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That Mama: Jacinta Read of Handmade Hong Kong

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This week’s That Mama is super-mum Jacinta Read, writer, illustrator, and one of the brains behind Handmade Hong Kong’s crafts fairs and farmers’ markets. Their upcoming Discovery Bay Backyard Bazaar on Sunday 4 March is set to be their biggest ever, so make sure you go check it out!

We chat to Jacinta, mum of two-year old Layla and 10-month old Dylan, about what it’s like to be married to a rock star (local musician Tom Read), why her daughter is freakily talented and her top tips for family-friendly fun in Discovery Bay.

Where you do buy your clothes? How do you stay stylish as a mum?
Well, three years ago I was buying clothes in the usual suspects: Mango, Zara, Cotton On, H&M, Maple, In Fashion & The Lanes sort of places. I honestly haven’t done much shopping since then! My priorities have shifted dramatically since becoming a mum. That’s not to say I have let myself go – not at all – I’m still pretty vain! So vain in fact that I refuse to buy new clothes until I am satisfied that my body is what it should be post-babies (not quite there yet)! Meanwhile I’m wearing a lot of basics.

More seriously though, a huge thing on my mind at the moment is the sweatshop/child labour issue. I feel like I have matured a lot in the last three years and can no longer turn a blind eye to this – I need to look into why certain clothes are so cheap. I want to switch from quantity to quality now that I’m getting a bit older.

How do you save time?
On a good day, I will pack the baby bag the night before, and lay the next day’s clothes out. On a normal day, I try to make a point of dealing with things  (toys, dishes, clothes, nappies) right away instead of procrastinating. I hate the feeling of things piling up on me so I try my best not to let them.

The other big lesson I’m learning is to enjoy life and live in the moment – my main motivation for trying to save time is usually so that I can run around doing a million things, resulting in not doing anything very meaningfully… so I’m trying to chill out a bit and just enjoy a less-is-more type of life.

What are your organisational tricks and tips?
You have caught me in my three helper-less months; we were travelling and then I totally miscalculated how long it takes to bring someone over from the Philippines! Because of this I have been taking care of the kids and household on my own while my husband works (and I attempt to work). My top tricks are cooking huge portions to allow for lunch the next day, getting things ready so we can get out of the house quick snap (that is when most of our meltdowns happen), and teaching my toddler how to get involved with helping – she loves it and it keeps her positively engaged.

What is your beauty must-have product?
Tweezers. I’ve told my husband and close friends the sure sign I am not coping in life is when they notice my eyebrows go funky.

How do you stay sane?
I pray, I exercise and I try to get a good night’s sleep.

What’s it like being married to a rock star? Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Tom would be my soul mate even if he were a street sweeper (nothing against street sweepers). We have been married for ten years, and started dating at 17. Obviously back then neither of us knew what we would end up doing in life, but one thing that brought us together was the agreement to try to always do what we love. We both have artistic temperaments, and that means we have our rough edges, but the upside is that we understand, respect and support each other’s need to be creative.

Music has taken us around the world both as band mates and with me supporting Tom from the sidelines as he enters his journey as a solo artist. I will always treasure the memories of sound checking with a baby strapped to my chest, or the time I set up a travel cot on the side of the stage and chucked bits of a granola bar in to keep Layla occupied as we rehearsed. Being artistic is challenging enough, but trying to keep it all happening with two little ones in tow takes it to another level… but it’s so worth it. I don’t think we would be happy doing anything else.

Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
Church is a highlight for our family because it’s like a massive extended family getting together every week.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
We eat at home or at people’s houses most of the time – the kids are very young and I am quite strict about bedtimes. We eat at the DB Recreation Club every once in a while and that’s great because they have a safe play area.

Favourite date-night restaurants?
We love going to the Ritz-Carlton on special occasions – my husband’s brother is a manager there so we always get a great table!

Can you give us your top tips for family-friendly activities and restaurants in Discovery Bay? What are the best and worst things about living there?
There are lots of fun options in DB. We divide our time between playrooms, picnics at the beach, parks or plaza, and the swimming pool in the summer. Most of the restaurants are wonderful for families, but as ours are still so young we haven’t made much use of them all yet.

