Justine Campbell is something of a veteran expat, having lived all over Asia. Now ensconced in a new home in Chung Hom Kok on Hong Kong’s Southside, she talks everything from Japanese cuisine and the hidden messages in art, to a special dog called Mintie.
You’ve chosen to live in Asia for over half of your life: ten years in Japan, stints in Thailand, Indonesia and India, and almost nine years in Hong Kong. What keeps drawing you back to the East?
From early on, there was something about the Orient that fascinated me, and today my Asian friends joke that I’m sometimes more Asian than they are! Growing up in Sydney in the 1980s, everyone was given the choice of studying French, German or Japanese at school, and I chose to study Japanese, eventually completing higher qualifications in the subject in Australia and Japan. I went to work for BMW in Tokyo and the longer I stayed, the more deeply I fell in love with the country. My husband Shaun is currently Managing Director of the Hong Kong Langham Hotel, and many of our stints in Asia have been due to his postings in various hotels – they’ve all been fascinating, but I’m particularly passionate about Japan. I speak fluent Japanese, I’m an expert when it comes to sushi, and everyone in our family adores Japanese food: in fact, I’ve just arrived back from a trip with a 50kg suitcase of tofu, rice balls, seafood, drinking yoghurt, miso soup and seaweed! We bought a house in Niseko four years ago, and we spend a lot of time there as a family: we all love it.
READ MORE: ‘It’s weird to think I arrived nearly six years ago with one suitcase’
The eclectic style in which you’ve decorated your Southside home in Chung Hom Kok certainly reflects the time you’ve spent living in different cultures: which pieces are your favourite?
It’s true there are pieces of furniture from a host of different countries: opium chairs from Thailand; an antique cabinet from San Cabo in the US; a dining table we originally bought in Australia for our warehouse apartment and shipped over – it’s constructed from recycled railway boards! There are also a good few pieces from Hong Kong, including bedside cabinets I found at Bowerbird, and a beautiful table in the living room from Red Cabinet.
My favourite pieces, though, are the artworks – I love art, but it has to have a special meaning for me, and every painting in the house speaks to different experiences, places or periods of my life. The artwork in the hall by the front door, for example, is a kid dressed up, with a peg on his nose and a rubbish tin on his head, but everyone sees something slightly different. You have to look at it really closely to work it out, but the message behind the painting is to remember the inner child! In the living room, above the sofa, the Chinese characters carved in wood are symbols of the heart and the crane: the thrust is that no matter what happens in your life, and the storms that come your way, the crane and the heart must remain strong.
I’ve got another painting coming up from Australia called Boundless: an amazing picture of the ocean. When you look at it, there’s a sense you don’t know what’s over the horizon, but should that stop you from going out? I try to wake up every day and live bravely, and in fact the canvas in my office – a piece I bought in the US – sums up my philosophy. I have huge admiration for American scholar and research professor Brene Brown, and the piece of art depicts one of her tenets, which is: Show Up, Be Seen, Live Bravely. Her work is all about empowerment, and she did an amazing TED talk about the power of vulnerability. She started interviewing people about great love for a research project, and discovered that sizeable achievement is impossible without great pain. She posits an idea of an arena, like a sports stadium, which is filled with people. To achieve greatness, you must step into the arena, even though you might feel vulnerable. You’re still open to attack, and you may very well fall, but the important thing is showing up in the first place, and having the confidence to pick yourself up and try again when you do! I’m planning to run workshops in 2017 using the work of Brene Brown at Mindquest, my counselling and coaching practice.
What prompted you to set up Mindquest Group in Hong Kong?
My move into counselling and coaching came about soon after arriving in Hong Kong: I saw a gap in the market. I went on to do a Master’s degree in Counselling at Monash University, a graduate diploma in Positive Psychology at Melbourne University, and began a PhD in CBT while working as a counsellor: I enjoyed helping my clients, but felt like I was merely putting out fires – I would treat their symptoms, get people to a place where they were OK, but constantly wondered if there was more I could or should be doing. Then one of my clients urged me to look beyond traditional one-to-one counselling. I did another qualification to become a certified coach, and changed the focus of the company to Solutions-Focused Coaching using the principles of Positive Psychology. Now I’m committed to moving my clients beyond just being OK, to flourishing.
