An English girl working in a Chinese world

Nikki Aaron has been living and working in China for 5 years. Originally from Leicester, pretty blonde Nikki now lives in Beijing and works as a news anchor for the China Xinhua News Network Corporation, a state owned television network.

Nikki Aaron talks to Nee Hao Magazine

How long have you been in China and what inspired you to move there? 

I’ve been in China since 2007. I lived in Shanghai for a year, then moved to Beijing. I didn’t plan on staying as long as I have, but I just fell in love with this city!

There was no plan, it all just happened by chance. Fate perhaps? My university life came to an end in September 2006, and I found myself living back at home and trying to save enough pennies to move to London and get cracking on a career in Journalism. One day, I was checking my emails and had a message from my University offering positions as English Language teachers in China. At the time I had nothing to lose, so I applied. I got the job and flew out to Shanghai just a week after my graduation ceremony at the beginning of 2007. I never expected to end up staying in China longterm…Life just got in the way, as it so often tends to do.

What are the pros and cons of living in Beijing? 

The excitement of everyday. It’s not the kind of city that you can easily fall into a routine in. Sure, I have a full-time job, and frequent my favourite restaurants and bars, but the city is rapidly changing – new restaurants, bars, people, galleries and buildings appear everyday! The Beijing people are wonderful too. So charismatic and welcoming. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see something that makes me smile, laugh, or gaze at in astonishment. It’s a great place for inspiration – so ideal for artists and writers like me.

The pollution is a constant cause of angst and concern. And now everyone has these apps on their phones, so people are constantly discussing the pollution levels and how dangerous they are. Also the traffic is a bit of a headache. But then again, what city doesn’t suffer from traffic anxiety? Of course, I miss my family too. But we keep regular contact. My mother even telephones me everyday!

How does it feel to be a foreigner in China? 

Back in 2007, I remember feeling quite self-conscious living in China. There didn’t seem to be as many foreigners as there are nowadays, and so we would get stared at and treated differently. I also dated a local Chinese guy for a few years, and we got quite a lot of attention in public. There are sooo many foreigners living in the Chinese capital now, I hardly stand out from the crowd. There are still a few occasions when one might get a little bit of extra attention, but you have to just learn to enjoy it, or – if you speak Chinese, just strike up conversation. Most people are harmless.

Nikki presenting a news show in Beijing

In your opinion, what are the most challenging aspects of carving out a career in China? 

If you don’t speak the language, then that can create difficulties and limit your options. Also, thanks to an influx of foreigners who have left a bad impression on Chinese people, with their hard drinking, womanising, and other disrespectful behaviour, sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously. These people ruin it for those of us who are serious about creating a life and carving out a career here in China. I believe that there are many opportunities for hardworking people in China. I’ve been quite successful in the sense that I run my own magazine and work as TV presenter for a respected news agency, but I worked my ass off for 6 years to get where I am today.

You’ve been out of the UK for a while now, what things do you miss most? 

I miss the familiar smells. There’s nothing better than stepping out of the airport at Heathrow and taking a deep breath of air. It sounds weird, but it smells different and just feels like ‘home’. The smell of home – sleeping in my own bed in my childhood bedroom feels so safe and comforting. Also, I just miss British people in general. Walking around a supermarket and just hearing snapshots of people’s lives in their different accents is priceless. I look like a nutcase smiling to myself as I walk past people while out shopping.

How did you get into the news and media industry? 

I always knew I wanted to work in the media industry, but was undecided which area to specialise in. So when it came to choosing a major, I opted for Media Studies, which incorporated Broadcast Journalism, New Media, and Print. I was a very pro-active student; I gained as much work experience in each area to give me a better idea of which direction to follow. As well as being editor of my University magazine, I did work placements with the BBC Radio and TV, Channel 4, ITV, and a number of local newspapers. I was even headhunted by a local film production company in my final year at university. I was asked to produce and present some local feature films. They were even broadcast on TV!

But after being nominated for an award for an article I wrote for the Birmingham Post while on work experience there, I decided on a career in Print media.

By the time I got to China, I may have been earning a living teaching English (which I consequently discovered was not for me), but I was still freelance writing for magazines back home and liaising with some of the local rags. A few years later, I was living in Beijing, and decided that it would be a great idea to launch my own magazine, seeing as the other expatriate mags didn’t fulfil my needs as an avid consumer of magazines!

METROSTYLE, a magazine Nikki Aaron set up in China along with a group of like minded people

Together with a small group of likeminded Chinese people and one Filipino, we launched MetroStyle (新大度会), a bilingual fashion and lifestyle magazine in 2010. Although it remains my pride and joy, starting a new magazine from scratch is hard work, and the financial gains limited. So when an opportunity came up to work for Xinhua News Agency, I accepted. Xinhua is the state-owned News agency in China, and quite an honour to work for. I’ve also been very lucky in that I’ve been encouraged to develop my skills in front of the camera, so I’m now a news anchor for Xinhua’s English-language TV channel CNC World, and also produce and present my own travel / feature shows. I love it!

What is the news industry like in China? 

It’s exciting. We are rarely short of news here. I work in domestic news, so I’ve become a bit of a China expert over the past two years. Although it can be exhausting from time to time. Sometimes people refuse to take part in interviews because they fear how they will be portrayed in the news, amongst other things.

Meeting with the locals in Qinghai province

What advice would you give to a Brit who wants to work in China? 

Don’t expect to hit the ground running. Moving out of the UK does not mean your life will be easier. You have to be prepared to work hard, and adapt. If you’re in China, you should be prepared to live like a Chinese person.

Do you think Chinese men are attractive? 

When people hear that I have dated Chinese men in the past, many are quite shocked. They say they’ve never come across a western woman who dates Chinese men before. I think a lot of people are still quite narrow-minded when it comes to dating people from East Asian countries. It’s quite sad. I wouldn’t say that I find all Chinese men attractive, just like I wouldn’t say I find ALL British men attractive. I think different people are attracted by different character traits. For me, it’s confidence, charisma, and attitude. If it so happens that the guy I fall for is a Chinese man, then I’m not going to fight it.

What are your future plans? 

I try not to plan too far ahead – you never know what’s going to happen. However, I’ll definitely be here for another year, seeing as I’ve just signed a contract which will keep me here until September 2013. I’m happy with the direction my career is heading, although I still hold on to that dream of living in London at some point…Then again I also have a dream of teaching yoga on a beach in Goa! So we’ll see. I’ll just follow my heart.

Any career highlights worth mentioning? 

I’ve had some amazing experiences, I feel very blessed. I won an award for the best documentary last year, in which I travelled to Qinghai province (bordering Tibet), where I met and interviewed the family of the Dalai Lama, visited the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, and explored Tibetan Buddhism in China. It was quite a ground-breaking programme. And to top it off, this Blonde-haired British girl was presenting it!! The launch party for Metrostyle was also a very proud day. But, I think the best is yet to come. 🙂

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