Interview with Chelsey Mark

When I first interviewed Chelsey Mark in March 2009, he talked much about his journey as a singer and TV host in mainland China. Since then, his breadth and craft as a TV host and performer have only grown deeper with each project.

The following interview was conducted via email from late March, early April 2012.
Peter: You have been shaping, crafting and honing your skills in mainland China as a media celebrity for over a decade now, and your portfolio of gigs and projects continues to grow. I want to focus on your perseverance to continue to do what you do when others may well have thrown in the towel and gone home, but first, inquiring minds want to know what you have being since our last interview?

Chelsey: Throwing in the towel isn’t part of my vocabulary. Realizing my goals and reaching my fullest potential is. When you interviewed me last, the programs I was hosting were not being seen by many people, but that has taken a turn since then.

I was on one of the hottest TV show in China on the biggest entertainment station, Hunan TV in 2009-2010.  The show's called 'Baike Quanshuo', a play on the Chinese word for encyclopedia ('baikequanshu'). It's  a show of non-stop laughter and comedy skits. I got huge exposure because of my appearance on the show and more people recognized me on the street. I’ve had a steady flow of other shows and public relation gigs. These include Top Gear China, NBA Made in China, Air Jordan Brand, Nike, Li Ning (China’s premiere sports brand), and a gig for The Canada Tourism Commission. 

It’s not possible to stay in the entertainment industry in China unless you're constantly expanding your skills. For me, that's been  hosting, singing and acting. I started in the entertainment industry as a singer then moved to hosting, and it seemed a natural progression to then move into acting.  I just finished my first appearance in a TV drama called 'The Harbin Story' shot in the northeast city of Harbin and set in the 1930s. I played a French pianist based on a real life character.  I get shot while proposing to a women during my piano recital. I was killed off in the first episode!  

The most rewarding part of my job is when I'm invited to speak to kids in high school and university as a motivational speaker. In the last couple of years, I've slowly built my motivational speaking portfolio. I’m always encouraging China's youth to 'chase their goals and not the dollar.' A big problem with kids here is they don’t go after what really makes them happy in terms of career. They simply choose whatever job will bring in money which invariably spirals many of them into a world of unhappiness.  I’m pretty much qualified to talk on this subject since I have always done the things I love to do. And I remember I started here with zero money and zero connections. 

 Peter: It’s great that you can share your own story with young Chinese and be a role model and mentor. I’d like to return to that in a moment, but I’m interested to know exactly what gig you did with the Canadian Tourism Commission, and how did it come about that you were chosen to promote Canadian tourism? 
Chelsey: I wanted to get involved in promoting Canada and China.The Canadian Tourism Commission was also looking for a new face to attract a younger Chinese audience, and I was looking for a way to promote Canadian and China, so it was a perfect fit. Some of the bigger events I've hosted with them include the 'Canadian Winter Olympics 100 Day Countdown' and 'Showcase Canada'- Asia Gala in 2010. 

Peter: The poet and writer Jane Hirschfield has a great line from one of her essays:  ‘Habit, fear, and laziness conspire to keep us in the realm of the deeply familiar.’ What inspires you to get out of bed every morning, and how do you go about making fearlessness—a reality in your life?

Chelsey: I’m a big fan of the movie 'The Secret.' Its philosophy is simple: 'thoughts become reality'.  If you want it to happen just constantly thinking about it will help create that reality, though it goes without saying that you need to take action as well. 

I’m also a big motivational MP3 listener. I listen to MP3s from such great speakers as Anthony Robbins, Chris Widener, and Brian Tracy. Being an independent freelancer it’s all up to me to get everything done, so I don’t have a boss or someone telling me what to do, yet with these MP3's I always have a coach giving advice, and revving me up to get out there and do it. 

I also watch tons of documentaries and interviews with successful athletes, movie stars, politicians and their stories of how they got to be where they are today. They have succeeded basically because of sheer persistence and constant improvement. This is one of the more important things I teach my students when I speak in public .That is, if you want to do it, you can. All you need is to be persistent. But at the same time, it may take one month, a year, or ten to twenty years before you achieve your goal. 

In terms of fear, my life has really taken a big change since my grandmother passed away last year. She was ninety-seven years old!  Her long life spanned five generations and twentieth century history: two World Wars, recessions, the Kennedy assassination. You name it she lived through it. My grandma lived through all political and social turmoil of her age, so what excuse or fear do I have living in 2012?

Peter: What do you believe to be your four most successful habits?

Chelsey: Persistence and faith in tomorrow, a strong work ethic, developing myself to be a more professional and happy person, confidence and trusting my instincts.

Peter: How do you view the world differently now as opposed to 3-4 years ago?

Chelsey: It’s still the same world, but with a better understanding of how the 'real' world works.  In the past, I believed if I was good enough as an artist I would be successful. The difference now is I understand why and how some artists make it, and why  all the others might be the best, but will never have success.  To make a long story short, I have a good understanding of business in the entertainment industry.