Ultimately, Mindquest Group is about empowering individuals and organisations through the use of Positive Psychology, and it’s a technique I use myself, every day. For example, I’m currently involved in a project in Niseko: Enso Estate. With my European partners, we’re working with a Japanese architect and a Western architect to develop a residential community of 40 houses and a boutique hotel. I’m trying to find a unique marriage between two cultures, and I’m convinced I can extract the best from both architects – despite the fact neither speaks the other’s language! I’m also fascinated by the Chinese concept of chi, and how it flows through everything we do, so I’m determined the development will reflect that, and be something both special and beautiful. A lot of the Positive Psychology I utilise at Mindquest Group has come into play: what does the estate represent? What are its core values? How do people live? How do they entertain? What do they really need?
To launch the project, and to share my love of Japan with friends and clients in Hong Kong, I recently organised an event at the house with the esteemed Chef Tatsuru of Rakuichi Niseko. Chef Tatsuru flew to Hong Kong for a special six-course dinner at the Langham, where he cooked alongside the resident chef at the three-Michelin-star T’ang Court to create a menu that was an incredible marriage between Japanese and Chinese cuisine. I was very happy he could also cook at my home, and it was a fantastic evening: friends, fun and laughter!
Sounds like you’re going to have your hands full over the next year, with a dozen different new projects!
It’s true, and the property development is a big step for me; I don’t have any experience in that arena – apart from growing up with parents who were property developers! But my grandmother was my ultimate role model; she was incredibly strong and she taught me that you can do anything you want to do. That has carried me through in life. In the meantime, I’m continuously learning, at whatever I do. But I think it’s good to be a constant student – after all, curiosity keeps us interesting and young!
We’ve also just had a new arrival to the family: Mintie the Tamaruke labradoodle. Far from being an extra burden, however, I’m sure she’s going to be a valuable new addition! She’s been specially trained in Australia to help people step into vulnerability: to help break down barriers, build rapport and step back into society. It’s well documented that dogs can actively help in schools with kids who have difficulties in reading, or those who have problems focusing, or regulating their emotions. We took Mintie to a park in Australia on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and the kids were like bees to honey: she’s very gentle, but she’s also gorgeous! There was one kid whose parents had been trying to get him to come and play, but he was withdrawn and entirely focused on playing games on his phone. Then he saw Mintie and instantly got up and came over. Mintie put her head on his lap, and he immediately started opening up and sharing that his school had a dog, but she wasn’t as lovely as this one! In fact, my son’s school has agreed to have Mintie join him from time to time – I know that HKIS also has a dog in the lower primary school; she’s apparently very popular!
So, yes, a very busy time ahead. But hopefully a productive and fulfilling one, and, for the first time in years, our own home – because of Shaun’s job, we’ve been living in hotels for many years. It’s a brand new chapter for the Campbell family!
Zuma Landmark 15 Queen’s Road Central | 3657 6388 | zumarestaurant.com
Wild Thyme 401 Lee Wai Commercial Building 1-3 Hart Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui | 2577 3662 | wildthyme.hk
Mangiare G/F, 44-55 Cadogan Street Kennedy Town | 2336 3375 | mangiarehk.com
Amalfitana Art Treasures Gallery G/F, 83B Hollywood Road, Central | 2543 0430 | art-treasures-gallery.com
Indigo Living 221-224 Landmark Prince’s Building 10 Chater Road, Central | indigo-living.com
Red Cabinet 1-13 Hollywood Road, Central | 2536 0123 | red-cabinet.com.hk
Arthouse Gallery 66 McLachlan Avenue Rushcutters Bay, NSW, Australia | arthousegallery.com.au
Cat Street Gallery 50 Tung Street, Tai Ping Shan | 2291 0006 | thecatstreetgallery.com
This article first appeared in the Apr/May edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!
Want to know more about living in Hong Kong? Forging a new path as an expat