Will Bachman and Ming Chen had a conversation about Ming’s journey since graduating from Harvard in 1992. Ming is currently Chief Cultural Officer EF Education First, an education company with 50,000 employees. Will asked Ming to tell him a bit about what she does at EF Education First, and Ming explained that she is the company’s Chief Culture Officer. Ming Chen is a long-time employee of EF Education First, a company that provides language programs, educational travel, cultural exchange programs, and academic degree programs.
She joined the company in 1998 after graduating from college with an East Asian Studies degree, and she has since worn many hats. She advises people starting out their career to not be discouraged if their degree does not directly prepare them for a specific job. She found her way in by moving to Hong Kong and joining EF, which is meaningful, global, and fun. She has an MBA, but didn’t know what she would do with it when she graduated, so she fell into the job.
From Hong Kong to EF Education First
Ming Chen has had a long and varied career path. After graduating college with a degree in a concentration she wasn’t quite sure what to do with, she began eliminating possibilities of what she didn’t want to do. After spending summers teaching and working at Christie’s Auction, she decided to move to Hong Kong due to her family’s history there. She describes it as a magical place with access to the beach and the mountains. She compares it to a college campus with pay, and praises the efficient public transportation and the easy tax forms. She also mentions the difficulty of the reintegration to mainland China, but still calls it the mecca of capitalism.
EF Education First is a company that provides educational services, including cultural exchanges. One of their cultural exchange programs is High School Year Abroad, which brings foreign students to public high schools in the U.S. to live with host families for a year. Another program is Cultural Care Au Pair, which helps match American families with au pair students. The programs are quite inspirational and transformative, as they help participants become fluent in English and American culture.
The Backstory of EF Education
EF Education first was founded in 1965 when its founder, Bertil Hult, who was dyslexic, took a group of Swedish students to Brighton for the summer to help them learn English. He believed that real-life, immersive learning was the best way for students to learn and this became the foundation for the Heritage Program. EF Education first then expanded to include German, Japanese and Mexican students and opened their first school in Hastings, England. Now, they have 600 schools and offices around the world and welcome students from 100 countries to learn English. As well as language schools, they also offer EF English Live, the world’s largest online English school, with teachers teaching classes every hour.
On Writing Books and Running Marathons
Ming Chen and her identical twin sister Wah co-wrote a book titled Escape: One Day We Had to Run, inspired by the story of the nanny who brought up Ming and Wah during their formative years. The nanny had to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong during the 1960s due to the famine. The nanny eventually made it to New York and was like a mother to Ming and Wah, though communication was difficult due to the language barrier. The duo also mention how the book was born out of a longer and more ambitious project.
The book was written to help children cope with difficult and traumatic experiences. The book was born out of a larger product project that Ming and her twin sister had been working on for many years, and Carmen Vela, an artist based in Spain, was chosen as the illustrator. The book was published by Lantana Publishing, which was a great success. Ming is also a marathon runner, and she attributes her motivation to running to the friends she made while attending a freshman week party at univesity.
Ming mentions a professor at Harvard who inspired her: Roderick MacFarquhar, a leading scholar on the Cultural Revolution.
Ming Chen, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host, will Bachman. And I’m so pleased to be here with my friend Ming Chen, who is sitting in Hong Kong while I’m in New York. Ming, welcome to the show.
Ming Chen 00:22
Thanks. Well, and I was just saying that I really admire that you’re doing this endeavor, talking to all of our classmates. So thanks for having me.
Will Bachman 00:29
Well, that’s very kind of you. Thanks for contributing to it so Mang tell us about your journey since graduating from Harvard.
Ming Chen 00:39
Oh, my word. Okay. Well, we graduated 1992. It’s 2023. And I am senior at the organization or the company that I joined in 1998. EF education first, which actually is just about three miles down from Harvard College, or North American headquarters is in Cambridge, right by the Museum of Science. And I’ve had a wonderful, wonderfully long and rewarding career here since I graduated from actually Harvard Business School in 1998.
Will Bachman 01:15
And it’s the world’s largest privately held education company with 50,000 employees. For people that are not familiar with EF education. First, tell us a little bit about what you do.
