Mindsharing Book Launch in China
September 22, 2016
by LIOR ZOREF @lior
I am starting to write this post in an aircraft that should take off on the way back from Beijing to Tel-Aviv. There is an electric failure in the airplane and from the looks of it, there is a 50:50 chance for taking off or staying overnight in Beijing. After a busy week in China, this is the first time that I have to write.
The experience here is so powerful and outstanding. Before I’ll share and explain what I am going through, a short background. Last year Mindsharing was translated and published in many places. In Asia, it was published in South Korea and Taiwan. When I was informed that the book will be launched in China, I was very happy. I’ve never visited China and it is the most intriguing country in the world in my opinion. So, when I was invited to the launch, I was thrilled.
I tried to prepare for this trip yet I must admit that I failed. The experience I had was not similar to anything I could imagine. In this post I’ll share my experience and insights from this visit.
The Chinese edition of Mindsharing was published by CITIC Press and they were the most amazing hosts I could have asked for. I arrived in Shanghai with a packed schedule including many lectures, interviews and book signings.
On my way from the airport, I noticed that the navigation app is much more sophisticated from what I know with Waze and Google Maps. For example, the map includes 3D buildings and much better view of the different lanes. Later I learned that many Chinese apps are much more sophisticated than western apps.
Most of what I was eating in China was extremely delicious. Not that much junk food and I was happy that I couldn’t spot McDonalds or get diet Coke. There’s a lot of noodles, tofu, meat and fish. During our first dinner, my host asked me if I have courage to try eating something unique… I was probably wrong to say ‘yes’. After a few minutes, we received a duck’s tongue. OMG. This is how it looks…
During dinner I received my first copy of the book. Each country chooses how to design the cover and I love the Chinese design.
After a short night sleep, the morning started with a series of interviews. The first thing I noticed was how professional journalist were. The journalists did their homework, read the book and came with a list of about 20 questions in both Chinese and English. I never came across with such diligent interviewers.
After that, I continued to the first lecture. Book reading clubs are very popular in China. These are groups of people interested in reading books.
At the end of the lecture, the participants stood in a long line to get a signature on their book and taking pictures. It looked like that….
I continued to another lecture in a business club. When I arrived there were only 50 people in the crowd. A few minutes before my talk, the host to told me “I might have forgotten to tell you that there are 2000 people waiting to watch your lecture live on our web-site”. OMG.
In the evening, we met the Israel vice consul in Shanghai, Nadav Zisblat. Nadav took us to a fascinating tour in Shanghai. Breath taking sights that made me think how could they built Shanghai just in the last 20 years. I was told that once a month there is a new subway station in Shanghai.
The next day we travelled to Beijing. The flight was delayed and we had to wait 5 hours. We landed in Beijing exhausted but filled with curiosity. I thought that if Shanghai is the young and vibrant city, Beijing will be slow and old. I was wrong, again.
In the evening we were invited to visit Danny Yamin. Danny was Microsoft Israel CEO for many years when I worked at Microsoft. Danny is a vice president in China these days. He and his family live in Beijing for more than a year.
I visited quite a few apartment building during my trips, yet this one was the most impressive residential buildings I got to visit. It has an amazing view of Beijing (this is a picture from the restaurant on the top floor).
Danny shared with us his excitement about experiencing China. He described Chine as a complex puzzle of contrasts. He said he still gets surprised from the things he learns daily. One of the examples he gave was that Chinese use mobile phone more than anyone else. His barber won’t accept cash, only mobile payment using WeChat. WeChat is the most popular App in China and it’s much more useful than Whatapp, Facebook and PayPal altogether. They use it to pay bills and taxes. Almost 700 million people use WeChat with a population of 1.4 billion. The amount of WeChat users in China is two times the entire US population!
During that night, I didn’t sleep well. I was nervous and excited towards the main book lunch event. This event took place at the Israeli embassy in Beijing hosted by Israel ambassador in China, Mr. Matan Vilnaei and Citic Press president, Mr. Jin Young Jun. Being an Israeli who lunches a book in China at the Israeli embassy, in front of the Israeli ambassador, is not something one takes for granted. I was very emotional. I am grateful to the Israeli ambassador, and amazing staff at the embassy and everyone at Citic.
During the reception, I stood like a groom at his wedding day. I was shaking hands, signing the book and took many pictures. In China everyone wants to take pictures.
