When it comes to making female friends in Hong Kong and networking, one of the best ways to get involved in the social scene is by joining women’s group activities and clubs. No one knows this better than KARIN MOORHOUSE, an Australian expat who is now the Chair of Corona Hong Kong. We ask her about her experience when she first arrived on our shores, advice for newcomers and how this social club in Hong Kong aims to help women create friendships.
Where are you from, and what brought you to Hong Kong?
Call it love, marriage and the spirit of adventure! I met my husband at the University of NSW in 1981. He was originally from Beijing but had moved to Hong Kong a few years before we met. We married in 1988 and our first home was in the hospital quarters at Caritas Medical Centre. Back then, Sham Shui Po was a poor but lively area where few foreigners ventured. But my four years there instilled a deep sense of connection with Hong Kong. Although our respective careers have seen us come and go over the years to places like London, Angola (as volunteers for MSF), Toronto, Melbourne and Beijing, Hong Kong is “home”.
What did networking look like when you arrived? How did women join social and business circles at that time?
To be honest, I was hardly aware there was much of an expat community in Hong Kong when I arrived, or how to connect with it. I lived in Sham Shui Po and travelled each day on the MTR to the industrial heartland of Kwun Tong for work. Sham Shui Po and Kwun Tong were my world, so I rarely encountered foreigners. Most of my networking was done in the business community and related to my job as Marketing Director for Nestle Dairy Farm.
Tell us about the Women’s Corona Society.
It’s a friendly group of international women who embrace the unique experience of living in Hong Kong. Essentially, it’s a social club that gives ladies a chance to meet other women and join activities and events in a relaxed and informal way. We have something scheduled almost every day. Hiking is popular for those keen to explore the many beautiful trails. Others prefer get-togethers like Monday Coffee Morning or afternoons of canasta or mah jong. Book lovers meet monthly for lively discussions about interesting reads, while the more creative join group activities for art and crafts, photography and cooking.
Corona is perhaps something of the “anti club”. We don’t have a clubhouse, website or paid staff, and annual membership is a nominal $100, payable in January each year. We recognise that not everyone wants to pay a lot of money to join a club or an event. Often, we just want to get out, have fun and make friends in Hong Kong.
We communicate via WhatsApp and operate a flexible “meet-up” model. All activities are run by members who volunteer their time, so our gatherings are casual rather than stage-managed – and this is very much part of our appeal. Our average age is probably skewed towards 50 and above. Corona Hong Kong currently has about 80 members, representing almost 20 nationalities. Many members have made Hong Kong home, so there is a wealth of local knowledge and experience in the group to help newcomers settle in. We also have a WhatsApp group called “Chatter @ Corona”. Anyone can ask questions there or share news about what’s happening around town.
And we’ve been around a while! Women’s Corona Society was founded in 1950 by Queen Elizabeth, with the Hong Kong branch established in 1952. Originally, it was set up by the Colonial Office to support the wives of public servants and officers working in Commonwealth countries. The aim was to ensure these women had a support network on arrival but also on their return to Britain.
Over the years, Corona Hong Kong has extended its remit to provide fellowship to internationally minded women to become the largest, most diverse and active club in the Corona Worldwide network.
What’s your role, and what does it entail from day to day?
I’m the Chair of Corona Hong Kong. I lead a group of fabulous volunteers who organise and manage both our regular group activities and special events. Every Saturday, I publish “What’s On @ Corona” for the forthcoming week and oversee the activities. Although I can’t attend every event, I do enjoy getting to know our members and soliciting fresh ideas.
How can people join the social club?
Just send an email to Luisa Cingolani, our Membership Secretary (email@example.com) and pay the $100 annual membership fee. Members will then be signed up to our Corona Community via WhatsApp, and can select which activity groups they’d like to join.
What advice would you give newcomers in terms of networking and making friends in Hong Kong?
There are many ways to network, from joining a community Facebook group to signing up for an established club or professional, business or sporting association. There are also communities like The Australian Association of Hong Kong, and overseas universities have alumni associations here. Others make networks of friends in Hong Kong via their children’s schools or religious communities. Of course, not everyone likes to actively “network”. That’s where a relaxed “meet-up” group like Corona comes to the fore.
Is HK a good place for a woman entrepreneur or business owner to succeed?
Expats often lament that “Hong Kong has changed” and I always counter that with “Hong Kong has always been in a perpetual state of change.” The Hong Kong I first encountered in 1980s was very different to the 1990s, and different again to today. However, I feel privileged to have experienced those changes. And yet it’s the pace of change and the dynamism coupled with the ease of doing business here that has been so stimulating and presents women with many opportunities.
Of course, there are always challenges, as in all businesses and cities. I now work as an Executive Coach, focusing on Leadership and Development, and I know that too often the challenges we face are often more about our own mindset. To embrace change is to grow.
What are you excited about for your social club in Hong Kong for the rest of this year and beyond?
Our monthly calendar is always full with regular women’s group activities and special events. Next week, there’s a private kitchen dining experience with a well-known Hong Kong restauranteur. In September, a group is attending the opening show at the Comedy Festival, by one of our members. We’re also going to repeat some popular events like “A Night at the Hong Kong Phil,” “Happy Hour @ Corona” and our annual Christmas lunch.
What do you like to do in Hong Kong when you’re not working?
One of the beauties of living in Sai Kung is that my husband and I ocean swim every morning, all year round, together with our rescue dog, Xiao Bao. I’m also a regular in the Corona hiking group. I never cease to be amazed by how easy it is to escape into nature in this beautiful city. But my life-long passion is cooking. I cook a broad repertoire, but I particularly love the regional cuisines of China. It’s a never-ending journey of discovery. In Beijing I wrote a Chinese cooking column for an expat magazine, and now I teach Chinese cooking at Corona and run wet market tours.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Restaurant? Hong Kong has too many exceptional restaurants to pick just one! But in all honesty it’s “Karin’s Kitchen” – meals from my own kitchen, especially in the cooler months when we can dine on the rooftop or terrace.
Bar? My rooftop overlooking Pak Sha Wan.
Local food? Another hard question! It’s a toss-up between zong (sticky rice dumplings) and char siu cheung fun (roast pork rice roll).
Nature spot? Sai Kung Country Park.
Thing to do with visitors? Wander through Nan Lian Gardens and the Chi Lin Nunnery.
Nearby holiday destination? Anywhere in China, especially the remoter provinces like Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Gansu and Guizhou.
This article about the Corona social club in Hong Kong first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.
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