Vivienne Song is China Travel Outbound’s Beijing Director. Her team of diligent, skilled, and young businesspeople collaborate closely with the Brighton team to ensure our clients receive the best possible promotion in China. Exceptionally hardworking, Vivienne is an essential member of our China Travel Outbound team.
But what is her life in China like? Vivienne, her husband, and her two adorable cats live in Beijing, China’s capital city. Living and working in Beijing has its difficulties, but it also provides many modern conveniences un-afforded by other global cities. In this article, the Marketing Executive for our Brighton office Tom Luckin interviews Vivienne to reveal what an average day is like for a businesswoman living in this relentless city.
TL: What is it like being a working woman in China?
VS: For many years, the image of women in China was to look after the family and support the husband while he’s at work. Men are meant to be ‘out to hunt’ to support the whole family. Nowadays, women are standing out in business, and are starting to take the lead. We now do the same jobs as men, and sometimes make more money than they do, all the while looking after the family. It’s a tough role – but it shapes us to become stronger people.
From my circle of friends, I am seeing more and more women who are younger than me and are already very independent financially and emotionally.
TL: How do you travel to work every morning?
VS: Whenever the weather is lovely, I cycle to work. Beijing’s brilliant shared bike service means you can simply pick up and ride any shared bike on the street for as little as 1 RMB [about 11 pence] per hour. Travelling to work by bus is also handy, since they run fairly frequently and let you to sit back and relax.
The best contribution I have made to Beijing’s notorious traffic is by not driving myself. The traffic is bad enough as it is – we don’t need one more terrible driver to make it worse!
TL: What do you do on a typical working day?
VS: Monday and Tuesday will usually be office days for me and my team to schedule meetings for clients and review the work we did last week. As Beijing is extremely large, and has overwhelming traffic, travelling around efficiently really depends on luck. This is why we tend to organise one meeting in the morning, and two meetings in the afternoon.
Face-to-face meetings are very important. We always visit a tour operators’ office so that we can introduce our client in person and provide assistance to help develop and promote the tour products. Professional partnerships are very important to us, but so are our friendships with tour operators.
TL: Please can you talk about the people who make up your Beijing team?
VS: Sarah Cao is our PR & Media Manager. She studied in the US and majored in Tourism Management and Hospitality. After returning to China, she worked for a PR company in the media industry for two years.
I have known Ian King for ten years as he used to be my colleague in the MICE department of China Travel International, who I worked for shortly after moving to Beijing. He has experience in both the travel trade industry and brand marketing. He also used to look after high-profile clients such as P&G and Unilever. He also has very good connections in the entertainment industry.
TL: Sounds like a busy life you live! What do you do to relax?
VS: I really enjoy going to the gym to sweat away all the pressure. It’s the best way to stay fit, helping myself stay energetic and ready for work. Watching old movies is one of my other favourite things to do to relax at the weekend. Al Pacino is my all-time favourite actor.
TL: Who doesn’t love Al Pacino!? …Why did you decide to begin a career in the travel industry?
VS: There was a TV show on about 20 years ago called ‘The Wonderful World’, which was one of the first travel shows broadcast in China. It influenced a lot of people of my generation to think about beginning a career in the travel industry, but at the time, we did not know much about outbound travel. The show taught us a lot about other cultures around the world.
The female host of ‘The Wonderful World’, or ‘Guide’ as we called her, had one of the most admired jobs in China for quite some time. Since then, I decided to work in the travel industry as I naively thought the job was all about travelling for fun!
TL: What were the early days of your career like? Any highlights?
VS: I started my career with Star Cruises, which is an international cruise company based in Singapore. I was lucky to snatch a role in their Tourism Department where you not only travel to many different countries and enjoy all the tours as part of the job, but also work with people from different cultural backgrounds.
I’ve worked in many different positions in the tourism industry, from tour product sales for Star Cruises and account management for China Travel International’s MICE department, to wholesale product management and PR & media management for the Destination Tourism office. My last position before I joined CTO was at Mafengwo as BD Manager, which I enjoyed very much. Not only did the role improve my knowledge of online travel marketing, but I also made lots of friends there who are hardworking, fun people.
TL: Speaking of friends, can you talk a bit about your family?
VS: While my husband and I live in Beijing with our two cats, my parents and parents-in-law live in other Chinese cities. Unfortunately, we don’t visit our parents that often due to my very busy schedule, but I make it a routine to frequently phone my mum to catch up. Every year, I try to make a week free to go travelling with them. Last year, I took them to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and for the upcoming Chinese New Year in February, we are going to Chengdu to see the pandas.
TL: What is your apartment like in Beijing? Do you enjoy living there?
VS: Our apartment has two bedrooms and one large living room, perfect for hosting friends and family. Both my husband and I love to cook. We often invite our friends round for house parties to try our new dishes.
Everything happens so quickly in China. Many of us believe the country is still in a fast-growing phase, and we are lucky to be involved with such rapid changes. Beijing teaches you to quickly adapt to your environment and learn fast in order to catch up with the changing times. Life here is never short of challenges. I love the feeling of becoming a better version of myself with each passing day.
It’s very convenient living in China since everything is slowly but surely getting digitised – like payment systems. I have tried to avoid carrying cash when I go on business trips to other Chinese cities, since everything can be paid for through WeChat Pay or Alipay – from shops and restaurants, to hotels and taxis, and even some street vendors.
Buying items online for delivery is a service available throughout China, but unfortunately it is not free. You can order something at 11pm, and it will be with you by 7am the next day. Online supermarkets deliver within a maximum of 2 hours, and because my place is near the station, I always receive my order within 30 minutes. Sometimes it works out cheaper to get things delivered than to go to the supermarket.
The shared bike service is one of my favourite sharing economies. I love to cycle, but I couldn’t buy a bike, as I have nowhere to park it and it could get easily stolen, not to mention having to carry it up and down from the apartment! The shared bike service makes travelling to work so much easier and fun. The spring and autumn months in Beijing are gorgeous times to ride a bike – I often cycle through the old Hutong alleys during these months to see more scenic views of the city.
TL: To bring it back to social media, why are platforms like WeChat and Alipay so important to Chinese consumers?
VS: WeChat and Alipay are very important as they are with you throughout your everyday life. The conveniences they provide certainly make life easier overall, but at the same time, the command these two apps have over your life is quite frightening.
TL: Your role requires you to travel abroad occasionally for business meetings. What do you enjoy about the UK when you visit there?
VS: The UK has so many world-class museums that I can easily spend days exploring. The museum stores are perfect for souvenir shopping – you can always find perfect gifts for friends and colleagues there.
The other thing that impressed me on my last trip to the UK in November was the food. China’s impression of British food is basically just fish and chips. On a popular Chinese talk show I once watched, the host joked about how ‘Great Britain is one of the greatest and most powerful countries in the world, yet they don’t know how to cook’.
During my trip to the UK, I went to some restaurants which left no doubt in my mind about the slogan VisitBritain launched last year – the ‘Food is GREAT’! The ingredients are so fresh, and the dishes taste incredibly good.
-End of interview-
Many thanks to Vivienne for agreeing to the interview and providing most of the photos used in this article.
If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors to your destination or attraction, please contact us for a chat.
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