Crystal Lee takes the reins of the annual DB 10km Run for Charity and brings new meaning to multi-tasking. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
“Oh that’s good luck!” declares Crystal Lee by way of trying to put a positive spin on a pigeon relieving itself directly on my face. It should be said her self-control vis-à-vis not laughing out loud is admirable. That could be expected.
It’s mid-afternoon in DB Plaza, and Crystal is sitting in the shade, looking bizarrely relaxed considering the schedule she’s about to reveal. Referring to herself a couple of times as “difficult” (generally a word used to describe women who are confident and capable), it’s clear she hates politicking and has little patience for stupidity; she’s assured in her beliefs and secure in her identity. She doesn’t mince words. It’s remarkably refreshing.
Helping people that need it
A Hong Kong native, Crystal attended secondary school in Boston, and after a change in financial status at home, studied economics, French and Spanish at the University of New Brunswick.
“The language part is what I really liked. The economics is what my mother liked,” she cracks. “But it’s been very useful.”
Understatement. Upon returning to Hong Kong in 2003, Crystal found work as a translator, and eventually met up with the Latin Dragons dragon boat team, where her Spanish came in handy. The group of friends founded The Crayon Society, which recycles crayons by melting them down and remoulding them to sell for charity.
Now 38, Crystal credits her penchant for charitable work to her social worker aunt in Boston, and she’s carried it on here. Money from the twice-loved Crayolas goes to The Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital, and the venture has spawned The Crayon Run, held for the second time this May. Parent/ child teams circle Tai Pak Wan for a good cause – normally just the hospital but this year also a local student, JP Castillo, who required pricey surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Crystal doubled the donations from the year before, and did it fairly. Kids and parents have to cross the finish line together.
“It was a big educational event because DB children got to understand that they are fortunate to have good health, and learnt to be compassionate to people around them,” says Crystal. “They also learnt that anyone can start something to help people, as long as they put their heart to it.”
Crystal chose The Duchess of Kent because it is a local cause – it’s Hong Kong’s only children’s hospital right now, and the hospital happily gives tours to donors who’d like to see their cash in action. That’s important: Crystal is all about action.
“I’ve worked with a lot of charities in the past and [husband] Stefano does a lot of races. And they’re so expensive. How can a race cost HK$600?” she asks with a disbelieving shake of the head. “Are you really giving all this money to who you say you are? I understand that in order to scale you need money for full-time office staff, but it feels like a little too much. I’m a strong believer in getting stuff done and helping people that need it. The [money raised by] The Crayon Society has always gone to people you can see. I hang on to that.”
Creating train-in spaces
The Stefano that Crystal is talking about is her Italian-born husband of seven years, prior Around DB profile Stefano Passarello. The couple met in that stalwart Wanchai institution, Mes Amis. After living in Kennedy Town, they soon started looking for a a home that would work for a family, which now counts a six-year-old son and infant daughter. The green, the space and the pace of DB appealed to them, but it took a while.
“We came here to check it out and the first impression was not so hot. It was a little too constructed, and we thought we’d never consider it. But then we came a second time, a third time, and it started to feel comfortable,” Crystal recalls. The couple finally relocated to Discovery Bay ahead of their wedding. “So when his family came over they could stay over,” Crystal says with a laugh. “An Italian family is not staying at a hotel.”
Next up for Crystal is the one-two punch of opening the ambitious Kapuhala eco-resorts in Koh Samui and Sicily, born from the combination of what she and Stefano agreed was a rising travel trend of people looking for healthy vacation options, and The HIT Room’s Cindy and Wesley Reid selling their gym.
“Technically, they are resorts. It’s glamping, and you eat the food that grows there, you can work out every day – the way we’d like to on holiday. And that’s become our mission, our baby. We had an opportunity in DB with The HIT Room because Cindy and Wesley were ready to move on. So we took over the gym, and now it’s Kapuhala too.
“We have turned it into a ‘social gym’ where people are encouraged to hang out and burn calories together, and when we make a profit, part of it will go to charity too,” Crystal adds. “Our members are the human engine to society.”
DB 10km Run for Charity
So, to add it all up, Crystal administers The Crayon Society and The Crayon Run and runs Kapuhala Train-in-Space (in DB), while raising two children. Oh, and she helps out at Stefano’s accounting firm as marketing manager. If that sounds like a full dance card, Crystal’s also the new organiser of the annual DB 10km, this year on December 1. As with The HIT Room, Crystal took over the race when the previous organisers decided to bow out.
Given her work with The Crayon Run, Crystal seemed the logical choice to take the reins. “I had to squeeze time out for this,” she admits. “I have The Crayon Run, I run my gym, I help out my husband at his business… but I couldn’t say no to HK$100,000 or HK$200,000 for people in need. I have faith in the community to come out and support it.” This year’s benefactor is Impact Hong Kong, a non-profit that helps the homeless with everything from finding employment and housing to a dignified meal.
“They do a great job helping local people, and that is the legacy of the DB10K – supporting local organisations, women’s charities sometimes. I didn’t have any women to nominate this year, but Impact Hong Kong is reliable, straightforward and helps a mass of homeless local people, the ones who sleep in the street just a few MTR stations away from our comfortable homes.”
The sun’s gone down and Crystal jumps up to run a few errands before hopping on the ferry to her salsa class; sadly, she didn’t make it to donate blood today. Thank heaven for difficult women.
FIND ITdb 10km run for charity, kapuhala, stefano passarello, crystal lee, impact hong kong, the crayon society, the duchess of kent