Ming Chen 01:26
Well, well, you did your homework. Okay. Well, my honorific is I’m the chief culture officer at EF education first. And I think what that means is actually, you know, I, I, I embody the DNA of EF, which, you know, amongst our core values is entrepreneurial spirit. And, you know, like to say that this is working at EF has been a real gift, because it combines not only things that make the world better, ie helping people communicate, we have language programs, we run educational travel programs, cultural exchange programs, as well as academic degree programs. But it’s also global, and super fun.
Will Bachman 02:11
Tell us a bit about your, your sort of progression your career at the at the company, what was EF education first, like when you joined? And what roles have you had and just tell us about your experience?
Ming Chen 02:26
So I’ve worn many, many hats. When I give advice to people who are just starting out their career, I was an East Asian Studies graduate at college. And you know, it didn’t really prepare me for anything except for moving to Hong Kong, which I did right after college. East Asian Studies was a wonderful, wonderful concentration, but I didn’t know what I would do with it. I didn’t exactly graduate fluent in Chinese. I grew up in New Jersey, but you know, I’ve lived in Hong Kong for the past almost 30 years. And I would say I, you know, have still very, very poor Chinese. But it is a hard language. When I joined EF in 1998. I think that one of the reasons I joined was I didn’t exactly know what I would do with my MBA. So I fell into it. And I, the one thing that I knew when I graduated from business school was that he wanted to do something that had meaning. Because right after college after I moved to Hong Kong, I actually worked at in television, helping start TV, which was at that point owned by Rupert Murdoch, before Rupert Murdoch was known as, you know, kind of evil person. And then joined TNT and Cartoon Network, and then went to business school then joined EF. And again, at EFI. I’ve worn many different hats, from sales marketing, running a creative studio, to my current incarnation as the chief culture officer. Yeah, so it’s been a long and varied road, it was easier for me to, you know, coming out of college with a degree in a concentration where I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do. You know, the things that I tell young people is that it’s much easier to eliminate things that you don’t want to do in order to land on what you could do next. IE, you know, if you don’t know what your passion is, it’s much easier to eliminate what your passion is not. So you know, during college. In the summer, I worked as like, you know, taught at Wellesley summer camp, and I realized, Oh, my God, I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t have the patience or talent for teaching. And then I also worked, you know, in art at Christie’s Auction, as I said, I don’t think I’m quite cut out for that. But the thing that I was able to do in college during the summer was actually eliminate things I didn’t want to do and actually think about cities that I would want to live in, which is how, after graduating, I realized, Oh, I really want to live in Hong Kong.
Will Bachman 04:56
So tell me about that. How To someone who grew up, I think he’s in Massachusetts. How do you decide to Jersey? New Jersey? I’m sorry, in New Jersey, how does a New Jersey kid decide I want to live in Hong Kong?
Ming Chen 05:12
Well, there was history there because my mom spent her formative years in Hong Kong. And during again, during the summer of college, I had the opportunity to come to Hong Kong and work and live. And I thought that was a amazing time, I spent my summers in college, one in Boston, the second summer in Hong Kong, third summer in Taiwan. So again, I think it was a combination of having a familiar of family link to this place. And Hong Kong just being a completely magical place. You know, it’s the world’s most dense city, but it has access, you know, I’m 10 minutes away from a beach, you know, 10 minutes away from the mountain. So it’s really, really a special place.
Will Bachman 05:57
Tell me a bit more about Hong Kong, I, my kind of direction of polarity is more towards Latin America, where I’ve traveled a lot in Europe. I haven’t been to Asia much just India, tell me a bit more about just what it’s like to live in Hong Kong daily life, you know,
Ming Chen 06:15
will you need to bring you and your family need to come visit and stay with me in Hong Kong? That is an invitation
Will Bachman 06:21
invitation except that it is exempted?
