Making a major geographical move can certainly be exciting but also disruptive, jarring, and disorienting. Becoming a new parent is such a privilege but also life-altering in a way that creates both benefits and challenges. Nicole Webb, a journalist and news reader turned media consultant and author, describes what she experienced when moving from Australia to Hong Kong and eventually to China while adjusting to life as a new mother. She’ll discuss how she managed to adapt and thrive in the midst of tremendous professional and personal change in Career Relaunch® podcast episode 85.
During the Mental Fuel® segment, I’ll also share my own thoughts on the importance of just starting somewhere when you’re trying to figure out ways to turn your side interests into an actual business.
Key Career Takeaways
- Persistence pays off in the long run even if you don’t feel like you’re immediately gaining the traction you want as quickly as you want
- Going from fulltime professional to fulltime parent can be incredibly jarring, resulting in a loss of identity and confidence in yourself.
- There’s nothing wrong with doing something for free, at least initially, as a way of proving yourself and testing the waters until you decide whether it makes sense to monetise your skills.
Tweetables to Share
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of considering whether and when to charge fees for something you just enjoy doing. My challenge to you, is to just consider whether it still makes sense for you to continue doing something you’re currently doing for free. You might have very good reasons for continuing to do it for the reasons I described before.
However, if you’ve been getting that nagging feeling that it may be time to turn this side work you’ve been doing into something more, and if you haven’t yet found a way to monetize it, I’d recommend you consider what earning even a BIT of money from it could potentially open up for you.
Even if money isn’t your primary motivator or need at this specific moment, that’s totally fine. I’d just suggest you try and pinpoint exactly what you might gain from some sort of monetization, whether that matters to you, and what that means for you.
About Nicole Webb, Media Trainer & Author
Nicole Webb is a journalist, presenter, media trainer, and author. She spent 20 years in the Australian television industry working as a Reporter, Producer and Presenter. A key player at 24-hour news channel Sky News for a decade, Nicole covered stories spanning tragedy to triumph. She also produced many of Sky’s high-rating programs.
In 2010, Nicole and her hotelier husband moved to Hong Kong right after she became a mother, where they lived for four years before moving to Xi’an in North-West China. Nicole continued her work in media in the Asia-Pacific region before returning to Australia in 2017, where she’s since remained focused on communications. Nicole’s work now includes hosting premier events, presenting for corporate companies, and media training and consulting.
Check out Nicole’s book China Blonde: How a newsreader’s search for adventure led to friendship, acceptance…and peroxide pandemonium in China and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
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- Hushed – Pillars
- Neutrin05 – Timeless
- Guy Copeland – Lymantria Dispar
- Rippled Stone – The Days Long Gone
- Adriel Fair – Oscillation
- Scott Buckley – Snowfall
- Megan Wofford – Moonlight Dreams
- Scott Holmes Music – Life in a Moment
Thanks to Grammarly for Supporting Career Relaunch
Built by linguists and language lovers, Grammarly’s writing app finds and corrects hundreds of complex writing errors — so you don’t have to. Career Relaunch listeners can download Grammarly for free by going to GetGrammarly.com/relaunch.
Interview Segment Music Credits
- Hushed – Pillars
- Neutrin05 – Timeless
- Guy Copeland – Lymantria Dispar
- Rippled Stone – The Days Long Gone
- Adriel Fair – Oscillation
- Scott Buckley – Snowfall
- Megan Wofford – Moonlight Dreams
- Scott Holmes Music – Life in a moment
Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): “What am I without this news reader title?” Which I guess I hadn’t realized quite how much I had pinned who I was to that status and that name. It was almost like I just forgot what I was good at.
Joseph: I appreciate your time here. I want to dive right into this. First of all, just kick off by getting a sense of what you’re up to right now. What’s keeping you busy right now in your career and also your life?
Nicole: Yep, it’s late here in Sydney so I’ll try to make sense. Life is busy. We’ve been back from China for four years now. I think it takes a bit of time to find your mojo and settle in wherever you go. It feels like ever since the pandemic, we had locked down for four months. Ever since that wrapped up, work has been coming at me. I’m doing a lot of publicity for other authors which is something I never expected to do, and that’s really good fun. I’m doing that. That’s keeping me busy.
I’m doing a bit of presenting again which I haven’t done really for quite a long time. I did a lot of emceeing and that in Asia. I’ve been doing few TV commercials and things, which has been fun getting back into the studio, and media training. It’s kind of come full circle really. Everything that I sort of learned in those early days is coming back into use. It’s been great!
