Wang Yuke

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS - Con­tact the writer at jenny@chi­nadai­

her dress­maker who is Shang­hainese, who cus­tom­izes a Qi­pao for her.

Take a plunge

She con­fessed to hat­ing the job at the be­gin­ning. It wasn’t easy for her, “be­cause I’m not a born pub­lic speaker”, said Kwok. Her first few auc­tions were no­tably un­pleas­ant and she prefers to for­get them. “This thing is not fun” kepts swirling through her head. Her anx­i­ety gave her stom­ach prob­lems.

Since then, she’s con­cluded that pub­lic speak­ers are made, not born. To­day, look­ing back on how she got here, she con­cludes it was partly fate and partly co­in­ci­dence.

She was tak­ing her Mas­ter’s De­gree in Art His­tory and Ar­chae­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Lon­don, when she was asked to give a se­ries of talks at a mu­seum. “I was ter­ri­bly ner­vous. My ears got very hot. I started speak­ing very fast be­cause I just wanted it to be over.”

Even at that how­ever, she’d spent a month alone in Paris, vis­it­ing mu­se­ums and art em­po­ri­ums. “I just wan­dered around. I couldn’t even un­der­stand the aes­thet­ics of the works. I was sim­ply cap­ti­vated by them.”

Kwok thinks of her fa­ther, an arts lover and col­lec­tor who was her ma­jor in­flu­ence. She even at­tended auc­tions with him, en­ter­ing bids on his be­half at auc­tions in Bei­jing. She caught the rush. Stage fright, how­ever, was her big im­ped­i­ment — stand­ing there, in the spot­light, feel­ing very much alone.

She forced her­self to take classes in pub­lic speak­ing while at Stan­ford Univer­sity Busi­ness School, a year later. She stood in front of the class, talk­ing on ran­dom top­ics, ev­ery week for three months. It paid off.

The more she prac­ticed, the more com­fort­able she be­came. “The first time I was bad, the se­cond time I was bad…when it came to the 200th time, I had fi­nally made it.”

An in­ex­pe­ri­enced auc­tion­eer usu­ally starts sell­ing low value items, wines and watches. She re­mem­bered she was given 60 case of wine. She thought it would be easy. She hadn’t ex­pected that ex­haus­tion would set in by the time the sale was only half fin­ished. It went on for more than two hours and she felt wiped out.

Lo­cal auc­tion­eers were rare a decade ago when Kwok started dab­bling in the busi­ness. Most auc­tion­eers at the time, went else­where for train­ing. Christie’s wanted to train Chi­nese speak­ing auc­tion­eers.

Jonathan Stone, chair­man and in­ter­na­tional head of Asian Art for Christie’s Asia, rec­om­mended that Kwok give it a shot. The com­pany flew her to Lon­don for train­ing. “It’s not so much that I chose the job. The job chose me,” re­flected Kwok.

It was the third auc­tion sale in Lon­don that gave her a big boost in con­fi­dence. She was sell­ing and plenty of Chi­nese peo­ple came. It was con­sid­ered a rar­ity for Chi­nese bid­ders to turn up in large num­bers at an auc­tion house, back then, par­tic­u­larly an over­seas auc­tion house. When she be­gan speak­ing some Chi­nese, “every­one perked up,” Kwok laughed and con­tin­ued, “it was in­cred­i­ble to see peo­ple hold­ing their hands up and look­ing at me.”

Apart from sell­ing pre­cious lots at auc­tion. Kwok is com­mit­ted to ad­vanc­ing arts ed­u­ca­tion at Christie’s Ed­u­ca­tion. She hopes to nur­ture bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the arts among peo­ple in­ter­ested in artis­tic col­lec­tions and as­pire to be­come prac­ti­tion­ers in the broad field of Arts. With the rise in the num­ber arts gal­leries and arts re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in Hong Kong, there’s a higher de­mand among peo­ple want­ing learn to ap­pre­ci­ate and eval­u­ate art pieces, Kwok said.


Elaine Kwok is not a born pub­lic speaker, but she has be­come a suc­cess­ful auc­tion­eer at Christie’s through train­ing and prac­tice.

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