Christian Rhomberg, founder of the all-powerful Kee Club in Hong Kong is interviewed for BB by Louise Bleach
CR KEE was designed to be something of a ‘home away from home’ for our members. It is designed similarly to a grand residence and what we try to do at KEE is to maintain a large team of managers. Their main function is to make people feel at home here, to make introductions, and to encourage an exchange of interesting ideas and conversations.
BB KEE attracts such an eclectic mix of people what would you say is the common denominator between them?
CR They come from all walks of life and we make a special effort to mix people. So it is not a club for the British, or for the French, or for the Chinese; we have a very good balance. They also come from all sorts of different professions, and we try to mix the age groups. Of course KEE is a little bit more mature than a normal night club. Here we might see three generations in one day. For example the grandparents come in for lunch, the parents for dinner and their kids, well those in their 20s, come to party in the evening.
BB You have an avid interest in Buddhism, Tibet and ayruvedic medicine. Is this a passion you would ever like to resonate in future KEE franchises?
CR Actually we are working on two new projects. One is a country club outside of Shanghai, where we will also have a hotel among other facilities.This hotel will have a focused program on preventive hygiene, detox and upmarket conferences on the topic of sustainability. My partner there, the owner of that project, has set up a foundation to introduce new techniques in production that conforms with sustainability.He has provided the foundation with over twenty million US dollars, so he is very serious about it. What we do is to help him to build a platform that brings the right people in China together. Not only in China, but internationally too.
We are also planning a spiritual health retreat in Bhutan which will have fifty rooms or villas. We are collaborating on design with Kengo Kuma, who recently did the Opposite House. This is a nearly complete plan and we hope to start building it this year. We will focus very much on ayuveda and other trans-cultural healing therapies, even some new western healing therapies like kinesiology. It will be very interesting as we are working with one of the world’s best healing clinics, Lanzerhof from Austria, and one of the most respected ayuverda clinics in southern India, based in Kerala, called Sumateram. They have been rated as one of the best clinics for more than thirty years.
BB It seems almost an oxymoron to manage of the most famous nightclubs in Asia and hopefully a very successful health retreat!
CR We have poisoned people long enough. But our healing places will be fun. They will not be holy, they will not be boring, they will be KEE.There will definitely be some fun to it.
BB Style and sophistication are synonymous with KEE, do you think a flair for style is something you can acquire and cultivate or is it hardwired?
CR I believe that you do inherit a little bit. I am sure that I inherited a lot from my parents. My mother was an art historian and archaeologist and my grand aunt was a very famous painter in Munich in the 1920s, so something must have come down to me.Also I grew up around antique collections, and I always lived in beautiful old buildings and houses across Europe. But I also think you can learn a lot. I love to design places and have learnt by working with very talented architects.
BB Was KEE developed by instinct or careful research?
CR I did some serious thinking about it because I did not want to do just another club in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a lot of clubs and with all respect, out of the many clubs I would have to say I prefer the China Club because it was put together intelligently and beautifully and I love their art collection. The only thing that I missed then was a club that was just a club. There was no nightclub aspect to Hong Kong, and I thought that was boring, so we added that on. Generally the types of programs we do we are quite different because we are constantly learning. Through KEE magazine we meet a lot of people which brings us feedback; and we always have a team of creative people with us so we can explore new ideas.
Originally when I set up the club I was studying a little bit, and I was actually fascinated by the sell-on culture. Sell-ons being social places centred on and around an interesting woman. In KEE there is an interesting woman, my wife Maria, so in some ways I built it somewhat for her.
BB What other projects are you involved in outside of KEE?
CR Since quite a few years I have supported various charity causes and I’m also a director of a Buddhist charity called Karua Sethian. With Karuna we look after and we fund in Tibet, in Nepal, in Bhutan and India about 20 to 30 ongoing projects. They range from big schools of up to 800 students to hospitals. We have one hospital in Nepal that has about 100 000 patients a year.This is quite a commitment but it’s really enjoyable; and because it is part managed within a Buddhist environment the monasteries help us so it is not that difficult to manage.In the monasteries there is such a great amount of respect so you don’t have to have a huge organization.
I also support a child wildlife scheme in Nepal because they are close friends of mine and they do very good projects, as well as doing a lot of fundraising here in Hong Kong. But whenever I can I like to support good ideas. I met a wonderful young Chinese lady who became a nun and she has opened her own orphanage in the Hunan province. She looks after 40 children, and its amazingly beautiful what she does for them and what a happy community she has.I am very happy to help her. I’m actually hoping to go there. We have adopted a few kids from there because it’s relatively easy to give someone money. I think you have to do a little bit more. I want to pass this feeling onto my children. I am going to take my daughter Mara there soon because I think that is an experience she has never had.
BB What sparked your passion for Buddhism?
CR When I was a kid I was sure I was going to end up in heaven and then I was told it’s not so easy. So I started to wonder: what is the meaning of life? Is there God? All these questions and, although I came from a Catholic background, my questions were never really answered. So, I started to read a lot of existential philosophy but I had a feeling that in Asia I would find a lot more answers.I had already started to read books on Buddhism, and I think subconsciously this made me chose to come to Asia. After I had arrived here I then connected and met my first teachers. The more I learnt about it the more comfortable I became with Buddhism because it’s not a religion, they don’t postulate Buddha as a God. They say that we all have a Buddha nature inside of us and happiness comes from learning to care for other people. And that makes a lot of sense.
BB How would you define happiness from a personal point of view?
CR I think happiness has to do with not taking yourself as too important and being open. Then you are not so afraid about things. Being and sharing with other people is what makes you naturally happy. Most people think I am a good person in my family but this is just an extended part of you. This is not really what I consider opening yourself up. I think you need to do a little bit more. I always enjoy being with people and looking after them, so this is very important to me.
What do you hold sacred?
Beyond family and children it is really the knowledge that if I focus I can reach something like enlightenment. If I can reach this state then I will be freer to help more people. One of my teachers had such a power, merely from his presence, that he really changed my life. Out of personal experience this is what is most sacred for me.