Coffee shop in Beijing inspired Harrogate businessman to write new book

Book signing at Waterstones - Harrogate author Jonathan Geldart.
Book signing at Waterstones - Harrogate author Jonathan Geldart.

Juggling life in three homes across two different continents sounds a bit of a stretch but a Harrogate man is not only pulling it off, he’s turned his experiences into a book.

Jonathan Geldart’s own story involves a complicated family life, an amazing capacity for flexibility and thousands of miles of air travel.

Spending the last five years or more in Beijing means this international businessman has been forced to rent homes in both Harrogate and the Chinese capital.

And because his wife Claire is a director at global professional services network firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) based in London, the couple also rent an apartment in our capital.

But this chirpy former Harrogate High School pupil believes all the global to-ing and fro-ing is worth it.

In fact, he’s become so passionate about China and its burgeoning economy he’s written a compelling and readable book on the subject.

Published by LID Publishing, Notes from a Beijing Coffeeshop, will get its Harrogate launch at Waterstones on Saturday, January 9 from 11am to noon. It’s already enjoyed a highly successful event at Waterstones’ Piccadilly branch in London.

The book is a fascinating snapshot of real-life dialogue between the author and a varied selection of 23 Chinese citizens all with astonishing backgrounds and tales to tell and, yes, it was actually researched and written on-and-off in the same window seat in a Beijing coffee shop over the course of a year.

Jonathan said: “I’m neither a Chinaphile nor a Chinaphobe. I’ve tried to portray it as it really is, warts and all.

“The book isn’t my view, it’s the view of the people’s.”

Jonathan, whose mum still lives in Burn Bridge, started life as a brewer with Tetleys in Leeds before moving into a successful career in marketing at the highest level.

He and his wife Clare are in constant contact in order to bring harmony to their complex lives.

It probably helps that, despite his boyish charm, this keen walker is no soft touch. This is a man who has trekked the North Pole for 26 days in sub-zero temperatures and climbed the Himalyas.

He likes, he says, “to do something extraordinary each year.”

As he sips from his coffee in Marconi, an Italian coffee shop in an English town, he tells me how Chinese economic's explosion has created a whole, new middle class interested in western tastes.

Despite its reputation for tea, China is now awash in coffee shops.

On the other hand, the smog in Beijing is notorious, one of the downsides to a fascinating life spent as an outsider in a country which still remains a bit of an enigma to the outside world.

Jonathan said: “As a foreigner, you survive in China, you don’t live.

"I have some Chinese friends but it’s mostly work colleagues. I speak just enough Chinese to be dangerous!

"The traffic and smog are terrible but you’re more likely to get knifed in Harrogate than in Beijing.

"But it’s nice to be back breathing the fresh air of Yorkshire."

Designed to be a light ‘dip in and dip out’ sort of publication, Notes from a Beijing Coffeeshop’s focuses on China’s huge, emerging middle class.

But its 192 easy-to-read pages also feature insights into all aspects of Chinese life with first-hand stories of marriage, gender inequality, business strategy and gay rights.

Jonathan said: “China is often misjudged. We see it through a veil of media reports and the occasional anecdote by friends or family who’ve been there on holiday.

“Our views are based either on China’s human rights issues, corruption and pollution or on its rich history such as the Terracotta Army.

“It’s easy to focus on the extremes in such a vast country; it has a population of 1.357 billion people, but I’ve found there are more similarities between the Chinese and the British than differences.”

His role in strategic market development at Grant Thornton International Ltd means he acts as an advisor and middleman between British economic interests and Chinese on a daily basis.

Tact and diplomacy are essential but Jonathan says his northern roots have paid off.

“The Chinese like straight talking but are also very polite which means conversations can sometimes go round the houses. Being a Yorkshireman who has also worked in the south of England has helped me understand both these characteristics.

“Chinese manners are a bit different but they do like the British.”