In Tatler’s new cultural series, where we learn about the secret lives of the tastemakers in Hong Kong’s cultural scene, we speak with West Kowloon’s executive director for performing arts
Paul Tam is known across Hong Kong’s arts industry, having worked for more than two decades with the city’s most prestigious performing arts companies, including the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and the Hong Kong Ballet. This March, he took the reins of West Kowloon performing arts division.
As a night owl, I get less than six hours of sleep on average, nursing my sleep deprivation with a vengeance on the weekend. The first piece of music when I switch on my Devialet first thing in the morning is always by a baroque composer, such as Bach, Telemann or Vivaldi. The contrapuntal textures and flowing melodic lines help cleanse the mind. I don’t eat breakfast unless I am on holiday. My work starts shortly after I get out of bed as I check overnight texts and emails. My first meal of the day used to consist of a cup of French-pressed coffee with skimmed milk. I skip coffee altogether now as I need to cut down on caffeine. If I am hungry, I will have a banana or an apple to tide me over.
If I have a lot to do before arriving at the office, I call an Uber to steal half an hour to work in the car. If there are no external meetings, I normally show up in the office around 9.30am. There is no regular morning work routine. Some days I need to be at the Gammon’s office, the contractor for our in-development Lyric Theatre Complex, to check in on the construction progress; on other days, I’m at my theatres, curating tours for donors, sponsors, or legislative members; or meeting with artists or associates, wherever they are. The first thing I always do when I arrive at the office is to look out at the beautiful Art Park and gorgeous architecture, such as the Hong Kong Palace Museum, set against the harbour. There is no better fuel to power the day than a view like that.
One thing most people don’t know about my job is that it involves overseeing construction, such as of the Lyric Theatre Complex, meeting architects and engineers on a weekly basis, and donning a hard hat and work boots to visit the site, sometimes in 30-plus degrees Celsius.
Noon or 2pm
Normally I work through lunch, either in front of my computer or on business, so the midday meal tends to be light, compensated for by a heavier dinner, which probably is the wrong order. I used to be carnivorous and could gorge on a 350g steak at one sitting. My diet now strikes a better balance of protein from fish and white meat, cooked or salad greens, and limited carbs. Between meals, I usually snack on low-fructose fruit such as papaya or grapefruit. My body is my temple, I am told.
If I have a little spare time during my lunch break, which is quite rare, I will listen to some classical music or jazz while reading the arts section of The New York Times or The Guardian online.
The morning runs full steam into the afternoon on most days. An indulgent thing that I like to do in the afternoon—that may not be entirely appropriate in the morning—if the occasion allows, is to chat with artists, associates or donors over a pint of beer or a glass of wine at one of our restaurants. It’s my pick-me-up after a long day.
Evening is busy time for arts managers like me! When I am not going to a show, concert, exhibition opening or dinner party, I try to hit the gym: two nights during the week, and a third time at the weekend. Running on a treadmill while Spotifying Kamasi Washington or Esperanza Spalding relaxes me after a long, busy day like nothing else. If I am not at the gym, I try to squeeze in a game of tennis during the week. A self-proclaimed fanatic, I play twice a week. I used to play more, but these days I need to give my elbow more time to rest between games.
I try to squeeze at least half an hour each evening before bed on my couch with my feet up, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc by my side while reading a book with Schumann or Brahms in the air. My latest read is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, a non-fiction book on the hierarchy of human divisions. A pretty heavy subject for nighttime reading but it is an absorbing book on a subject very dear to me.