Friends you never knew of

Updated: 2016-09-29 11:38

By Evelyn Yu(HK Edition)

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A few enterprising people in HK have taken the initiative to connect strangers with similar interests and engage them in exciting group activities. Evelyn Yu met a few of them.

Ma became the director of a five-star hotel at 25. The downside of getting the top job quite so early is that he has been leading a monotonous life for years. He worked so late that sometimes he slept at his workplace. His only recreation was to roam around the flower and aquarium markets when he could steal a few moments from his hectic life.

The work-intense, dreary days were brought to a halt three years ago when he fell terribly ill. Confined to a sickbed for a considerable period of time, the revelation came to him that we are all here briefly, and that there were other things besides one's career that deserved a space in it.

The realization inspired him to launch DKH, a platform that facilitates offline group meetings. DKH is an acronym for the word dakuanghuan, meaning carnival in Chinese.

DKH is not one of those groups where strangers meet up to do things together - like going to a dinner or on a hiking trail or just play badminton. DKH fosters the spirit of adventure, exposing members to experiences that are quite extraordinary. Going diving in the Red Sea along the Indian Ocean, for example; or taking a ride on an old-time steam-engine-driven "green-skinned" train to Wuyuan county in Jiangxi province to be able to wade through a field of golden yellow rape flowers. They could fly to northern China for skiing; or simply retreat to the suburbs in Hong Kong to fly a kite on a breezy weekend.

Being a part of the hospitality industry, Ma is adept at planning trips. He avoids the peak seasons, and is skilled at negotiating with hotels in securing a group rate much lower than the market price.

Yang, in her 30s, works in finance. For many years she had an extremely demanding job at an investment bank in Hong Kong. The hours were long which left her with little time to socialize. Joining some of the activities hosted by DKH made a huge difference to her otherwise routine and mentally exhausting life. Now she enjoys making something as basic as a wooden stool at carpentry workshops, or trying her hand at painting graffiti. Yang said being a part of the club has added a touch of "richness" to her life. It's a place where she finally feels at home, in the literal sense. Just recently, Yang shared her concern about the difficulty in moving apartment in the WeChat group of the club and she was immediately offered help.

Comprising mainly mainland people who have taken up jobs in Hong Kong, DKH is a closely-knit community of over 1,500 members.

DKH will soon have its brick-and-mortar club house in Olympic, Kowloon. Ma has rented an over 40-square-meter space for the use of all DKH members.

"The Chinese are hospitable people. We like to invite friends over to our homes. But in Hong Kong most of us are sharing a cramped apartment with others. I want group members to have access to a decent place where they can invite their friends freely," says Ma.

Ma has decorated the club all by himself. He is grateful for his wife's support in the project. Many fellow members have pitched in the decoration as well. The place now has a cosy, home-like vibe about it.

Breaking cultural barriers

Expats in Hong Kong, wishing to integrate into the local society, are also participating in similar activities, sometimes even leading them.

After four years in the city, Haley Meng, an American, began feeling the monotony of hanging out with foreigners at bars after work. Together with her Chinese partner Candy Tang, they launched WE Club, an online-cum-offline social platform set up with a view to break cultural barriers.

WE Club collaborated with several other social platforms targeted toward specific interest groups. They have tied up with PlateCulture, a platform that connects non-natives with a local host who would then invite them for a dinner at his home. Gourmet members get to visit the homes of various chefs from across the world - Italy, Turkey and Spain, among others - based in Hong Kong.

Those interested in martial arts are taken backstage to meet the star fighters after having watched a Saturday night IMPI World Series MMA fight, a sports event combining techniques of boxing, wrestling and Muay Thai. Art collectors open up their stash of precious objects, drawing attention to the finer points of a piece for those interested in the subject.

So the next time you are feeling bored or lonely, or too exhausted by the demands of career and society, sign up for a day out with one of these social platforms. Allow yourself to explore and experience something new and refreshing.

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(HK Edition 09/29/2016 page8)