, a win will prevail. I’ve had many challenges that seemed at the time impossible to solve, but I was forced to think outside of the box. Fortunately, I’ve been conditioned to be a solution finder and get things done.