Social media users recently spotted Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a hotel in Melbourne, Australia. Fans snapped a photo of him browsing his phone and drinking Coke. Another photo of Ma with an Australian family was also posted on social platforms. Chinese media outlet Yicai confirmed that Ma is in Australia now.
Since withdrawing from Alibaba‘s board of directors in 2019, Ma’s whereabouts have been attracting growing media attention.
Ma’s connection with the Australian family, the Morleys, goes back to 1980, when the late Ken Morley and his family visited Ma’s hometown of Hangzhou. The capital of East China’s Zhejiang Province now houses Alibaba‘s headquarters.
That year, when the 15-year-old Ma was looking for native English speakers to practice the language with near West Lake in Hangzhou, he met Ken Morley. They became pen pals, and Morley often corrected Ma’s grammatical mistakes when he wrote back to the young entrepreneur.
In 1985, Ken Morley invited Ma to visit Australia. After seven applying for the visas seven times, young Ma finally found himself in Newcastle, where the local culture, scenery, and people changed his view of the world.
After Ma’s return to Hangzhou, the two friends continued their correspondence. The Morleys provided Ma with financial support of a total of 200 Australian dollars ($138 USD) over two years during his studies at Hangzhou Normal University.
Over ten years later, Ma returned to Australia in 2017 to repay Morley’s mentorship and support with a scholarship program of 26 million Australian dollars ($18 million USD) to Newcastle University. The Ma & Morley Scholarship Program was the largest donation ever received by the university. Ma hoped the scholarship would be used to “support students who wish to experience the world for themselves.”
At that time, he reflected upon his friendship with the Morleys at Newcastle University, saying that “those 29 days I spent in Newcastle were very important to my life. Had it not been for those 29 days, I would not think like I do today.” It is rumored that photos of him and the Morleys sit in Ma’s home and office.