I came to know Anna Zech through her fantastic blogging (first as the Mandarin Duck, and now at China’s Lost Panda) – but as I’ve discovered, she’s more than just an outstanding writer and blogger.
Anna also excels as an artist (she does portraits for commission and has even written and illustrated a children’s book titled Maomao and the Nian Monster). A lifelong martial arts enthusiast, she has studied Shaolin-style kungfu (she met her husband Jinlong while training one winter). She has hosted TV shows and documentaries on Chinese television, turning her into a local celebrity (see this adorable video of her and her husband during Chinese New Year). And did I mention she’s fluent in Chinese and went to the finals for the 2014 Chinese Bridge Competition in Beijing, fulfilling a personal dream of hers?
Anna has so many talents and fascinating stories to share, it’s no wonder she has caught the attention of China Central Television, who will be broadcasting a documentary about her life in rural Anhui Province this weekend for the program “Foreigners in China” on CCTV Channel 4.
It’s my great pleasure to feature Anna Zech through this interview.
Here’s Anna’s bio from her blog, China’s Lost Panda:
Anna is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture. She was born in Russia, grew up in Germany and studied in the UK. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and graduated with a masters degree in China and International Relations from London University in 2014.
Following the slogan Home is where the heart is, she joined her husband Jinlong, a Chinese national from Anhui province in his hometown, after living in Boading (Hebei) and Shanghai. Currently they both reside in Bozhou, a city in Anhui province. Being the center of Chinese Medicine and boosting thousands of years of history, Bozhou makes a great place for inspiration….
Aside from her passion for Chinese culture, Anna is spends her free time working on new drawings. Because art and Chinese culture hold such an important place in her life, she has fused her China blog with her art hobby, blogging about her new creations, sharing tips and tricks for beginner artists and gives free tutorials in traditional art, eg. pencil portraits, pastel or marker paintings.
You can find out more about Anna and her husband, and read Anna’s blog, at China’s Lost Panda. Visit Anna Z. Art to learn more about her artwork and how to commission Anna to do a portrait for you. If you’re in China, catch Anna this weekend on CCTV Channel 4’s broadcast of “Foreigners in China” at 1pm Beijing time Saturday, October 31.
What originally brought you to China?
I have always been fascinated with martial arts. When I was 13, a friend introduced me to a Kungfu School in Germany. I was hooked from the first day. All my teachers were Chinese nationals from the Shaolin temple, and when they invited a small group to go to China to visit their home town and train in Shaolin, I was the first one to sign up. After this first experience in China I fell in love with not only Chinese martial arts, but also China’s culture, its people and, of course, the food.
How did you end up meeting your husband?
Since my first visit to China to train in Kungfu, I have been coming and going whenever the time allowed me to travel. I remember it clearly. It was 2010, and I was on a university exchange studying in Shanghai. During my university studies I had actually more or less given up on my Kungfu training. But, some strange thing happened that winter. All of a sudden I decided to pack my stuff and go visit my old Trainer. He had opened a new Kungfu school, and I thought I had to check it out. Who would have thought that this decision would change my whole life? I met my husband in that school. He was a good friend of my trainer, and back then teaching a few foreigners Chinese Kickboxing. Even though he was very shy, he still managed to win me over. In the end it wasn’t me who made the first move. And within a month we were a couple. It was never a question for me. I just felt it was right and meant to be. For me, everything that had happened up to that moment was meant to be. It was fate.
You had the chance to participate in the Chinese Bridge Competition, and were even flown to Beijing for the finals. What was your most memorable experience in the competition?
The day I started learning Chinese, I have always wanted to one day take part in the Chinese Bridge Competition. I almost gave up on the idea, until last year when my Chinese teacher in London decided to push me to take part. When I won the finals in the UK and was invited to take part in the finals in China, I was actually really surprised.
The most memorable experience was the friends I made with people from all over the world. But, except that, I found the experience quite exhausting. I am fluent in Chinese, but I only speak a local Chinese dialect (blame my husband), and so the competition was my own little hell. We had special Standard Chinese teachers who tried to make sure we only speak Standard Chinese Putonghua. Every time I opened my mouth people started laughing at me. I got very self-conscious and even stopped talking Chinese for a while after the competition. I have now come to terms with my Chinese dialect. After all, where I live, everyone speaks it, and no one looks weird at me for speaking it as well. On the contrary, they accept me as one of them.
Many of us know you through your blogs — first, the Mandarin Duck and later the Lost Panda. How did you decide to start blogging?
