We love Interview Fridays, as they’re a great chance to interact with people across different careers, mindsets, and personalities. We first met Jeremy Blum in Taipei, when we were both writing for City543. Now, he’s working in Hong Kong as an online reporter for South China Morning Post.
Wonderland Organics: What first got you interested in journalism?
Jeremy Blum: I actually wasn’t specifically interested in journalism until fairly recently; I never studied it in college, and the only “media agency” I’d worked for prior to 2012 was my middle school newspaper. I WAS interested in writing, though. It’s been a hobby of mine ever since I was a little kid. I minored in Creative Writing in school and received my major in East Asian Studies. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to leave the US and travel while I still could. (I’d call it a gap year, but this was back in 2010, when millennials didn’t call themselves millennials yet and the term “gap year” wasn’t as popular.) I’m half Taiwanese, so I decided to go to Taiwan for a year to improve my Chinese and work as an English teacher. I had a wonderful time in Taiwan, and my one year there turned into two.
Eventually I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school in Asia. I looked around at programs that were available in a variety of places, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea, and I also spent a good month pondering the question of “what exactly am I good at?” Eventually I realized that the answer was writing, something I’d been doing for pleasure for years. I actually prefer writing fiction above all else, but since it’s quite difficult to get a paying job as a novelist, I figured that I’d get a journalist degree first, because that way I could at least make a living doing something I’m good at. I ended up applying and getting accepted by the University of Hong Kong for a Master’s degree in Journalism, and I’ve been here since. At this point, it’s been over four years since I left the United States.
Wonderland Organics: We love that you ended up traveling abroad! It was definitely an amazing experience. Tell us about your background.
Jeremy Blum: I was born and raised in New Jersey and lived there until I was 22. I had a pretty quiet, mildly repressed suburban upbringing – kind of typical of a lot of kids growing up in small town America. Sometime around high school, I slowly realized how boring my town was and began wanting to see the world. Even though I’m half Taiwanese, I’d never been to Taiwan or even left the United States as a kid, and my first time abroad was a trip to Japan when I was 16. I applied to be a student ambassador at a program sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, and I spent two weeks in the summer touring various Japanese cities, meeting Japanese students my age. The trip blew my mind and birthed a strong desire to go to Asia and rediscover my heritage, so that’s why I ended up majoring in East Asian Studies in college.
Wonderland Organics: That’s fantastic! How did you like joining the City543 team?
Jeremy Blum: I joined City543 near the end of my two years in Taiwan. That was an interesting time because I had already applied to journalism school, and in the process of filling out my resume I realized that while I’ve always considered myself a writer, I barely had any clips to show future employers. I badly needed experience writing and publishing articles online, so I began trying whatever I could to put my work out there. City543 was one of the first “real” gigs that I got, and it happened purely by luck. At the time I was studying Chinese at Taipei’s National Taiwan University, and I had a friend named Elaine who had another friend named Stephanie. At one get-together, I learned that Stephanie wrote for a blog called Taipei543 (that was its name at the time), and I asked her if she could recommend me. I met the folks in charge of the site and ended up writing a bunch of articles for them during my last two or three months in Taiwan. It was very fun – I got to flex my writing muscle, improve my familiarity with Taipei and finally got some decent stuff up on the internet. At the same time, I also wrote for a technology blog (which is unfortunately now offline), and that was also thanks to connections that I made while studying Chinese. The whole experience taught me that “who you know” and just plain old dumb luck is quite important.
Wonderland Organics: We’re pretty sure the world is incredibly small when we travel abroad! What’s a typical day like at work in Hong Kong?
Jeremy Blum: I work as an online reporter for the South China Morning Post, which is Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper. Generally I work anywhere from 8-10 hours a day, although I have pulled longer hours when it’s crunch time for a big story or multimedia project. When I first started I mainly wrote stories centered around current events in mainland China, including translations of Chinese-language articles and social media commentary. (All of my studies in Taiwan definitely helped with this…although I won’t lie, Google Translate is still a massive help.) I’m also filling in as a social media editor these days, so my hours have been packed with maintaining our Facebook and Twitter accounts and dealing with marketing people. When I’m not doing journalism-related stuff, I’m also blogging and working on a book manuscript. Overall, a typical day at work in Hong Kong is fast-paced, busy and filled with a billion e-mails, just like any other huge city.
Wonderland Organics: Google Translate definitely helps with emails. What do you find most rewarding about being a journalist?
Jeremy Blum: I’ve always liked writing and story-telling, and being a journalist is essentially about communicating stories that are based in fact and current events. I particularly like bringing attention to lesser-known topics that mainstream audiences aren’t aware of, and I’m lucky enough to have open-minded editors who generally let me write whatever I want. For example, I did a long piece on how American comedy programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have found an underground audience in China, and I also wrote an article on Americans who translate relatively obscure Chinese video games. I enjoy shedding light on weird stuff like this.
Wonderland Organics: It’s great to see your passion for writing and the truth! Something that we’re all curious about: what’s the scariest moment you’ve had as a journalist?
Jeremy Blum: I don’t know if I’d call this scary, but I do still get nervous before I have to call or interview someone. I’m okay doing it in English, but a few times I’ve had to call random people in China to try to get quotes for a story, and despite all those years of study, I’m still not the best at speaking formal Chinese on the phone to somebody that I don’t know. (My Chinese has also regressed a bit since coming to Hong Kong, if you can believe that. There’s way too much English here.) One time I had to call this police station in a faraway Chinese province to try to find out what happened to a little boy who’d gotten into a bad accident, and I ended up fumbling over my words everywhere. It was embarrassing, and the fact that the people on the phone were grumpy, had really thick accents and were probably overworked didn’t help. But dealing with this sort of thing and overcoming it is part of being a journalist, I suppose.
Wonderland Organics: A brave man! Do you have any advice for people wanting to follow their dreams and go the entrepreneurial route?
Jeremy Blum: I think anyone who wants to follow an unorthodox path in life needs to stay positive and persistent. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a writer, photographer, an entrepreneur or whatever – if you strongly desire to construct a career out of creating something, whether that “something” is your own business or a work of art, then you’ve got to be prepared for a long road that may not be profitable in the beginning. Other people (like your parents) will probably dissuade you and encourage you to pursue a job with more stability, and whether you take their advice or not is your own decision. But if you feel strongly about a passion, don’t let it slip away entirely. Even if you have to take up a more stable job to pay the bills, try to find a way to fulfill your interests on the side. It’ll be tough, but if you think about it, most people in this world are perfectly content to live an existence simply surviving and making money for someone else. If you desire something more than that and can’t let that desire go, then it’s worth the plunge to cultivate your entrepreneurial spirit. Also, if you’re a creative type, don’t underestimate the possibility of starting your business abroad, or at least leaving your home country to gain some perspective, motivation and self-awareness. Some of the best ways to gather inspiration for that project you’ve always thought about are traveling, meeting new people and expanding your horizons. You never know what can happen.
Wonderland Organics: Well said! We hope people thinking about starting their own businesses will keep this in mind. What’s your favorite part of the Wonderland blog/website?
Jeremy Blum: I love how you interview other entrepreneurs and creative types every Friday. Anything that brings attention to other people who are trying to break out of the mold and do things a little different from the norm is good in my book.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Jeremy! If you want to know more, feel free to follow his social media & website: