Culture chameleon

By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-22 10:24
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Culture chameleon

TV host, marketing whiz, boutique travel agency boss, TCM practitioner, leisurely scribe of Buddhist scriptures... Liang Dong has seen many reincarnations in one lifetime. Li Jing tries to pin this success story down.

Liang Dong says his favorite place to recharge and rejuvenate is a little house hidden among the old courtyards that line the moat next to the Forbidden City. Here he can relax, dressed in casual cottons, and listen to the chant of Buddhist mantras playing softly in the background.

This is his little pharmacy, named Z'an, which according to Liang's business card means to pray for peace in body and soul.

"Wherever there is a place to sit, there is my office, no matter if it is in the pharmacy or in a hotel lobby," says Liang. "Computers have been out of my life for the past two years, as I don't have to produce Powerpoint presentations or write reports anymore."

But two years ago, computers were always at his fingertips. And like most top information technology executives, he dressed in well-tailored business suits, jetted about from place to place and was chauffeured around in a limousine. His office then was a 10-square meter space in the most exclusive high-rise properties in the city.

As vice-president of web search engine Baidu, Liang Dong was a high-flyer in more ways than one.

He joined the company in 2005 tasked with the mission to create brand awareness, but not many had confidence he could do the job. After all, he was known more as a television host then than an IT professional.

But he was already packing in the awards. In 2003, he won Chinese television's Best Showbiz Host award for his entertainment program Showbiz Show on Phoenix Television.

"Change was hard," says Liang. "It was like transferring buses. When you get a seat after standing for a longtime in a crowded bus, you are reluctant to get off and transfer to another crowded one, because there are no seats and you have to stand and wait again."

Fortunately, he got his seat before too long. The slogan he created - Baidu yixia - soon became a buzzword among netizens. He initiated a series of projects under the brand motto "Baidu knows Chinese better" and won the top Effie Award in China. The Effies are the equivalent of the Oscars in the marketing and advertising industry.

He also wrote a book, Trust China, which portrayed the company and its businesses in an entertaining and enlightening way. Baidu was listed on the Nasdaq in 2005. He left the company not long after.

"It was a rapidly developing company and it was hard to keep pace," he says. "I cannot grow as quickly as a company that is leapfrogging ahead at 10 times the growth rate of everything else. I knew I had become part of its history and that its next chapters would be written by others."

In 2007 Liang teamed up with several others to found Trip TM, a boutique travel agency that specializes in tailor-made tours. One of the first tours was to a Taoist temple hidden away on the tranquil mountain in Chongqing.

"Cell phones were turned off," says Liang, describing the first tour. "We read nothing, wrote nothing and ate simple food and vegetables."

Dinner took 40 minutes, consisting of just nine peanuts and a bowl of congee. Each diner was told to chew 36 times before swallowing.

Chanting sutras, sitting in meditation and practicing calligraphy became a part of Liang's daily routine after the tour was over.

"The aim is to identify the changes in our body and follow the rhythm," he says. "It is beautiful to live as our body dictates. If you don't want to work, do something else. If you are tired, have a rest. A wise man is aware of his situation and knows how to follow it."

Liang's interest in metaphysics dates back to his encounter and subsequent interest with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In 2002 he was suffering from gout and in seeking treatment, met Deng Tietao, the director of Guangdong Hospital of TCM. Liang started studying from the director and also read many books.

He actively promoted TCM and Chinese culture on his television programs with The Travel Channel and endeared himself to the audience with his simple explanations and interpretations. Even now, the only book he reads every day is the Compendium of Materia Medica, a classic textbook on the identification and use of herbs and cures.

Liang may be a success story and role model for the young and ambitious now, but he attributes his best lesson in life to his most unpleasant experiences.

After graduating from the Communication University of China, he joined Phoenix Television in 1998.

"I was depressed at first and didn't find my niche for a long time," he says. "But that experience paved the foundation of my success. I got to learn everything from business and current affairs to lifestyle and entertainment.

"I did not realize the value of that. But now I know everything you have done has an impact on you and gives you something."

Liang's next plan is to pack up a digital video recorder and go on a journey of discovery.

"I am going to be a good documentary director. I loved editing and producing when I was in college," he says.

He majored in film, so this latest venture will simply bring him full circle - at the still tender age of just 36.