Joseph: Now, you mentioned in your early days that you want to go back to how you started your career many years ago. Before we get to that, could you also just describe what’s happening in your life right now outside of work? What’s keeping you busy? What’s on your mind right now?
Nicole: [04:27] Well, we were in lockdown for four months in Sydney so nothing was happening, but I was still working. We’ve been out of lockdown probably about five weeks, so not long. It’s just been I guess slowly, slowly stepping back into the real world. Going to the shops for the first time again, going and getting hair color and cut, sitting at a café, all those things that we take for granted, and everyone the world over knows what that’s like now. Just getting back into life again. It’s been good. It’s been a bit overwhelming because you sit on your bum for about four months not doing too much, watching Netflix. Suddenly, you’ve plunged into the world and people are having parties and gatherings, and it’s all quite people-y.
Joseph: It is very jarring, that adjustment. I’ve recently gone back to doing a lot of in-person engagements. I’ve found that it’s quite a rattling experience almost to just throw yourself back into being around tons of people again. I totally understand that.
Nicole: [05:32] I agree. I think it is. You think you can’t wait to see people again, and it is exciting when you first turn up at a gathering. But, at the same time, I found myself sort of putting it off and sort of trying to schedule things that weren’t so busy wasn’t one on top of each other. You know, one thing at a time, I thought. One step at a time because it is just overwhelming. As you say, you’re not used to being around people and face to face. We’ve spent most of the time on Zoom for the last two years, haven’t we?
Joseph: Definitely. I completely understand that. I know that at the same time, you’re probably quite used to all sorts of different media and being on different platforms and formats. Because I know that you actually haven’t always been a media publicist, but you started your career off in journalism. I was wondering if we could go back to your first chapter back in your early career in Sydney when you were in your early 20s. Could you tell me a little bit about how your career kicked off in journalism? And then, we can move forward from there.
Nicole: [06:34] Yes. I was one of those people that, when I was 17 in high school and sat with a career guidance officer and she asked me what I wanted to do, I really wasn’t sure. I knew I wanted to live a life less ordinary. But, what that meant, I didn’t know. Hollywood, maybe, but I couldn’t act or sing so that was out of the question. What else? I remember she said to me, “Well, what about journalism?” I thought, “That could be an interesting career.” I like to dig deep, and investigate, and find out things. I had probably quite liked the idea of being a news reader. From then on, I sort of made up my mind, “Right, that’s what I’ll do.” Not being naive to how difficult that would be to get into. I managed to get into university doing a Bachelor of Arts, Major in Journalism and Public Relations, and went off and did that for my three years and finished.
Of course, it was so hard to get a job. It was near impossible. Blondes, young girls wanting to be reporters on TV were a dime a dozen. To stand out from the crowd was tough. I ended up getting a job in radio, in sales, for a while. I was sort of given the phone book and said, “Here’s your client base. Go out and sell radio advertising,” which was a bit daunting. I did that for a while. And then, the TV station, local TV, I’m talking country town too, poached me for the TV station. I did that but I still always had this yearning to be a TV journalist.
So, I started making a demo tape with some of the guys at the station there that did the ads and sent that out to all of the news directors around the country. Of course, I kept getting a lot of nos, rejection letters, you name it. Kept pursuing and persisting. I’d drive to the car park in my lunch break and look at my notebook and just ring all of these news directors each month, “Have you got anything for me?” Nothing came up. In the end, I ended up leaving the city I was in and went to Melbourne where my parents were living. I gave myself a year to get into journalism or said, “I’d have to go into sales again or PR.”
A year was almost up, and in a little country town called Tamworth in New South Wales, Australia, the news director called me and said, “You’re a perfect example of persistence pays off. Would you like a job as a TV reporter?” I didn’t hesitate. I was off like a shot. The rest is history.
Joseph: Tamworth. I think you mentioned this to me before. It’s like a six-hour drive from Sydney. Were you thinking that there was going to be an opportunity out there for you in news journalism?
Nicole: [09:04] Well, I kind of knew that in Australia, a lot of the country towns had small bureaus. They might not have been the main headquarters, but they would have a couple of journalists and a couple of cameramen. I was desperate. I wanted this job so badly that I was like, “Hey! Get me out of the city. I’ll go to this town of 30,000 people and see what I can make of it.”
