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The Mosaic Builder

SmSh: Oscar Fuchs is the creator and host of Mosaic of China, a podcast interview series focusing on people living in China and doing interesting things.  Check out all the episodes right here


Oscar: I’m Oscar Fuchs.  It’s a weird name. It’s Czech-German. Basically. My family is from all over Europe.  I’m from the UK.  I’ve been now coming up to 20 years in Asia.  I had my own company. I was, until 2 years ago, a headhunter.  I set up a headhunting company in Singapore and I had that for 11 years until I sold it.

And that left me with the question of, “what do I do?”

I didn’t want to retire but I’m not that kind of entrepreneur who goes straight into something else, which is usually what people do, but I was like I can’t… I can’t…

Look at my hair, this is what happens over 11 years! [Laughs.] 

So this is where the podcast idea was born.

The concept of the podcast is to showcase an array of people who are making their mark in China. That’s the tagline. It doesn’t matter what this person is. Male, female, Chinese, non-Chinese, in the word of business or sport or science or entertainment.  It’s a mosaic of the kind of people you can meet in China at this window in time.  It’s not “the” mosaic, rather it’s “a” mosaic. I don’t pretend like I know about all of China but that’s the point.  Each of my guests recommends to me the next person to interview, and so you have one tile and then the next tile, and it builds and builds, and links together. Season 2 is all finished and being published now — we’ve got maybe three or four episodes left out of 30. 

So, it’s about the people and their field of work but also about their tastes and experiences in China. Their stories. For example… to recommend a few, well we just had on Crystal Mo, who does the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. She gave really interesting insight into food culture and especially fine dining, and she could talk about not only what’s happening now but also historically, and how it compares with the larger fine dining culture in the West.  And she could also talk very comfortably about her own past experience and personal history.   So, it’s not only about the facts themselves but also how they’re interwoven within that person’s story. And that’s what I think makes it memorable. 

If I think of a contrasting one — well that’s food and drink — one that comes to mind is a history professor I had on. A sinology professor.  He’s actually from Taiwan but works for Jiaotong. And he had a really interesting take on further education.  In China because of the sheer size, everything is quantified and managed by numbers.  And he’s looking at this from a field that focuses on nuance, context, and quality —coming from a liberal arts background.  And he was very interesting in that he was giving insight not only on the higher education system, but also how it produces people, and what kinds of people come out the other end of it in China.  And he’s just a really interesting character. He used to work in gangster bars in Taipei, and he’s a history professor now.

A third one. I like to have one that is way out there every season.  Last season, we had a lady who works for Sea Life, the Chinese equivalent of Seaworld — a big aquarium.  And her story was how they transported two whales from their aquarium to Iceland. They had bought an aquarium but their company policy is to not have those kinds of whales in captivity, so they bought this company but had to move these whales to Iceland.  So that was her story.  About the red tape involved in moving whales half way across the world.   Her episode was one of the most popular ones.

This season, one that jumps out to me is Louis Roy, a lactation and child birth specialist. She’s works for Ferguson Women’s Health and she was able to talk about the way different cultures approach childbirth.  For me, everything she said was an eye-opener. And it was just about how much of a factor an individual’s culture impacts how they view childbirth.

I just celebrated the two year anniversary from the first season.  I’m not quite sure who my audience is, actually! The demographics and all that.  That's one of the things I'm not very good at — the business to consumer marketing.  I’m doing it for myself and to present these stories, and then just putting it out there.  I designed it so it can be enjoyed by people who know nothing about China, and also by people who call themselves “experts” on China. So, every episode can be enjoyed on those two levels and I really make a point of doing that.  But my scope and my universe is really big so I don’t have in mind this avatar of the ideal listener.

What makes for a successful podcast?  I feel that it’s about relatability.  And it’s something that makes me quite passionate about what I’m doing.  As I said, I'm almost 20 years in Asia, and just over 20 years outside.  So having that inside-outside perspective really helps.  I’m also Generation X, so I can still kind of relate to people in their 20s.  Like, I still remember the pre-digital age but am also somewhat in-step with life and technology now.  So, I feel that I can still relate to younger people and also relate to people in their 50s and 60s. 10-15 years down the track. I feel that it gives me this Venn diagram where I can meet someone and can, on some level, relate to that person. So it’s a little bit of that and then just shutting up and letting the person talk.  And just listening.   And trying to find questions myself that I would find interesting, and questions that the subject might be passionate in answering, while keeping in mind this mysterious third person who might be listening to us.

What do I do when I’m not podcasting.  Well, travel is good, of course.  Of my time in Asia, it’s been seven years in Mainland China, three years in Hong Kong, six and a half years in Singapore, and three years in Japan.  Normally, I tend to go back to places every two or three months. Now, I miss them all with a passion.  The lifestyle maybe we’ve become accustomed to a few years ago, you realize it’s actually a luxury.  I have really close friends in those places and I had gotten used to the idea of popping in now and then, and now you can’t do that of course. And I do feel that those ties get a little bit frayed. It feels overdue that I can meet up with people again.

I’m a creature of habit and I try to walk everywhere.  And that’s also something to do to maintain sanity. I try to get 10,000 steps in a day. So, If I have a meeting even if its on the other side of Shanghai, I’ll walk there if I have the luxury of time.

Of course, the scene in Shanghai always pulls you in, so I’m always out dining.  Big fan of HakkasanGoodfellas... Actually, a new favorite restaurant came from the podcast: Spicy Moment. Hunan food. Really good place. Xibo, I like what they do with Xinjiang food.  Of course, I’m living on Anfu Lu so I put lots of money into Mr. Willis’ pocket. Oh, another one the came up on the podcast was Pie Society — comfort food thing.


The thing I like most about Shanghai I can narrow down to one thing: the diversity.  And that means different things to different people. For me, it’s just the cosmopolitan quality of Shanghai.  Probably the most cosmopolitan part of China and me here, living on maybe the most cosmopolitan road in China. [Laughs.]  In Hong Kong, for example, you meet at lot of people who are in banking or F&B, but in Shanghai there is a real gamut of people — people doing largely different things. Extraordinary things.  In Shanghai, everything feels so new.  In Shanghai, they’re not burning the past but they are not looking at the past.  Like Tokyo, even though it feels very modern, they always have one eye on the past.  Shanghai just feels very elevated in that way of pushing energy out into the world.

It’s also the ability to have all these contradictions in these micro communities.  I was nervous to come to Shanghai before I came.  If I came on business I just saw the big side of Shanghai.  Like, who could live in this gigantic city?  But when you actually live here you realize we are all living in these small tiny communities.  I know the girl next door who was practicing skateboarding earlier today. I know the guy who looks after my bins, we say 'hello' every day. I know the driver who stops in the alleyway.   

It’s that sense of the small communities we build within this enormous city… 



Click here to check out Mosaic of China. 




[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a 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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