Grace Ma
courtesy of Leah Kohlenberg

That Thing That She Does: Bar owner, local art patron, filmmaker, writer, philosopher, psychologist…

In her tiny bar off a side street in Hong Kong’s humming Lan Kwai Fong drinking district, Grace Ma quietly defies everything most of the territory’s population claims as its identity. Most folks in Hong Kong, which recently bounced from British to Chinese rule, say they aren’t political. But Grace is and so is her bar. It’s called Club 6-4, openly commemorating the date of the June 4, 1989, Tianamen Square massacre of students protesting for Democracy in Beijing (she closes on that date, too, even after the Chinese government took over Hong Kong in 1997). It’s business, not the arts, that dominates this economically savvy city. In Club 6-4, though, local artists hang their work on the walls, and local musicians and writers perform in the bar’s tiny back room. In fact, the 48-year-old Grace is herself a creator: she was once a newspaper columnist, and has also written fiction in both English and Chinese (not published) and has shot her first docu-drama, a film called “Cheers.”

But I personally think of Grace as my ka jair, Cantonese for “big sister,” as she is for many other foreigners (known as gweilo, or white ghosts) in Hong Kong. A lot of foreign journalists hang out at the slick, polished and removed Foreign Correspondents’ Club down the street. But at the more downscale Club 6-4, Grace embraces everyone, foreign or local, and her place feels more like home than any of the cramped flats I rented during my stay. With her frank and straightforward manner, Grace adds an animated, thoughtful and unique voice to conversations about philosophy, politics, or whatever else comes up. And she takes as much delight in matters of the heart as she does with intellectual musings. One night, she stayed open late and talked with friends while I sat in a corner and made out with a guy until 5 a.m.

“I see myself as a middle person to relate people, a listener when someone needs venting and a student when people discuss/argue on subjects that I don’t know,” Grace says. “Sometimes there are fights/arguments. If no violence is involved I’ll keep silent, but of course not when I am in a bad mood. “

Grace has created more than a local watering hole with Club 6-4. She has built an international community where dynamic conversation reigns and artists, intellectuals, and even us gweilos have a place.

“I love to share what I have come across as a human/woman and this is what I’ve been trying to do in Club 6-4,” says Grace. “How can we learn and make the world to a better one? This has been the question I’ve kept on asking ever since I was young.”
—Leah Kohlenberg, friend, former Hong Kong resident, and journalist

Word from Grace Ma

How She Shakes Off a Bad Day: This is a good one. Shake it off with a few drinks or masturbation if my partner is not around. Talk to people I trust. For quite some time I went swimming and that washed off my worries.

Favorite Way to Travel:
Join a tour if the place is new to me because it’s the best way for quick sight-seeing without hustling your friends. To places that I’d been to before, e.g. London, I’d call up friends to stay in their house and then wander around myself. 

Coordinates: China

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