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From Boston to Beijing

From Boston to Beijing

Posted by Patricia Wen, Globe Staff August 6, 2008 10:05 AM

The Globe talked to a number of Massachusetts natives who have settled in Beijing. Like actress Kerry Brogan of Newton, they also have a lot riding on the success of the Olympics -- or rather how Chinese authorities ultimately assess the outcome. They too sense that China's traditional wariness of foreigners could decline -- or intensify -- based on the government's perception of the games. As of now, nearly all say (and they can do so in fluent Mandarin) that they plan to stay on in Beijing, despite missing New England's fresh air, beaches -- and in the summer, the Red Sox.

Stuart Eunson, 39, who grew up in Princeton, Mass., never drank coffee while studying Chinese at Colby College in Maine. But now, he is coffee connoisseur after spending the last 15 years running Arabica Roasters, an importer of high-quality coffee beans that serves primarily high-end Chinese restaurants. As a foreigner looking to expand the taste for coffee in a tea-drinking culture, he sees his life as one of endless "opportunities to come up with creative solutions to unusual problems." One of his unusual problems? He arrived at his Beijing coffee factory one day to see a bulldozer ready to tear down his site to make way for an Olympics-related project. "I was told I had a week to find a new location. I was pretty upset, but that doesn't get much done...You do what you have to do," said Eunson, who found a new location.

Richard Robinson, 40, a Medford native with an MBA, runs ChopSchticks, a stand-up comedy club for English speakers, and Kooky Panda, a firm which makes computer games for mobile phones. He reacts to the Olympics like a jaded Beijinger saying it's been "like the Big Dig in terms of disruptions." He did not book any comedy acts during the games because of hassles with visas and accomodations for performers. Mostly, though, he loves life in China, adding "My wife's a Beijinger and we have two little guys 'made in China.'" What brought him here? After a long hitchhiking tour in 1993, which started in the Swiss Alps and ended in Beijing, he found himself beguiled. "Upon arrival in the Middle Kingdom, I immediately had a China 'epiphany' which took me by surprise. I loved the 'renao' (bustle and energy) of the place."

Peter Wayne Lewis, 55, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, uses his non-teaching time to paint in his Beijing studio and helps run a gallery in the 798 Art Zone, known as the Soho of Beijing. He said the "explosive" contemporary art scene here prompted him to establish a studio here a few years ago. His work is now on display at an exhibit, "Olympic Fine Arts 2008." He has been free to paint as he wishes, and knows of only a few isolated instances of government interference with the arts. The future? "Right now, the government is absolutely supportive of the arts," he said. "There's a cultural renaissance going on here. I don't say that lightly. The art scene here is so electric and exciting. Every day, every hour, things change. Everything is fast forward."

Michael Wester, 40, who grew up Newton, came to Beijing eight years ago after earning a master's in business from Babson College and an undergraduate degree at University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He runs True Run Media, a 70-person publisher of English-language magazines and guidebooks. For his business, the year of the Olympics was neither a boon nor a bust year. As many new businesses opened as closed, causing advertising revenue to be a wash.

The impact on Beijing life in general? "It's like the local flavor has been rinsed away," he said, lamenting the destruction of many traditional neighborhoods. On the plus side, the city has numerous new subway lines, as well as better signage and roadways, but the Olympics also hiked the cost of living and "it can't possibly live up to the hype."

George Chiu, 32, who grew up in Carlisle, had thought about working in China ever since he studied the Chinese political economy at Amherst College. Now a lawyer, he works for Ascension Capital Group, a financial advisory firm in Beijing. Though his parents grew up in South Korea, their roots trace back to China. These days, he shares meals with relatives who live in Beijing. Chiu described working in China as a return to his "ancestral homeland" and a land of opportunity. How so? "Being here is like being in 19th century America - it's like the Wild West period. There's huge opportunities...I hope the Olympics raises public understanding of China. The more confidence that the international community has in China, the better it is for businesses here."

Mark Fischer, 47, originally from Cambridge, graduated from the University of Michigan and Harvard Kennedy School. Fluent in Chinese after many years he spent in Taiwan, he came to China more than three years ago to become the senior vice president of the National Basketball Association China with hopes of "growing the sport of basketball and building the NBA brand in China and rest of Asia." His view of the Olympics? "We're excited to have one of the biggest events of all time held in our backyard. The Olympics has brought a surge of interest in sports and sports marketing in China...After all the years of preparation, it will be interesting to see how Beijing ultimately presents itself."

Look for contributions from the following Globe Staffers in Beijing:

  • John Powers
  • Shira Springer
  • Bob Ryan
  • Marc J. Spears
  • Gregory Lee
  • Scott LaPierre
  • Patricia Wen