Sharing Stories and Being Chinese: Grace Brown of AERIS Magazine and CNC World

Of journalistic pedigree and a woman of ambition, whilst charmingly imbued with a Chinese sensibility, Grace Brown is not your ordinary 25 year old. Having grown up in Hong Kong; worked with corporate giants CNN and Bloomberg; obtained a law degree from the University of Sydney; studied as a transfer student at the University of Cambridge; landed a job in Beijing as an anchor at CNC World; and helped set up a magazine business (AERIS Magazine), she has much to share.

Conversing with her at an Italian café in Cambridge, I was delighted by her rare fondness for and mastery of Western and Eastern cultures. It was easy to get comfortable around her very quickly, given her kind and warm personality. Apologising for taking pictures of her cappuccino and throwing in a few courteous phrases of Mandarin, Grace was naturally polite and elegantly poised during our meeting. Endowed with a uniquely English beauty, numerous accomplishments and a vast inventory of knowledge, I was surprised at how humble she was as she listened patiently and attentively to my tangential ramblings. Luckily, she was not deterred at my rather boorish company when I jumped at the chance to interview her! Meet AERIS Editor-in-Chief Miss Brown as she proves that she’s definitely a girl after Nee Hao readers’ hearts.

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Nee Hao Magazine’s Yinsey Wang talks to Grace Brown 

YW: You’ve had an interesting career path. Please tell us a bit about it and yourself! 

GB: I grew up with a journalist dad and grandfather, so I guess it’s in the blood! My mum is a graphic designer and brand consultant, so she gave me a deep love of design and prints, which grew over time. Maybe being the Editor of AERIS (the first Mandarin-English magazine for young people) shows that those two sides have been brought together in me! I have always loved stories, whether it be reading or writing them, and talking to people.

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When my best friend Amanda founded AERIS in 2010, I was interested in writing pieces, interviewing people who are doing something inspiring, and sharing stories of triumph over adversity. We were at college at the time but when we decided to register AERIS as a business and worked on it full-time along with Cherry, the Managing Director. We expanded to 10 people and decided that our mission would be to share thought-provoking stories that can touch different aspects of life (such as business, charity technology, fashion and travel) with young people who are from or based in, China.

I am now in Beijing where I’ll be editing and anchoring for CNC World to share Chinese stories with viewers outside China. I feel so lucky and grateful. It has taken 10 years to reach this stage. I started interning in media since I was 15 years old, and worked unpaid numerous times during the last few years. However, now I’m where I want to be.

YW: What is your relationship with China?

GB: I moved to Hong Kong from Hackney, London, when I was 11 months old. Ever since, Hong Kong has been the place in which I’m most familiar, but China is where I really “grew up”. China was my first taste of adventure, opportunity, independence and freedom. I first left Hong Kong when I was 17 and went to work as a waitress in Shanghai, at a restaurant called M-on-the-Bund, becoming the ‘meet and greet’ girl.

That was the first time that I lived somewhere alone, paid bills and worked for more than two days straight! I felt so liberated and I think that type of feeling is something that I will associate with China forever. Both with AERIS and CNC World, China has given me chances that no other country could. It is not perfect by any means – no country is – but I think it sincerely wants to learn. It’s growing up at the same time as me… I remember how unruly Shanghai was back in 2005! We were teenagers together, now we’re young adults together… I’m going to be grateful to China for the rest of my life for my happiest memories and most meaningful opportunities.

I also thank it for giving me some of my most treasured friends. Cherry, the Hong Kong firecracker that makes anything happen; Amanda, the Malaysian with a firm head on her shoulders; Michelle, the colourful Beijing extravaganza; Wendy, from Sichuan – soft, sincere, but strong; Chong, the thoughtful Nanjinger; and Jen, the girl from Guilin with a beautiful heart who dedicated her law career to helping others.

