May 21, 2024

Voyage into Spectacular Travels

Unveiling Authentic Journeys

Gilbert Van Kerckhove: Belgian Expat and Food Vlogger Extraordinare

5 min read

If you’ve been on Dianping and WeChat Channels as much as we are – trust me, we’re on there quite a bit – you’ll have noticed videos posted by a rather lively elderly gentleman, trying all there is to try in Beijing’s culinary scene.

Gilbert Van Kerckhove is more than just an old-timer in Beijing, though. Having called China home for over 40 years, this Belgian expat first arrived in Beijing in 1980, when his expertise as an electrical engineer was needed to help establish a representative office for a power plant project.

Van Kerckhove ended up staying in China and assisted in the development of a few major projects in Shanghai – including the city’s Line 3 metro line and Jin Mao Tower. He later served as a senior consultant to the Beijing city government from 2000 onwards, even finding himself as the only foreigner on the city’s Development Planning Commission tasked with planning the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Even though Van Kerckhove retired eight years ago, he’s still as busy as ever. Along with making foodie videos for Dianping, WeChat Channels, Kuaishou, and Xiaohongshu he also travels the country helping with various educational and other projects.

We recently sat down with the Old China Hand to find out more about his videos, his passion for his neighborhood of Gongti, and what he’s looking forward to most in 2024.

How’s 2024 been treating you thus far and what are you most looking forward to for the year ahead?
A major thing I was looking forward to is getting my new green card, which I recently received. I applied for it last December and it is my fourth green card. I also have to apply for a new passport to travel abroad. I haven’t been abroad for four years, so I’m definitely looking forward to going abroad. I’ll be off to the US in November to see our American daughter.

Then I want to enjoy more of Beijing and explore China more as well. My wife and I are supposed to travel to a number of places in the next few months. We already went to her laojia in Sichuan, to pay respect to her late grandfather. Plus, even though I’ve been retired for eight years, I’m still busy with things like UWEE (more on that below) and being the chairman of a big high-tech middle school in Shandong, as well as other trips around China, traveling here, traveling there. This is always an interesting experience, being a VIP, because you see stuff you normally don’t see – different aspects of China, not just negative but positive as well, things I can appreciate.

So you’ve been keeping a blog on the goings on in Gongti for some time now, why did you decide to start this?
I live next door and pass the two stadiums on a daily basis. I’ve been watching the stadium being broken down and the new one going up. I’m documenting everything on my website – Stuck in Beijing Since 1980 – for people who might be interested to see the progress of the development here. I’m waiting for Gongti to be open and for all the shops and lifestyle aspects of the complex to be open. Through all this documentation, I’m hoping that the “Gongti Strip” can return to its former glory.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how everything is managed. Before whenever there was a football match, all the restaurants and bars around Gongti would close. If this continues moving forward there’s the possibility these new venues will suffer, but we’ll have to see.

What do you like most about the Gongti area specifically, and, after all your time in Beijing, what do you enjoy most about the capital in general?
Besides the Gongti area, I like the greater Sanlitun area which has so much to explore and is within walking distance from my home. I am pretty lazy in the sense that my radius of operation is relatively modest. Solana is already “far” for me.

You’ve also gotten into doing restaurant reviews on your WeChat Channels, Dianping, and other video apps. How did this come about?
It started a bit like a reaction to the flood of Douyin clips by Susan Morel, she has a professional team to polish the clips. I said, wait, I can try this also but “my way”. And it became really big, at least according to my modest standards. It’s become a bit of a hit, with my Goose Island video getting over 26,000 views. Usually, my videos get around 2,000 to 3,000 views, so it was interesting to see.

It’s also interesting to see, by doing these videos, what restaurants are doing well and doing poorly and why. It’s easy to say a place is doing poorly due to location, but that’s sometimes not the case. For instance, if a restaurant does not work with Dianping [China’s version of Yelp] early on, it can hurt them in the long run. Speaking of Dianping, I post my videos there as well, and they tend to get hits on that app too. I’m hoping to reach a higher level in Dianping in the coming months.

Of all the restaurants you’ve been to thus far, what are three of your favorites and what would you recommend people try there?
That’s a difficult question to answer, as I’ve experienced many interesting and enjoyable restaurants. If you really must insist, though, my three favorites would have to be Morel’s Restaurant and Café (I go there at least five times a week!), Apollo, and Haidilao in 3.3 Mall. As for what I enjoy from these restaurants: Gratinated Endive with Ham at Morel’s, the Ham and Cheese Sandwich at Apollo, and a combination of many meats and vegetables at Haidilao.

Beyond your blog and videos, what other projects are you involved in and what should people know about them?
As I mentioned before, while I am so-called retired, I am very busy. I run my “Old China Monthly Lunch” since I have had my blog website for more than ten years, and I am involved in Service to the Community through the Rotary Club.

Currently, I am serving as the Rotating Chairman of the Foreign Expert Committee for the Union of Western and Eastern Education (UWEE). UWEE is an international organization dedicated to fostering worldwide cultural and business exchange through collaboration in finance, IT, culture, art, and education.

My passion for education aligns with UWEE’s mission, bringing the world closer together and providing me with the opportunity to continue making a positive impact on society through international educational initiatives and cultural communication along with our diverse team of international experts.

Beyond that, I attend all kinds of events as a VIP, like giving the prize at a yo-yo competition and attending other colorful and funny events. It’s an exciting life, and I love it very much.

READ: Join This Beijing Expat on a Journey to Learn 12 Languages in 12 Months

Images courtesy of Gilbert van Kerckhove

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