Take 5: YouTube Vlogger Winston Sterzel

By Sky Gidge, December 20, 2016

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Every month, Take 5 sees a PRD resident answer five questions on whatever our editors feel like asking.

After 10 years of vlogging about Shenzhen, Winston Sterzel recently stepped into the wilds of making his YouTube videos a full-time job. Often appearing in a suit and drinking a beer, his video repertoire of city guides and interviews on taboo topics have earned more than 15 million views, making him the unofficial face of Shenzhen in the Anglosphere.

Why did you start filming videos for YouTube and did you expect it to become what it is now?
I wanted to show friends and family back home that China wasn't as horrible as the media usually paints it to be, and that it is a really fun, interesting and friendly place. I did not ever expect it to become my full-time occupation.

Out of all of the cities in China, why stay in Shenzhen?
Simply because it's the best city. I've been to all the first-tier cities and hundreds of other smaller cities and towns during my 10 years here. Shenzhen is young, energetic, all about technology and the best part is that it's full of migrant workers. You get to meet people from all over China and there isn't a stigma towards outsiders, as you'll find in Beijing or Shanghai.

What's the most unexpected response you’ve ever gotten while filming?
To be honest, as long as I'm polite and friendly I've never had any negative or unexpected responses. I've had plenty of police and security guards chase me off, but probably the most puzzling thing is being told – on more than one occasion – that it's okay for me to film using my cellphone, but I'm not allowed to use my camera.

Some of the comments on your videos can get pretty rough, how do you deal with that?
I simply ignore the trolls for the most part. There have been instances of very vindictive trolls who have overstepped the line by going after my family. Those people are just absolute scum, but it comes with the territory. You simply can't put any energy into the trolls and haters or they win.

Has wearing a suit ever gotten you in trouble?
I'm convinced I was mistaken for a spy once. I'm sure a real spy wouldn't be dressed in a suit, I guess the people who called the security guards on me for filming in the street had watched a little too many 007 films.

A recent motorbike odyssey by Sterzel was turned into the documentary Conquering Southern China and is available on Vimeo. Sterzel posts under YouTube account SerpentZA.

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