Ming Chen 06:25
No, right. I guess Hong Kong has changed for me over time, from the college summer student going on a boat trip every single weekend. You know, it’s a very work hard play hard place to having three kids and really building a career from Hong Kong, you know, amazing airport where I’ve traveled. Like, it’s very easy to get to and from the airport site, like going from New York to JFK, where you feel like you’ve been through a third world country, it’s, it’s really, really super easy and convenient. We used to joke that, you know, Hong Kong is a little bit like a college campus, but with pay. Because you’re an urban professional, you know, it’s very easy to bump into people. People are super open, especially in the expatriate community, people are super open to meeting helping other people. And it’s just they’re super vibrant. It also I’ve dubbed it, the mecca of capitalism, you know, obviously coveted super difficult in the reintegration to mainland China is really very challenging. But you know, it Hong Kong is the mecca of capitalism, people are deeply pragmatic. You know, one thing I love about it is that it takes me literally five minutes to fill out my tax form for Hong Kong, whereas like, I have to hire someone to do my IRS taxes. And in the US, they just make it really easy to do things here. This public transportation is amazing, you know, the way the city’s laid out is really, really is very efficient. It obviously has its own problems. You know, housing is super expensive. There’s an underclass of people who live below the social security net, or there is no social security net. And you know, that again, there’s a lot of political challenges here. But generally, it’s a magical place, which I’ve been super happy where I met my husband, where my three kids. Yeah.
Will Bachman 08:31
I want to hear a bit more about EF education first. So you rattled off the some of the different kind of service lines or business units, I want to go through them and hear a bit more about it. So tell us about the cultural exchanges.
Ming Chen 08:45
Great. So you might have I don’t know, well, maybe in high school, you had, you know, a foreign exchange student in your high school. One of the cultural exchanges that we do as high school year abroad. We bring in foreign students and they go to public high schools within America and live with host families for a year. It’s our most inspirational amazing product or program, because the actual, you know, participant comes back or comes home transformed. You know, they can be returned fluent in English and also fluent in American culture. It’s funny to meet a Japanese student who’s been on our exchange program and who is like this deep Tennessee drawl. And then, another program that is associated with cultural exchange is our cultural care au pair, which is we help match family American families with au pair students with au pairs. That’s our cultural exchange program. Okay,
Will Bachman 09:42
before we go past that, we actually have some potential posts, I would imagine listening. So let’s say that a listeners like oh, yeah, host a foreign student for a year that’d be fun. How does that work? So and is it in both directions? So do is it you also US students who want to go study in France or Spain for a year, or just inbound to the US, and the How to Host Family sign up, and just how does that practically work.
Ming Chen 10:10
So you can go to our, you can contact me directly for one thing, or you can go to EF High School, your exchange, to sign up to be a host, or to get or to receive to receive an exchange student. And our outbound programs are limited, because we mainly bring in students to the US. But we do have some app and programs to places like, you know, England or Australia, which, interestingly enough, Australia has a one in one out, you need to for an American student, for Australia to take an exchange student, they need to also send out in Australia and exchange student. So that’s kind of a rule these, these regulations are really governed by the State Department and the State Department’s in each country. So again, it is a wonderful, wonderful program.
Will Bachman 11:07
What about now one of a highlight of my life and a very magical experience was I did not do a year abroad, but I did about a month abroad with I don’t know, maybe it’s I want to competitors of yours, it was not sell. And I did a month in France after graduating from high school and with a French family, which was so amazing. And then we hosted their son at our house, which was great for both sides. I mean, it was so incredible, just being immersed in that household and hanging out with his friends and going about town and stuff. Do you have any summer programs or just strictly during the year?
Ming Chen 11:45
Yes, we have a lot of summer different options. And again, you know, will you experience one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here for so long, is, you know, breaking down barriers in language communication and geography, you know, is one of our rallying cries around DF. And I think it’s what motivates like the 50,000 people who work here is that you realize that the world has a lot of problems. And just spending time understanding the other person through an exchange year or through an exchange month, like you did, I did an exchange program when I was 14 years old to France, as well, is, you know, transformational. And, you know, we like to say are cultural immersion programs are really what the world needs more of. We have short term and long term programs, either to learn new language, or study or travel abroad.
