Q&A with Chengdu-based Leadership Network member Kristen Ng

After falling in love with Chengdu's bustling street life while visiting the city with friends, Leadership Network member Kristen Ng decided to escape the "international student bubble" of Beijing and move there. We chat with her about living in China's eighth largest city and working in its thriving music scene.

Who: Kristen Ng

Where: Chengdu – since 2014

Job: freelance writer, promoter, booking agent and musician. Founder of Kiwese, an indie music and culture platform that acts as a booking agency for artists from China and Aotearoa.

Leadership Network member since: 2019.

Kristen Ng standing in a doorway holding a guitarKristen: "...there was something magical about the teahouses in People's Park, the bustling street life and laid back, friendly demeanor of the locals"

What took you to Chengdu?

Initially, travel and adventure. I went on a month-long backpacking trip during the summer of 2013 that weaved from Beijing through to Sichuan, Yunnan and Hainan.

I stayed in Chengdu for several days and that first encounter was really special for me – there was something magical about the teahouses in People's Park, the bustling street life and laid back, friendly demeanor of the locals, who love nothing more than a late night feed of spicy barbecue and a good yarn.

My friends took me to several spots around town that were like nothing I'd ever seen in China – hidden courtyard bars, hippie hangouts, a forest pool party with DJs and fireworks... I was immediately enthralled by the local lifestyle, entrenched with good food, music and people. I met lots of people who were pouring a lot of love and energy into building the music scene and wanted to be part of it.

After Beijing, I wanted to continue studying Mandarin and break out of the international student bubble by moving to a place with less English speakers. Chengdu was the first place I thought of and I applied for a scholarship to continue studying at Sichuan University, inspired by the trip and also the writings of author of Wild Swans, Jung Chang, who wrote about her days at the university so beautifully.

The cost of living was also much cheaper in Chengdu and I felt I could have a balance between studying at university, playing music and connecting with the local scene.

 How did you find settling in there?

I was lucky to have some friends who helped me settle in when I first moved here 2014.

At first, the biggest struggle was the language and getting used to the Sichuanhua dialect, which most locals prefer to speak over Mandarin.

Kristen Ng standing on a stage with microphones

Now DJing and event organising, Kristen got involved in Chengdu's music scene by delivering flyers and putting up posters around campus

I got involved in the music scene by going out a lot to local venues and eventually helping out with English editing, fliers and postering on campus.

The following year, I was offered a job as events coordinator at NU SPACE, where I worked booking bands and running gigs for three years. I’ve been here for over five years now, so it feels like home, but of course you still can’t beat Wellington on a good day!

What is working in the music scene like in China?

The creative and cultural industry in China has exploded over the past twenty years, so a lot of work in these areas can be really broad ranging.

I do a lot of work putting on live music events, which involves everything from bookings and ticketing to translation, media and promotion, as well as artist liaison and hospitality.

The organizational structure of record labels, booking agents, promoters and venues that has been developed in other parts of the world is quite different in China, where most of these roles exist together in hybrid forms.

As well as events, I also produce electronic music under the name Kaishandao and have performed around China since 2017. Late last year, I helped establish the online music platform Chengdu Community Radio, which streams online twice a week.

People watching a band playing in a dimly-lit room

Kristen: "I was immediately enthralled by the local lifestyle, entrenched with good food, music and people."

Living overseas, have you had much contact with the Leadership Network?

Last year I was happy to meet with a Leadership Network delegation on their trip to China , which was a great opportunity to meet people, share experiences and reflect on my own journey in China.

What fascinates you the most about living in Chengdu?

This country is immense on so many levels, the geography, population, history, linguistic diversity, the size of the cities, the pace of development and the speed of construction and destruction.

Everything changes so fast here; seeing it happen is both awe-inspiring and heart wrenching. One day you will be biking past a noodle joint, the next day it has been demolished; the following week it is a fully functioning chain store. As someone who grew up in Wellington, I find all of it so fascinating.

Over the past five years, urban development has wiped out much of the city’s old charm, but the next phase is exciting and I plan to stay and witness from the ground how its next steps unfold.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to play music, read novels and spend time with friends, usually going out to see a show or eat hot pot!