16 October, 2013

That Girl: Sarah Fung of HK Magazine

16 October, 2013

This week’s That Girl is the totally awesome Sarah Fung, born-and-bred Hong Konger and Managing Editor of HK Magazine (which just celebrated its 1000th issue… and Sarah’s been around for over 300 of them!). We love getting Sarah’s insider beauty tips in her regular Skin Deep column – so we thought it was about time we dug deeper and got even more of her insider tips on everything else Hong Kong!

We chat with Sarah about the key to HK Magazine’s longevity, whether there’s a future in print journalism, what she misses most about Hong Kong from when she was little, and why she likes to shop at places where she hates most of the clothes (all will be revealed!).

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Fill us in on your background and how your family ended up in HK?  
My grandfather was in the RAF and he was stationed in Hong Kong in the 1970s. My mum came to visit in 1976, aged 19. She met my dad, a taxi driver, at a disco where he was working a second job as a DJ, and from there they DJ-ed together at clubs around Hong Kong. For my mum, it was a huge departure from the life her parents had here – from huge colonial apartments and military balls, she would visit my dad’s family, where nine of them lived together in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po! When my grandparents returned to the UK, my mum worked to save up enough money for a plane ticket to come back out to Hong Kong to live. They worked incredibly hard to make sure that my brother and I had a good education – we went to Beacon Hill School and then Sha Tin College. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years living in Tai Wai and rarely visited the Island, so coming back to Hong Kong and living on the Island after university was a pretty novel experience.

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Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in Kennedy Town with my husband and we’ve been there for about four years. It has a nice cyclical feeling for me as my dad grew up in Western District; he used to take the Number 5 bus to school, and now I take it to work! We love it – the community has changed so much even in the time we’ve been there.

Our flat is quite unique in Hong Kong: it’s in a low-rise apartment complex in an older building and it has a weird hexagonal layout, high ceilings and lovely original wooden parquet flooring. We’ve just renovated and we wanted to keep the original Hong Kong feel to it, so we fitted the bathroom and kitchen with hexagonal mosaic tiles – we stopped short of actual cha chaan teng tiles when we realised that the Police Museum uses them in a mock-up of a heroin lab! We managed to fit a full-size oven and a washer-dryer into our tiny open kitchen and we went a bit mad and painted one wall bright apple green, offset with a red Tibetan cabinet. For accessories and small pieces, I love trawling Cat Street or picking up bits and pieces while travelling. Da Fen Art Village in Shenzhen is also an awesome place to pick up pieces for your walls.

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Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I find heels uncomfortable, but I need them for events. I buy most of mine on Gough Street – there’s a shop there called JB House (it used to be called Toot Toot) and it has the most comfortable pumps with in-built platforms. Sunglasses are an easy way for me to add some fun to an outfit – I stock up on frames at Ladies Market in Mong Kok. This might seem counter-intuitive, but I like to shop in places where I don’t like most of the clothes… Then, the real gems will really stand out! Wing On and Marks & Spencer have some great dresses among the mumsy clothes, and outlet stores in Mong Kok and down The Lanes will turn up the occasional treat. Don’t laugh – I’ve found some amazing coats in Wanko. A lot of my work dresses are from the UK; everyone always asks me where I get them from so you might be interested to know that Dorothy Perkins does ship to Hong Kong!

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What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
For foundation, Chantecaille’s Future Skin foundation – it’s expensive so it’s a big treat to buy a pot. Also, MAC’s In Extreme Dimension Lash mascara, a heated eyelash curler from Sasa and whatever lipgloss I have in my handbag. Skincare-wise, The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil line is fantastic for blemishes.

I get my hair done at Essensuals by Toni & Guy; Henry, who I see there, knows how lazy I am so he always cuts my hair so that a) I don’t have to come back too often; and b) I can leave it to dry naturally and it’ll still look good. For nails, my best recent manicure was at The Nail Library in Po Hing Fong. They have an amazing range of colours and my pedicure lasted three weeks.

