Tripper Michael Michelini, an American expat in China chats about his lifelong love of travel, his appearance on Chinese television and cultural exchange.
You are currently living in China, but you were born in the U.S. Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to move to China?
I had a job in New York at Deutsche Bank where I was NOT CHALLENGED. It was definitely not what I wanted to do. I considered other jobs, or a franchise but decided NO….thanks. An MBA? Too expensive. It would take 2 years of my life, and I didn’t’ want to accrue student loan debt so I would have to work in corporate America as a slave to pay it off.
I thought to myself: What’s a BIG MARKET and needs internet marketing? Import/export from China! In NYC my apartment lease contract was ending soon and I had to decide to sign for another year or not. I had a friend who had a month to month room in San Diego California with no long- term commitment. I decided I would try the west coast lifestyle and start a new online business. I couldn’t buy the majority of what I needed for my current online business – so I decided to start my own consulting company to buy from China. I actually wrote a long blog post about it last year.
Have you been a lover of travel since a young age? What have been your favorite destinations so far?
I remember having visitors to my family house from Italy and other parts of Europe. My dad owned a 2-family house, and upstairs we would have tenants from France, and Iran, and other countries. They would cook different foods from their hometown and tell us stories. I remember the slides (the old- school way to share photos in large groups, with the slides on a carousel) of different trips…and I just wanted to get out an explore!
I went on any club trip I could in high school, going to the Italian club trip to Italy, and in college I had a group of friends to take road trips with. But it wasn’t enough, and my friends couldn’t keep up with me. This is when I started to travel on my own. I used the fraternity network (where you are welcomed to stay at any chapter’s house in the country) and actually showed up unannounced and stayed on couches in New Orleans (for Mardi Gras) and in San Diego a fraternity friend’s family pool room.
It got wilder once I graduated college, and the summer between college and my job I traveled like there was no tomorrow, doing a month in Europe backpacking solo, three weeks driving across USA, and a week in Jamaica.
What has been the most surreal expat moment? And were you really on China Central Television (CCTV)?
Just one???? There are so many. And yes; the CCTV interview was hilarious. I wish I had more time to prepare, but in China, if you don’t take the chance, the attention span is short and you may lose it. So my Chinese skills have a long way to go, and the interview was the reporter asking me in Chinese, it being translated to me in English, me answering to a translator in English, and a translator answering to reporter in Chinese.
Other notable expat times is being in China during Chinese New Years alone and experiencing having random neighbors taking you into their homes without notice. Just when you think it’s a hello, they start bringing out food and you can’t really say no. You gotta eat it. Bone soup, and slurping the bone marrow out of the bone with a straw…..smiling while everyone watches.
Where do you like to take family, friends and other guests when they visit you?
In Hong Kong there is the big Buddha statue that friends enjoy a ride on a cable car there, which is really awesome. There is also the peak, that overlooks HK island’s city skyline from the mountain. Of course there is tons of shopping, crammed local marketplaces selling all kinds of gadgets, funny t-shirts, making you push/struggle to get from one end to another. And of course so many bars and restaurants, depending on how well I know the guest, maybe make sure they drink so much they cannot walk home!
Is there anything you know now that you wish you would have known before moving to China?
Of course I always wish I knew more before doing anything. Maybe I wish I had done it earlier! I think the fact that there are way more English-speaking people then you would think, and that the country is way more developed than I had imagined; as an “unaware American,” I was expecting rice fields and dirt roads.
Where do you plan to travel next?
I’m leaning heavily towards Indonesia. I’ve been reading about a lot of internet entrepreneur expats congregating there. I am still researching, but in the meantime I’m still going to be between South China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
Thanks Michael! We would love to visit you in Hong Kong some time.