So, I drove from Melbourne at that point, so I think that was about 20 hours in the car. I landed in Tamworth and started reporting. Of course, the stories were anything from the big tomato competition to a double murder-suicide. You just didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean it was a sleepy town, but all sorts happened over the two years that I was there. It was a really good grounding and a good starting point as a journal to get in the thick of it.
Joseph: How did you then proceed from there? Were you enjoying the reporting? Is that what you felt was the place you wanted to be in journalism? How did things evolve for you from there?
Nicole: [10:08] Look, I did I love it. I loved it. But I always had this thing in me that I wanted to get to the big smoke. And, in Australia, I guess that was Sydney. I still had my eye on doing that. I got offered a job to open one of the bureaus up on the Gold Coast, which was again bigger than Tamworth, but not the city. I went up there for a year and then I thought, “You know what? I’ll just go to Sydney and maybe try and freelance.” And that’s what I did.
I ended up in Sydney and started freelancing at a lot of the major networks just whenever I could get shifts. Basically, I was a news producer. I would go in and sit on the computer, tap out stories, and put bulletins together which I like doing as well. Eventually, I decided a full-time job would be best because this whole freelance business was a bit tricky. I got offered a job on the business program with Sky News. I was the producer for that. It was a half-hour business show each night. That was great! I love doing that.
I also got to do a bit of presenting because, at the time, Sky News produced quite a few programs and one of those was health news. That was just a pre-recorded program, so it wasn’t live. I kind of could dip my toes in presenting a little bit and start honing that craft which I, at that point, had decided I wanted to be a news reader. I just kept going and going until eventually, I got to do the main news. Sky News is a 24-hour news channel. A bit like BSkyB in the UK. Obviously, not as big as that by any means. That’s a much, much smaller version. But back when I was there, it was 24-hour news. So, you would do a six-hour shift and you would read six bulletins back-to-back. I loved doing that. I ended up doing that for about a decade.
Joseph: That’s interesting. I’ve always been fascinated with the world of journalism. We have some parallels, Nicole. I think we may have talked about this before, but I worked very briefly in news journalism for Hawaii Public Radio. It was just radio, it wasn’t TV. I was in the production side of things. Sort of like you, I started dabbling in the news anchor side of things. In the TV side, is that a common transition to make going from production to being on air?
Nicole: [12:28] I think it is now. I think perhaps and was then. But I think maybe 20 years before that, not so much. You were sort of pinned as a news presenter from the start, and often news presenters weren’t even journalists back then. Whereas, nowadays, I think you tend to start off most news readers will have been a journalist on the road or producing. In some way, they would have been involved in creating the news and then led up to that presenting gig.
Joseph: It sounds like this is going well for you. It sounds like you’re enjoying working at Sky News. You’re on air for six hours at a time. You’re doing what you want to do. When we spoke before, I know you went through a bit of a transition in your early to mid-30s. Can you tell me a little bit about what was happening I guess in your personal life and what triggered you to then change directions in your career?
Nicole: [13:21] I was reading at Sky News, living the life, driving a mini convertible, living in my apartment, having a great time, and was single. But then, I, fortunately, met my husband on a blind date. He was in hotels at the time. He did say to me early on, “They like to move us around in hotels and there are opportunities overseas.” I did shut him down quite quickly because I’ve been such a career person. I thought it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go overseas, it was just that I thought I’d miss the boat, you know. I was in my mid-30s and I thought I’ve kind of missed that time, and I don’t want to give up what I’ve achieved so far. So, we sort of put that to bed because he was from England anyway, and come here as a backpacker. So, he was away as far as he was concerned.
And then, maybe after we got married, a year later, a job came up in Hong Kong at the W. For some reason, I just thought, “I have been doing this for a decade now and I could quite easily be doing the exact same thing in another 10 years. I couldn’t see how things would change.” I felt like I was somehow losing a bit of that ambition and losing my mojo a bit. I guess I was a bit tired with it all. I remember just saying, “You know what? We should do it. Let’s throw your head in the ring and see if you get the job in Hong Kong. Let’s go.” He nearly fell out of bed when I said that. He did, he got the job. Next thing I know, I’m sort of resigning from my career. Also, the same week found out that we were having a baby. It was a bit of a two-pronged affair.
Joseph: Those are two really big pieces of news, right? You’re finding out that you’re moving abroad. You’re finding out that you’re going to become parents. Can you take me back to that moment, what was running through your head that week when you found out?
