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November 29, 2011

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Aussie black-belt hosts travel show

IN 2008 Australian Cameron Andersen was practicing international law in Shanghai when he was spotted as a TV natural by the producer of "Getaway." He was then invited as a guest for the 30-minute travel show on International Channel Shanghai, or ICS, which is seen nationwide and overseas.

Not only was he funny, smart, versatile and poised, he also spoke fluent Mandarin and Shanghainese, and that clinched it. He sings and raps in Chinese and does break-dancing and free-style Latin dance, but not on the show. He's also a martial arts practitioner, and viewers can sometimes watch him demonstrating his skills on the travel show.

Today Andersen, 29, is still the regular host of "Getaway."

"TV was absolutely a big decision for me, a huge departure from my former profession and life. But I am a person who love to succeed at the many things I dream of," he says.

Andersen quit the law and got some practical TV training. The global financial crisis hit in 2008 but Andersen says that's not the reason he left law (he worked at a local firm), though many foreign firms reduced staff or packed up and left. He left for the opportunity and challenge, and the crisis confirmed he had made the right decision.

Many of his screen journeys are fun and inspiring adventures, offering both expats and Chinese some fresh perspectives.

Andersen, who has lived in Shanghai for six years, has given himself a Chinese name - An Long - An from his surname, and Long meaning dragon.

Born on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Andersen graduated from Bond University with a bachelor's degree in law, a degree in law practice and a master's in Chinese studies.

His first visited China and Shanghai in 2004 as an exchange student and that's when he really felt an affinity with the country.

"I bought nuchucks (a weapon made of two sticks connected with a short chain) at the Yuyuan Garden, carried them with me and worked them on the Bund," Andersen recalls. "But now when I think back, I realize that if I did that, I was probably attracting police attention."

He likes the fast pace in Shanghai.

"Normally, I'm a very fast-paced person with a quick response time and this is the first city where I thought I couldn't keep up with the pace. That's cool," he says.

One year later, in 2005, he was hired by a local law firm in Shanghai, where he worked for three years.

"Getaway" is his first show which usually takes five days to film one episode.

To improve his knowledge of TV, Andersen took an online course on TV production, learning about directing and filming as well as hosting. He watched a lot of travel programs on the Discovery Channel to develop his skills.

His style is easygoing, energetic and interactive.

"The more relaxed you are, the more professional you are," he says. He doesn't totally rely on the script. "It's not about how much you can memorize. I like the camera. I don't treat the camera as a camera. I treat the camera as my travel friend."

As a travel host, he does a lot of hiking, climbing and even swimming and he's gotten a lot healthier and is back to bulking up. After three years as a sedentary lawyer, he lost 10 kilos of muscle mass.

One of his favorite places is Yangshuo, an ancient town near Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China.

"When I floated down the tranquil and picturesque Li River, I really felt that time had been preserved there," he says. "Even if you spotted a dinosaur, it wouldn't be strange."

He also enjoys Harbin in Heilongjiang Province in the northeast, appreciating its classic European architecture on Central Street.

Of course, he's visited Shaolin Temple in Henan Province and met the kung fu monks; he has visited twice.

Before Andersen came to Shanghai, he used to be a weightlifter, lifting 130 kilograms in the clean and jerk. He was a member of the Australian Weightlifting Team for the 2000 Youth Commonwealth Games in Scotland and the 2000 International Nauru Cup. If he hadn't pursued a career in law, he probably would have represented Australia in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

After six years of training, he holds a black belt in mixed martial arts karate, but Shaolin Temple has always been a legendary place for him since his childhood. On one visit he trained for two days and says it took two hours to learn the difficult "hurricane kick."

"My mentor didn't actually teach me anything about how to do it, but asked me to watch his apprentice and practice over and over," Andersen recalls.

"I realize he does this because if you learn someone else's technique, it will always be their technique. Every single technique must be your own because everybody is unique. The mentors just show the gestures and techniques, and the students should find the way themselves."

The Shaolin experience was also an exercise in humility, he says, adding that Chinese people appear extremely humble - none ever says how gifted they are.

Andersen's fluent Mandarin and basic Shanghainese astonish many Chinese.

The key is determination and practice, he says.

"Memory usually loses its power after two days and people need a lot of practice to bear every new word in mind, just like a parrot," he adds.

He enjoys interviewing old local aunties, imitating their tone and accent.

His next challenge is Ningbo dialect since his girlfriend is from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province.

"I find I get pushed by the society to improve myself," he says. "If I don't have something new, I feel 'out'."

Andersen plans to settle down in Shanghai and says his parents plan to move to the city for long-term China travel.

"Because of 'Getaway,' I changed my career completely," he says. "I want to continue hosting since I love to communicate with people."

Cameron Andersen

Nationality: Australian
Age: 29
Profession: TV host

Self-description: All smiles, no regrets.

Favorite place: Tian Zi Fang.

Strangest sight: Unexpected snow in 2008.

Motto for life: Live life like there is no tomorrow.

Worst experience: Arriving just in the nick of time ... at the wrong airport.

How to improve Shanghai:
Free WiFi throughout the city.

Advice to newcomers:
Leave all your self restrictions behind, and do what you've always wanted to do.


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