"I never met Mr. Ai, But He Was Usually Around"

Interview with William Wang, Journalist

Please meet Wil Wang, journalist & videographer who just returned to Canada after spending almost 9 years in China. Thanks Wil for being with us!

I am so impressed by your series Eating on the Streets of China; could you tell us a bit about how it started and what it took to do a project like that?
My editor at China Radio International knew I was getting into video, so she suggested that I do a show about Chinese food. My initial thought was, “Ugh, I’m so bored of all the usual Chinese propaganda.” But then I figured I could do something a bit quirky with it. And there really is a lot of weird and awesome Chinese food that I’d never heard of in Canada. I actually had surprising amounts of creative freedom on that show, so it turned out to be pretty fun. Unexpectedly, it ended up pretty popular with Chinese university kids.

While you were living in Beijing, did you see much art (and hang out with Ai Weiwei)? 
I never met Mr. Ai, but he was usually around (aside from the 3 months when police disturbingly disappeared him). Somebody would interview him for work; another friend would play volleyball with him…  As for the art scene, Beijing’s definitely a hotspot. Lots of interesting stuff happening with local and international exhibitions, with everything from super big names to little independent. There’s lots of junk, but also an impressive amount of smart and creative work around if you have one ear to the ground.

Did you go to any meditation retreats while you were living in Beijing and / or continue a meditation practice?
I attempted a meditation retreat once in a remote Tibetan monastery that a friend recommended to me. But I didn’t get much sitting done there. Among other distractions, a few monks and nuns invited me on a hike up to a holy Buddhist lake. How could I say no? Altitude sickness aside, it was truly spectacular up there, and a real privilege to be able to visit it. They strung up a whole lot of prayer flags in addition to the ones that were already there. Because “leave no trace” apparently doesn’t apply to holy lakes somehow.

My regular practice was alright. I started a meditation group in my downtown apartment which went on for three years. Later, I moved out to the suburbs and attendance sadly dropped down to one.

Congratulations on getting married! How did you meet your wife Yoyo?
We met at a party held by the Chinese record label Modern Sky. Obviously I was stoked that I was invited. I saw some cute girl sitting there by herself, so I started talking to her. My Chinese was awful at that time and her English was even worse. Turns out she was baffled why this foreigner guy with the bad hair and ugly clothes kept talking to her. Against all odds, we met up for a coffee date some time later on, where I started convincing her I wasn’t so bad.

After spending so much time away from Canada, was there anything surprising you learned about being Canadian?
So I was gone for almost 9 years. I’d just say that Canadians don’t know how good they got it. Yes, corruption, poverty and crime exist in Canada. But the rule of law is applied with far more consistency. Also, I can’t overemphasize the awesomeness of a (relatively) free press.

But on the whole, it’s like apples and oranges. There’s so much awesome stuff in both countries, and what’s awesome about China isn’t awesome in Canada and vice versa. That said, it’s surprising how everybody in Beijing learns to accept the varying levels of air pollution.

What would your dream job be?
So far, this whole multimedia journalist thing is everything I’d want in a job. I get to be creative, and do work that feels meaningful. I also do video work, which is fun; but at the end of the day I’d hope to do something bigger than just sell something.

Visit Wil on his website WilWangMedia.