Nicole: [15:14] Just “gulp.” Like, “Oh, my gosh! Is this really happening?” I can remember being on air, and I was just newly pregnant. My mum knew, and she would watch me on-air from she lived up in Queensland. She was, “I can’t believe you’re pregnant, and I can’t believe you’re leaving!” But she had encouraged us to do this. But it was just so daunting. I remember James went ahead of me and I had to sort of pack up the house, sell the cars, and do all of that. When he got there, he would send me a few pieces of information about what it was like there because I didn’t have much idea. I’d been there once probably 10 years prior for just a couple of days so I didn’t know what it was like to live there. Let alone, have a baby there. Of course, when we got there and it was fantastic to have a baby there. Amazing!
Joseph: This was your first time living abroad. Is that correct, Nicole?
Nicole: [16:03] Pretty much. I mean I had moved from New Zealand to Australia as a teenager but it’s the same.
Joseph: Right. I guess Hong Kong, we’re talking about totally different culture, totally different language. People are speaking Cantonese there. Can you describe what that transition was like for you? Because this is a pretty major move for you.
Nicole: [16:23] It was a big transition. I remember just dealing with your body is changing anyway because you’re pregnant, and we didn’t have a home. We lived in the hotel for six weeks which was great. But it was still quite unnerving. James was busy with his job because he had a new job, a lot to prove, and very long hours in Hong Kong. If you came home at 7 p.m. that was considered an early mark.
I had a lot of time on my own, and I’m sort of waddling the streets, getting bigger and bigger, and a bit of lost identity. “What am I without this news reader title?” Which I guess I hadn’t realized quite how much I had pinned who I was to that status and that name. It was almost like I just forgot what I was good at. Especially, once Ava was born. Suddenly, you’re a mum and you’ve got this new baby. I couldn’t even think of working at that time. And then, I thought, “What would I do anyway? I’m just a news reader. I just read the auto queue. What else could I possibly do?”
It sort of took a good friend of mine who was there and said, “Look, don’t forget you’ve got 20 years of experience. And it’s not just reading the news. It’s writing, and producing, and speaking, and creative things, all of this.” It just took me a while to sort of work that out, I think.
Joseph: Can we talk about this shift for a second of going from full-time employee and professional to full-time mom. Because this is something that comes up a lot. I mean I see it around me. As you know, I’ve got a 4-year-old at home. This shift from being full-time employed to being at home, changing diapers, and singing nursery rhymes. Can you just describe what that was like for you?
Nicole: [18:18] It was very strange, I guess. It’s not that I’d ever been desperate to be a mum, but I thought I would be. But I was always such a career person and it was strange. I’d be down in this big giant shopping center which was underneath. We lived on the 43rd floor of a high-rise apartment in the end. Just so many different cultural aspects to it as well. Having a baby in Hong Kong, so many people have their two cents worth and their cultural things come into play, and what I’m feeding her, and what I’m doing with her. You get questioned and put on the spot. I just felt quite alone with it, I guess. I ended up joining a group of pregnant women who were all due around the same time.
In hindsight, it was the best thing I could have done. But I just remembered, it was daunting. Also, I just remembered seeing housewife on the VISA applications, and that threw me as well. It’s like, “That’s not me! What’s happened to me? Where am I?”
Joseph: Just the emotions of going from being a news reader at a reputable organization to this “housewife,” as you described it. That to me would be quite shocking and kind of hard to stomach.
Nicole: [19:28] I can still feel the feelings when I talk about it now. I think it was hard for James as well because he was so supportive of me. It was hard for him though to know what to do and what to say. Because he was trying to juggle this new job and support me, and I’m here whinging. I think I was quite a pain in the bum for a while until I sorted myself out.
Joseph: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that. Your daughter’s name is Ava. Is that right? She was only a few weeks old, and then at that time, you did manage to find a new gig. Could you explain how that came about, and what you ended up doing there in Hong Kong?
Nicole: [20:09] Well, actually, the first gig I ever did was a master of ceremonies for an event, and I’d never done this before. I guess people think, “Oh, you’ve read the news. So, I’m sure you can be an emcee for the night.” But I was terrified! Because by nature, I’m actually quite a shy person. So, standing up and talking in front of a whole group of people that could see me was quite different to a camera where I can’t see the people. I was really terrified when I got asked to do this job. Ava was nine weeks old. I just thought, “Wow!” But I knew I had to say yes, because I also knew that I had to have something of my own.
Joseph: How did that sum up for you?
