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LEGO Master, Prince Jiang

Apr 19, 2019

My name is Prince Jiang. I’m the first official LEGO Certified Professional in mainland China — there are 19 worldwide — and I’m also the youngest one in the world: I was born in 1990.

I got my first LEGO set in 1998 when I was in primary school. A relative in Guangzhou sent it to me, and I thought it was cool but I didn’t do anything after then. The second time I picked up LEGO, I was in Australia doing another bachelor’s degree, and I started buying more and more. Then I moved to the US, to Indiana, to do my Ph.D. in computer science.

We had an official LEGO Yellow Store about 20 minutes from where I lived and I was super excited because that store has almost every kind of LEGO. After six months, I moved my apartment so I could be closer to the store, a five-minute walk. I needed to go every day. Not necessarily to buy something but just to enjoy the atmosphere. That’s when I became addicted.

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I was 23. Doing a Ph.D. was quite complicated and hard, and I needed some release for the all the pressure. So LEGO did that for me. When I would play with it, I wouldn’t think of anything, my mind would be blank, so doing it for an hour every day was like forced relaxation.

Then I joined a community that treats this hobby seriously. They were all AFOLs — Adult Fan of LEGO — and they would bring their new MOCs — My Own Creation — to the meetups, along with food, and their kids. We had people up to 85 years who remembered playing with LEGO before it was plastic. When I finally left the US, there were 80 people from the group at my farewell party.

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In summer 2017, I had just organized the first AFOL festival in China (working remotely from the US), and it was really hectic. So afterwards, I went to Japan for two weeks and just turned my phone off so I could relax. When I came back — July 19, I still remember — and I turned my phone on, I was in a taxi in Pudong, I got all these notifications that LEGO was officially looking for the first Lego Certified Professional in China and the deadline was the end of July to submit all your documents. I was so nervous, and in those ten days, I had to submit a business plan, a personal portfolio and everything. LCPs work with the LEGO company but run their own businesses and studios.

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At the time, I had a company in the US doing healthcare big data. It was really a fork in the road, I had to make a real choice. Left, right? Go back and give up everything in the US, or stay in US with everything I love. Life in the US was very simple, very happy, driving my sports car every day. Doing business in China is hard. Everyone around me said, well, you’re crazy, buddy, giving up all this to go back to China to play with toys.

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After three months, I got the review and did the interviews and went to Denmark, and then I became an LCP. I only had a month to clean up everything in the US, my house, my company, my career, my cars, my LEGO. I came back with three tons of LEGO parts, shipped by DHL Express, which cost about 100,000 usd.

My company is called Brick of Philosophy: Ph.B. Now I have a warehouse in Changzhou, I have about 60 tons of bricks, because I can order from LEGO. I have almost 6,500 different parts in my studio, and I’m going to increase this number to around 9,000 different parts. That’s about 800 million LEGO. And we’re not talking about the value of it, just the quantity.

The studio is about 1,000 sqm, with 35 full- and part-time workers, divided into different areas for 2D, Mosaic and 3D Sculpture. I did mosaics and big 3D dioramas for 41 new LEGO certified stores in 2018.

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Right now the Marvel Avengers masks are out at People’s Square for Disney. We had a lot of technical difficulty in building the face, because usually we build from bottom to top, but this was done horizontally, so the bricks face out. Each mask is more than 100,000 LEGO planks. We built it with planks, not bricks, so it took way more planks. But if we used brick, there wouldn’t have been the detail.

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It took five people, five full days working from 9am-11pm, and we built six of them. But time was short, so we had to build them all in 20 days. We use GBL (gamma butryolactone) to bond the bricks together, and then we lacquer them, because LEGO bricks are very sensitive to UV rays.

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I’ve also built a LEGO mosaics of the famous scroll Along the River During the Qingming Festival (Qingming Shanghe Tu), which will be displayed in the next few months. It’s two meters high, 64 meters long — going to break the Guinness World Record. It’s 128 sqm, all done in 1x1 parts, the smallest there is. I think it will be in a museum in Liaoning, where they found the original scroll. It will be amazing.

It’s really hard to love something for years and years. Not to give up after years and years and say you don’t like something anymore. But I have a lot of hobbies I’ve been doing for more than 20 years. I’ve been playing saxophone since I was 9, and collecting video games since I was four. I display them at the studio in Changzhou so other people can share in it.

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Being an LCP was ranked as the most comfortable and happy job in the world for several years, and I love it. But you don’t see the hard work, the big studio, the hammering and design and challenges, the days where you work 17 hours. You have to have the passion for it and do what you love.

TELL EVERYONE

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[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a weekly SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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