The HKILF Director On Booker Winner Damon Galgut, Meditation And Mott 32
Catherine Platt has been focused on one thing for most of her working life: books. Before joining the Hong Kong International Literary Festival (HKILF) as the director last April, she managed the Bookworm International Literary Festival in Chengdu for four years, and co-founded and directed the Montclair Literary Festival in the US for four years.
“I have produced a literary festival every year for the past ten years, and it’s a joy to bring readers and writers together at events that inspire and amplify the love of reading,” Platt says. “The HKILF is my dream job because it unites my passions for literature in general and for Chinese culture in particular. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a pandemic to shake things up so dramatically!”
Not even a total of eight weeks in quarantine could prevent the bookaholic from travelling to the city for the festival, that runs from November 5 to 15; needless to say, her key to surviving quarantine was having a stack of books to read. Now that she’s back out and about, here’s how Platt spends her days.
I often listen to a guided meditation before I get up. I like The Daily Om website, which has some great courses for exercise, diet, meditation and relationships. Because my kids are in the US and my partner in the UK, I check messages and make phone calls before I go to work. I read the headlines and try to fit in a 20-minute yoga or HIIT workout, or at least ten minutes of stretching. I’m an omnivore with vegan tendencies and eat mostly plant-based whole foods. For breakfast, I make porridge with oat milk, fresh fruit, nuts and honey. If I don’t have time to cook or I’m feeling indulgent, I stop at Bakehouse on the way to work for a croissant and green juice.
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I sometimes arrange an early meeting or make work calls from home, so I arrive at the office between 9am and 10am and the first thing I do is make a pot of tea. I lived in Sichuan Province for 12 years and developed a taste for green tea, but I am very particular. I go through phases of drinking different Oolong and green teas, and right now I’m obsessed with Fujian Milk Oolong. My working day is very varied, depending on where we are within the annual cycle of events and festivals. In the run-up and during events, we are very busy, working long days and evenings to finalise all the details and make sure everything runs smoothly. We want the final event to be like a swan gliding down a river: serene and beautiful, with the frantic paddling that propels it forward invisible to observers!
When we are not at peak event time, the schedule is more relaxed, involving planning, meeting with authors, partners and potential sponsors, and even some time to read and research new books. I enjoy the mix of creativity in curating a festival programme, sociability in working with authors, partners and donors, and the detail work required to deliver successful events. Hearing writers speak about their work, and seeing the impact this has on an audience, especially young readers, is the highlight of the job. This year I’m especially looking forward to hearing Amor Towles, Dambisa Moyo, Damon Galgut and Kit Fan.
Lunch varies, depending on the day: I often eat a salad from Pret a Manger or order noodle soup from Co Thanh, and read book reviews or make phone calls at my desk; but sometimes we go out as a team to celebrate a milestone. Favourite spots include Yum Cha for dim sum, or Veda for vegetarian Indian. Board member Bonny Wong treated us to Mott 32 on my birthday, which was a highlight of the year!
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If we have an evening event, work continues, or I might meet someone for a drink. I have found the arts community in Hong Kong extremely welcoming and supportive, and I am really enjoying meeting people and building a network. If I am not meeting someone, I leave the office any time between 6pm and 9pm and head home or go to a yoga or pilates class. I enjoy Reformer Pilates at Anhao Wellness, and this year I also discovered TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) at Clarke Clinic. Now I can do it by myself at home and find it a very effective way to relax and shake out accumulated stress and tension. After 30 years in Asia, I have some old friends in Hong Kong and am quickly making new ones, but as my family are not here, Zoom and Facetime are lifelines, and I spend a lot of time with my Airpods in. I often multitask by walking, stretching or cooking while I talk, but it’s also good to sit down and give the other person my full attention.
Ideally, I’m in bed by 11 and read for a while to wind down. Eight hours of sleep would be ideal but that doesn’t often happen! I find a few moments of reflection and gratitude is a calming way to end the day.