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What is your idea of the perfect weekend in Hong Kong?
A perfect weekend in Hong Kong always involves the sea. Whether it’s a junk trip, a hike out to Tai Long Wan followed by body boarding, or just hopping on the back of my husband’s motorbike and driving to the beach, if we’ve been in the water, I always sleep well that night. Seeing friends for brunch or dim sum, or just food shopping and cooking at home in our new kitchen is also pretty blissful – or it will be until the novelty of having an oven wears off!

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What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
For lunch, I often head to K-Roll, which satisfies my need to eat rice without being overly heavy or greasy. Sometimes, we make an office outing to Kau Kee, a famous beef brisket noodle shop on nearby Gough Street. When I feel like something European, the lunch at 208 is good value and there’s a great antipasti buffet.

For drinks, my local is the Limestone Arms in Kennedy Town; it’s tiny but has a friendly atmosphere, great Thai food and it looks out onto the 100-year-old Forbes Street Banyan trees, which are the largest wall trees in Hong Kong. If I fancy something a bit more lively, I love Socialito’s half-price frozen Margarita night, and although I haven’t been for a while, The Flying Winemaker has a friendly vibe and great wine that you can buy downstairs at retail price and take upstairs to drink.

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What is your favourite place in Hong Kong?
We are members of the USRC in Jordan, a really laidback little club with great food and an awesome pool. I’ve been going there since I was a kid and we even got married there; everyone is really friendly and there’s a lovely holiday vibe to it, without feeling snooty or exclusive. There’s nothing like spending the afternoon by the pool and eating under the stars in the evening.

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How did you get into journalism? How did you work your way up to becoming Managing Editor at HK Magazine?
I graduated with a degree in English Literature… and at first decided that after all those essays, I never wanted to write another thing in my life! I joined HK Magazine as an intern in the marketing department, helping to write press releases, put on events and come up with house ads. Zach Hines, who was Features Editor at the time, saw some sort of potential in my writing, and asked me to do some music reviews for the magazine; from there, he and Tom Hilditch, who was then the Editorial Director for the group, asked me to transfer my internship to the editorial department, with a view to getting a job there. They hired me two weeks later, and from then I’ve had just about every job in the department! From staff writer, I was editor of The List, Features Editor for HK and the Senior Associate Editor (managing guides, supplements and special projects) before taking over as Editor. Two years later, we hired Adam White as Editor and I took on the Managing Editor role. I would say that I have very much been in the right place at the right time, but also that a willingness to work hard, learn quickly and to set your ego aside and listen to advice when it’s given will also take you a long way.

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HK Magazine just celebrated its 1000th issue – what do you think has been the key to its longevity?
Flexibility. HK has never rested on its laurels, and we’ve made sure to diversify our offerings for an audience that increasingly relies on the Internet for its information. While people still love picking up the print edition, we also have our rich-media iPad edition, our website and social media channels. We also make a point of hiring talented young people and training them up to be excellent journalists, which keeps us in the know about what the kids are into these days. Everyone in our department is under 30. Of course, as long as we create a fun, relevant, quality magazine, people will still want to pick it up. HK has weathered some storms in its time: the uncertainty of the 1997 handover, SARS in 2003 and the financial meltdown of 2008. By this stage, I think we have learned how to handle anything life throws at us.

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What are some of the most memorable stories you have worked on at HK Magazine?
Our 1,000th issue was a huge milestone. We had a pretty wild party to celebrate and we ran an issue called “1,000 Reasons to Love Hong Kong”, which was enormous fun to put together – definitely a collector’s item! My favourite issues to work on are the ones that come out over Christmas, as we always do a silly Hong Kong-based Christmas story. Our heritage issues are special too, as people care so much about heritage preservation in Hong Kong; The Blue House was really memorable, with a stunning cover illustration by our Art Director, Pierre Pang. When our issue about the destruction of Wing Lee Street came out, after public pressure (much of it from our readers), all the development plans were halted for that area.