Will Bachman 12:43
Yeah, I mean, it’s such a great way to experience a country as My French is pretty rusty now, but kind of, I remember being able to speak a little bit of French and understanding it pretty well and being able to read it. And just like seeing the family life, it wasn’t super dramatic, but just the kind of way they’d eat together for meals, and they’d have, you know, wine every night for dinner and run out and get the baguette every day for you know, the dinner sometime, you know, mid afternoon or something, it was just kind of experiencing that it just made it so real and so much more connected to the country as so much different than just passing through Paris and going to the Louvre or something like that. So that’s awesome. How do you sort of vet the host families and secure safety and all those things? That’s, I’m sure a concern for kids new parents sending their kid abroad for a year. How do you take care of all that?
Ming Chen 13:41
Well, we have a very, very experienced team of accommodation experts who work on each of our programs. So we have about EF in general has that. We know I talked about the four main business lines, I eat language training, cultural exchange, academic degrees, and educational travel. And in each of those units have different businesses including or programs, including high school, the one that we’re talking about, which is high school, you exchange and we have a whole team that only does vetting of host families with quality control, and obviously safety concerns, but generally, you know, the type of people who to volunteer to take an exchange your student for nine months, there’s, you know, it takes a certain type of family or person to welcome that person into your household, which is why some of the most beautiful relationships have resulted in it actually just heard about, you know, we have a lot of stories of host families that go to the weddings of this exchange students that they hosted when they were at, you know, 16 to 18 years. Yeah, or families who’ve had multiple au pairs and will have au pair reunions with all their parents that they’ve, you know, had over the years and so it’s really, really, you know, again, And this is one of the reasons why I feel like I’ve worked at EF for such a long time, because our programs are really, really rewarding. And it’s intangible Right? Like, you might have discovered the love of the baguette. But you know what? You must have also come back with I know I did when I was 14 and went to France, it was a sense of confidence in yourself that you could travel, go experience something new and enjoy it. And that confidence is an intangible, but something that lasts for a long time.
Will Bachman 15:29
Oh, yeah, I totally, totally agree. The following summer, you know, did the sort of your rail thing and traveled around for a few weeks because like, okay, you know, I see, you know, kind of get the hang of Europe, you’re like, Okay, I can do this. And for me, that was maybe my second plane ride was going to France, you know, I mean, I just grew up in a family where we didn’t travel much. And the guy had traveled once to California or something. So it was big deal. And opened my my horizons by a tremendous amount. Tell us about some of the the next one educational travel. Tell us about that a little bit.
Ming Chen 16:06
So actually, that’s what we do in North America. So I know your kids are at school in New York, right? That’s right. Maybe their school takes a class trip to DC. That’s our explore America program, where we take American students middle school or high school year, high school students with their teachers and their classes, on trips within America. And then during the summer or other holidays, the teacher like if your French teacher organized a trip to Paris, Venice, Rome, they probably go with an EF educational tour, which is basically again, educational travel that’s basically organized their teachers and their schools.
Will Bachman 16:46
And then the language training schools tell us about that.
Ming Chen 16:52
So you have started in 1965, when our founder Bertel, who is dyslexic took a group of Swedish students, the Swedish to Brighton for the summer to learn English. And I bring in dyslexia because it was really important. He understood by being dyslexic that classroom learning was not enough. It wasn’t going to solve, you know, his dyslexia, it actually, he learned best when he was immersed in real life. And so when he brought that small group of high school students to Brighton for the summer, they live with the host family, they studied and learned and did activities, and that really helped their English. So immersive real life learning was kind of the foundation of the Heritage Program that we did. And then we from there grew organically to one open up, not just a Swedish, not just in Swedish students. But then we started sending German students, we started sending Japanese students, we start saying Mexican students on our programs. And then our parents got really big. So we started buying schools, language schools in England, our first school opens in Hastings, England, as a school as opposed to rented classrooms. And again, everything that you’ve has done, which I also love has been fairly organic. I’ve never seen like a five year plan here, even a three year plan. It’s really, you know, what makes the most sense as our next sort of strategic business move. And, you know, so now today, we have over 600 schools and offices around the world. And we welcome students from, you know, 100 different countries, to our language schools. Most students want to learn English. So our schools are teaching English we have French Spanish, but it really is our language training is really around bringing students to the country where the language is spoken. And helping them do that, as well as we also have the world’s largest online English school called EF English Live, which is probably the largest subscription school for language training. It is. We have teachers every hour upon the hour who teach classes of students. Wow, sorry, I’m getting cut off because that’s my daughter calling from college. She’s calling from Kennedy.
