I moved to Hong Kong in 1973.
I taught myself Cantonese and got a job as a junior reporter with the South China Morning post, earning a pittance. I covered everything from dog shows to the beginning of the Vietnamese Boat People crisis in 1975.
It was an era of firsts: I founded China’s first rock and roll band, the Peking All-Stars; I was the first person ever to play the kazoo on the Great Wall of China; and the first person to perform in a bar in Shanghai since the Great Leap Forward."
I also taught myself to read Chinese in order to be able to compete against local reporters. In addition, I started performing as a singer/guitarist in bars and restaurants (see my soundcloud.com), and had some pretty odd jobs such as kung fu movie dubbing and movie extra.
In early 1979, China began its process of opening up, and I was posted to Beijing as the most junior of the three Reuters correspondents there, the youngest foreign correspondent to have been posted to that city. I lied my way into the job.
I was asked by the Reuters editor if I spoke Mandarin fluently, and I said yes. In fact, I spoke Cantonese fluently and could read written Chinese with little problem, but my Mandarin was distinctly ropy. However, I quickly got to grips with what was an extraordinary opportunity.
I was with the first group of foreign journalists to visit Fujian and Hainan.
I spent a week in Tibet in 1982 and was the first foreign journalist to witness and report on a sky burial. However, after a while, I decided that journalists were basically people who wrote about other people doing things, and it was time to do something myself.
So in 1997 I helped launch a bar/restaurant called Park 97, and built a web design and translation company which morphed over time into an entertaining incubator of entrepreneurial ideas, different bits of which are known under various names including SinoMedia Ltd, China Economic Review, and Earnshaw Books.
My jobs as a journalist, China correspondent and Asia Editor for various news sources over the years provided an opportunity for me to travel as widely in China as was then possible."
In 2004, I started a walk from Shanghai to Tibet, always resuming the walk from exactly the last place that I had stopped. I wrote a book on my experiences called ‘The Great Walk of China’, published in 2010, but the walk continues, more fitfully than before.
My plan is to walk beyond Chengdu, then walk south five degrees of latitude, and turn east, and return to the coast at around Xiamen, when I will have to decide whether to turn right and walk along the coast towards Hong Kong or turn left and go to Shanghai for afternoon tea. But there is no rush, as this decision point will probably not arrive until the year 2020.
Note: Graham is also one of the Leading Lights for the Generation UK: China Network. The Leading Lights are successful individuals who have benefited from their time in China. The Leading Lights are in the best position to demonstrate just how valuable experience of China can be, and why it is so important to remain connected with China and with others who are interested in China.