Op-Ed: A life lived in the fast lane

Op-Ed: A life lived in the fast lane

By Ong Chin Huat, Freelance Writer, Stylist & TV Host

When I became the Social Editor of Hong Kong Tatler back in the early nineties, I was the first Chinese person to work in the editorial department of the magazine. It isn’t surprising bearing in mind that was the period before Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China and the Special Administrative Region (SAR) as it is now known, was still a British colony.

I graduated with a law degree from the LSE and was also called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn but I knew after doing my pupillage at a barrister’s chambers in London that practising law wasn’t the thing for me.

Prior to working at Hong Kong Tatler, I worked for an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong called The Standard. I reported on the property sector for the business section and although I made good contacts there, it was lifestyle writing which I really wanted to do.

We had quite a small team by today’s standards at Hong Kong Tatler - I remember it was only five of us. It was both good and bad; good because we had to do everything and that gave me exposure and experience in styling photo-shoots and writing about society, food and wine, interiors and homes, jewellery and watches, travel, beauty, art and cars as well as doing in-depth personality profiles and interviews. Bad because we were constantly busy and had to work most public holidays especially during the year end as we also were responsible for an additional annual issue as well as the Hong Kong Best Restaurant Guide.

Looking back, I’m glad I had that intensive training and experience which proved to be invaluable because apart from being able to write about most lifestyle topics now, I am also a fashion, food and interior Stylist.

After I left Hong Kong Tatler, I worked at South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper where I was also the Social Editor and was responsible for writing two columns a week. I was freelancing for them so I was able to start my own company where I did PR for luxury brands.

I returned to Malaysia in 2009 and I started freelancing soon after that. I didn’t know many people in publishing when I first returned but one day I wrote an article for an online magazine and the PR decided to repost my article on her Facebook feed. An Editor from a magazine saw it and approached me to do an interview for his magazine and that was how my freelance career took off in Malaysia.

I hosted a lifestyle TV show on ATV Hong Kong called Hong Kong Highlife which wasn’t very different from what I did in print. I wrote the script as well as presented the show and this was where I first cut my teeth in TV hosting and earned my TV experience. The show was very successful as this was the first time an English-language TV station in Hong Kong produced a lifestyle show focusing on rich and famous personalities in Hong Kong of which there are plenty!

It was totally out of the blue when I got a call from an Executive Editor of TheStarTV.com to host a business programme. After several brainstorming sessions, we decided to produce a talk show and conduct the interviews with CEOs of leading companies in the backseat of a limo, aptly naming the TV programme Driven.

One of the highlights of my TV career must be the trip to Africa to film a TV Special for a Hong Kong and China TV station. We went to a small town called Orapa in the middle of Botswana which happens to have the largest open-pit diamond mine in the world. We were given special access to film inside the diamond mine as well the diamond processing plant, something which was a rare privilege as permission to enter the diamond mine is not granted readily and is something not everyone gets to do.

The main difference between working in Hong Kong and Malaysia is the speed at which things are done. Everything moves at lightning speed in Hong Kong as time is literally money! I learnt to be fast and efficient, to make decisions quickly and to think effectively on my feet. These qualities have stayed with me up to today and I am grateful for them.

Having met and interviewed so many celebrities and personalities in the course of my work - from Richard Branson and Cindy Crawford to Boris Becker, Margaret Thatcher and Prince Albert of Monaco among many others; what I have discovered that the main quality I look for when interviewing someone is the commonality they have with my readers. Putting them at ease is also a huge advantage, if the intention is to show their true personality on screen or in print but that is not something which can be learnt or taught.

I don’t really have any big plan or definite strategy when it comes to my career. I just take any opportunity which presents itself to me and do my best while performing any tasks or assignments on hand. But most importantly, I always have fun and derive great enjoyment and pleasure out of doing it, which for me makes it all worthwhile and hopefully shows in my work. 

Have a topic you'd like to comment on or contribute a thought piece? Email us at malaysiaalert@telummedia.com

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