Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s got philosophers…

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Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s got philosophers…

Chris Kyme (pictured above) continues his ‘Postcard from Hong Kong’ series. It all started with a radio show. No, wait, go back even further. It all started with a teensy weensy germ of an idea (lot of germs around these past few years) inside the mysteriously mind-boggling head of Willde Ng, who came up with this crazy idea about ‘Hong Kong’s got philosophy’. And he set out to explore it. A theme of sorts to try and inject some sort of optimism into the much beleaguered once Asian-World-City that is Hong Kong.


Long story short, before long he’d been invited by another industry veteran and Hong Kong legendary influential woman at large Leonie Ki to join her to do a radio show (like a podcast only minus the pod) at local media oulet RTHK whereby they would interview a carefully selected series of creative guests to come in and talk about themselves. Not exactly a difficult task that, getting creative people to talk about themselves. And talk they did. About their personal journeys, their career ups and downs, best work, and most of all – their philosophy. Their approach to life. Their reasons for getting up every day. Their favourite nail polish.

Well strike me down with a well-chilled bottle of ale if it wasn’t an enormous success. People loved the show and before long, it had an expanded regular listener base, who were tuning in to listen to the personal stories of leading designers, artists, writers and creative directors, including certain names some of you under 100 years old would be familiar with, like (ex Chairman of DDB HK and now art dealer) Phillip Tse, Dame Kitty Lun, Mayan, Stanley Wong, Tan Khiang, CC Tang, editing guru Nelson Ng, producer Yvonne Ho , photographer Ringo Tang, and designer Alan Chan.

Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s got philosophers…

When it was all said and done, Willde and Leonie realised that actually they had some pretty decent and interesting content on their hands. Enough so to become a book in fact? And so it was. And last week it was launched at the Hong Kong Book Fair (like a book festival but with the word festival replaced by the word fair) with a presentation ceremony whereby many of the aforementioned interviewees were invited onstage to participate in a panel discussion type of thing and even though the whole affair was conducted in Cantonese (except the 30 seconds where I was asked a question) from what I heard it was a pretty insightful, interactive event according to attendees. The book of course sold like hot Char Siu Bao (top of the charts at the Book Fair) and is still going strong as I write.

Of course I wasn’t actually interviewed for the radio show, it all being in Cantonese and not just that I think they were afraid I would recite something from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I was invited to do a little intro concerning the backstory of Hong Kong’s advertising industry, for which I was honoured to do so (or “humbled” as they say on Linked In ..whatever that means..why do they always say “humbled” when what they really want is for you to know that they’ve been selected on a judging panel of about 500 people and they’re letting you to know to big themselves up..c’mon..).

So, having been a participant in more ways than one, I followed up to ask Willde and Leonie about the project, before they get even more famous and want to charge me $500,000 just to have a 5 minute coffee with them. Mostly what I wanted to know was, where does Willde get his shirts from. But I thought that could wait and instead asked him how the whole thing really got started and he changed the subject to recycling.

“Basically, it is a recycled project. 1971 was the year Leonie started her Advertising career. And for me I left Hong Kong and became a pretty respectable dish washer/student in Canada. Some events change our life forever, so when someone asked Leonie to host a radio show to talk about creative industry in the past 50 years and the prediction of the city’s future, she agreed to host the show. About the same week, I called her up telling her that a book I was launching would have the last page dedicated to her about a letter she gave me 30 something years ago. We had lunch, she was very moved by the fact I had still kept the letter. A week later, she invited me to do the radio show together with her.”

And that was how the idea took shape as Leonie describes it “I think the Hong Kong advertising scene has changed a lot, and we are lagging behind in new ideas, new media , new creative talents, when compared to Mainland China. Instead of lamenting how good we have been in the golden days of advertising , I wanted to do a radio talk programme and invite those who have helped built Hong Kong in the past half a century to become a thriving international city and financial centre of the world. I invited Willde to co host the RTHK programme and each time we invited past gurus and some current ones to share their experiences, their life learnings and their own success stories. We sought to offer young people some advice and hope for the future.”

Willde expands on this. “The original title for the show was called “50 years, Advertising, Hong Kong”. I did not like this very functional title, I insisted on calling it something with a with a more confusing, abstract title,” Everything is figuroutable.” Judging on the then list of who we were going to invite, we know this would be a tough group of individuals who had all had their own ways to clear their obstacles and have the power to utilise their resources to get what they want. We then called it ‘Everybody has philosophy’ (in running their life and work). We did not know how the show was going to perform, the ratings, the topics and who was going to say what.

The success of the show was not least because of the diverse selection of people who were all prominent in their own respective fields.

“The people we invited, interestingly enough, made their fame in advertising but later branched off and changed course , each going on to still shine in whatever they chose to do. Like Liu Yi Fa Shi , now a famous Buddhist nun preaching Buddhism, renowned designer Kan, designer and artist Freeman Lau, Rebecca Lee from designer to global explorer, Alan Chan, Alan Zie , Stanley Wong, Nelson and Kitty and TK still thriving in the ad business in different ways. Artists, publishers and leaders of their own trades. Their persistence helped them in being successful and shine. It showed that the basic consistent qualities of these people are curiosity, daring to try new things, refusing to accept defeat, and the drive to win etc” said Leonie.

Willde emphasised that actually they did not want to necessarily make this about advertising. More about life. “In the advertising arena, I have always been a loner, I never had too many friends. Therefor I only insisted in interviewing (famous veteran radio DJ) Uncle Ray and (international property businessman) Ivan Chan. Uncle Ray is special, he’d been introducing all sorts of pop music to Hong Kong for such a long long time when we were growing, getting married, having children and now getting old and weak. Music plays a big part in creative communications. Then with Ivan Chan, for whatever reasons, I believed that the future of advertising has got to be tied up with new formats, including, communities, opinions and IP. Within the group all the guests represent an influence in our industry, some of them were our idols, our teachers and our colleagues. They all work hard, they all believe in themselves, they all have high level of energies. They want to be outstanding, They want to be winners. And they believe that they are better than others.”

Were they surprised at the success of the show? “We decided to choose 18 outstanding adv professionals who would be representing different interests and career development and in all we did 20 episodes. We had a great response from the audience. We thought that 20 episodes was a good number, no need to drag it on and eventually jeopardise the quality of the show “said Leonie. “After we finished, many people wanted us to continue, so we decided to put the voices of the interviews into printed words, and we gave five pages for each to write their own stories” Willde agreed “Luckily, the ratings went well, our structure was solid, then I suggested to Leonie to recycle the material, we believed it could be a very fun book for people to read.”

And so it is, as sales at the HK Book Fair have shown. What I really wanted to know though was, what was the overriding message they want to deliver with the whole project? For Leonie, someone who has never given up on Hong Kong and is something of a cheerleading influencer, especially when it comes to helping the younger generation. “We all have a heart for Hong Kong and it has given us a lot as a city, and we would like to pay back to help the young people here. We think the Hong Kong Government should give out more positive messages to young people about the city and its current situation (many young folks in their forties with kids are leaving Hong Kong, saying they are concerned with education etc). We need to restore their confidence and let them see hope and their future.

This of course would not work by paying lip service. The government should formulate a policy and strategy to achieve goals like relieving housing problems, education issues, confidence factors etc.”

I gave Willde the last word. “As Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the smartest who survive. It is the one who can adapt and change who survives. Our industry is looking for a new combination of things, a new format of thinking, new channels to push the communications and heaps of new methods to share preferences.”

Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s got philosophers… Chris Kyme’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s got philosophers…