By Aki Yang, Head of Shanghai Office & Director of Corporate Services
In March, when an outbreak of COVID-19 caused the start of city-wide lockdown, our whole team returned to remote work. However difficult this change was, we were determined to use it as an opportunity to innovate and grow.
As such, each of us used this unexpected time to work on rejuvenating existing products and expanding our knowledge base by partaking in virtual destination trainings. As the lockdown continued with no clear end in sight, these tasks served as a welcome distraction from the ennui of daily confinement.
During “normal” times, it was a tradition that the end of each month would be marked by a virtual happy hour. The teams in Beijing, Shanghai, and Huizhou would all gather in their respective offices for a three-way virtual rendezvous. This served as a chance to chat with team members in different cities and to relax and unwind from the day-to-day grind. This afternoon we continued the tradition with our May happy hour, though on this occasion the Shanghai team each joined individually from home.
Daizy kicked things off, “On April 5th something no one saw coming occurred, and we were each placed in the same situation, though none of us together. Since then, I think many of us have changed our ways of thinking and gained new appreciation for things previously taken for granted. Some of us also used this time to expand our horizons by learning new skills or honing existing ones. I think it would be great if we could each share these new learnings with each other as a source of hope, inspiration and community that is undoubtedly needed at this time.”
The answers to this call came willingly and copiously.
Many of the team kept a daily vlog with content like: brewing specialty coffee from Macau, ticking books off their to-be-read list, daily exercise rituals, and changing to healthier morning and night-time routines.
Gaining perspective on priorities was another popular answer from the team. Some examples being enjoying uninterrupted time with family and joining volunteer groups to make a difference in important causes.
Some focused on learning and growing. One of the team returned to a childhood love of drawing and discovered both a new passion and a hidden talent. Another finally took the time to read the dense yet inspiring Biography of Su Dongpo, and came away with a fundamental change in faith. Yet another reveled in two hours of outdoor freedom, analyzing every detail of the newly come spring, marked by the pastel-tipped buds of eager spring blossoms.
It’s hard to put into words how much this meant to me. To hear these stories of adaptation, of making light in the absolute dark. That even in the most unexpected of circumstances, we can still live hard and live well.
What hit me the hardest, though, was that each story was different. A while back, I told the team that each of us should be a jaggedly unique puzzle piece, each curve shaped by the individuality of our skills and ideas. Only by being different can we all fit together to create something spectacular. I realize now, however, that when I said that, I had only seen a fraction of what each person was capable of.
And I don’t say that lightly – this is not the first time our worlds have been shaken.
Back in 2020, at the beginning of COVID-19, it was widely assumed that the epidemic would soon be contained, and life would, in turn, return to normal. With this optimism in mind, we pushed and innovated, and by the end of 2020 we were able to generate business equal with that of the previous non-pandemic year.
When 2021 rolled around, the thought process was different; operating under COVID-19 protocol was the new normal and the domestic market was the only market. Again, we pivoted and created anew. The result being an even better end-of-year performance than 2020.
At the start of this year, 2022, we were really fired up. We began expanding, bringing new partners on board, drafting new products and dreaming big. We thought, circumstances surely can’t get worse than they’ve already been, right? Wrong. Here we are, 56+ days spent in various levels of lockdown.
Daizy brought the happy hour to a close with a video shared on her screen, a clip from the Japanese TV show, Unnatural. Sano, a character in the show, is driving home from delivering cakes to a party at a penthouse apartment. On his way home, he’s so run down from over working that he crashes his moped. Back at the penthouse party, the cakes sit uneaten and forgotten as the boisterous partiers dance, fireworks exploding above. Sano lies on the asphalt, watching the fireworks from the middle of the road. At home, his wife and two kids are having dinner in their one-room apartment, waiting for him to return.
Daizy said, when she first watched this episode two years ago, she cried. The dissonance between the joys and sorrows of individual lives resonated deeply. Why do some take life so for granted, while others spend their whole lives trying to change their circumstances for the better, no matter the cost. When she re-watched this episode a few days ago, she cried again. This time, however, the tears came from the following segment: Sano returns home after the accident, bloody and bruised. He ignores his wife’s pleas to treat his wounds, and instead crawls into bed with his two sleeping children. He strokes their heads while saying, “When they grow up, I just want them to be happy. Be happy every day, be happy, be happy, be happy…”
“Why should I measure my happiness by others? I should be able to define my own happiness.” Daizy said.
Our team averages young, with many having given up traditional, high paying, “secure” jobs to pursue a passion. A risky move in the best of times, but what is happiness if not following your dreams. Personally, I’ve always thought that working in travel was the most rewarding career. Travel brings happiness, changes perspectives, and makes us better people in the process. That doesn’t mean it’s a safe choice though, especially not right now.
One of the youngest members of our team, still in her 20s, told us that the early days of having a job in the travel industry in the midst of COVID-19 were a real struggle. “I’ve been talking to my dad about whether it would be good to go back home and get a job with regular working hours. I have to ask myself, does it make sense to spend my resume-building prime years in an industry that’s constantly struggling?”
Another team member, Huanhuan, responded, “My age and stage of work may not be the same as yours, but there are similarities. You expected to shine in this industry at this age, and it is the same for me. I’m a career-changer. Shanghai is a new city for me. I’ve had my doubts and stresses too. After I graduated my father constantly pushed me to take the civil service exam so I could get a “safe” government job. But I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, so I stayed true to myself.”
She continued, “For me, it just depends on what I want to do. The tourism industry will not die completely. What matters the most to me is my work environment. Ensuring that the team I am surrounded by influences me with passion and new learnings.”
Huanhuan finished with, “When you are young, you will certainly feel that some people in finance or IT or media have a more stable income. This may be true, but as long as you are achieving your own goals, and growing and learning in the process, you will not regret it.”
And then, more and more chimed in.
“Two days ago, my previous boss called me to say that he left his job before the pandemic. He had been working at that state-owned enterprise for over 20 years and had a high-up leadership position. His salary undoubtedly suffered from changing jobs, but the environment at that company had gotten to a point that was toxic and insufferable. He chose to put his mental health and wellbeing above a pay slip figure.”
“The key is how you want to work right now. Although tourism has stagnated temporarily, it won’t last forever. China will eventually reopen. And in the meantime, there are so many beautiful places within China that we can explore.”
“I have worked at many different companies. Each comes with a unique promise, a selling point as to why you should work there. But in my experience, the actuality rarely lives up to the dream. If you are interested in a particular industry, find out more about it and then imagine yourself immersed in that environment to see if it is what you want your future to look like. If yes, then go and do it. If not, seize the current moment and opportunity before you.“
“I think tourism will flourish in the future. Yesterday I had a meeting with my boss Albert. It gave me a lot of confidence. Even with the onslaught of restrictions we are currently facing, we are always able to find countermeasures and resources to solve problems. I love this. When faced with difficulties, I used to lie down and accept defeat. But seeing this team, everyone is still so enthusiastic and passionate, despite the hardships. This kind of attitude is contagious. This is how I want to be.”
“All industries have their ups and downs. But as an individual, it’s difficult to jump from one industry to another. Trends are unpredictable and difficult to follow. Following your passion is what’s important. Ups and downs are inevitable, but persistence is only possible if you truly believe and love what you do.”
We hope this gives you the same inspiration and hope it gave us – wherever in the world, your career, or stage of life you may be.