If you asked me to name some of the most influential and inspiring bloggers I’ve met in China, I’d count Jo Bai among them. She’s the voice behind the popular blog Life Behind the Wall, where she’s written about everything from Chinese culture and dating to things China newbies do incorrectly. But I also admire her for her entrepreneurial spirit (she launched her own online clothing business Heilan Fashions) and willingness to take risks in the name of living out her dreams.
We sat down with Jo Bai to learn more about how she’s making great things happen in China, what it takes to make a WWAM relationship work, and more.
P.S.: Are you a part of the WWAM (Western women & Asian men) community? Would you like to be featured as our WWAM of the month? We’re always on the lookout for outstanding women and men to feature in this column. If you’d like us to spotlight you through an interview, send an e-mail to [email protected]
If you want living proof of just how far you can take your expat business dreams in China, then you need to meet Jo Bai.
She first wowed us all with her award-winning blog Life Behind The Wall. But more recently, she’s been making a name for herself as a serial entrepreneur, living out her business dreams here in China. Just recently, she has opened HeiLan Hair & Fashions — a store specializing in weaves, wigs, and Western-style clothes, shoes and jewelry – and launched a new teaching app called Freebao. In addition, she’s still an owner and host for SharesBar here in Hangzhou.
And did I mention that she’s snagged a gorgeous Chinese guy?
I don’t know about you, but I’m totally inspired by this woman! It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to Jo Bai and her entrepreneurial adventures (and more) through this interview.
Born in Columbia, Missouri and raised in a small town not far from there, then moved to Naples, Florida for the majority of my life . I always knew I was not your normal Mid-Western/Floridian. I had dreams and wanted to see things that my family thought were impossible at the time. However, after a living a life of many different experience that only a book could express totally… I have found my place in the world, for now. Surprisingly, that place is The People’s Republic of China.
Yes, I am an African-American Woman over 40 living in the P.R. China…. I decided that I wanted to express myself and my feelings the best way I knew how, through words. I also wanted to share what it was like to live in a foreign country where things are not what you expect and people are not what you think.
Follow me through my experiences, my joys and my pains, my sane and insane times.. but most of all live through me what you are not ready to do yourself. I hope to inspire all of you to live your life the way you want and to not be afraid of the unknown or the comments of others that are not living their dream……Live outside the box…. do not only “Dream it… Do it”
I came to China to see China. I had always wanted to go to the Far East. I had gotten laid off and my kids were out of high school. So, they said go for it. Here I am 8 years later.
Many of us first came to know you through your award-winning blog, Life Behind the Wall. What inspired you to start blogging?
Actually, laziness. Lol. I was tired of writing long emails to all my friends and family and decided to put it in a blog for all to read. And taaadaaaa I’m Internet famous. Who knew?
In 2014, you started out as a partner/shareholder in a Hangzhou bar called SharesBar and went on to become an Assistant Manager there. Tell us about how you became involved in this business, and what you enjoy about working for the bar.
Well, SharesBar in Hangzhou is a low key place where we have a lot of different activities like bands, comedy, theme nights etc. I used hang out there with my friends. So one day I saw some English mistakes in the advertisement and brought it to their attention. They asked me to edit the ads, then write them. Next thing I know I was hosting shows and volunteered to be lead singer in a band.
Not long after that I was helping to make decisions at the bar. They said you might as well be an owner. And I bought into the bar. I was elected to be apart of the management team. I am still an owner and I still host. But my schedule doesn’t allow me to do much else anymore.
Jet, he is amazing. You never know what’s missing from your life until you find someone that completes you. After my divorce, my ex husband remarried a month later. Tells me he had a Chinese girl on the side. But you know me, nothing holds me down long. I dated a lot and one night went to the club on a girl’s night and we were feeling like we needed some men around. So I suggested that we just pick one like apples. They laughed and told me to go first. I looked around and pointed at Jet. Muscular, handsome Chinese man with a big dragon tattoo. I know nothing about him. Just picked him.
He came to sit with us and the other girls followed my lead. We all partied until six in the morning. I could not find a taxi back home so he invited me to stay in his apt. The rest is rated R. But been together ever since.
You’ve started up an online business called HeiLan Hair & Fashions. What sparked your interest in the fashion business? Was it challenging to open a store in China?
I sell hair like weaves, and wigs, and Western-style clothes, shoes and jewelry. Due to Jet’s background it is very difficult for him to get a job in China. So we needed to think of a business. I saw a lack of products for the curvy girl and Black hair products, and decided to fill the void. It took off like crazy. Expats contact me from all over the world looking for clothes and hair. Jet helps me a lot since I have a job and three businesses.
I do most of my selling through Wechat and mobile apps. I just am finishing up the redesign of my website. I think all my items are popular since they are hard to get in China for foreigners.
I’ve heard you’ve been working on an app called Freebao as well. Could you talk about that?
My third endeavor is a teaching app that uses face-to-face video chats to teach languages. Works kind of like Uber. Request a teacher and they will pick up and teach you a class. It has launched and is doing well. Freebao is available in the Apple Store and Google Play.
My plate is full I guess.
Many foreigners dream of opening businesses in China. What do you think it takes to be a successful foreign entrepreneur in China?
Patience. There is a lot of red tape. You need Chinese friends. Influential friends to help you with the government stuff. You also need money. Everything is up-front here. Foreigners cannot get loans here.
Jo, I know you’re always working on something new. Do you have any business ideas for the future or plans for your current businesses that you’d like to share with us?
Well you know me, I always have something brewing. I’m thinking men’s clothes and make up next. Who knows, I’m just trying to grow my Empire.
Thanks so much to Jo Bai for this interview! You can learn more about Jo at her blog, check out her app at Freebao.com, and visit SharesBar on Facebook. If you’d like to shop HeiLan Hair & Fashions right now on WeChat (the official website will launch on January 2, 2016), just scan the bar code in the intro to this interview.
“A Western woman walks into a bar…” sounds like the start of a joke. But instead of coming back with a punchline, a number of Western women came back with Chinese men who they would eventually marry.
Sure, bars get a bad rap in the world of dating sometimes — yet these women show that your local watering hole just might turn into the backdrop for your “how we met” story. (In their case, the “how I met my Chinese husband” story.)
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