It seems that out of 1.4 billion Chinese, there are only 20 (!) students who chose major in Hebrew studies. A few of them came to the event. It has been a while since I saw such enthusiastic students. We spoke simple Hebrew while they told me how much they love Israel and enjoy learning Hebrew. They asked me if I would join them for a tour in Beijing the next day. I agree happily.
The lecture was over and despite few technical difficulties it was great. Many people them stayed to ask questions. Oh yeah, and taking pictures again.
Over lunch, I learned about the importance of clean air in Beijing is. Schools the air inside all classrooms. Too often kids are not allowed to go out to the yard during breaks due to the pollution. There are even few days a year when kids are not allowed to go out of home and schools are closed due to extreme air pollution. On my way to lunch, we looked on the sky and I was explained how rare blue skies are in Beijing. I was lucky to visit Beijing during the G20 summit, I was told. It’s called the ‘G20 Blue Sky’ effect. Next time you look up and see blue sky, please remember that it’s a rare experience for millions of Chinese.
In Beijing, there is beautiful book store called “The book worm”. It’s a restaurant, lecture hall, and the most beautiful book store I have ever seen. A place for people who love book. I was invited to give talk and it was a magical evening.
Remember the students who study Hebrew? The next day I had a few free hours before my next flight. They came and took me to a wonderful tour in Beijing. We visited the forbidden city, Tiananmen square, the Flower market and more. Learned how seriously they take their studies. Except one of them who has a twin brother, they didn’t have brothers and sisters. They were born in years were only one child was allowed per family. They explained how important it is for young people in China to stand out in order to compete for good jobs.
In Tiananmen square, I saw a small kid stand and hold proudly China flag.
In the entrance to Coal Hill (a beautiful park overlooking the Forbidden City), an old man was standing and painting a beautiful calligraphy on the floor.
I stopped to look at him and I was surprised he was allowed to draw on the floor at the entrance to a public park? Then I realized he was painting with water. All his paintings evaporated and disappeared within a few minutes. Strange, I thought to myself. If he already paints so beautifully, why with water? Doesn’t he want the painting to last longer? What’s the point in drawing if everything disappears after couple of minutes?
We live in a culture which encourages us to set goals and achieve them. And here I came across a wise old Chinese man who reminded me about the importance of the joiurney and not just the destination. A goal can change or disappear, but the moments of joy appear when we enjoy the journey.
After a quick tour, we took a flight to our last destination, Hefei. It’s a ‘small’ town with only 6 million residents (the same population size of Israel). I was invited to give a lecture in a big book fare. I was greeted by a wonderful team of people who. I felt a bit like a rock star.
The hotel room was beautiful….
Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, here we felt a bit like aliens. People on the street stopped and stared at us. Next morning, during breakfast, I looked for a fork and a knife. I practiced my eating omelet with chopsticks ….
The visit in the book exhibition was an amazing experience. It is hard to describe it using words but I will try anyway. We will begin with the entrance. That is how it looks like:
I was told that many important authors in China go to this book exhibition. All of them are Chinese. And me…
It seems that most of time they listened and enjoy it.
Not sure all of them understood what I was saying 🙂
The lecture was a wonderful experience. The participants asked smart questions, cheered and stood again in a long line to take a picture and get a signature. During this morning I think that I signed more than 500 books… I was excited to meet small children who came to thank me personally and said that they enjoyed my talk.
At some point, the producer apologized that I didn’t have time to take pictures with everyone as I am late for a radio interview. Within 30 seconds I found myself here…
At the end of the interview, the producer entered and said “hurry, the driver is waiting for us outside. We have to leave so you won’t miss the flight”… during the ride I found myself breathing and trying to digest the experience. About an hour later I was already on the plane on the way back to Beijing and then back to Israel.
At the airport, I bought something and got another reminder different things are in China. Pay attention to the numbers…
After getting on the plane, the pilot announced there is a malfunction and the flight got a 24 hours delay. Bummer. This gave me a chance to visit the great wall of China the next day.
One of the gifts I bought for the kids in China was a collection of brushes and a special paper for drawing with water. Since then, we find ourselves learn Chinese calligraphy every day and enjoy drawing the Chinese words (The children runs the Google Translate, they choose a funny words and learn to write it in Chinese.).
After a few minutes the painting is gone but we enjoy a few moments of happiness.
I fell in love with China. An enormous and fascinating country. As I wake up from this dream-trip, I can’t wait until the next time.