A man with many hats, Hong Kong author Jason Ng tells Michele Koh Morollo how he makes his creative ambitions soar.
If you’re a full-time lawyer, a social activist and a bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction, one might imagine you’d have time to do little else.
This is strangely not the case with Hong Kong creative entrepreneur Jason Ng. Not only is Ng a prolific writer, who has published three bestsellers – Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010), chronicling the city’s post 1997 developments, he is also a food critic, an avid photographer, a budding interior designer, teaches law and English literature, and sings Broadway tunes, Italian opera and a capella.
An expatriate for most of his life, Ng attended high school in Trieste, Italy, then university in Philadelphia. He worked and studied law in Toronto, Canada, then spent another six years in New York practicing securities law. “In all, I spent two decades in the West before returning to Asia. I repatriated to Hong Kong in 2005 — it’s been 12 years since, thought it feels like yesterday,” he says. As a result of spending his formative years away from home, Ng discovered new perspectives that led him to challenge old assumptions about his own culture and upbringing. This in turn became fodder for his writings about Hong Kong.
“I write simultaneously as an outsider looking in and an insider looking out,” says Ng, who is also an outspoken champion for freedom of expression, democracy, the rights of foreign domestic workers and the campaign to end the shark fin trade in Hong Kong.
With regards to pursuing a creative career, Ng advises aspiring writers and artists to not quit their day jobs. “Turning your passion into a career is often the quickest way of killing it. Before taking the plunge, pursue your passion in your spare time to find out whether or not you can sustain it in the face of other life obligations. That’s a good way to tell whether you’re dealing with a passing phase or a true calling,” he says. In Ng’s case, being disciplined and goal-oriented helps. “I organize my days into half-hour time slots, and I don’t waste time watching television or surfing the Internet. I make sure my time is spent purposefully and according to plan. I think that’s part of my OCD and anal-rentative nature,” he jokes.
Even though high levels of energy and curiousity compel him to explore multiple art forms, Ng admits he does wonder from time to time if it is better to specialise or diversify. “Though I pursue many different projects at any given time, I always make sure I finish what I start. I don’t like to disappoint myself with half-baked efforts, or abandon things half-way. The brain is a muscle and I’ve trained it to never start something and not finish it.”
He certainly doesn’t think variety is a bad thing, and cites examples of polymaths who do well in many different fields, including Winston Churchill, politician, historian and painter; Benjamin Franklin, statemen, author and scientist; and Leonardo Da Vinci, who worked on everything from architecture to astronomy. “What these people have in common is their intellectual prowess and breadth of knowledge. They are true ‘Renaissance men’ and I aspire to be, if only a little bit, like them”.
Michele Koh Morollo is a Singaporean freelance journalist living in Hong Kong. She has been writing about design, lifestyle and travel for 20 years. She enjoys reading and writing short stories, hill towns and cliffside destinations, staying in beautifully-furnished homestays, and eating well.