Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. Here, AWA President PRIYANKA AGARWAL tells us how she’s juggled the day-to-day running of the popular women’s organisation amidst all the disruptions of the past year or so.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
I was born and raised in India and am now a naturalised Singaporean. Both India and Singapore are home to me in their own different but unique ways. I miss Indian food, festivals and being with my family. As for Singapore, I miss its efficiency, comfort, cleanliness and friends who have become family over a period of time.
Tell us about your expat “trail”. When did you first come here? Where else have you lived?
I moved out of India right after my marriage. In the last 23 years, I have lived in Japan, Singapore, Venezuela, Chile and now Hong Kong. I’ve been in Hong Kong for the past three years, though I’d been coming here frequently for two years before that as my husband relocated here earlier and we did a split family for that time.
Is Hong Kong “home”?
Yes, for now Hong Kong is definitely home. I’ve learned to make each place we move to our “home”. It helps in maximising our living experience, creating real memories and learning about various cultures.
What do you do here? Tell us about your role within the AWA?
I became an AWA member within a month of moving here and enjoyed the various local tours and clubs that it offered. I’m also a regular member of Pure at the Pulse. With AWA, I co-chaired the “AWA Wise” event in March 2019, aiming to bring women back to work. It turned out to be a big success with over 700 registrations. That kept me quite busy, along with my younger daughter’s preparations for her college applications.
I got elected as AWA President and began my term in July 2019. I started my role at the peak of the Hong Kong protests followed by the pandemic. Needless to say, my hands have been quite full and the role has become a full-time commitment for me.
Give us an insight into a typical day for you.
I typically start my day with yoga or light exercise or pranayama (a form of breathing meditation). Generally by 9.30 or 10am, I’m either on my emails, meetings or calls. I try to use my lunch to meet people or socialise, and I generally start winding down by late afternoon.
With my husband’s work-from-home over the last few months and also the fact that we have recently become empty nesters (my younger one left for university a month back), our evenings are very flexible. We like long walks, enjoying coffee on our balcony, reading books, movie nights and late-night catchups with our girls back in the States.
Weekends are more chilled. We end up going either to the Hong Kong Country Club or restaurants at The Pulse at least one of the nights. Or we just carry our mat to Repulse Bay Beach with a bottle of wine and pizza and have a fun picnic there.
What have been the surprises and challenges of working with the AWA in HK?
The idea of leading a women’s organisation was a bit daunting to me in the beginning, especially AWA as I’m not even American! I was pleasantly surprised at the warmth with which I was welcomed. I was also surprised at the high level of professionalism and commitment that I witnessed right from the moment I joined AWA, in every event that happens, whether it’s fundraising, local tours or Asian tours. I went on an India trip with 17 other AWA members and was blown over by the level of detail and care that went into the planning. Our Board members are a very talented and committed group, and truly want to give back to the Hong Kong community; they inspire me constantly.
As I mentioned, I took over the role in the thick of Hong Kong protests. I saw myself in the unexpected role of crisis management, looking into safety of our office, staff and members, and creating policies around it. And on its heel came COVID-19. It made us take some very tough financial decisions during our budget planning for this year.
We’re also facing challenges just like many other organisations, of maintaining membership numbers as many expats are leaving while fewer new families are coming in. We’re also looking constantly at keeping our members engaged via virtual activities, but it’s a challenge as digital fatigue is setting in. It’s also difficult in the current environment to fundraise for the charities that we’ve supported for years, but we are committed to supporting them and trying to do our best.
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
I live in Repulse Bay. I’m a suburban girl and I like the idea of coming back home after a long day. And, to me, home means openness, and a feeling of connection with nature and tranquillity. Also, with my daughter studying in HKIS, I could justify it as a practical choice!
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
* Nature: There’s easy access to the beach and hiking trails.
* Convenience: For restaurants, we have Pulse and Stanley, plus Pure for yoga and fitness; our club (Hong Kong Country Club) is only a short drive away, with a number of options to do everyday groceries and yet the place is well connected to Central.
* Community: We’ve been able to make some wonderful friends here and I truly cherish that.
Describe your home to us.
Open, spacious, with a huge balcony where I enjoy my cup of coffee in the evenings looking into the beautiful sea view. I love having friends over and this is a perfect place for that. It’s practically located and done up with things that we have bought over our various stints. I like the feeling of it being comfy, homely and with no pretence.
Outside of your work with the AWA, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
I’ve started enjoying hiking here. I’m still not into the very difficult trails, but I’m slowly building my strength. I’d started enjoying AWA local tours to start exploring the city, and I have every intention to resume that, once social restrictions opens. My latest hobby, though, is mahjong – I’ve just started learning, and I’m quite excited about it. Besides that, I love reading books, watching TV series and relaxing with friends.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Amalfitana
Date night restaurant? ZumaBar and Seva
Local food? Lock Cha tea house
Thing to do with visitors? Chi Lin Nunnery, taking the cable car to the Big Buddha, visiting
the Jade Market
Thing to do with kids? Junk boats and paddle boating
Nearby holiday destination? Embarrassed to say, but I haven’t yet travelled to mainland China from here; I do want to visit Guilin and the Yunnan region.
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section