The best thing about living here is the open space and the community. It’s so nice to be able to walk home from friend’s houses or just go out and sit on the grass. I also love the lack of traffic.

The worst thing is not having the option of taking a taxi home at the end of a really long day, or a late night out.

Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
I have quite a varied employment record. I trained as a dancer, but studied Fine Art at uni. I worked in fashion design while I was at uni; after graduation I worked as a personal trainer. I then ran my own dance studio for 4 years after getting married, while I was also a youth leader at church. I nanny-ed for a bit and then I switched to freelance illustrating to be able to travel with our band.

After my first baby was born I decided I needed to get serious about a career if she was to have any chance of going to school ever ($$), so I decided to study for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. (Not totally clear on why I thought going from starving artist/musician to starving writer would help with that!

Today I am an expert hat-changer! I still illustrate, I run the Handmade Hong Kong markets and I write for the newspaper. I graduate in May… we shall see what happens next. I have dreams of getting a PHD, but also kind of want to run sing-a-long sessions for kids…

Can you tell us more about how and why Handmade Hong Kong started?
HMHK was started by my sister-in-law, Meg. She is a very creative and crafty girl who really loves inspiring others to get in touch with their creative selves. Meg has been a huge inspiration and encouragement to me. She started with a small craft fair and I was a vendor with a line of baby clothes called Beepo Baby. After Meg and my brother Justin decided to move to the UK to have their baby, Meg asked me to keep things running here. We’ve got a great partnership going – she handles all the applications and planning from the UK, and I handle everything on the ground here in Hong Kong.

We didn’t have a master plan to create markets as big as HMHK has done, but we have seen that there are lots of very creative people in Hong Kong who are longing for an outlet. It is a real privilege to be a part of providing one answer to that need.

Handmade HK just had its first Farmers’ Market (the next one is scheduled for April 1) – what was the inspiration behind that? How did it go?
So many Hong Kongers can relate to the desire to eat more seasonal, local foods. I guess after the success of the DB Backyard Bazaar we decided we owed it to ourselves to make the most of the amazing space and community we have here in DB and just give it a go.

Our first one was a hit! We had purposely started small because we were very much testing the concept of a Farmers’ Market, and also Discovery Bay’s North Plaza as a venue… and my expectations were exceeded in every way! The vendors rocked up with their very best goods on offer, and bus after bus pulled up with people eager to check it all out. There was a steady stream of people arriving all day – some from DB and many who had come from HK side especially. We had a huge range of products on offer – everything from veggies to organic skincare, wine, yogurt, bread, miniature herb gardens… The only problem was that the farmers had underestimated how popular it would be, so all of the fresh produce sold out in less than 1.5 hours! Anyone who showed up to the latter half of the market day missed out on some really great stuff so we are trying to make sure there will be plenty more on offer in April.

You’re also an illustrator and painter. How do you keep the creative juices flowing? Have the kids started showing any artistic genes yet?
I have been really careful not to pressure myself creatively. Stressing out has never done me any good. Having kids has made me value my time more – I actually dropped one of my textbook illustration jobs because it was so dry and boring. It sucked away my will to live and just wasn’t worth the time it took away from my babies. I jumped at the chance to illustrate the wallpaper for my church’s crèche though – even though it was incredibly hard to find time to complete the job, it was something I really wanted to be involved in and I’m so glad I did it.

Yes – my toddler frightens me with the level of talent she is already displaying. She sings very complicated songs perfectly and has a memory I didn’t know a two year old could be capable of. She can recite long sections of Peppa Pig scripts and can remember people’s names and what they said to her the last time they saw her! My mum is an early childhood learning specialist and has been exposing my kids to flashcards and multiple languages and whatnot since day one. Actually, she made me wear this weird rhythm-making belt during my pregnancies to stimulate their little foetus-brains! I was a total doubting Thomas, but I honestly now think there is something in it all!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
A dear friend said to me that during the young years, if we get to the end of the day and we are all still alive, then that is enough; anything on top of that is a bonus!

Fabulous photos by Ifat Kafry Hindes of Hindessight Photography.

Check out the rest of our That Mamas here.

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