Name: Andrew Shaw
Occupation: Jade carver and author, China
I took early retirement from my job as a BBC reporter 13 years ago to travel to China to pursue my dream to learn to carve jade. At one time I loved reporting live from major events such as 9/11. It was as if I was witnessing history rather than covering the news. But the death of my mother made me rethink my life.
I was in Vietnam reporting on the trial of Gary Glitter trial when he faced charges of paedophilia when she passed away. It is one of my eternal regrets that I wasn’t with her when she died. I believe I went temporarily insane. I booked a table for two in the best restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City and sat and had a meal and long conversation with her, in which I told her my plans to ditch my comfortable life and well-paid job to become a jade carver. She didn’t touch the meal I had ordered but agreed I should follow my dream.
It’s been a tough but incredibly satisfying journey. I have been shown so much kindness and given so much help by Chinese people – far more than people in the country of my birth. For example a simple craftsman, Wufan, invited me into his home, allowed me into his workshop, let me use his tools, gave me uncut jade and spent two years teaching me how to carve it – all without any thought of financial return. I can’t believe a Chinese person could find a goldsmith in London willing to spend two years teaching him his trade free of charge.
I have not only become a gold-medal-winning master carver, I have found love, married, raised a stepdaughter and gone into business with my wife Ann.
But financially it’s very tough at the moment. We have sunk our life savings of about £400,000, mostly Ann’s money, into a lakeside teahouse and jade gallery which is yet to show a profit. Ann deals with all the finances here in China. Any money made from sales of my jade carvings goes straight back into the business.
There was a time when I could live on my pension but the collapse of the pound and the rise in the standard (and cost) of living in China means that my English money has halved in value. There were nearly 14 renminbi to the pound when I arrived here. There are less than 9 renminbi now and the price of everything here has doubled. To make ends meet I have taken to renting out my flat in London. We are currently living on that rental income of £700 a month plus my BBC pension of £1,825 a month.
This is almost all spent on day-to-day living in China: £825 a month rent, £75 utility bills, £15 gym membership, groceries £350, family health insurance £40. University fees for my stepdaughter are £500 a month. I also spend £70 a month on acupuncture for ailments caused by being hunched over a carving bench every day, and £90 on ayi (domestic help).
I spend about £350 a month on my jade workshop, materials and tools. My book, Jade Life, was published recently and has done quite well around the world. I also have a website, Jadefiend.com.
While the royalties from Jade Life are likely to be very modest, it has doubled sales of my carvings and I have more and more invitations to give talks and lectures on jade at universities, various societies, literary festivals and corporate events. This brings in about £1,500 a month but this all goes back into the teahouse business.
We are optimistic about the future. Once the teahouse starts to make a profit and my stepdaughter gets through university, things should ease.
Do I regret making the transition from journalist to jade carver? Not for a moment. So far it’s been a glorious adventure with some agonizing lows and exhilarating highs. Today, I am surrounded by people I love, I have purpose in my life, food in my belly, money in my pocket, a roof over my head and look forward to the future. I can’t ask for anything more.
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