Will Bachman 19:14
Oh my gosh. Oh, congratulations. That’s amazing. All right. We will edit this part out 1921 Okay, here we go. 1921 We’ll just keep recording. And Ming Chen, WhatsApp audio.
Ming Chen 19:38
Oh, well, yes. Well, yes. Sorry. I pressed the wrong button are still
Will Bachman 19:42
recording. We’re still recording, but that’s okay. We’ll just take well, we’ll take out those a little chunk of time. All right. So we’ll, we’ll just restart here. Okay, so 1940 I’ll just let Henrietta know. 1955 We’ll start okay. Oh, So I want to hear a bit about your what you’ve been doing, you know, outside of work as well. And one of the areas that I wanted to highlight is the books that you’ve written, I bought your book escape one day we had to run, which was so touching. Tell us about the books you’ve written and how you came to write this one, which is about kids who had to become refugees.
Ming Chen 20:28
Thank you Well, for purchasing our book, I co authored with my identical twin sister Wah. Again, three novels, one out three books, children’s books. Escape, one day we had to run was really born out of a different project a much longer and more ambitious project, which there’s a whole backstory behind that longer, more ambitious project, but I won’t talk about it right now. But escape was really because we were inspired by the story of our nanny who brought us up until we’re eight years old, who literally swam from southern China to Hong Kong to during the 1960s, where there was a famine going on in mainland China. And she ended up in New York. And, again, we grew up in New Jersey, but in our formative years, she was like a mother to us. And she had, you know, she only spoke Cantonese, communication was super difficult. But she carried my transistor, I like hot water bottles when we’re babies. And she really, you know, her story of, you know, fleeing Mainland China during a famine really stuck with us. And then we began to wonder about other people and how they made it to the different countries that they’re at. You know, my twin sister works with Laura Alvarez, Who’s the woman who literally walked from Mexico to Southern California, and she’s her colleague now. In Los Angeles, my twin sister does affordable real estate development. And, you know, it just sort of grew from there. We covered the Syrian sisters who swam I think Netflix just did a documentary called The swimmer on the MozBar half sisters who also were represented the refugee team at the Olympic the Summer Olympic Games. Yeah, so that’s where escape came from, or other two books, SAS wirless, new shoes and Ling Ling looked in the mirror really came about because my twin sister and I, during college, sat around our dining room table, and we were surrounded by books. And our dad who’s apologist had written two books. One was called History of the liver. And the second was gastronomie. Buck. And we’re like, you know, someone who’s publishing dad’s books on, you know, the liver, surely, we could do a book. And then we started brainstorming about what book we would write together. And we came up with that SAS Birla, who’s a girl who dreams about all different kinds of shoes she wants. And, and ends up turning lemons into lemonade. And then Lingling looked in Morocco, as a girl who dreams about all the different things she could become like the first girl on Mars, or a lion tamer, sort of non traditional roles. Yeah, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. It’s sort of been our side hustle.
Will Bachman 23:22
That is fun. And with escape, tell me how to the book to come together beyond the actual research and the writing, like the illustrations and so forth. Did you find the illustrator? How did that all happen?
Ming Chen 23:37
So, Carmen Vela, who’s the illustrator was actually really talented designer, who I’ve worked with at EF who she left EF to go freelance. And she’s an artist who’s based in Spain. And when my twin sister wall really had the idea for escape, because again, it was born out of the larger product project that we had been working on for many years. And, and so was contribution was coming up with the idea of doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the writing. And my contribution was finding Carmen to work with an illustrator and bring the visuals to life as well as helping to identify who would be the publisher, and lantana publishing, which is a wonderful publisher, who’s based in the UK, picked it up, which you know, getting a publisher for your book is like winning the lottery, especially if you’re an agent tip, which all three books have been an agent is an agent netbooks. So again, it’s like winning the lottery three times.
