Living the dream

10:11, January 12, 2010      

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Leading a double life is becoming increasingly popular among youngsters who are keen to pursue their interests rather than simply settle for a day job. Gan Tian finds out more

Wearing just leather pants and boots, Wei Zhengyan (pictured below) takes center stage at Beijing's Coco Banana on Christmas Eve. Laser lights play over his body and when the Black Eyed Peas' hit I Gotta Feeling plays he begins to dance.

The clubbers follow him in the "hustle" and "cha-cha", then scream with delight when he does a Michael Jackson moonwalk.

The next morning at 11 am he's dressed in sportswear at Ozone Fitness Club teaching a middle-aged woman how to do sit-ups correctly

"Twenty at a time. No bargain," he says with a cold face to his client, holding a notebook in his hand.

Wei has a double life: fitness instructor in the day and club dancer at night. He's one of a growing number of Beijingers for whom one job is just not enough.

Wei studied choreography at college, but ended up at a gym after graduating in 2006. Frustrated at not being able to dance professionally his friends introduced him to some city nightclub owners in 2007 and since then he has been busy night and day.

"I love my double life: serious in the day, fun-loving at night," he says.

Shi Zhao works 9-to-5 as a researcher at a biochemical company in Beijing. He is a little introverted and seldom gossips with his colleagues.

But when he takes off his lab coat and returns home he turns on his computer and becomes the "Master" to his fellow netizens on Wikipedia's Chinese website, which he has been working on for seven years.

Shi jokes that he is a "nobody" in real life, but on Wikipedia he is a star. "Virtually no one knew what Wikipedia was (in 2003), but I noticed it and predicted it would be popular in the future," Shi recalls.

At first there was just some general information introducing countries, so Shi started to write articles about biochemistry and soon became a popular and well-rated contributor. These days he updates at least one item a week, sometimes five a day, on subjects ranging from information technology to chemistry and biology.

"You have to be a volunteer to be a Wiki writer. You need to look up accurate information in professional dictionaries, and rewrite it in your own way."

Now there are about 750,000 Chinese Wikipedia users who have read Shi's postings. He was so active in the community he was selected to be a member of the Ombudsman Committee, Wikipedia's global foundation.

"Now I am also in charge of checking facts and some administration work," Shi says.

The second life for Xiao Wei (pictured above) is even more time consuming. Just before last year's Copenhagen climate change conference, he was part of a group of volunteers and Greenpeace staffers who went to Bangkok to present evidence of climate change and to preach about the importance of environmental protection.

When he's not a Greenpeace warrior, Xiao is the singer in local band The Catcher in the Rye. Most days he write songs, rehearses and later performs on stage. Xiao's first contact with Greenpeace, an international NGO focusing on environmental protection, was in 2006. He took a trip to Papua New Guinea with the organization to Paradise Forest on a research trip.

Within two weeks, Xiao and his colleagues persuaded some big companies not to log trees illegally there.

When he returned, Xiao wrote a song called Green to promote forest protection. In addition, he works on graffiti for recycling bins, organizes music festivals and helps gather data on the environment.

"This is not a part-time job," Xiao says, "it is about doing something meaningful".

There are superwomen, too. As a spokesperson for a foreign company based in Beijing, Taiwan's Joan Li is in the office all day and often does overtime.

Even so, she is never too tired to enjoy her double-life on the weekends when she becomes a pet dog obedience instructor.

On an average Sunday afternoon more than 10 people gather in a garden, with their dogs, to listen and learn from Li about how to get on with their pets.

"Dogs don't understand human language, so the owners need a method to communicate with them. Dogs do receive signals and what I am doing is to teach the owners how to let their dogs receive signals and respond correctly," Li says.

Li became a professional instructor before she got her day job. In 2006, she read about an online program on pet dog obedience training and flew to the United States to do a course there.

"It is just an interest, but it makes me really happy to help someone solve their problems. Having a double life is perfect for me," Li says.

A life less ordinary

For many youngsters, leading a double life is normal. It's different from having a part-time job in that it's not about the money.

Usually, the second job has been part of their life for a long time, they have a passion for it and spend a lot of time and effort doing it.

We did a mini-survey of 20 people who have led a double life for at least three years, 16 of whom live in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

They are aged between 25 and 40 and their day jobs include being a doctor, reporter, and government officer. Their second lives include being a gardener, owning a coffee shop, and theater acting.

For example, Ma Jia is a TV host at Beijing Television, but he also has his own dessert restaurant. Zhang Zhuyuan is a manager at a small company, but he provides travel photos to a picture agency; while Zhu Lin is an officer at an NGO, but teaches kids how to play the piano.

Eighteen of those surveyed said they had become more sociable by living a double life.

"Young people in big cities face more pressure in their daily lives, including work and family. So, they begin to seek enjoyment from their outside interests and this becomes an important part of their lives, just like their normal jobs," psychologist Xiao Yuanhui says.

Xiao says it is easier for people to keep on doing what they are interested in and this also explains why they seem different, more energized, when they are playing out their second-life roles.

"Chinese people have been taught to pursue their dreams since they were young. A double-life is a compromise. If they have not realized their dreams this represents a positive way forward and promotes patience, confidence and discipline."

Source: China Daily
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