Block Kong is a series of interviews with blockchain-related entrepreneurs and financiers in Hong Kong, brought to you by Charles D’Haussy.
I would have lost an Ether if I had bet on where my Block Kong Breakfast with a former Bloomberg T.V. anchor would take place.
On my way to Gage Street, I was dreaming of a hipster cafe, with an infinite choice of soymilk latte, avocados on toast, and chia-seed yogurt.
Instead, Angie Lau suggested Lan Fong Yuen. It is a true taste of the city’s canteens, offering classic beverages and typical “everyday” food. It’s been around since 1952, and the main entrance is still hidden between a teashop and vegetable stand.
When I enter Lan Fong Yuen, the manager seems to know why I am here. He guides me directly to the table where Lau is already sitting.
Lau is a Hong Kong native but moved to Canada when she was two years old. After studying journalism in Toronto, she started her career at CBS News and came back in Hong Kong in 2011 as one of Bloomberg’s global anchors.
More recently she is part of a wave of high-profile people in Hong Kong business and finance moving into the blockchain industry. It wasn’t a direct leap from Bloomberg, however: after 20 years as a journalist, she first joined the Li Ka-shing Foundation. Then she co-founded her own business, Forkast.News, with the aim of connecting the techies in blockchain with the general public.
Was she crazy leaving behind the fame and prestige of being a Bloomberg anchor to jump onto the entrepreneurial rollercoaster – sugar-topped with a blockchain focus?
I am now well acquainted with Yuenyeung tea, having been introduced to it by another Block Kong interviewee, and I find I have developed a taste for this tea-milk-coffee confection.
We order two French toasts and two Yeunyeung teas. There is nothing particularly French about this toast, which is another local Cantonese creation, but delicious nonetheless.
Lau says the move is not so crazy today, but would not have made sense a few years ago, when being a T.V. anchor was indeed a big deal. Not so long ago, traditional media was respected and credible.
The constant erosion of resources for newsrooms meant reporters had to prioritize pumping out lots of stories. “Journalists get less and less time to understand more and more things,” Lau says. As a result, the media has become just another bystander and is no longer central to the conversation.
She hopes to use specialization to create something different. Her journey to the industry began when she was asked to moderate a panel on blockchain. Lau told the organizer she wasn’t familiar with the topic. “The said that was okay,” she says. “So I spent the next 48 hours doing a deep dive.”
She’s still diving, hoping with Forkast to bring more knowledgeable journalism to an industry where media is either too techie, or too superficial.
Along the way, the concept of the “media platform” needs rethinking. “The content is the platform, not the tech,” Lau says. One thing that has surprised her is that the audience is willing to go on long journeys with her. The general wisdom in media these days is that everything has to be snappy: if it can’t be stated in 140 characters, then it’s not worth saying. But Lau says the long-form videos and podcasts, of up to 30 minutes, are the most-consumed content on Forkast.
I order my second Yeunyeung, although Lau declines to join me. I ask her about conflicts of interest, how she handles interviewing people who also own a lot of the same cryptocurrency they’re working on . “I’ve been trained and live by our journalism ethics code,” she says. “What people really ask for is trust.”
What does she make of businesspeople, often very successful ones, entering the blockchain industry? She reckons it will eventually help reform the traditional world. “People coming from the traditional space to blockchain know the system well enough to renovate it” using the new technology.
One big difference, though, is the informality of a nascent industry: “I don’t see people with titles. I love that. In blockchain, you don’t speak to titles; you speak to people.”
I am starting to feel like I’m a T.V. show. Maybe it’s Lau, or maybe it’s this second Yuenyeung. I ask her about women in blockchain. She says 25% of her audience is female. The challenge for women in tech is not new, but she has encountered plenty of women building businesses in blockchain. “The best teams are about talent, not about quotas,” she says.
We’re about to go and I remember to ask why she chose to have breakfast at Lan Fong Yuen. Some years ago she conducted an interview here with Mark Mobius, the legendary emerging-markets investor. Mobius made such settings the routine of his visits to cities around the world: hit the street, go shopping, and eat locally. It tells you a lot about the local economy.
What it tells me is that Hong Kong remains very much a cash-based place. As I’m settling the bill, I notice the cashier has patiently laid chains of coins from all her spare change. Lau, who has an instinct for pictures, tells me to take a photo.
Lan Fong Yuen
- 2 Gage Street, Central
- French toast, x2
- Yuenyeung tea, x3
- Total: HK$124
- Paid with cash