Build­ing prof­itable cul­tural bridge

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 13 Business - By HE WEI in Shang­hai hewei@chi­ What’s It Like to Marry a Shang­hai Woman?,

Con­tent cre­ator, busi­ness con­sul­tant, fin­tech firm part­ner… one job-ti­tle does not ad­e­quately de­scribe Thomas Derk­sen and his thriv­ing busi­ness in China.

But to Chi­nese au­di­ences, the 29-year-old is best known as the Ger­man co­me­dian who en­ter­tains mil­lions of in­ter­net users across the coun­try with his hi­lar­i­ous video blogs and an aus­pi­cious Chi­nese name: Afu (mean­ing for­tune or luck).

As a for­eigner-turned-in­ter­net celebrity in China, Derk­sen looks at Chi­nese stereo­types, speak­ing the lo­cal di­alect flu­ently in his self-made video episodes. In a year’s time he has gar­nered over 5 mil­lion fol­low­ers across ma­jor video con­tent plat­forms from QQ to Meipai.

Hail­ing from Cologne, Derk­sen worked at a lo­cal bank for three years be­fore he stud­ied East Asian Pol­i­tics and Eco­nomics for his uni­ver­sity ma­jor at age 23. An ex­change pro­gram at Fu­dan Uni­ver­sity landed him in Shang­hai, where the city’s cos­mopoli­tan na­ture and its dizzy pace mes­mer­ized him.

“I’ve al­ways as­pired to do some­thing that is in­ter­na­tional and in­flu­en­tial, and China is the best place I can think of right now,” he said.

More im­por­tantly, he met his would-be wife, a Shang­hai denizen who later be­came the main source of in­spi­ra­tion for his “act­ing” ca­reer.

Derk­sen said he did not want to be shack­led to an of­fice job. So the cou­ple trained their sights on Shang­hai with a de­sire to “make some­thing big­ger than work­ing for other peo­ple”.

The whole idea of cre­at­ing videos was the re­sult of a bor- ing week­end in 2015, he re­called. His wife saw a job ad­ver­tise­ment for a live TV show on ex­pats’ life­style in China, and en­cour­aged him to sign up for it.

The pro­gram was a hit. He im­proved his language and act­ing skills, and har­vested a catchy Chi­nese name: Afu. When the TV pro­gram ended, the idea of start­ing his own show nat­u­rally sur­faced.

His maiden work,

went vi­ral. Derk­sen im­per­son­ates his mother-in­law, a typ­i­cal mid­dle-aged Shang­hai woman in her apron, dom­i­nat­ing the kitchen area of the apart­ment.

The ini­tial fame pro­pelled him to pro­duce videos on the chang­ing face of the Chi­nese so­ci­ety. For in­stance, he picked up the topic of mo­bile pay­ments, where China is per­haps in the driver’s seat glob­ally.

Ahead of last year’s G20 Sum­mit in Hangzhou, he up­loaded a video in which he went through a cash­less day in the city us­ing Ali­pay, the coun­try’s big­gest mo­bile pay­ment tool, from tak­ing bus rides, pay­ing bills to bor­row­ing um­brel­las free of charge.

View­ers’ pos­i­tive re­sponse pushed him to pro­duce a se­quel dur­ing this year’s G20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many, when he read out an open let­ter to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel to en­cour­age the adop­tion of mo­bile pay­ments.

“Here (in China) I found the era of mo­bile pay­ments has ar­rived… it’s time for Ger­many to learn from China,” he said.

Through the shows, he got to know his fu­ture busi­ness part­ners, with whom he co-es­tab­lished a busi­ness con­sul­tancy Derk­sen In­dus­tries Co Ltd that tar­gets smaller Ger­man busi­nesses com­ing to China and those seek­ing to ex­pand into Ger­many.

He also took charge of mar­ket­ing and events for a fin­tech firm called Gin­mon, which uses au­to­mated soft­ware to help peo­ple make smart in­vest­ments overseas.

“Things change very fast here (in China). I don’t nor­mally make long-term de­ci­sions, but my ul­ti­mate goal is to be the cul­tural bridge be­tween Ger­many and China,” he said.


Hundreds of en­tre­pre­neur­ial ex­pats at­tend a tal­ent expo in Guiyang, Guizhou prov­ince.


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