Nicole: [20:45] I think it was actually a friend of mine who couldn’t do it and suggested me. It was one of those things that I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. They had these award nights. They are fantastic and became really good friends and had me back every year. It was worth doing it.
Joseph: How’d you balance that with having a 9-week-old baby? At the start, I’m just trying to imagine how you pull that off.
Nicole: [21:13] Well, I was lucky. I remember at the time James’ parents were in town from the UK. They looked after Ava. I remember having breast pads in and trying to find an evening dress that was three sizes bigger than I was used to because I still had pregnancy weight and all of that. It was all a bit a new era for me, I guess. I did that. It gave me the confidence again and reminded me that, “I can do this. I have got this experience” I think a lot of women, even if they’re not living overseas, struggle when they first have a baby because they’re so much out of their comfort zone. And then, they have to step back into the workforce and it’s not easy.
Joseph: Okay. You go from working full-time to being a full-time mom. And now, you’re back to working time. What was that transition like for you? Just the mechanics of that, and also just the emotions of that.
Nicole: [22:03] I was really lucky. I didn’t ever go back full-time with Ava. What I did was just emceeing. It was sort of irregular. It was just enough to sort of I guess feed me a little bit of enthusiasm and confidence. And then, I also started writing. While I’d been a journalist and I’ve been writing scripts for years, that’s quite different as you know to writing an article.
I started just writing for some parenting websites. Because I guess I was trying to combine what was happening in my life with my media experience. What was happening is that I was changing nappies and visiting change rooms all around Hong Kong, trying to get on in taxis, trying to find my way with no Cantonese, and trying to fumble my way through it. I started writing articles about parenthood. I did it for free in the beginning just to get my name known, I think.
Thankfully, that sort of led to other things like writing for magazines and what have you. It was never full-time, but it was flexible. So, it was great, having Ava, I could do it in my own time, so to speak. And then, that’s what sort of prompted me to start my blog. Doing all of that writing I guess I found that I had quite a passion for it and I enjoyed it.
On the 2-year mark of being in Hong Kong, I started my blog which was “Mint Mocha Musings.” It just fuelled me through this whole pregnancy, and parenthood, and sleepless nights. “Mint Mocha Musing’s, The Hotelier’s Wife and Expat Affair in Hong Kong,” it was. I just started writing what was happening in Hong Kong, and all of the crazy, amazing, fascinating things that I would see every day as an expat. That blog soon monetized itself. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but I soon learned there were ways of doing that and making a bit of extra money on the side. All of these little things I guess were enough to make me feel like I had a sense of purpose again.
Joseph: You mentioned one thing there about monetizing your blog. I know that there’s a lot of people who maybe listen to this show, and they’re thinking about doing some writing on the side, and whether they want to make money from it or not, they just want to share their thoughts with the world. How did you turn your blog from being just a place to share your thoughts to something that was generating money? Could you share some of the mechanics around that?
Nicole: [24:20] It’s not easy, I’ll say that. It’s really difficult to make a lot of money, but people do, that’s for sure. You just have to be very, very dedicated. It’s almost a full-time job. But for me, I was able to do sponsored posts. That would be always a company that I felt aligned with what the blog was, which was travel and expat and parenting and all of that. That might be an airline or something that might sponsor a blog post. So that means I would write any sort of article that I would normally write. But maybe I would just write a sentence in there that might relate to say “flying” somewhere, and then they would pay to have a link to their website. You can do those. Obviously, you don’t want to do those all the time because then the blog becomes inauthentic. But, every four or five blogs, you can put one of those in there and that gives you a bit of money.
Another way is through affiliate advertising. One of my biggest affiliates was OFX, which you can transfer money wherever you are overseas, back home, and you don’t have to pay a fee. That was a great one for my expat community. And so, every time someone sort of found that through my blog, which I advertised it on there and joined up through me, I would get a percentage of that commission. It’s not a bad way to earn a little bit of money. It’s not a lot, but it’s certainly something for your efforts.
Joseph: You’re doing some emceeing. You’re doing some presenting, you started writing Mint Mocha Musings. I guess you’re a few years now into being in Hong Kong. Are you and James thinking this is where you’re going to be for a while or what was the plan from here on out?
Nicole: Look, we like to think that was where we were going to be because we were loving it. A couple of years in, you find your feet and you find friends and you start to really get into the swing of things. We loved Hong Kong and we probably could have stayed there forever. But the problem now was that James was number two in the hotel, and he needed to really get to be the general manager to progress his career further.
