Design, Dumplings, and Deities: A Week-long Voyage to Hong Kong

Last fall, I attended the Cumulus Conference in Hong Kong to present my work on an open model of community engagement in social design. The conference, hosted by HKDI (Hong Kong Design Institute) in Kowloon was five days long, including an opening exhibition and reception (on Monday), followed by three days of keynote speakers in the morning and paper presentations and workshops in the afternoons. During the evenings (and on Thursday and Friday), I also participated in a range of cultural tours and design activities. This article will touch on my experiences throughout the week—a really fascinating and unforgettable trip.

Side note: My final paper, “Design as Process, Artistic Interventions and Civic-minded Improvements as Artifacts: Applying an Open Model of Community Engagement in Social Contexts” was recently published in Cumulus Working Papers 33/16: Cumulus Hong Kong 2016 – Open Design for E-very-thing (pp. 304-311). Please check it out, if you get the chance. 

After registering for the conference on Monday, I visited the Open Design for E-very-thing Exhibition in the main conference room at HKDI. The exhibition, like the entire conference, featured design work across six tracks: education, empathy, ethnography, engagement, experiment, and environment.

The host institution, HKDI, provided a great venue space for the conference. The building is impressive in scale, form, and architectural surfaces. It was designed by French architects Coldefy & Associés, Architectes Urbanistes and “features a glazed box raised seven stories above the ground on four lattice-steel towers that rest on a sloping, grass-covered podium” (Amy Frearson, Dezeen, 2011). The large quad area in the center of the building provided a great space for networking, eating, and relaxing for a relatively large conference plus their regular occupancy. All of the presentations and workshops plus the main auditorium and exhibition space was well situated around this central area.

On Tuesday, the conference kicked off with opening remarks and two keynote speakers in the main auditorium—Hideshi Hamaguchi, an executive concept creator and strategist at Ziba Design (who spoke about processes of innovation and strategy in design), and Steve Leung founder and chairman of Steve Leung Designers Limited (who spoke about Eastern aesthetics). As I had never attended a Cumulus conference before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the quality of work that would be shared, but I was pleasantly surprised after listening to both of these talks. Hamaguchi (you should read his bio) is kind of a big deal.

My favorite keynotes from the conference included two of the final speakers on Thursday—Wang Min, professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China (who spoke about advancing technology and design education) and Patricia Moore, Industrial designer, gerontologist, author and president of Moore Design Associates (who spoke about design, empathy, and aging with a political twist and feminist perspective). Moore’s presentation may have been one of the best talks I have ever seen. I laughed, cried, and learned. She is an amazing speaker and storyteller with a lot of valuable knowledge to share.

Regarding the paper presentations, including my own, I mostly attended the design engagement and empathy track presentations. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see them all, but everything I did hear, I enjoyed. The work was astutely relevant and pointed and I’m looking forward to reading all the papers, now that the publication has been released.

Tuesday evening, I participated in a dim sum workshop at the Chinese Culinary Institute (CCI). This was a lot of fun and I’d recommend trying something like this if you have the time and interest. It was also a great opportunity to meet some of my design colleagues at the conference in a casual, fun setting.

The head chef put on quite the show, doing a demonstration that showed the process of making the dumpling’s stuffing and skin, and piecing them together. He also, effortlessly I might add, showed us how to make Chinese noodles by throwing them up in the air. Some of us tried to replicate this technique, but with no such luck (or grace).

We broke up into teams to make our own dumplings with some of the students of the institute, and we also received recipe cards and a sweet certificate of attendance that has officially titled me, “Culinary Ambassador.”

On Thursday, I went on a city tour with fellow conference goers in Hong Kong Central. The tour started with a visit to Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and most revered temples in Hong Kong. Filled with burning incense, the temple honors two deities: Man, the God of literature who is dressed in red and holds a calligraphy brush, and Mo, the God of War (or Marshall Arts) who is dressed in a green robe and holds a sword.

After the temple, we walked about a block to the first built road of Hong Kong since British colonization, Hollywood Road, then Sheung Wan and the Central SOHO area. We rode up the world’s longest escalator in Mid-levels, and also visited Jamia Mosque, also known as the Lascar Temple, which is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. One of the highlights of the tour included a visit to the PMQ, formerly Police Married Quarters, which was renovated and revitalized as a hub for creative and design industries. There was a wonderful design exhibition on view.

We finished the tour with a dinner at a floating restaurant in Aberdeen harbor. To give you an idea of where I am in the week, it is now Thursday and it is Thanksgiving night. I celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with colleagues from Poland, Germany, Italy, China, and England, and drank my first Chinese beer. What a night.

On Friday, I hiked part of the MacLehose Trail with colleagues in a tour group. The hike included beautiful views of Hong Kong’s skyline, among the greenery and wildlife (monkeys and birds in particular). The monkeys are prolific in Hong Kong, and our tour guide shared that they are often so bold that they will steal your cell phones right out of your hands, if you get too close. There was no food on the hike either, obviously, as the monkeys would certainly mess with you if you had any goodies.

The MacLehose Trail was recently selected by the National Geographic Society as one of the world’s best hiking trails. The 4-hour tour, led by a professional hiker, took us to Section 6 of the trail, which cuts across the Kowloon and Shing Mun reservoirs.

After hiking, we visited Lei Yue Mun fishing village, best known as a seafood paradise. I wish I could remember the names of some of the things I ate, but I really can’t. I can tell you, that I tried some things that I did not like, and some that I liked a lot. Everything looked new to me, and I love seafood, so there’s that too.

After twenty hours of travel, I found myself half way around the world. It was now Saturday, and time to return home but it was such a pleasure to experience a new place and be with design colleagues from all over the world. I leave you with some pictures taken from my hotel room in Kowloon. What an amazing week, full of design and culture.

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