By Hans Ebert
Before one moves forward, there’s a need to revisit the past. It humbles you. Speaking recently with well-known Hong Kong-born media personality Michael Chugani about what’s really going on in this city these days, and the reason for what appears to be an overflow of anger, his reply- and it was a very long one- made me nod off for a while and think what everyone from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to Niles and Fraser Crane would make of things.
Is this simmering chow fan of frustration and, seemingly, a need to find something wrong with everything and everyone, that are problems exclusive to Hong Kong or is it a world gone crazy?
Michael Chugani is a polarising character, who through his various columns- in English and Chinese- and radio and television shows- in English and fluent Cantonese- has his detractors, but also has a huge group of supporters amongst the public, and all the way up to the city’s real movers and shakers on all sides of the table. He tells it like it is and really doesn’t care what people think of him or what names he’s called. And he’s been called many names, especially as what you have here is an Indian with an American passport who’s worked the Washington political scene, and speaks -and swears in Cantonese- like a local.
When he mentions what this and that person has told him, he’s not name dropping.
To someone he’s known for decades, he’s simply imparting news- everything from Houdini-like booksellers who disappear and appear with no questions asked, what really was handed over in 1997, and a very long explanation for the Government’s Announcement of Public Interest where viewers are warned not to “defecate or vomit in swimming pools”. Apparently, this API is aimed at tourists from Mainland China who think nothing of doing the above as it’s quite the norm in public swimming pools in the Motherland. Let’s hope they don’t open their mouths when swimming.
We talked about the sudden xenophobia gripping the city, those here on refugee status, minority groups, student leaders, the Chinese media, who’s zooming who, the future, past and present etc.
What’s interesting and a trait I admire about Michael Chugani is his ability to laugh off those who go out of their way to show their hatred- yes, hatred- for him talking his mind and which he has the balls to have published in well-respected newspapers. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Really. Whether everyone agrees with him or not is not the point. They’re his thoughts, take it or leave it and bring on the haters and the lawsuits. Unlike many, he doesn’t hide on social media under the cloak of anonymity trying to drum up support. That’s the cowardly thing to do.
Like myself, he has no time for Facebook. When, mentioning being told about and sent a recent rant on the social media platform by a “minority” musician- and he’s good- in Hong Kong, who changed his name to be accepted by the Canto music dross crew, taking the time out from his busy schedule to make some serious allegations about me, mentioning how he wishes I was dead, and then posting something truly low and what he described as a “fun fact” about my family. No one messes with family. Still, Michael Chugani just shrugged his shoulders. It was and is kid’s stuff from a grown man.
Like assholes, everyone has an opinion, and to him, who cares what a musician in Hong Kong has to say in social media? To him, that’s nothing when one listens to the outrageous things that Donald Trump says everyday to the world as do some of this city’s elders after they have opened up another new can of worms.
He’s right. It made me think about George Harrison singing how the more one travels, the less one knows, and wondered how Hong Kong can get back on track despite all the negativity that abounds about the future of this city.
These days, anywhere in the world, choosing those you want to be with and who can bring positivity into one’s life is most important. It’s why so many have been blocked from communicating with me- those little people with an addictive need to unload gossip about everyone and add to the useless clutter already suffocating you. If only Hong Kong, as a city, can do the same. Block and throw out the serial troublemakers.
Without being weighed down with all this negativity by those busy being paranoiac and angry at the world, there’s the time for reflection- self reflection on how you got here, who and what’s made you the person you are- even that “what” known as Hong Kong- what Hong Kong once was, what it is today, and as Bob Dylan wrote, and Hendrix made famous with his recording of “All Along The Watchtower”, “Is there some way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief?”
For myself, what a strange trip those early years were as a kid growing up in Hong Kong, and what an even stranger trip it must have been for a young Hong Kong that was filling in the blanks from once being a barren rock.
It was Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues with more than a whiff of Lou Reed. One had to be there to really understand what it was like. This was no Cinema Paradiso. It was more like Mondo Cane, and below are some Postcards From This Mind.
EARLY POSTCARDS OF THE HONG KONG THAT BROUGHT ME HERE…
*Being the first “darkie” at Quarry Bay Junior School and being chased around the playground and called the N word by an older kid. He was eventually beaten up by some masked thugs when many of us graduated to the wild and cool side of life known as KGV, the secondary school in Tin Kwong Road, that prepared us for everything that was to come our way.
*Waiting every Saturday for Mum to come home from office and bring me a HK$1.80 Baked Pork Chop and Portuguese Fried Rice for lunch from On Lok Yuen.
Dad: “Don’t be silly, son. He’s not a homosexual. There are no homosexuals in Hong Kong. It’s against the law. He’s just odd”.
*The most popular local band during those early days of Hong Kong were the Fabulous Echoes. And comprising three Filipinos, a Sri Lankan singer and a Scottish bass player, did anyone overthink something as fun as music to death, and say this could not happen because of the “minorities” involved? Of course not. “Progress” has caused these problems. And paranoid narrow minded people.
* Attending a concert given by Frank Sinatra at the City Hall for students only. Admission: HK$1.
* Frequent visitors to Hong Kong in the Sixties: Actors William Holden, Cary Grant and Steve McQueen. And on the subject of William Holden, what stories circulated about the casting of Nancy Kwan in “The World Of Suzie Wong”!
