In September 2014, I did an “interview” with my husband Paul about his work here in Hong Kong with the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA). I can’t believe that was six months ago already. Here is an update.
Tell me about the projects you are currently working on.
Our Chinese opera house, the Xiqu Centre (roughly pronounced SEE-chu) is now under construction. It will have an 1,100-seat main theatre, a 200-seat teahouse (for performances that are sort of cabaret-style Chinese opera), a 150-seat seminar space plus a whole lot of rehearsal and development space. The foundation work is complete and a local construction firm, Hip Hing, has begun construction.
I think Xiqu is a great milestone for WKCDA because it is the first project to actually get underway in terms of construction. We’ve been in construction for only a month but are already starting to talk about the opening performances in 2.5 to 3 years from now, so that’s exciting.
The Lyric Theatre went into a holding pattern while we wrestled with financial issues, and we are just now re-starting the design process. In order to gain more efficiency of scale, we consolidated a number of building projects into this one space, so it will no longer be just a dance theatre but will also combine parts of the theatre program. In addition to increasing the original 1,200-seat Lyric to a 1,450-seat space, the centre will now also have a 600-seat proscenium theatre and a 200+-seat studio theatre (the final size is yet to be determined). It will also have a dance creation centre comprised of nine studios that will be used for local dance companies to create and rehearse new works.
With Freespace, a 450-seat black box, we are approaching the end of design development and hope to go to tender in the early summer. It is a large-ish space for doing new forms of experimental performance with a lobby bar that will be another music performance space for about 100 people. There are also a couple of rehearsal halls.
The combined total of all these performance and creation spaces add up to seven theatres and 15 rehearsal spaces. From a size perspective, that’s huge and is certainly keeping me out of trouble.
What are the main differences you’ve encountered about this project compared to others you have worked on in Canada?
The scale is certainly new for me. The way construction works and how projects come to completion here is also very different. In HK, projects proceed first with basic structure and fire-prevention systems. You are not allowed to proceed with much of the construction until you have the occupancy permit. Once received, you can move forward and start finishing the building. In North America, occupancy permits are the last thing you get before allowing the public into the building. For me this means that I need to gain a new understanding of the sequence of events that occur at the end of construction so that I can begin the process of planning our openings.
Another difference is that interior finishes are let as separate contracts from main works contracts, so in the case of Xiqu for example, which has just started construction, we are wrapping up design work on the interior and will be going to tender on that piece of the work shortly.
I’ve also had to adjust in terms of my workday. Meetings are my life, and here people have no compunction about scheduling two-hour meetings starting a 5:00 pm, even on a Friday night when we should be going for a beer. And these meetings never end at the scheduled time. My days start a little later, like between 9:30 and 10:00 so that helps but it’s tough from a work-life perspective because there’s no time to do anything in the day except work. This is common here. I have taken to going to the gym in the morning before work which, for anyone who knows me, is a real shocker.
Add to that the time zone factor. I’m working with consultants in New York, Vancouver and London, so coordinating meetings over a 13-hour time difference is hard and usually means someone has to do it at 10:00 p.m.
Have there been any surprises?
One is that our CEO, Michael Lynch, has just resigned. He is from Australia and has been on the job for four years but is leaving now for personal reasons. This is always a concern because those kinds of positions are very hard to fill and I liked Michael. There are very few people worldwide with the skill set to take on that kind of role.
You have been here nearly a year now. How are you enjoying living in Hong Kong?
One of the realities of living here is that the expat community is transitional. One of the first friends we made here, another Australian, is now moving back to Australia, again for personal reasons. Not all our friends are expats, but we know and expect this type of thing will happen again and it’s hard.
There is a real danger, at least for someone like me, to end up just working and not really living here. Sometimes I think I could be doing this from anywhere. But then my wife gets me out for hikes in the incredible parks here and we tour around the Wan Chai market or cool little enclaves like those in Tai Hang, or I deal with the crazy crowds and then I realize I’m half-way around the world. I love not dealing with Ontario’s minus 20-degree temperatures and that for quick get-aways, now we go to Singapore or Thailand or someplace in Asia, like we did just before the Chinese New Year. It is the adventure we had hoped for and so far, so good. The time is flying and I will be thinking about the end of my three-year contract before I know it. But first things first. I’m excited about getting new performance spaces built here in Hong Kong, something this city seriously needs.
On a slightly different note, living at 1,000-ft elevation has its down-sides!
Our new de-humidifier is working overtime. I laughed when the grocery store up here at our apartment complex put up a big display of de-humidifiers the other day. It’s not so bad just down the hill from here, although Hong Kong has been very overcast for most of the last two weeks.