When I came to LA I knew I was in for a lot of surprises, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come! It had been about two weeks since I had arrived in one of LA’s neighborhoods, Atwater Village. I was waiting to get a trim at a barbershop in Hollywood when I received a message from my friend, Jen Bricker. She simply asked me if I had brought my passport with me when I moved to LA. I answered “yes,” knowing that there was something BIG coming. I have learned all two well that Jen’s life is full of surprises and twists. Sure enough, she dropped the bomb on me and asked me to go to Shenzhen, China with her! She was going there to speak and judge a motivational-speaking contest called “The Undefeatable Spirit.” I was staggered! I was financially broke, and so unsure of how to answer her. After some careful thought and some sound advice, I said “YES!” Two weeks later, Jen and I were being driven to LAX! After a few annoying and unnecessary bumps at the airports in LA and Beijing, we finally made it to Shenzhen! We were so happy to finally be away from the airport! We were picked up by representatives from Century Sakura, (the company that had hired Jen to speak in Shenzhen), and we were driven to the finest hotel in the city, The Grand Hyatt Shenzhen.
Jen and I knew that Facebook was banned from Mainland China due its communist government, but we did not know that literally EVERYTHING else was banned, too! Upon arriving, we learned that all Google-run apps were disabled in mainland China. Jen went into crisis mode, realizing that we had no way of communicating with our friends or family to tell them that we had landed safely! Thank God for WhatsApp…it was her saving grace!
After getting over our initial scare of being disconnected from EVERYTHING, we made the most of our situation and went to check out our hotel rooms. As someone who loves architecture, and let’s be honest…the finer things in life…I was blown away by my room! I had never seen anything like it other than in Architectural Digest! I was surrounded by black marble and pure luxury! The rainfall shower and tub were in the center of the room surrounded by glass. There were traditional Chinese partitions that separated the bathroom from my bedroom, and they lit up when they were closed.
After basking in the glory of my room and unpacking all of my things in the fashion of a classy bachelor, Jen and I went to dinner at the hotel’s most famous spot, The Show Kitchen. It was a five star restaurant that consisted of approximately five buffets, featuring gourmet Chinese cuisine, including rice noodles and greens, octopus, and pork. I was in heaven!
The real fun came the next day. At 11:00am, we were picked up by representatives from Century Sakura. Jen and I were taken to a restaurant called i-Tony where she and I met the four remaining contestants on “The Undefeatable Spirit.” The contestants then joined us for an authentic Chinese lunch! We were presented with so many amazing dishes, but our favorite dish was duck tounge. I know what you are thinking, but it was actually really good!
The folks at Century Sakura had everything planned perfectly, and they made Jen feel like the star she really is! When we arrived, we were first taken by how beautiful the place was! Hanging flowers and bright yellow hues lit up our eyes! Stunning! Jen was handed a giant bouquet of roses imported from Bulgaria, and we were each served incredible drinks and desserts! Talk about magical!
While we were enjoying our desserts, one of the contestants on “The Undefeatable Spirit”, (Alex), offered to make Jen a dress for the televised event. We had learned that Alex was the head fashion designer at Tony & Tony’s , the fashion design department at Century Sakura. Of course, Jen was like “umm YESSS!”. We promptly left Tony Flowers and drove to the Century Sakura headquarters. When we walked into the Tony & Tony’s fashion design studio, I was floored. It was exactly what I had envisioned a fashion design studio to be! A modern reception area, mannequins with the latest fashions, racks of fashion pieces, busy designers working on sketches, and bustling individuals sewing and bringing new designs to life! As a man who has always been passionate about fashion, this was a dream come true! Jen began looking through Alex and his staff’s designs, and she finally chose a sleek white number. Alex, his team, and I immediately began styling Jen!
It was such an incredibly empowering experience! She looked amazing, and we had the time of our lives throughout the whole process! At the end of our dream-come-true experience, Alex looked at me and said he wanted me to wear one of his suits for the event, too! At this point, I thought I was going to melt into my shoes!
Jen and I left Tony and Tony’s fashion design studio on an absolute life high. We returned to the Grand Hyatt for a bit of rest and a highly anticipated dinner. Friday nights were special at the Grand Hyatt, because The Show Kitchen featured a special meal! The gourmet chefs cooked a fresh sea bass and served three courses of delectable sea food. Jen and I enjoyed fresh sea bass, lobster and rice noodles, and the most amazing sashimi we had ever tasted! With a glass of white wine, I looked out over the green city and marveled at the glory of our completely God-blessed day!
The next day was the date of Jen’s event…the live television broadcast of “The Undefeatable Spirit!” Before the event, Jen and I made the most of our morning! One of Jen’s friends (who happened to be be from Macau) joined us at the Grand Hyatt for breakfast and then took us to Dong Men market for a bit of shopping. After our time at the market, we returned to the hotel to get a bit of rest and clean up for the event.
After a bit of a recharge, the Century Sakura crew whisked us away to The Shenzhen Grand Theatre! It was a blessing to be on this journey with Jen, because I got to see everything! I was given a VIP tag and watched the rehearsal for the live television event! It was very surreal! We then moved to Jen’s dressing room where I found the suits that Alex had brought for me to choose from! Of course I picked the skin tight electric blue suit! I felt way too good!
I hung out in the dressing room and helped out wherever I could as Jen’s makeup and hair artist got her prepared for the filming. She looked amazing! Once she was ready we were escorted to a room literally brimming with press! Calmly yet powerfully, Jen answered questions and spoke about her book, “Everything Is Possible,” coming out on September 6, 2016. As her friend and someone who has nothing but love and respect for her, it was really powerful seeing her in the middle of the flashing lights and press, reaping the benefits of her hard work.
Finally, it came time for the show! After praying with her, I wished her and all of the contestants luck, and then I moved to the auditorium to watch!
Jen opened the show and spoke with such confidence and power…all from The Holy Spirit. Following her speech and short interview, all the other celebrity judges joined her on stage, and the speaking contest began. Each contestant had so much passion and power, but in the end the fashion designer and our friend, Alex Ciet, was the winner!
The next day our time in Shenzhen sadly came to an end. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back to LA as soon as we thought we would. Due to a three hour flight delay in Shenzhen, we missed our connecting flight in Beijing.
So after waiting in the Beijing airport, we found out that the whole crew of LA bound passengers had to stay the night in Beijing. Our flight wouldn’t leave until noon the next day. I also had the realization that I had lost my bank card. I had left it in an ATM at Dong Men market and the only money left in my wallet consisted of a few Chinese yuan. Ugh!!! What next?! Thankfully, the Lord took care of me, and He provided for me the rest of the trip home!
So, we spent a sleepless night in Beijing and then flew out on the 4th of July. Due to the time difference, we left Beijing on the afternoon of the 4th, but we landed in LA on the morning of the 4th! Pretty trippy! As I’m sure you all assume, after a great 4th of July party that I forced my body to attend, I slept for a solid 14 hours!
All in all, this was the trip of a lifetime! I got to go to a country that I did not think I would ever visit or atleast not for a long time! I got to experience China with Jen, and I got to witness her change the lives of everyone in The Shenzhen Grand Theatre! This is an experience that I will never forget! God is so good!