Discovering the Underlying Creativity of the City

Authors: Go Chengdu


Michiel Roosjen, or Wu Zhiyuan in Chinese, is the Chief Representative of Creative Holland and founder of About Asia. Majoring in economics with a specialization in real estate science, he graduated from the Fontys University Eindhoven in the Netherlands. He first visited China in 2009, and by now has lived and worked in Guilin, Shanghai, Xiamen and other Chinese cities. He has been in Chengdu for more than five years.
The Netherlands is known as the "country of creativity" and most definitely as the "country of design" for its minimalism, innovation and practical use for daily life. The creative industry is one of the country's booming industries and is active on a global scale as well. Therefore it is seen as one of the 9 key industries of the Netherlands. Michiel Roosjen has been active in this field for many years. According to him, both Chengdu and his beloved city of Amsterdam, have many "invisible" creative scenes.
Unreal Scenario
Before graduating from university in 2009, Michiel traveled to Asia for the first time - U.A.E, India and China. He did not speak for a week after returning to the Netherlands. "I was so impressed, and I needed time to digest everything." His graduation project in real estate science was themed around the question: What will the physical world be like in the future? He created an imaginary scenario of what in example future hospitals will look like.
"Maybe there will be no physical hospitals anymore in time, maybe door-to-door service will be provided instead, or maybe 'smart medicine' will take over any need for a hospital." He conceived a more profound world, while thinking about the future of real estate. "For example, if retail one day doesn't exist anymore, what can the property be used for instead?" These days we can see this shift when for instance looking at churches in Holland, which are transformed to serve a different function. "Space always conforms to time."
The world was stuck in an economic crisis the year he graduated. Michiel, who saw himself a global citizen, decided to come to China because "a lot of things are going on here." Inspired by the work of American writer Joel Kotkin, The City: A Global History, which illustrates the past, current and future state of cities, Michiel felt a desire to explore the urban development in China and see it for himself.
Like most foreigners, Michiel came to know China by learning Chinese. Nine years later, he found himself comfortable in China, yet finds difficulty to make a proper summary of the complexity of his new environment: China. According to him, many foreigners feel confident that they can write a book about China on their first day of arriving. However, the longer they stayed, and the more they found out about China, the more they conclude it is rather difficult to state or write anything, "as China is so flexible in many ways you just cannot get a grip on it." Michiel stressed, "China has complex and diverse cultures. You thought you knew it well back then, but you really don't."
Invisible City
Not long after moving to Xiamen, Michiel started a business in China as well, jointly with two partners in other cities. He was intimidated by the widely famous cuisine of Chengdu. "I was worried that all of the food there would be super spicy," he said. "Dutch cuisine is plain, but I like it." In 2013, he moved to Chengdu. He has stayed here for more than five years and regarded it now as "his second hometown." However, the main reason he sticks around, are for other things than the typical Chengdu qualities.
It is obvious that mixture of old and new attracts foreigners, but for him the charm of the city is in those things you cannot see directly. "Chinese philosophy, and food and tea culture are indeed great values, and Chengdu also enjoys this wonderful reputation for living a leisurely and slower life. But I feel lots of energy and excitement in Chengdu, when I look at all the young people in the city that act in their own unique ways. Youth culture is very present here. It is the new, the uncommon, and it's a great source of inspiration and innovation."
Michiel once received a high-paying job offer from a company in Hong Kong. He flew to Hong Kong and enjoyed the nice Cantonese cuisine on a sunny afternoon and got in the mood of jumping into a new chapter in life here. However, he was still uncertain about whether to accept the new job on the airplane back to Chengdu. He took out a blank piece of paper and wrote down the pros and cons of Hong Kong, China. It then occurred to him, why not put them down for Chengdu as well? He made his final decision on staying in Chengdu after writing down just two words:
Playfulness and randomness - that is the charm of Chengdu, he thought.
Michiel always greeted people with an "orange" smile in different circumstances. He always had strong self-discipline. He described himself as a "control freak" because he does not like the idea of no plan while he is really into the playfulness and randomness of Chengdu. He contradicts his own thoughts and feelings.
"It is all me. Chengdu teaches me how to relax, and how to live."
Unpredictable innovation
Michiel became the only person of the three founders who stays with the company when his partners went separate ways. Starting a business is not easy, especially as he does not want to be a traditional businessman. His ultimate dream is to keep on bringing new ideas to the market.
He entered the Chinese market with football-related business. He started it in Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. It all had very little to do with the creative industry. He admitted that in the first three or four years, the company was involved in various fields: education, construction, and manufacturing. He realized that he should explore one specific area instead of having a broad range of tasks. He devoted himself to the creative industry after certain funds and resources were collected. "Chengdu is the right place. To be honest, and Chengdu's creativity will spread oversea as well as it is becoming more international these days."
It's a huge challenge to give creativity the commercial value it deserves. It is often an "invisible game." People get used to only look at a final result, while reaching to this result takes many attempts. "Chengdu's creativity is hidden in small institutions and organizations. Many of them are young teams and are driven by a spirit to make the next new thing work." Michiel took minimalistic design as an example, "Minimalism may seem simple and cheap, but actually simplicity is extremely complicated. Often it starts by making something complex, and then strip it down, take away all the unnecessary parts to reach the innermost core of the creation. Minimalism is a philosophy. It is looking for the essential needs of people, and in this way I am looking to explore the essential need of creativity."
Hit by a beam of light of a Chengdu sunset, this tall entrepreneur is standing on the rooftop of a building on Renmin South Road. The gentle orange glow of this sunset matches well with this Dutchman.
The name Michiel Roosjen is a metaphor of his life. Roosjenis Dutch and refers to the flower "rose", and his given name "Michiel" refers to an strong icon in Dutch history -- world explorer and admiral Michiel de Ruyter. His Chinese name "Wu Zhiyuan" is equally implicative for it reminds one of what Zhuge Liang wrote in An Admonition to My Son: "A genuine ambition is derived from simplicity of life, and a grand horizon is conceived in serenity of mind."

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