Business and Buddies in Beijing

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Beijing on ChinesePod business. I can’t really talk about that, but hopefully our reasons for being there will all be public by the end of the month. This trip was significant for other reasons, though — I got to (briefly) experience Beijing as a non-tourist for once, and to finally meet some guys I’ve been communicated with over the internet for years (that’s hard to believe) without ever meeting.

The last time I was in Beijing was 2001. I visited twice that summer, once with my friend Ari as part of a big long trip, and the other time with my little sister. It had been 5 years since I saw it last, and with all the preparations for the Olympics, I was looking forward to seeing all the changes. I didn’t get to see any, though. My last visit to Beijing had been as a tourist, and this time I didn’t go to any of those same places. Geographically, the visits didn’t overlap a single bit. Even points of arrival and departure were different; this was my first time flying to and from Beijing. So without any physical overlap, I couldn’t really compare from a chronological perspective at all.

My impressions of Beijing were very good this time, though. The weather was great, and the areas of Beijing I spent time in were all pleasant. I think what impressed me most, though, was the laid back feel of the city. I know that Shanghai is extremely fast-paced and business-oriented, but perhaps I had thought Beijing was too, at least to a greater degree. To me, Beijing felt more comparable to Hangzhou in that respect. In Hangzhou, people go to West Lake to just sit around and play cards all day long. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Shanghai.

I met up with Roddy (Chinese Forums, Signese) first, and a little later Joel (Danwei) joined us at a cafe/bar on Houhai. Brendan ( organized a get-together at a bar called Sandglass (a very predictable selection, according to Roddy). There I met David (AdsoTrans) and Jeremy (Danwei, Danwei TV).

It’s always interesting to meet in person the people you only know through online communication. There were some differences between my expectations of these guys and what I actually experienced.

Roddy Flagg (Chinese Forums, Signese)


I have chatted with Roddy a lot over the years, and we’ve helped each other out with online projects more than once. I was already familiar with his sense of humor. Although I didn’t know exactly what he looked like before I met him, there weren’t any surprises there.

Joel Martinsen (Danwei)


Joel has been an extremely helpful commenter on Sinosplice over the years, and has helped me out with various translation issues. As any reader of Danwei knows, the man is an impressive translation powerhouse, and he’s an all around good guy as well. (He even bought me an ice cream.) No real surprises here.

Brendan O’Kane (


I had actually met Brendan once before in Shanghai, but that time was brief and alcohol tinged. This time I got a better feel for the guy, and I think he’s pretty much exactly like his online persona with one big exception: he’s more cheerful in person.

David Lancashire (AdsoTrans)


What does one expect of a computational linguist who developed a free, impressive online machine translation system? A quiet, geeky guy, that’s what. I had chatted with David over IM multiple times, but I guess I didn’t get a good feel for his personality. In person he was funny and outgoing and didn’t look at all like what I expected. Also, he’s Canadian!

Jeremy Goldkorn (Danwei, Danwei TV)


I have a lot of respect for Jeremy, but somehow I got the impression of a rather formal, business-like person. Was I unfairly stereotyping budding media moguls? Anyway, Jeremy turned out to be a really funny, gregarious guy. It was really good of him to stop by after just getting back from a blogger conference in Hangzhou. I imagine he is quite bloggered out now.

Hopefully I’ll be making trips to Beijing more often in the future. Shanghai is the place for me for the foreseeable future, but Beijing is definitely a place I’d like to spend more time.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. so there was a table full of lowais at this sandglass place? think it blew anyone’s mind, or is that many caucasians in one spot less of a novelty than i think? (y’all talk about how much people stare and point at individuals, so i’m assuming a group of 6 white guys could draw some eyes.)

    oh, curious! what language did y’all speak as you hung out??
    sounds fun 🙂

  2. Aha, it was you who Brendan wrote that he tried his best to make his friend like Beijing.
    I understand that kind of friendship, kinda special, but unique. 🙂
    Really nice seeing that you guys enjoying your lives in China, maybe not very much though. 😛
    Hey, bro, I’ll buy you an icecream as well. LOL~
    Btw, kinda curious, what is so exciting when you knew David is Canadian, John?

    @amy, I think it was English… as they seems are all English speakers. 🙂

  3. meeting too many Chinese day to day could get you bored.I had enough Chinese American to meet here in Irvine but just doesn’t seems quite right. Seeking the balance btwn Chinese style and Americanized friends……
    Looking forward to chat with you bilingually in Shanghai…..coz you’ve been sort of more Chinese than probably any other laowai I’ve ever met….I guess

  4. yeah, I do find it quite fascinating how one’s online persona matches up with the real McCoy. It’s something I’ve explored a bit here (I’ve met several of the Taiwan blogging crowd) and Brendan and I hooked up a few years ago. I think I’m probably a lot more brooding and introspective than my Prince Roy alter ego might suggest, certainly more introverted.

  5. It’s funny how you can sort of lump people into their “blog” personality. I’ve read a few things on how blogs are changing marketing in this way because ads on blogs are from “trusted friends” not some faceless entity – having met or even spoken to these “trusted friends” doesn’t seem to be a criteria though.

    I’ve met a number of the bloggers in Dalian and Suzhou (the cities I’ve called home here), and generally speaking you see parts of their blogs in them, but it does show you how one-dimensional an online persona can be.

  6. @eway – “what is so exciting when you knew David is Canadian?”

    Given the horror stories I’ve heard about my compatriots while here, I think John might simply have been surprised I wasn’t randomly assaulting people in the bar.

  7. Amy,

    Yes, it was a table full of laowai, but that wouldn’t warrant any attention from the locals in international cities like Beijing and Shanghai. We didn’t speak any more Chinese than the occasional word or drink order because none of us are pretentious bastards. 🙂

  8. eway,

    It’s certainly not exciting. I had just always thought he was American is all. (Maybe David had been intentionally misleading me up to that point?)

  9. marco,

    Seeking the balance btwn Chinese style and Americanized friends……

    Yeah, me too. (Although it would be “Chinese” and “foreigner” for me…)

    Looking forward to chat with you bilingually in Shanghai…..

    OK, let me know when you’re back in town…

  10. Da Xiangchang Says: November 5, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    It’s all good, using the internet to meeting and maintaining friends. Now if I ever get off my ass to get a website going, I can have all that too. 😉


    Are you a Chinese guy in Irvine? I went to UC Irvine, both for my BA and MA. Small world indeed.

  11. aha… terms of UC Irvine,the coincidence doesn’t exist any more.
    yeah,I am currently doing my Ph.D at UC Irvine and I am actually transferring to other major in other schools.
    did you graduate from dance major?you ‘re the BEST!

  12. John, did you see the article about you, CBL and Brendan in Huanqiu Shibao today? You’re famous!

  13. Laska — even if John has, I haven’t. Is this just a reprint of the 法制晚报 article where they actually edited my blog so as to make me sound dumber, and then not only misquoted me, but ascribed to me a Chinese name that they – if they’d read the very article they were misquoting – would have known that I didn’t use?

  14. Mmm could be. Bastards. I couldn’t find the fazhi wanbao article. In the HQSB article they render your name as “步兰登.” Regarding the secret to learning Chinese, you are quoted as saying “没有捷径,下苦功夫的.” I will post a link to the article as soon as it’s up online at (there’s a three or four day lag time). It’s in the 11/6 edition on page B1.

  15. Huh. Sounds like the kind of thing I might say, though I don’t remember ever saying it in that way. Maybe they translated it from an old English blog post of mine?

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