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Monday, June 20, 2016, 09:40

Mission to tell the East side story

By Sophie He

Asia Society centers worldwide foster understanding of and within the region, and the HK chapter has a key role to play, executive director Alice Mong tells Sophie He.

Mission to tell the East side story
Alice Mong finds her job as executive director fascinating as she never has to do the same thing twice, and there are always new challenges and faces, which all go toward making what she calls “a fun and fulfilling” way of life. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

Asia Society is committed to helping the world understand Asia while promoting understanding among countries in the region, and Hong Kong has a unique role to play in this mission.

That is according to Alice Mong, executive director of Asia Society Hong Kong Center. One of Asia Society’s 12 centers globally, the Hong Kong Center was founded in 1990, while the first Asia Society was founded in New York in 1954, Mong told China Daily.

Initially, the mission of Asia Society was to teach Americans about Asia, as in 1954 their knowledge of Asia was very limited. So Asia Society here in Hong Kong aims to further teach Americans about Asia but also Asians about each other, she explained.

“If you think about it, since 1990, a lot has happened in the region. But Asians’ knowledge of each other is sometimes limited, so in many ways we help fill that knowledge gap.”

“Hong Kong is such a unique place among the 12 centers of Asia Society around the world. New York, Houston and Hong Kong are three centers that are very lucky to have their own space,” Mong said.

In February 2012, the Hong Kong Center established its new permanent home in Admiralty at the Old Victoria Barracks, Former Explosives Magazine site.

“So we can do things that other centers cannot. For example we can hold exhibitions in our own space,” Mong said.

“Hong Kong is the gateway to the Chinese mainland, and also the gateway to Asia. If you draw a circle, so many countries are within three or four hours’ flight time from Hong Kong. So geographically Hong Kong is a great location to promote mutual understanding among Asian countries.”

Aside from the geographical advantage, Hong Kong is very open to new things, it is one of the cities that adapts to change very easily. This makes the Hong Kong Center the Asian hub of the Asia Society, Mong noted.

She pointed out that Asia Society Hong Kong Center has already hosted several lectures or panel discussions this year, including a luncheon presentation on economic outlooks by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-winning economist and professor at Columbia University.

The Center also invited Niall Ferguson, professor of History at Harvard University, to talk about his acclaimed biography of legendary former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.

Aside from lectures, Asia Society Hong Kong Center has also invited Chinese American chef Anita Lo, who was called into the White House as guest chef to work on the menu when President Barack Obama and the US first lady hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan last September.

Chef Lo recreated the White House menu for the Hong Kong Center.

Learning curve

“We see ourselves as an educational institution, although we are not a school,” Mong said.

“Whether it’s a topic on trade or environment, we try to introduce various sides of an issue and help people understand more.”

“If we don’t understand Asia today, we are doomed to fail.”

Asia Society Hong Kong Center is quite broad in terms of choosing topics of discussion, the focus really depends on the authors, Mong said.

She explained that Hong Kong is still a place that a lot of academics, researchers and artists pass through, and the center really takes advantage of that, as it does not have the funds to bring them here.

“So whoever comes in and we feel that they have a topic that relates to Asia, past present or future, which our members may be interested in, we invite them to speak.”

Currently the center hosts about 200 programs per year, about 60 percent of it related to arts and culture, while the rest are related to business and policy, Mong said.

“The biggest purpose of Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s work is that we hear so many negative things today, war, diseases. What we do here is positive, through learning about each other’s culture, we focus on problem solving, we present a platform for discussing solutions.

“Even though we may not agree with each other in certain positions, but at least we can talk about it, we can try to understand the issue and understand it from a di› erent perspective.”

She pointed out that as Asia Society Hong Kong Center is a nonprofit organization, it cannot exist without local support.

This means donations from corporates, individuals and foundations.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of its largest donors and has helped the center renovate the Former Explosives Magazine site and create its own space.

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