Gerald Beroud believes his long association with China has made him less egocentric and more modest. Provided to China Daily
Gerald Beroud’s connection with China began in 1972, when the then 15-year-old gave a class presentation in his native Switzerland about then US president Richard Nixon’s first visit to the country. More than 40 years later, he is one of his homeland’s foremost experts on China and makes a living helping outsiders understand the country.
"It was like fate," he says of his school report.
Beroud runs SinOptic, a company offering information and services focused on relations between Switzerland and China. When he launched the company in 1998, it was the only one of its kind in Switzerland.
While Beroud’s first contact with China was as a boy, his actual relationship with the country did not begin until he was 29. After graduating with a degree in sociology, Beroud took a job researching substance-abuse problems. In 1986, he received a call from his sister, asking him if he’d like to attend the International Esperanto Conference in Beijing. Beroud accepted and, afterward, traveled to Yunnan’s provincial capital Kunming and Tianjin. He was impressed by the kindness of the people he encountered, he says.
"When I came back from China, I felt I was an ignorant person. I did not know anything about China," he says.
To better understand the country, he decided to learn Mandarin and placed an advertisement for a teacher in a local newspaper. For two years, he met his tutor, a student from Nanjing, once or twice a week. In 1989, he decided to move to Geneva to pursue Chinese studies alongside his work.
Beroud launched SinOptic alongside a website offering information on China, including reports on politics, culture, economics, sports and travel tips.
There was little information on China available at the time, so Beroud was forced to find scarce sources.
"The first lesson I took from managing the website was to discover the profound relations that you would not notice otherwise," he says.
These included an acquaintance who had worked with a Chinese company years before and a neighbor who practiced tai chi.
He also received permission from the Swiss embassy to distribute press releases regarding China on his website.
Beroud branched out into translation and partnered with businesses and governments in matters related to China.
His work took him to China many times, and over the years he has visited every province apart from Hainan, where he will travel this month. Beroud has visited China’s largest metropolises and its small villages.
During his travels, he has also maintained the interest of his earlier career and visits rehabilitation centers and hospitals.
He has witnessed the changing faces of Sino-Swiss business relations. In the early days, only large Swiss firms operated in China. But now many small and medium-sized enterprises are entering the market.
"The scope of economic activity is larger and larger, and they are in many different fields," he says.
He also sees more Chinese companies coming to Switzerland, including Bank of China and Huawei.
Consequently, his work has become broader and more diverse. In 2003, he received an inquiry about good lakes for ice sailing in China.
"Your brain must be very well organized," he says.
"There are many small boxes, and you need to put the right information in each box."
Unlike the early days of his business, there is now an abundance of China information.
"Now, there is so much information that it is difficult to have a good overview of what China is like," he says.
This makes it harder to find good reliable information, Beroud says. But he weeds out the best through attending conferences, taking trips to China, reading newspapers and speaking with contacts.
Beroud believes his long association with China has changed him.
"You have to become more modest and realize that your own way of living and thinking is relative," he says.
"It is one truth among other truths, but it is not the only truth."
His work has changed the way he thinks and acts. For example, Beroud now writes dates and addresses the Chinese way, starting from the larger or more general and working down to the smaller or more specific.
"It is also a different way of thinking, from general to specific," he says.
"It balances our own way of thinking."
Beroud says his work with China has also taught him about Switzerland.
"I have the chance to meet people I would have no chance to meet otherwise and discover the skills of Swiss companies and people that I would not know," he says.
"It opens a window for me."
SOURCE: China Daily
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