We started sort of putting out filler, and of course, jobs would come up all the time from Bangkok to Seoul, to Singapore, all over the place, India. And, James’s sort of put his hand up and he might get to the last interview or the job would fall through or whatever. But China just kept coming up because they were building so many hotels. I think, in one year, the company was starting at the time built 80 hotels in China. It was almost getting a bit hard to avoid China.
We did get offered a job in Wuhan. When no one knew where Wuhan was or that it even existed, and I remember we went up there for the weekend because we had to decide by the Monday. We went to have a look and make this decision which was just so hard and overwhelming because we didn’t really want to leave Hong Kong. We ended up turning that job down, but we soon realized that we couldn’t say no too much more.
Eventually, Xi’an came up on our radar, and I just remember googling it because that’s all I had to go on and it looked quite attractive as far as Chinese cities go. The quintessential Chinese architecture, lantern sort of hanging around the city. I said to James, “I think we’ve just got to do it and get it done. We’ll go for a year or whatever. You get your first general manager role, and then you’ll be more set up.” And, I thought I’ll just take my laptop and I’ll continue my blog. Of course, there’ll be a lot to write about in China. I’ll continue some of the contracts I had with magazines, but I couldn’t work properly of course because you needed a proper VISA. That was all very difficult to get.
So, four years into Hong Kong, we moved to the middle of China with Ava, three and a half years old.
Joseph: What was your setup in China? For those people who’ve never been to China, where were you living? What was that like? How was your adjustment?
Nicole: [28:17] Xi’an is inland. If you’ve ever looked at a map of China, there’s Beijing up the north on the east coast, and then Shanghai is sort of further down. Xi’an’s in the middle, but inland, quite far. So landlocked, a city of 9 million people, and there are many, many, many cities of 9 million. That’s quite a small city in comparison. No one really speaks English. Very few Westerners. When you consider Hong Kong’s had maybe 100,000 expats, maybe there were 1,000 in Xi’an, tops. We lived in the hotel, but we lived in the residences at the end of the hotel. But it was sort of like being in the hotel still.
It was just a huge culture shock for me, for all of us. Just thinking, “What are we doing here?” Just the noise was just crazy and chaotic. Just horns beeping 24/7 day and night because they tend to use the horn instead of the indicator. Traffic was just wild, careening all over the road. No lanes. No orderly driving. Bicycles with four or five people piled up high. Just so many people.
We would step outside of the hotel and Ava and I were fair game, we were really pounced on because many people had never seen a White person in the flesh. Ava, this little pocket rocket that was three and a half with long blonde hair and fair skin, they would crowd around us, and take photos, and touch her, and touch her hair, and someone picked her up in that first week. I just remember being horrified thinking, “Oh my gosh! What are we doing? How am I going to survive?” I couldn’t speak any Mandarin at that point. It was just tough in the beginning.
Joseph: I guess the closest I’ve experienced to that which isn’t quite the same level of difference you’re talking about here is, my wife is Turkish. I remember when we go to Turkey, people are just not that familiar with seeing somebody who looks like me. There’s a lot of people kind of hover around us. People are very friendly, but it’s also quite daunting and quite startling when people want to pick up your child and take them inside and take pictures. It’s kind of odd.
Nicole: [20:22] It’s alarming. At first, I didn’t realize that it was harmless. I didn’t realize that it was just pure fascination. You’re on guard because you don’t know. I could just imagine losing Ava in those crowds of people. It was just terrifying. Until I understood what it was all about, which took quite some time to understand the culture, understand these people and how they feel and how they think, it was a real work in progress.
Joseph: You’re in China. Are you then thinking that at this point, you’re going to be there temporarily? And then, what ended up coming up next for you guys? I think in 2017, you made another move. Is that right?
Nicole: [31:17] We ended up spending two and a half years in Xi’an, which by the time we left, we really loved it. I mean look, it wasn’t Hong Kong, but we had sort of fallen in love. It had become our new normal because it was just crazy, but we had fallen in love with the crazy. We had made a lot of great friends there. Chinese locals and expats alike. We found our feet there and we’re enjoying it. I’d started writing my book because I decided I wanted to write a book. I just didn’t quite know what that would be.
