Asia So­ci­ety Hong Kong direc­tor Alice Mong

HK Magazine - - PAGE 3 -

Alice Mong is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of arts and cul­ture in­sti­tu­tion the Asia So­ci­ety Hong Kong Cen­ter. Orig­i­nally from Tai­wan, she grew up in the US and has spent mul­ti­ple stints in Hong Kong through­out her ca­reer, and has also been the direc­tor of New York’s Mu­seum of Chi­nese in Amer­ica. She tells Xavier Ng about why she came back to Hong Kong for the sec­ond time, and how she fell in love with mu­se­ums.

I’m a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can. I was born in Tai­wan but at age of 10, our fam­ily im­mi­grated to the US.

I didn’t speak any English at all when I ar­rived.

You have to start think­ing dif­fer­ently, be­cause the world you grew up in is to­tally dif­fer­ent from the world you are now go­ing to school in.

There were not many Asians or Chi­nese peo­ple where we grew up. We were the only Chi­nese fam­ily in the school.

What it taught you at that young age was how to adapt and how to start again, learn all over again.

We moved from Tai­wan where we had a large ex­tended fam­ily, and now we were in a place where your friends be­come your fam­ily, whether they were Amer­i­can or Chi­nese.

You learn to make friends, you learn to con­nect with peo­ple.

You just have to be cre­ative—it’s sur­vival, but not in a bad way.

We spoke Chi­nese at home—my par­ents don’t speak English very well, so I al­ways grew up with this bi-cul­tur­al­ness.

It wasn’t my do­ing: I guess we just had it, so it was quite nat­u­ral. That’s why when I moved to Hong Kong as an adult, it wasn’t such a stretch.

I had an op­por­tu­nity when I was in my late 20s to come work in Hong Kong. I was in Hong Kong for 11 years, from 1992 to 2002.

In around 2003 I had the chance to join a non-profit in New York, so I moved back to the US, and came back to Hong Kong four years ago.

I missed the en­ergy of Hong Kong af­ter nine years in New York—I like New York, I love the fact that I worked there for al­most a decade, but I wanted to come back.

When I was a kid, 6 or 7 years old, my par­ents would take us to the Palace Mu­seum in Taipei. As a young kid, I didn’t know there was trea­sure in there.

To me, the Palace Mu­seum was a fun place for the fam­ily. Every­body was happy, so I think my love for mu­se­ums be­gan with that.

Af­ter grow­ing up with that, I’ve never been afraid of mu­se­ums. It con­jures up won­der­ful mem­o­ries.

When I travel, usu­ally the first place I go is a mu­seum, so that I can get the lay of the land.

Mu­se­ums tell you a lot about that coun­try, its his­tory and its art. In a very short time, you can ab­sorb that coun­try’s en­ergy.

If you’re not in­tim­i­dated by it, you ex­plore it. I’m re­ally ex­cited that Hong Kong is cre­at­ing a new mu­seum [the M+ visual cul­ture mu­seum]—I think it’s very im­por­tant for all big cities.

Run­ning Asia So­ci­ety is like run­ning a busi­ness. We have cus­tomers, we have a board, we have staff and pro­grams.

The dif­fer­ence is that we are non-profit: The money that comes in gets plowed right back into its up­keep.

The cus­tomers are very im­por­tant, and we grew from 40,000 to 120,000 vis­i­tors in four years.

If you want peo­ple to come back, you need to have in­ter­est­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and pro­grams.

Some places you go once or twice, but how of­ten do you go back?

We have to keep our pro­gram­ming fresh, we have to keep our ex­hi­bi­tions in­ter­est­ing.

Our com­pe­ti­tion is not other mu­se­ums: It’s time.

Every­body’s so busy in Hong Kong, if you have an hour to spend, where would you go? Would you go shop­ping, eat­ing, to a movie, or would you come here?

We try to get peo­ple to come back and spend an hour—or half an hour—with us.

I’m a Hong Kong per­ma­nent res­i­dent, I have a Hong Kong ID card, I do con­sider my­self a Hongkonger.

I don’t know what “Hongkonger” means these days, but that’s the rea­son I came back to work in Hong Kong.

There are things about Hong Kong that I re­ally, re­ally love and that hasn’t gone away at all.

I see Hong Kong as my home now. Even if I leave, I know I will al­ways come back.

I guess home is where you feel most com­fort­able, and I have to say I feel very com­fort­able in Hong Kong.

No mat­ter where I am, I’ll al­ways know I have a home here.

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