Every time I come back to Zürich I feel truly happy. I enjoy breathing the fresh air, swimming in the lake, watching trams passing by, or enjoying the sunset on the Polyterrasse… all these are beautiful moments that I can’t get enough of.
Shanghai does not offer the freshest air, but a lot of other things, like roaming the streets in French concession under the platane trees, jogging on the Bund along the impressive historical buildings with a misty view to the skyscrapers across the river, plus real Chinese food…
Fifteen years ago I came to study architecture at the ETH Zurich; five years later I went back to China to start my own business; last year expended back to Switzerland… Now I work and live between Zurich and Shanghai, switching locations every month.
Once a month I get refreshed by a new start and new inputs; each month is a fix deadline to close certain issues, otherwise they will get delayed for another month. This requires a lot of discipline from my team and myself. Both my team, business partners and me have to collect tasks and set goals to be accomplished before my next travel. I used to worry about the productivity with this kind of ‘long distance relationship’ with the team, but the result turned out to be very rewarding. Without me being present, the team members have more space to grow, more chances to make decisions, take responsibility and learn from their own mistakes.
Travel activates all senses, inspirations come automatically. Associations and ideas just gush out of my mind. In the air it’s easier to think out of box and overview the whole chess-plate to reflect on the moves strategically.
We profit a lot in business by diving in different cultures. Being present on both continents allows us to sense new opportunities and link them in a dynamic way. In this way we could alter our own business scope to seize the opportunities by offering a different quality, benefiting from the intercultural exchange. Also the collaboration with companies with completely different background makes me more objective, more open-minded and a better listener than before.
“If you know yourself and your enemy well enough, you will never lose a battle“
The switching happens not only in environment but also in mind, it helps me to become more focused, sympathetic and mindful. I won’t take the fresh air and clean water for granted; I would feel gratitude to have an authentic Cantonese meal; it’s good to observe the sky to remind me when, where and who I am. Because I know soon I won’t be in such a place that offers the same quality, I’m more aware of the moment. At the end it’s a challenge on personality:
“Embrace the change or become stagnant”
Stepping out of comfort zone and getting into new surroundings needs a lot of courage, adaptability and endurance on pain. Excitement can easily turn to exhaust, energy exchange could be gain or loss, physical and mental health is more challenged outside than at home. But as soon as we find our own sustainable way to surf and have fun, we look forward to riding on the next wave.
By Xi Zhang
Xi Zhang is Alumnae of ETH Zurich and co-founder of EXH Design Shanghai and EXH Design AG Zurich.