Ronald Chak is the managing director of Chak’s Investment and the organiser of the Hong Kong International Antiques Fair.
How did you first become involved with investing in rare Chinese antiques?
My parents opened Chak’s Company in 1988. It specialised in Chinese ceramics, works of art and rare antiques. For my own part, as I was fairly good at working with figures, I decided I was destined for a career in economics and went off to study it at the University of Boston, later transferring to the University of Maryland. When I graduated, I then took on a job with the Bank of Communications.
As everybody knows, the finance markets pretty much went crazy between 2008 and 2010. At the time, I had very good relationships with a number of my clients and was eager to help them limit their exposure and potential losses. For the bank, though, it was a case of making the brokers do what was best for the bank rather than looking out for the clients. This policy soon eroded the relationships I’d worked so hard to build. Realising I was no longer in charge of my own destiny, I decided to go and work with my parents.
To date, I have learned an enormous amount about the industry through my folks. Now, I act very much in an advisory capacity, assuring clients that items are authentic and realistically priced. Here the relationships are far easier to maintain because the trust factor is there. If they don’t trust me, they won’t buy. It’s that simple. As I specialise in Ming and Ching dynasty porcelain, I travel quite regularly, visiting the US, the UK, France and Japan, as well as many of the major mainland cities.
Crying – a sign of weakness or a mark of strength?
I would have to say strength. You need courage to express your true feelings. Having had two children, I am now much more emotional than I used to be.
Who is your favourite film star?
Will Smith. I think he is a greater actor. I loved him in Independence Day. He seems like a very nice guy. I also like Matt Damon. They both seem very down-to-earth. everyone who’s worked with them seems to have good things to say about them. Without meaning any disrespect, they don’t have superstar good looks, but make up for it in terms of character. People can relate to them far more easily and they really show their human sides.
What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever been in?
That was something that happened recently. My daughter hit her head on the side of her bed and she needed to have stitches near her eye. If that happened to me, I wouldn’t really bother that much. I have had stitches before. When it came to her, though, I didn’t know what to do. She is my little girl, my little angel. Looking back, it seems far more dramatic than it really was. At the time, it seemed desperate. Anyway once I calmed down, I took her to hospital and arranged a plastic surgeon to do the stitches. There was a lot of guilt going on and also all those “what ifs…”
Can you play chess?
Yes, I can and I am quite good. I learned at high school. My tutor taught me how to play and, within two months, I was beating him on a regular basis. I really like Chinese chess too. In both games, you have to think several moves ahead. I find that both fun and interesting. It’s a sort of brain teasing exercise. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t like mah-jong.
Is there a brand would you never wear or own?
For me, that would probably be Versace. I like items that are plainer and a bit more subtle. Their stuff is too flamboyant. It has too many fancy colours and is too patterned. While I am sure it suits other people’s tastes – and maybe they can pull it off better – it doesn’t work for me. It just isn’t my style.
What is you least favourite form of transport?
I love cars. I own a Lamborghini and Mercedes. I also love motorcycles, but my parents were always against them. I suppose I think that yachts are really quite boring, but then I do quite like speed boats. I suppose I am addicted to speed.
What is your astrological sign?
I am a Sagittarius – late November. I actually know very little about the Zodiac signs, so don’t know whether I am typical of my star sign or not. People who do know about these things say that I am quite typical and often guess my sign from my character. I don’t know.
What was your best ever birthday present?
On my 18th birthday, my uncle gave me a Rolex watch. I still have it to this day. It was my first ever Rolex and it seems to increase in value as it gets older. It was a Rolex GMT Master II in blue and red. I still cherish it. My dad, though, has never bought me any birthday presents. He is a very traditional sort of person and always says that men should never celebrate birthdays. I am not sure that is specifically a Chinese thing or whether it’s just my dad who feels that birthdays are just proof that you’re growing older and shouldn’t be celebrated.
Have you ever had a near death experience?
Yes, I have. Twice, actually. Once I was in Hawaii on vocation and I went sky diving and my parachute did not open fully. It was a very windy day, but suddenly the instructor saw a clearing in the cloud cover so we went. We dropped and I pulled the rip cord and a gust of wind made the parachute “candle stick.” I had to untwist the chute in mid-air, but I was down to about 4,000 feet before I could fully deploy. It should have been 8,000 feet. I ended up landing on a highway as I’d been blown off-course. The interesting thing was that I saw seven rainbows during that day’s jumping. When you see a rainbow from the ground they are, of course, arches. When seen from the sky, though, they are circles. I don’t sky dive any more – that scare did it for me. I am still a bit of an adrenaline junkie, though, and would love to do a bungee jump.
My second “experience” was also in Hawaii and came when I tried my hand at free diving. People had warned me not to swim outside the reef but, of course, I didn’t really take too much notice. I saw a very large rock fish and followed it as it swam out to sea. All of a sudden, I saw a host of other people with scuba gear around me. It was then that I realised that I was way past the reef. As I came to the surface, I kept on being hit by very heavy waves. These knocked my goggles off and I was soon swallowing water. As I tried to make my way closer to the reef to get something to anchor me, I kept on being pulled further out to sea. Eventually, I was able to get back to the reef and finally to the beach, but it was a very scary episode.
Can you change a fuse?
Yes, I can. I am usually quite a hands-on type of person. I enjoying fixing things and also seeing how they work.
Do you have a favourite Chinese saying?
I am always saying mo. man tai or “no problem” when I am talking to people. While it’s not my favourite saying, I seem to like it.
Sunrises or sunsets?
Sunrises. While I am not really a morning type person, for me sunrise is like a symbol of the beginning of something – a type of renewal. Sunsets signify the ending of something and that is always a little but depressing.
Is there anywhere you have never been but that you would love to visit?
Italy. I studied art history and Italy is so full of beautiful old buildings and sculptures. I think I would find it fascinating and have hankered after travelling there for a very long time. My best friend at college was Italian and has often urged me to visit. I also love Italian food. It is so delicious, but very fattening.
Do you believe in aliens?
I think the universe is huge and I can’t believe that we are the only form of intelligent life across its enormous expanse. Statistically, I fell that aliens must exist. There are so many billions of galaxies in our own universe and we are also told that ours is not the only universe. The chances are, then, that other forms of life have to exist.
Is there a word you use too often?
M’hai ah or “really.” It seems like I don’t actually believe what people are telling me. It’s not really that but I do often feel that people are exaggerating a bit. I suppose I say that as a way of double checking on what’s being said – like saying “you’re kidding.” In my field people are always trying to building things up to impress everyone.
What was your most extravagant purchase to date?
I suppose that would have to be my Lambo. It’s an Aventador RB700
Do you like fancy dress parties?
No, not really. I don’t really go to parties. I suppose I am not much of a party animal. I may have to get into fancy dress when my little daughter gets a little bit older.
Can you tell us a secret?
I am very bad at keeping them and so have nothing new to tell.
When did you last tell a white lie?
Two days ago. A good friend and client called, me supposedly seeking my advice. He always seems to know best about things and I realised that he was actually just seeking confirmation. I didn’t agree with what he was saying, but just said yes, yes, yes to keep him happy and get him off the line. I didn’t want to start an argument when I knew he’d already made up his mind.