Will Bachman 24:39
Okay, so classmates is really delightful book to read to your kids and a really touching book, so highly recommend escape. One day we had to run and I’m gonna have to look into getting those other ones. I really enjoyed. Escape reading that to my daughter. You have run 74 marathons. According to LinkedIn, tell us about that. That’s a lot of marathons. That’s three per year roughly. That’s a lot. Tell us about your running and, and how that’s happened.
Ming Chen 25:11
I think many of the listeners from class of 1992 will appreciate this that I actually went to a party Matthews like the freshman my freshman week, I met Brooke Paley and Carolyn Sporn. Who are both of our classmates who were saying, Oh, we’re training for the Boston Marathon. Do you want to join us? I didn’t know them at all. I was like, Sure. As you do freshman week, I know kind of eager to meet new people. I wasn’t even a runner. I played tennis in high school, and, and then started going on runs with them. And it’s, it was wonderful. I bet. You know, throughout college, actually, Carolyn Sporn. And I went running met in winter, Kate at 750. Every morning, she lived in Kirkland, I lived in Elliot. And we would run together every morning through thick and thin. And that first marathon was the Boston Marathon in 1989. And Brooke had made T shirts for the three of us, we all we all ran wearing, it’s better than taking the T. So T shirts, but started out. And, and, you know, at some point, then taking dropped out of the race. So we actually reversed the message. And we were only it’s better the T. So, yeah, and starting 19, I started my marathoning, which is also big side hustle of mine, I’m actually running the Hong Kong marathon on next Sunday. So that’ll be my 75th marathon. And I’m signed up for the Paris marathon in April. So I thought I would stop after maybe 50 marathons, but I enjoy running too much. And it was really born from birth, Bailey and Carolyn Sporn. So if they’re listening, I just want to thank them.
Will Bachman 26:59
What has it meant to you? or what have you learned? Or how has it affected your life? I mean, that is a major, major commitment to have spent that much time running long distances and traveling to these marathons. So tell me, what’s the impact been for you?
Ming Chen 27:18
I think that it has been just an expression of my cultural of my compulsive nature. And if anything, I think I’ve proved to the kids that running marathons, no big deal. Like, oh, if mom can do it, it’s no big deal. So yeah, I think that it’s also been like an integral part of how I start my day. And a really, really, you know, I’ve made some of my best friends running. And at some point, I was like, Oh, I’m too old and too busy to have new friends. But if they wake up and go running with me, they can be my friend. So it’s also been
Will Bachman 27:58
it also says LinkedIn that you are a brand ambassador for sweaty Betty, I have to ask you about that. Tell me about that. What does a brand ambassador do?
Ming Chen 28:07
Well, sweaty Betty in the UK at Saudi Betty has a wonderful running and yoga brand. That was started by a woman named Tara Tamara Hill Norton, and her husband, Simon Hal Norton. And they were actually opening up their first shops in Los Angeles. And it contacted my twin sister Wah. And since they knew kind of we were athletes, and we could give them some sort of advice. They’re like, Oh, would you like to become an investor? And I said, Sure. So that’s how it happened. Since then, swinging Daddy has been purchased by private equity as good brands normally are. And, yeah, they’re wonderful. So if anybody wants great running and yoga and tennis, where I suggest you go to sweaty bed.com.
Will Bachman 28:55
So if we see you run the marathon, you’ll be decked out and sweaty Betty gear, I would, I would hope
so many marathons in
Will Bachman 29:03
showing showing the colors. I think that I heard you say earlier that you had you had a call coming in. And it was from one of your one of your offspring. And I believe it was coming from Harvard Yard. Did I did I catch that? Right?
Ming Chen 29:19
Yes, my daughter Emma is currently a first year at Harvard. And she lives in Canada Day, which for many of you, has not changed, except for she on her floor has someone on her floor who’s in a single who has a support cat. So there’s a cat on her floor. But you know, in terms of being overheated, modernise concrete block, you know, candidate is still the same,
Will Bachman 29:44
still the same. One area that I always ask about on show is if there were any courses or professors that you had at Harvard, that have continued to resonate with you.
