Jonathon Day and taking up the China challenge

Jonathon Day
− Jono enjoying the Beijing night scene Jonathon Day


Jonathon Day grew up with holidays to the family beach house in Lorne and riding motorbikes and hunting rabbits in rural Victoria. His family never travelled overseas and life outside of Australia seemed almost an entirely different world. Jono was also content rowing for Scotch College in Melbourne and striving towards his dream of representing Australia.

After graduating from high school, Jono studied a Bachelor of Finance at Monash University but working in the financial world failed to draw his interest. He also began to feel under-stimulated by his comfortable life in Melbourne.

Then came his first chance to travel overseas. He booked a holiday to India with two old high school mates. However, it was not until the plane finally landed on the tarmac of New Delhi Airport that it suddenly dawned on Jono that travel beyond the shores of Australia was really possible! The new knowledge that a foreign country was just a plane ticket away immediately changed the way he viewed the world.

Six months later Jono boarded a flight from Melbourne to Beijing. From Beijing he travelled north into Siberia and from there he rode the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow before backpacking through Eastern Europe. It was on the train ride across Russia that he became engrossed in a novel by George Friedman on The Next 100 Years: A Forecast of the 21st Century. It was reading about Freeman’s predictions of a resurgent Russia while looking out the window of the train as it sped past the Russian plains that Jono discovered a new thirst for knowledge about the world around him.

After returning to Australia he made a decision to study Russian in Saint Petersburg but due to difficulties with his student visa to Russia and with time running out, Jono was forced to switch plans and fly back to Beijing. Within a few days of arriving in Beijing, he decided to contact the Beijing Culture and Language University (he’d met a foreign student studying there last time he came to Beijing). He decided to enrol in two semesters of Mandarin studies but he was still without a permanent place to stay. He then he met a helpful English-speaking Chinese guy while wandering around lost on the streets of Beijing. With the help of his new friend, Jono found an apartment to rent in the densely populated student village of Wudaokou.

Jono's world tour and three year adventure in the Middle Kingdom

Signing the contract for his apartment was one of the most exciting moments of my life. It was the first time I’d ever signed a contract in my life! And I had this cool-as penthouse!

Living in China gave Jono a new and overwhelming sense of independence and he took great pride in keeping his new apartment clean and tidy.

Learning the Chinese language, however, did not immediately appeal to Jono. Never an avid student at university or in high school, he cruised through the first few months and paid little attention to homework.  It was then after three months that his study habits began to change. Every night—and sometimes unintentionally—he found find himself sitting at his desk cramming new characters.

His change in mindset came after a sudden desire to connect with the people around him and to ‘understand every word and every conversation.’ He began compulsively looking up new words he didn’t know and saving them into a flashcard program on his iPhone. After class, he also met up with Chinese friend for meals to practice speaking.

After two semesters of studying Chinese at BLCU, he enrolled in an Advanced Chinese class at Peking University. While studying at Peking University he met a young Australian guy who told him about the Australia China Youth Association (ACYA). From that point on Jono began attending ACYA events, including Q&A sessions on finance and speeches from then Australian Ambassador Geoff Raby. This further stimulated Jono’s interest in China and also triggered the idea of working in China.

However, after three semesters in Beijing and with proficient Mandarin skills, Jono still sensed a huge gap in his knowledge of China. He was also ready for a change in scenery and a new challenge. He decided to move to the ancient capital of the south, Nanjing, where away from the student hive of Wudaokou he began to truly understand China.

For 12 months Jono studied Chinese part-time at Nanjing University and Nanjing Normal University while cramming for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams 1 and 2. He lived with a Dutch student for a semester but after five months and without almost any notice he was suddenly joined by his landlord who was a 42-year-old ‘sheng nu’ (middle-aged and unmarried Chinese woman). While this experience tested his patience, it also educated Jono about the extreme pressure of marriage in China.

Jono's world tour and three year adventure in the Middle Kingdom

It was also at this time that I met Jono. I arrived in Nanjing a month after Jono and we were classmates at Nanjing University. Immediately I sensed something unique about Jono but it wasn’t until we both went on an adventure together to the city of Xuzhou for a hoax guitar performance that I had the chance to spend some more time with him.

Sharing over ten hours on a minibus with two less than friendly Russians and our shady Chinese agent provided a great bonding opportunity. Jono told me about his amazing travels to India and Russia. He also introduced me to the dianhua flashcard program and I returned to Nanjing inspired to study more efficiently like Jono.

While Jono was becoming more and more fluent in Mandarin and knowledgeable about Chinese society and culture, he was still worried about his future. He was concerned about what he exactly wanted to do in life and studying in China for two and a half years was partly a way of delaying this decision.

At the same time, the CFA test was beginning to consume his life. His facial hair was long past a five o’clock shadow and unless you specifically booked in advance to have dinner with him, he was locked away in his room cramming financial equations. He was drawn to the exams not so much by the prospect of a career in finance but by the raw challenge of passing a test with such a low pass rate.

It was at this time that I told Jono about my intentions of studying post-graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies (HNC).

I assumed though that it would just be me applying for HNC until I met up with Jono a few weeks later for dinner. With the CFA exam approaching, I hadn’t seen Jono in class for several weeks. He was physically and mentally wiped out from studying. He was now convinced against the idea of pursuing a career in finance. He then showed me a financial equation saved as his phone’s display background to prove just how out-of-control things had become. He then told me that he had scheduled a tour of HNC. I was surprised but also excited and it was on that cold night in November over gongbaojiding for dinner that we agreed to apply and sit the entrance exam together.

Ten months later and after a lengthy application period we commenced study at the exclusive compound on 162 Shanghai Road. There was a distinct difference between the study habits of the Chinese and American students at HNC. Jono though found himself in the category of the latter as he devoted most nights to study in the library. When it comes to tackling a new challenge there is almost nothing stopping Jono and his amazing self-discipline has inspired me in many ways.

It was also while studying at HNC that Jono began to tackle the question of his future and planning his future. In our year together at HNC, I saw a dramatic change in Jono. He went from a 24-year-old who was worried by his future career prospects to a calm 25-year-old with an internship at Austrade in Shanghai, a long list of career possibilities saved on his iPhone and a promising future ahead of him.

Jono has since taken up employment in Sydney with the Shenzhen Economic and Trade Representative Office.


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Olly Theobald

Director at Asia Options.
Olly works in Hangzhou China and is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, e-commerce, Asia education, data science, and foreign languages. Olly is a graduate from RMIT University and the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. Olly speaks Mandarin and Korean.

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