And as soon as we stepped foot on to Chinese soil, I knew it would be about the country. I started doing a lot of research even though I had no clue how to write a book. By the time I’d been there, about 18 months, I started doing interviews with all sorts of locals. From young women in China, to my local hairdresser, to an old war veteran. Just started trying to find out who these people were and how they felt about their country and their lives. Obviously, I had a translator. I could speak some Mandarin by the time we left, but obviously, not enough to do an interview.
I spent a lot of time doing that. And then, James got offered a job in Sydney. Of course, we were sort of humming and harrying because we didn’t want to give up life overseas. But also, it’s very hard to get back to Australia and we didn’t want to miss our opportunity. And Ava was six and missing the grandparents. And so, we decided to say yes. It was with a bit of a heavy heart, but we thought, “It’s now or never.” So, it was goodbye, China.
Joseph: Now, this is something I’ve always wondered about, Nicole. Because as you know, I’m from the United States, and I now live in the UK. I’ve always wondered what’s it like to go back to where you’re from after what seems like was quite an amazing and kind of incredible personal and professional journey through Hong Kong and China. When you stepped back in Australia, can you describe what that moment was like for you? What sort of feelings were you experiencing?
Nicole: [33:19] It was very weird. It’s just same, same but not. We chose to live purposely in a suburb that we had never lived in before. Because I didn’t want to go full circle and go back to where we used to live because I almost felt like that would be forgetting what we’ve done. I didn’t want to forget it because it was such a big part of our lives and it was so, as you say, “amazing.”
We chose this suburb that we didn’t know much about but seemed nice. It was just different because everything was in high definition. No pollution. Everything was so defined and sharp. The sky was so blue. We’ve been wearing masks in China because of the pollution. All of a sudden, I could speak to the doctors, and the hairdressers and that was an easy side. I hadn’t driven for seven years so that was challenging. I guess trying to explain to people what you’ve been through. It was lucky that quite a lot of people came to Hong Kong and a few came to China. Some good friends knew what it was like, but many didn’t and it’s really hard to explain to them what you’ve just been through. I guess a lot of people will expect you just to pick up where you left off, and you really can’t because you’ve changed so much and life is so different for you. People would always say, “You’re going to go back to Sky News.” I’d be like, “No, no. I don’t want to go back to Sky News.” I want to move forward and do different things.
I think it took again a big adjustment to settle back in. Even just watching TV was quite jarring. The Australian accents and the news was quite colloquial, and now I watch it every night. But it was just so different to being overseas and not watching Chinese television because I couldn’t understand it. But just another world, I guess.
Joseph: Before we talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way, can you also just explain what you’re now up to as a media publicist? What exactly are you now working on with authors?
Nicole: [35:20] Because I published my memoir “China Blonde” last year in October, I did a lot of my own publicity because I know the media landscape here, and I know a lot of the journalists because they’re still around after 20 years which is great. I did my own publicity and got some good publicity. And then, I had a few other authors come to me and want me to do the same thing for them. I’m now working with a charity, “The Life You Can Save,” by philosopher Peter Singer, and philanthropist. He’s quite well-known. He’s written a book of the same name and they curate the most effective charities to donate to.
I’m now working and doing their publicity for their book. I’ve since done a few other fiction and non-fiction authors. Just placing, getting them exposure, I guess on things like podcasts, and newspapers, and TV, and radio. I love doing that because it’s what I know and it’s fun and it’s easy for me. I’ve been doing, as I said, a few presenting gigs as well. So, getting back into the studio I did an ad tutorial the other week which was fun.
One lesson I’ve learned is I told myself for 10 years, I don’t think I’d be able to read the auto queue anymore. It’s like I told myself this narrative that I couldn’t do it. The minute I stepped into Hong Kong, it was over. And then, when I went back to do it a few weeks ago, I was shocked that it was actually like riding a bike. I couldn’t believe that for 10 years, I’ve let myself believe that that was something that would be too difficult for me now. It’s a big lesson. I know you haven’t even asked me that yet. But just thinking about that is something that I only discovered very recently. I’m doing that, and media training corporate companies that need to know how to get their message across in the media, which is sort of everything coming into the fore and writing another book. Fingers in many pies.
Joseph: Sounds like you’re very busy and involved with a lot of really interesting projects and initiatives. You mentioned lessons there, Nicole. I would love to talk just a little bit about some of the things you’ve learned along the way before we wrap up by talking a little bit more about “China Blonde.” I’d be curious to hear what is something that you have learned about yourself along this winding journey of yours.