Chinese people have been nothing but good to me since I was born. My mum was having noodles made by her Chinese friend in London when she went into labour with me! Once you are friends with a Chinese person, you are usually friends for life. My dad’s former secretary still sends me a card on my birthday, that’s over two decades since they worked together! That is a true Chinese for you.

YW: What do you hope to achieve through your projects?

In any story that I am working on, be it a news update or an interview with someone who has achieved something unique, I hope to open people’s eyes and inspire them. I hope that they think differently about their lives and the lives of other people afterwards, as well as about all the potential in this world, not just its problems.

AERIS gives me the chance to share uplifting stories. For example, an artist who struggled against parental pressures but eventually made them proud; or an incredibly brave paraplegic woman that I interviewed, Claire Lomas, who ran the London marathon in 16 days to raise money for Spinal Research.

I want to send the message that anyone can achieve anything. This is an amazing, magical world, in which each of us holds an untold power to believe in ourselves and in each other. As Roald Dahl wisely said, those who do not believe in magic will never find it.

YW: When did you get started in journalism?

GB: I was always obsessed with stories and wrote my first book when I was 8 years old. It was a really awful one, about four little animals who have adventures together! My grandparents still treasure it for some reason.

I worked one month at Asia Pacific Vision when I was 15. It happened to be the month that the Hong Kong Harbourfest was on. The Rolling Stones were arriving at the airport and I was sent to go and meet them. The producer called up my mum and said he was using me as ‘bait’! Let’s just say she was not impressed. Mick Jagger came out and he didn’t talk to anyone else, just me! Being 15 at the time, I am ashamed to admit I had no idea who he was until a few hours before when the producers filled me in! We had the right to sell that interview to the rest of the HK stations! It wasn’t long, but it was ‘an exclusive’; I loved that feeling of stealing a scoop!  Since then, I interned at Star World, Seven News Australia, and CNN. In addition, I worked on contract at Bloomberg.

YW: What is the greatest challenge that journalists face in an ever changing, globalising world?

GB: I think when it comes to news, the big challenge is staying objective. With the advent of social media, there’s a real risk of confusing ‘news’ with ‘rumour’ (or worse, opinions…). Twitter is no substitute for Reuters. It’s important to remember that it’s not ‘news’ if it’s not true. My dad always reminds me of that. It’s a balance between getting the story out, versus getting it right. Sometimes, it can’t be perfect… but it should be (as my dad puts it) ‘the most accurate truth at that point in time’.

YW: Where’s home for you?

GB: Ah – a very hard question! Home is not a place to me; it’s the people that matter. Home is where my family, or boyfriend, are. I am lucky in Beijing, my friends are like family, their parents and even grandparents all say I can talk to them anytime. My friend’s grandma is a real Beijinger! She lives across the hall and likes to talk to me every day. I’m learning much better Mandarin by chatting with her, since English isn’t an option! Beijing feels like “home” already. In London, I always feel at home too, because my own wonderful grandparents are there, along with a lot of old friends and my boyfriend’s parents in the beautiful Cotswolds nearby. And of course, Hong Kong, because my parents and boyfriend live there… Both of our families have always lived around the world, so to us, home is where we find each other!

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YW: What do you think makes a great story?

GB: I think any story is meaningless without it being in the context of people. People make great stories. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t loved someone, lost someone, or isn’t afraid of something.

YW: Who is your inspiration?

GB: In particular, two people’s careers have really inspired me: Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. Branson, because his first business was a magazine and it was a success not because he was an accountant, but because he could connect with people and had true imagination. He was also dyslexic, so he had limited prospects at school, but he proved that he could do business instead and made his own destiny. This is something that I really respect in anyone.

I was also inspired by Winfrey for similar reasons – she had some pretty incredible hardships in her early years, some of which I can understand myself, but she refused to let that define who she would become. I also admire her as an interviewer because she is kind. Kindness is not a quality you usually see on television. I loved her show because it made me believe that life is whatever you dream it can be. She taught me that even in an increasingly cynical world, hope will always be in demand.

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