Peter: You meet and deal with all kinds of people. What have your interactions with people taught you?     

Chelsey: You can learn something from each and every person you meet. I’m always learning how to deal with people and social situations  better.  Everybody really is worth a million dollars. I see the potential and value of each and every human being.  It also helps me keep my grounded and remind me to respect everyone I meet. 
Peter: What aspects of your life have been most crucial to your development as a host and media figure?

Chelsey: I would say marketing, networking, promoting and developing myself.  It's pretty simple: the more people you can get along with and like you, the more opportunities and success you will have.  Especially here in China with different markets and traditions, it’s an ongoing learning experience.
There are other things as well like adapting to such a sprawling metropolis that is Beijing, weather, the pollution, the sheer number of people.  Keeping physically healthy and maintaining my craft as a performer over the years has been a big challenge. In the high definition (‘HD’) era where everything from a small pimple to an untrimmed nose hair can come up on screen, it’s our duty as artists to stay in tip-top condition.  

Peter:  Have circumstances in your life always been kind to you? Let me put the question another way. Do you believe you are where you are today because of luck or because of sheer hard work?  

Chelsey: I'm a firm believer of '‘opportunities are given to those who are ready'.  No matter what opportunities come your way, if you can't say:  'I'm ready for this,' the course of natural selection will eliminate you from that opportunity. The best prime example of this was going back to my days appearing on of Hunan TV’s hugely successful ‘Baike Quanshuo.’ I wasn’t actually their first choice, I was their third! When I arrived on set I realized two foreigners they had selected for the show were not the right mix so basically the opportunity was mine to win or lose.  For the next eight months I worked tirelessly on and off the camera, working longer hours, and making it my number one priority.  Even though the role I had on the show wasn’t what you would call huge, it was the number one watched program in 2009-10 running every night Monday to Thursday. It was worth all the hard work.  

Peter: What family cultural roots do you have in China, and how much impact, if any, have they had on you?

Chelsey: My father was born in Guangdong province in the city of Taishan. Inky Mark left Jining village when he was six years old with all of my immediate family, but some distant relatives still in there. . I went back to visit and see the house where my father was born in 2009.  I also saw my great grandfather’s grave which I’m told points north to Canada because many of my Chinese relatives immigrated to Canada. My Chinese roots have had a huge impact on me. The reason I came to China was to find those roots. If it wasn’t for my father’s Chinese heritage, I wouldn’t be in China today. In many ways, I’m continuing the story that started with my great grandfather. That story goes something like this: my great grandfather immigrates to Canada and works on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. My grandfather opens up a Laundromat and Chinese restaurant. (Lees Café). My father becomes a Member of Parliament. I come back to China to find the roots and continue the family story, a story that is just starting for me!

Peter:  Has working in main land China been a form of further education for you?

Chelsey: Being an independent singer, TV presenter and actor are skills that I could never learn at school. In China, a lot of success is tied into something called guanxi  or 'connections'.  Although there are many examples of unfair guanxi here, the whole idea of guanxi is using your personal network to further your goals. My understanding of guanxi is it’s the same all over the world, but just a little bit more 'in your face' here.  Sometimes knowing one person may save you years of hard work and finding that break. The biggest key to success here in mainland China is to work on your person, be a professional, be courteous, and continue to become the best person you can. 

Peter: There’s that much quoted line in Chinese by a minister of the Qianlong emperor: 'there are only two kinds of people in the world. One is called fame, the other fortune.' Are you seeking fame, fortune, or something else? 

Chelsey: I would have to say I'm after something which might seem strange to the emperor's minister, that is, using my skills for the benefit of society. When I was a singer on TV in China I was always thinking, if I could make people happy and that people from all walks of life could follow and realize their dreams, I felt I was making a real impact. When I became TV host, I wanted to be a really funny and energetic and share that with my audience.  In 2012 things have changed again. I’m still entertaining people as a media host, but also branching out as a motivational speaker.

Peter: Does Beijing seem like home to you now? Are other media people in mainland China considered your friends or professional colleagues? 

Chelsey: I have plenty of friends in the business including movie stars, singers, journalists, CEO’s and cameramen. I still consider my professional colleagues to be my friends. We are all learning from each other. If you can't get along with the people in the business, in the long run, you won’t be around.  I remember a great quote I heard from either Brian Tracy or Chris Widener—'you can’t fly with the eagles if you’re hanging with the turkeys''  You need to surround yourself with professionals and like-minded people who will elevate and help you soar to greater heights.  

Peter: Are there any projects in the pipeline you want to share?

Chelsey: In discussing projects in the pipeline, I believe if you want a future situation to workout, don’t tell anyone about it.  If you don’t want it to happen, then don't talk about it. I’m talking about projects which I have no control over.  My own personal projects are different. One recently finished project which has been in the works for months is my English-Chinese website. I am always working on projects, but as I just mentioned I don't talk about them until I have actually executed them.   


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