Nicole: [37:38] I think I’ve learned that I’m quite a chameleon and that I tend to fit in and adapt which is quite a powerful thing to know that nothing will be too hard. You’ll find your way around it. That’s as far as expat life goes or living anywhere, I guess. Work-wise, I think I’ve learned about myself that if I have a goal, I’m very single-minded and I find that the way that I achieve what I want to achieve is by sticking to that goal and persevering at any cost. Not giving up. Looking back to those early days when I got my first journalism job.
Joseph: As you look back to those earlier days, if you can kind of think all the way back to your days in your 20s when you were working in Sydney, do you have any advice that you would give to your younger self as it relates to changing careers or relocating to a different country? And if so, what might that advice be?
Nicole: [38:37] It will always work out. I think one piece of advice which is probably what my mum told me is that nothing’s forever. You can panic and get all worked up about, should we be moving to Hong Kong, or should we be changing jobs, or should we be doing something. But, at the end of the day, you take these leaps and you’re not stuck there forever. If it doesn’t work out, you can always change jobs. You can always leave the country and go somewhere else or go home. You’re never really stuck. Except of course in COVID.
But generally, I think you should take these risks and take those. Step out of your comfort zone because generally what comes from that is always rewarding. And often, it’s far more rewarding. Even though it seems so difficult at the time to step out of your comfort zone, I think the rewards far outweigh any that say you procrastinated and didn’t do it. You would always be kicking yourself and wishing that you’d had the guts to do something. I think you’re better off jumping in head first, even if it is uncomfortable because the rewards will just be tenfold.
Joseph: When you look back on your career transitions, what’s something that you wished you had known that you now know?
Nicole: [39:54] Oh gosh! Every sort of piece of work that you do is all making up to be this whole sum of who you are. You’re not just one thing. We do tend to pigeonhole ourselves into certain things, don’t we? I think you are the sum of so many different things that everything really gravitates together to give you so much experience and, in more ways, than one, in life and work. And so, each step you take in life is just another notch in your belt really. I guess I didn’t know that when I was younger. You always worry about everything and worry what you’re doing, and is it the right thing. But it helps you grow, doesn’t it?
Joseph: I want to wrap up, Nicole, by talking about one of your recent endeavors which you did allude to. But, wouldn’t mind talking a little bit more about your book, “China Blonde,” which you published last year. Can you just tell me what’s it about and how’s that journey been for you as an author?
Nicole: [40:52] It’s a memoir. A snapshot of our time mainly in China for those two and a half years. I just wanted to I guess educate and entertain at the same time. I wanted to show people what the real Chinese are like. Because all we really hear is politics and the economy, and we don’t really know what the real people are like. I wanted to get that across and explain what they’re like. But also, it’s my journey and what it was like I guess as you we’ve talked about giving up my career and moving to Hong Kong and China, and finding my feet, and finding a sense of purpose, and all the crazy funny stories that happened and the places we visited. That’s what it really is, I guess.
It took probably four years in the making from those very early days of writing, and researching, and interviewing. It wasn’t until I got back to Australia that I could really start doing some courses and learn the craft of actually writing a book, and putting chapters together, and all of that, which was just a whole other level. It’s been a really interesting journey. I’ve really learned so much. I still have a monthly writer’s workshop which I go to, and we have to submit 4,000 words, so it keeps you accountable. That’s what I’m doing and I’m writing fiction now and hoping that that will turn into something, and that’s based in Hong Kong.
Joseph: Very interesting. For those people out there who are aspiring authors, do you have any quick tips?
Nicole: [42:19] Just keep writing. Don’t stop. I think the difference between being an author and not is that the author didn’t stop. Because so many people, we start writing, we all think we’ve got a book, and after, we give up. Just finish it. Don’t worry too much about the first draft. Just get it all out and that can always be fine-tuned and edited and what have you.
Joseph: I’m going to keep that in mind myself. If people want to learn more about you, Nicole, or your book, “China Blonde,” where can they go?
Nicole: [42:46] Probably, the best place is “nicolewebbonline,” that’s my website. I’m on all the social medias as well. Instagram, nicolewebbonline, Facebook, and Twitter. Come and say hello.
Joseph: Thank you so much, Nicole, for taking the time to tell us more about your life as an expat in Hong Kong and China, and how you managed to build a new life and career for yourself there. And also, back in Australia. Also, just the importance of going for it when you have an opportunity come up. I hope things go well with your book and your work as a media publicist and your advertorial work.
Nicole: [43:20] Thank you so much for having me.