Ming Chen 29:59
Yeah, So in fact, I hosted two of them again, I was East Asian Studies at school as your vocal, who’s the Japan scholar and wrote many, many of the leading tracks on both Japan and China. He wrote a compendium history on dung XIAO PING, as her vocal, and Roderick MacFarquhar, who passed away, unfortunately, but he was a leading scholar on the Cultural Revolution. And he taught cultural revolution at college. Those two professors have really, really stayed with me and people that I’ve kept in touch with after college. I also really am laughing, because when I look back on my courses, again, because I wasn’t I really was a true liberal arts major. I took calligraphy, I took Buddhism, I took his French history and literature, Japanese history and literature, Russian literature, I just feel like that was, you know, again, I’ve used the word before to describe but magical time of really, really, really enjoying what I studied and what, what Rick was able to leave me with, which is a deep abiding appreciation and love for literature history and understanding. I mean, that sounds very big. But
Will Bachman 31:22
what do you think your perspective is? How is it different from other expats living in Hong Kong? Who did not study East Asian studies at Harvard? What, what did you get from that education that helps you understand the region of the world where you live?
Ming Chen 31:42
That’s an interesting question. I think that a lot of expats come to Hong Kong for business reasons, you know, this is a financial center. So it’s very transactional, right, like, I’m gonna come here and make a lot of money to put it crudely, might be the, you know, some of the more baser impulses of people who want to live out here, but a lot of people really appreciate and love the history and culture, I feel like I’ve been living through history. In Hong Kong, again, I lived here, pre 1997, which is when the British handed Hong Kong over back over to the Chinese. I’ve lived here during, you know, the, what has been characterized as riots, but protests, pro democracy protests in 2019. You know, Hong Kong was, you know, the epicenter of the SARS epidemic in 2005. And also one of the first cities to really come to grips with COVID, back in 2020. So, yeah, I feel like being an East Asian Studies, Major, actually, I didn’t actually realize that living in Hong Kong, this tiny island of 7.5 million people, almost a million people would be such a crucial part of, you know, Chinese history, which I studied. And hopefully, you know, I’d rather it keep a lower profile, because I don’t know what’s gonna go on between China and Taiwan, or how this reintegration is gonna actually really play out. But, yeah, it’s been interesting to say the least. And as, I can’t remember who said it, but, you know, someone did say, May you live in interesting times.
Will Bachman 33:24
Right? What, for someone who wants to understand something about Hong Kong, who’s relatively naive about the place like I am, what movies or books or TV shows or plays, or any cultural artifact would be on your list of recommended to start understanding the place.
Ming Chen 33:50
Oh, well, one thing that you just might want to read because it’s super fun to read is noble house by James Clavell. Do we do have you read Taipan or noble house?
Will Bachman 34:01
I’ve read surface books a long time ago. Yeah. So Jen?
Ming Chen 34:04
Oh, I definitely. Yeah, James. Well, you definitely should read noble house, because that really describes in a very, very vivid way, the spirit of Hong Kong in 1980s and early 90s. And, you know, a large part of it is true, not true, but you can see in his characters like some truth. And then another book that’s more recent, that I would suggest is Louisa Lim, who was a reporter wrote a really good novel book last year called indelible city. And that really takes you to the modern times and what happened during the protests in 2019. And Hong Kong in modern times, but noble has flavor and color and then indelible city by Louisa Lim for more modern current setting, real life settings.
Will Bachman 34:54
Amazing. I’m going to order these books now. Me thing for folks that want to find out what you’re up to keep track, reach out, where would you point them online?
Ming Chen 35:12
I suppose LinkedIn would be the best place under Ming Chen. You know, I’m a very infrequent Facebook person, but I’m more active on Instagram, which is at Dominga Ling and I have a public profile. But yeah, and I would love to hear from any classmates and I’ve really enjoyed listening to some of your podcasts I need to get to more of them because I love listening to what our classmates are up to. It is fascinating.
Will Bachman 35:42
I’ve been fascinated as well. Meaning it’s been so awesome speaking with you, and I look forward to the next reunion where you can lead us on a run. And it’s it’s really incredible hearing about your career at EF and thank you so much for joining today. Thanks. Well have a great day.