I have always been writing a diary. I find it helps to structure thoughts. Since my first adventures in China, people had been suggesting I should share my stories with the world. It was 2013 when I finally had the courage (and a little push by my husband) that I decided to enter the blog world. I chose The Mandarin Duck at first because I thought they were really fitting. After all the male and female Mandarin duck look very different, but they still are together; a bit like our intercultural relationship with all its differences. But after blogging for a few months and moving to China for good, I realized it’s not just only about our relationship. Living in China, especially living in rural China has its own obstacles, and problems you have to overcome. And sometimes I just feel lost in this Chinese world of old traditions and superstitions. So, I became the Lost Panda. Who doesn’t love a panda? Now I am sharing the real life in rural China. It’s very different from the big Chinese cities, but it gives a glimpse into an old traditional side of living in China. The good and the bad.
You’re also an outstanding artist and you’ve started selling your work online. How would you describe your artistic style?
I have never formally learned art. Actually, I just learned by watching my mother painting when I was a child. She gave up on art altogether, which is a pity. And to be honest I was on the same path over a year ago. It was my husband who encouraged me to pick up pencil and paper and do something with the gift that was given to me. I have found over the past months what I enjoy most are portraits. I have always been fascinated with eyes. When I was in school, I would draw little eyes all over my homework (creepy yeah). I am still a work in progress. Art is something you never stop improving in. I feel that during the past few months my portrait art has changed a lot. I have found my favourite medium to draw with and am now striving for realism. I want to capture the true character of every person I draw and make the portrait look as life like as possible. I hope I will get more opportunities in the future to practice these skills and share my knowledge I gain on the way with everyone else who is interested. Occasionally I also enjoy the freer art. I do many illustrations for my Lost Panda Blog and I have self-published a small children’s book called Maomao and the Nian Monster. I have so many more ideas and projects I am working on at the moment. Since moving to China, and finally being with my husband every day, I feel like my creativity has reached its peak, and every day I am excited to keep on working hard.
You’ve been a TV host for a local station in Anhui. Could you tell us about how you came to land this gig, and talk about what it was like being a TV host in China?
Being the only female foreigner here in the city it wasn’t that difficult to be noticed. I had been doing a few documentaries with Anhui International TV and through them got introduced to our local TV station. We’ve done a few small shows, like filming me and my Chinese family spending Chinese New Year. Naturally, I am a very introverted person, and it took me quite a bit of convincing to enter the world of a News presenter. The first day they invited me to the TV station, it was supposed to be a simple “Meet and Greet”, where we could get to know each other and slowly get a feeling for what it could be like. As is usual in China, things never are as they say they will be. That Saturday, they put me into new clothes, put on make-up and sat me in front of the camera. I thought they were just testing, and so I complied, reading the lines running in front of me. But when the nice lady said, “Ok, we are done,” I found I out that what we just had filmed would be broadcasted later that day! To the whole of Anhui province! Chinese TV can be chaotic and very exhausting. I have already given up on the News host gig. Without the right support from the TV station, it is impossible for a non-native speaker to read out an unknown Chinese script right off the screen without preparation.
China Central Television Channel 4 will be broadcasting a documentary about your life in rural Anhui Province. What was it like being filmed for China’s biggest TV network?
After having filmed a few documentaries for Anhui International TV, I was really relaxed about the CCTV 4 film crew coming to our home to film another documentary about our life.
I think my husband had different feelings. He hates the camera and always forgets how to speak as soon as the camera is facing him. This, combined with a funny director, made for a memorable experience. They followed us for five days, which was the longest I have ever worked on a TV production. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what there is to film about our life again. We don’t do anything spectacular at the moment. So, I am really curious how they have structured the documentary. Also, they did interview my Chinese parents-in-law and my sister-in-law and my husband separately, so I have no idea what they said and I am very curious to know. It is definitely something you should think about before agreeing to. A film crew will come to your home and film everything from you waking up in the morning, cleaning the house, cooking to how you are with your husband and family. It’s very personal, but I made the decision to join. I think it’s a great way to capture a moment of your life and share it with the world. Maybe even our simple life can inspire someone.
Thank you so much to Anna Zech for this interview! Find out more about Anna and all of her many talents at her blog China’s Lost Panda. Visit Anna Z. Art to learn more about her artwork and how to commission Anna to do a portrait for you. You can buy Anna’s children’s book Maomao and the Nian Monster on Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog. If you’re in China, catch Anna this weekend on CCTV Channel 4’s broadcast of “Foreigners in China” at 1pm Beijing time Saturday, October 31.