Published in the South China Morning Post, 6 April 2008
“I get up around 8am. By then, my nine-year-old son has gone to school but my younger son is still at home. I normally ask him to play the piano for an hour. It’s an enlightening way to start the day. He’s only four. The other day he played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and I offered him HK$20 as a reward. He only took HK$10, saying he preferred the look of that banknote. It’s not a very artistic way to reward a child but this is Hong Kong, where money rules. Sometimes you’ve got to compromise. I hope he’ll appreciate it and not be corrupted.
I’ll then walk my dog to a park before returning home for a healthy breakfast. I usually have broccoli, tomatoes, cheese, celery and a bowl of cornflakes. I also read some British and Hong Kong newspapers online. Sometimes I browse the [US-based] Duowei [newspaper] website to keep myself informed of China’s news. But China is a rather depressing subject, with environmental disasters, people being beaten up and coal miners being killed. When you read reports like these, you feel helpless. I don’t read that much if it’s not necessary.
Afterwards, I go to my office in Central. I’m a consultant for Cup Magazine, which is about culture and society. It’s an interesting job, although sometimes I have business meetings to go to and I don’t like meetings. In Chinese society, such meetings are a waste of time. There’s too much office politics and people don’t tend to speak their mind. So, I try to keep meetings short, about 10 to 15 minutes.
I write a column for Apple Daily, host a talk show on ATV and another on Commercial Radio. Occasionally, I play the cultural tour guide for a travel agency. My next trip is to Brunei. Many of those who go on these tours are successful businessmen or restaurateurs. It’s an eye-opening experience just listening to their stories. They’ve done things I’ve never got to do in life.
I may have quite a lot of things on the go but I always manage to have some free time every day. I consider myself a bit marginalised in Hong Kong, where people always complain they haven’t got time. I don’t have the Hong Kong kind of hobbies, such as karaoke, which I hate, mahjong, which I’m not good at, and local-style sauna and massage, which I detest. Japan has made some great cultural inventions but karaoke isn’t one of them. This city is noisy enough and the Chinese are very loud people. I don’t understand why they would want to be in a noisy karaoke bar after work.
For lunch, I usually have a sandwich. Then I go to a coffee shop to write the newspaper column, which takes me half an hour or so. Writing is a mysterious experience. In ancient Greek mythology, there was a goddess of inspiration. If you went to see her often, she’d always be with you. If you didn’t, she’d desert you. That applies to writing. If you do it often, your skill stays with you.
I also do some reading in the afternoon. I’m reading Europe by Jan Morris. Before going to Britain to do my A-levels, I read a lot of classical Chinese literature. At [the University of] Warwick, I did English literature and developed the habit of reading everything. I read a lot of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce and I picked up their sarcasm, British understatement and sense of humour, which I use a lot in my work. Some people find my work refreshing because Chinese writing is usually moralistic and preachy due to the influence of Confucius. British writers are much more creative and can be rebellious.
I believe the Chinese language has been destroyed over the past 60 years, particularly by the Cultural Revolution. In his essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell mourned the decline of the language by political corruption, which had led to an excess of clichés and platitudes. The same applies to the Chinese language today. Just listen to those government reports and speeches by Chinese leaders. They are awfully tedious and full of political jargon. This sort of language has invaded people’s daily life. To stop the decline, people need to go back to classical Chinese literature. But it seems the Chinese today are not interested in anything but shopping and eating. If they remain so materialistic and are only hungry for Louis Vuitton, Prada and Constantin, it’s going to be the spiritual death of China. The country deserves a lot more than being the world’s factory and a huge shopping mall.
I am critical of modern China but if people think criticising makes you a traitor, that’s their problem. Some people say I’m an Anglophile but I don’t consider myself one. I just admire beautiful things and good values, and that includes Tibetan culture. There are bad things about the Brits too – they can be hypocrites and racists.
In terms of eating, I think I have been influenced by the Brits – I’m not a fussy eater. I usually eat very little in the evening. The radio show starts at 11pm. I enjoy it because I get to improvise a lot. And what can be more enjoyable than making money through talking? Money is not the only motivation but I believe knowledge should have a price.
When I get home, I do some reading before going to bed around 3am. Three to four times a week I work out at the gym. I am health conscious. In 1994, I had a car accident that killed a colleague, a sports sub-editor of the now-defunct Eastern Express. I was in a coma. On the second night, I was still at the ICU [intensive care unit] of Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The doctor told my parents I was in a critical condition and they should be prepared for the worst. At 2am, I heard my mum and dad talking about contacting a lung expert they knew. My mum then started to cry.
Fortunately, I recovered very quickly. Two weeks later, when I was out of the hospital, I asked my parents why they were allowed to stay in the ICU so late. They said they weren’t – they were at the Majestic Hotel near the hospital when they spoke of the lung expert that night. That was incredible. I later read many books about death and talked to Buddhists and monks. Apparently, a person’s hearing is at its sharpest at the time of death, and clairvoyance and out-of-body experiences are common. That accident had a profound impact on me. Life is very fragile and we can die any time. You have to treasure every day and minimise any regret.”