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Do you think there is still a future for print journalism? And what are your thoughts on press freedom in Hong Kong?
No matter what, people love the feel of holding a print magazine in their hands, and as long as people still go to bars and restaurants, they’ll continue to pick up HK Magazine. There’s still some life in the free distribution model yet – Hong Kongers love a bargain! – and Hong Kong’s Chinese and English free newspapers have a collective print run of 1 million copies per day. With that said, it’s not an expanding industry, and it’s an uphill battle for paid-for publications (here and around the world) to get people to pay for information when it’s so readily available in free magazines and on the Internet.

As for press freedom, increasingly in the past year or so, it’s true that we’ve heard many more stories about editors spiking or diminishing stories that they feel are too politically sensitive, and there have also been attacks on journalists and photographers. But as long as journalists continue to report these cases, we are standing our ground for press freedom in Hong Kong. This is something the entire city cares deeply about – Hong Kongers are very politically aware and civic-minded. The things we say in HK Magazine are things we couldn’t get away with saying in so many other parts of Asia, such as Singapore and most certainly the mainland, and I am very proud and grateful for that.


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You’ve grown up and lived in HK for most of your life. Is there anything you miss about it from when you were little?
Hong Kong is no place for the sentimental; swathes of land are redeveloped at a breakneck pace! My aunts used to take me to the Lai Chi Kok amusement park, a happy memory for many Hong Kongers – although anyone much younger than me will have a hard time remembering it. I also remember waiting for my aunts to finish work at a garment factory, sitting on bales of fabric and eating Iced Gem biscuits, but not much is manufactured here these days.

I grew up in Tai Wai and I miss how it used to be – a sleepy village with tons of local shops and restaurants. With luxury developments springing up, the area is getting really affluent and is losing some of its character. I also remember my dad taking me to the old bird market to buy a hamster cage; the market was filled with unbelievable sights… rare birds, crocodiles, all sorts! My uncle used to be a police officer here and they once confiscated a bear! It was probably for the best that they shut it down, but that’s a little slice of how Hong Kong used to be that most people overlook. I fear that dai pai dongs and hawkers will be the next to go.

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What are the best and worst things about living in Hong Kong?
It’s a bit of a cliché to say it, but it doesn’t make it any less true: we’re so lucky that amazing beaches, oceans, islands and nature trails here are so easily accessible. There’s no city in the world like it in terms of access to nature. Actually after a 10-year break, I recently took up horse-riding again and now I go to Pok Fu Lam Public Riding School every Friday morning – it’s beautiful to be up there so early, surrounded by trees and animals and although it’s hard work physically and mentally, it’s really exhilarating.

On the downside, the air pollution is bad and it’s getting worse, which is why when we go on holiday, we always pick somewhere that has fresh air. That’s pretty sad, isn’t it?

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
From my editor-in-chief, Zach Hines: never send an email when you’re angry. Having time-stamped evidence of you losing your rag is never going to make you look good, no matter how justified it seemed at the time. Also: going back-and-forth via email is overrated. So many problems can be solved quickly by just picking up a phone.

From my former boss Tom Hilditch, who gave me some advice via Hemingway to develop my “finely tuned built-in bullshit detector”. It’s the most important tool an editor can have.

…And from my mum, the last line of an Ogden Nash poem that she read out at my wedding: “To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; Whenever you’re right, shut up.” It’s probably the one I ignore the most often, but it’s great advice nonetheless!

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What’s the key to being happy in life in Hong Kong?
If you’re new to Hong Kong, try to really understand the place. Learn about social issues and what’s happening in city. The expat life is fun, but it’ll leave you feeling alienated on empty Sunday evenings – do something new every weekend and get off Hong Kong Island. If your family doesn’t live here, make a little “Hong Kong Family” of good friends that you can be yourself with. Celebrate Chinese holidays with as much gusto as Western ones. Make peace with the fact that your flat is small and that you’ll sweat all summer. Seize all the opportunities that Hong Kong gives you – say yes to rooftop BBQs, junk trips, nights out, exhibitions, gigs and dinners. For its flaws, it’s an incredible city and it’s one of the most exciting places in the world to be.

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at [email protected].

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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