By Ian Williams, NBC News correspondent
Wearing a cloth cap and ponytail, the twenty seven year old was cradling an iced coffee, and looked every bit a child of the new China.
His resume also looked the part, having studied urban planning in the Netherlands and worked in Hong Kong, with an apartment in the sought-after Mid-Levels area of Hong Kong Island.
But he told me he'd now quit the Hong Kong job, and had been visiting his old professors at the architecture department of Nanjing University to persuade them to get involved in re-building in the Sichuan earthquake zone, to which he was preparing to return.
"I am going to go back and see what else I can do to help. I'm keeping in touch with all the guys down there, all the volunteers," he told me.
Alex was one of any army of young volunteers who'd flocked to Sichuan soon after the May 12th quake struck, and he was part of a group I'd followed for Nightly News.
His generation, often called the Ba-Ling-Hou (the after 1980s generation), are frequently ridiculed by older Chinese. They are the one-child generation, born under China's one-child policy, often spoiled by their parents and sometimes called the "Little Emperors."
"People consider this generation to be self-centered, westernized and lacking a sense of responsibility," according to Fang Ning of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
I'd first met Alex in a small village near Mianzhu in Sichuan. There wasn't much of the village left standing, and Alex was one of a group of young volunteers who had gathered in the village. They lived in tents, and helped distribute basic supplies to the quake survivors. Others played with the children, trying to raise their spirits.
Along with Alex, I'd met Woo Jian Xia, also twenty-seven, and a marketing executive with a big property company in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen. He fiddled with his iPhone, as he told me he'd persuaded his employer to allow him a month's leave to come to Sichuan. He said he felt he needed to come.
"Young people are really standing up now," he told me.
"I just feel I had to come," Alex had said at the time. "I think the earthquake is not only a tragedy, but an opportunity for us to grow up."
That was echoed by Ling Yenmei, a teacher from Xian. She's told her parents she was going on a business trip because she thought they would be frightened if she'd said she was going to the quake zone. Now, she told me, they were proud of her.
"I've seen so may things I've never seen in my 26 years of life," she said as she danced in a circle with children under the shade of the trees.
The Chinese media estimated that a quarter of a million volunteers, most of them youngsters, travelled to the quake zone in the days after the disaster struck, many with only the vaguest idea of how they would help - or even where they'd go.
As a generation they have grasped the new economic and social freedoms in China. Many have made a conscious decision to steer away from politics, having seen what happened to their parents, many of whom couldn't even go to school during the cultural revolution. To many, the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests was another lesson - to keep their heads down and make money.
But they do seem to have found a voice and mission in the rubble of the quake, for many it was a sort of coming of age, tinged with nationalist sentiment.
The bigger question is what difference this explosion of youth activism might make for China. NGOs, who played a role in organizing some of the volunteers, told me the authorities were ambivalent when they first arrived in Sichuan. The Chinese government has a deeply ingrained suspicion of non-government organizations, but seems to have quickly decided the needs were so big, any help should be allowed.
"They opened the door a little," one NGO organizer told me, "and we all barged through. It is difficult to see how they close it again."
That may be optimistic, Much of the openness that followed the quake, particularly towards the media, and has now gone -- particularly when it comes to awkward questions about the state of school buildings, so many of which collapsed during the quake.
Jian Xia is now back in Shenzhen, where he has persuaded his employer to sponsor a school and a hospital as part of the rebuilding effort. The last time I saw Yenmei, she was still working with the kids; and of course Alex is plotting his own return trip.
"Openness is good," Alex told me. "The 1980s generation wants to see more openness -- and this was a good chance for us and the government to think about this."