* Having breakfast at his home in Kadoorie Avenue with Ian Godber, friend and rhythm guitarist with school band called the Impalas, who thought he was Paul McCartney. Ian and his mother quickly and mysteriously disappeared from Hong Kong. Three days later, Ian’s father- Peter Godber, Chief Superintendent of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force- bypassed Immigration and secretly took off for the UK to escape arrest for corruption by the newly-formed Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
It explained why the bushy browed Mr Godber, someone we respected as he had proven himself to be a good copper, looked so nervous whenever visiting his home before his quick exit. Peter Godber was eventually arrested in the United Kingdom and extradited to Hong Kong where he spent four years in jail and a measly HK$25,000 in restitution.
No one ever heard from Ian Godber. Yes, the Impalas disbanded whereas the Godbers were supposed to have retired in Spain with the millions that they “inherited”.
*The years at secondary school KGV in Tin Kwong Road, where many of us learned so much- not necessarily from the teachers. This was where many heard the Beach Boys and the Beatles for the first time, formed bands, thought we were Rock stars, smoked weed, and went from playing spin the bottle to getting laid during lunchtime in a garage behind the school.
* Taking a walk on the wild side and through the the red light district of Temple and Shanghai Street with $100 with best friend Steve Tebbutt. Unforgettable was having “siu yay” at 5am with our new friends from the local triad society who showed us around the night earlier, and made sure we didn’t get into any trouble. They bought breakfast.
* Screaming with the girls when the Beatles performed in Hong Kong at the Princess Theatre with Jimmy Nichol deputising for Ringo who was down and out with a bout of tonsillitis. Though I preferred the opening act- Sounds Incorporated- who cares? I had seen the Beatles perform ‘live’ though I am unsure it was truly ‘live’.
* Watching singer Roman Tam perform for the first time when he was the lead singer for a pop band called the Four Steps, and wondering why he just seemed so strange with his limp hand movements and a beautiful operatic voice singing hits by the Beatles. It was like a scene from a David Lynch movie. Who knew he was going to become a gay icon? In those days, a gay person was someone who was very happy.
* My first assignment as a cricket reporter: Cover the Sammy Davis Jr Press Conference for the Hong Kong Standard. It took place at the Hong Kong Hilton where Mr Davis shucked and jived with everyone and worked the room wearing a red jumpsuit. He called me “man” a lot and invited me to “partake” with him and his fabulous bevy of dancers. I had never “partaken” before so I went the distance and got home at 5am. My old man was just happy I had met Sammy Davis Jr. Mum thought I looked odd. The story ran on the front page and my days as a cricket reporter were over.
*Meeting Led Zeppelin with manager Peter Grant in a seafood restaurant in the bowels of Kowloon and taking them down to The Scene, the discotheque at the Peninsula Hotel- they hated it- before John Bonham insisting on visiting a “real Hong Kong brothel”. When the Mamasan saw them, she got scared of their looks and slammed the door on us.
*Interviewing (film director) Roman Polanski when a very young journalist, and him showing me a book on black slaves who became cowboys and some of the fastest gunslingers and how he was going to turn this story into a movie. Then came the rape case and his escape to Europe. The movie never got made.
*Interviewing (Producer) Phil Ramone at the Peninsula Hotel and him asking if I would like to meet “Q”. “Q” was arranger-musician-producer-genius Quincy Jones, who had just finished working with Michael Jackson on “Thriller”. While songwriter Rod Temperton was writing new material for MJ, my photographer friend Dinshaw Balsara, who happened to be with me, took some brilliant photographs of Q who was then with wife Actress Peggy Lipton.
* Places where the cool people hung out: The Hong Kong Hilton Coffee Shop later known as Cat’s Street, the Den at the Hilton, the Purple Onion in Wanchai, the Firecracker Bar, and the Scene in the basement of the Peninsula Hotel.
When Disco happened, trendies populated Disco Disco, Canton, Manhattan, Polaris at the Hyatt Regency, and the lower class Hot Gossip.
* The Big Daddy of places where the older crowd hung out were The Blue Heaven in Central and the Bayside in Kowloon. When D’Hijacks, the Beatles of the Philippines, performed there, us kids just had to go. They were amazing. But who really knew? They played every Beatles song and had mop tops.
* With the last Star Ferry stopping at 1am, there were always the misadventures of taking a walla walla aka a junk or sampan to Hong Kong side usually after one of those wild visits to Chungking Mansions where backpackers and visiting showgirls gave the best parties.
* Girls every guy wanted back in the day- but few managed to get: Sabrina Jackson, Kiska Prata- she married Scottish footballer Derek Currie- Maggie Weston, former Telstar Go Go dancer turned singer Irene Ryder, singer and bass guitarist Christine Samson, both pictured below, and Trina Dingler, the future and former Mrs Ebert.
The most pursued slightly older women: Beth Smith, Bonnie Gokson.
Trendsetters: Moni Narain and Bobby To who opened the Om Shop, the closest thing in Hong Kong to Carnaby Street and Haight Ashbury.
Trendsetter: Gordon Huthart who opened Disco Disco.
Trendsetter: Andrew Bull who opened Canton.
Trendsetter: Drummer, band mate and best friend Steve Tebbutt. He really was set to be a world class and world famous drummer before he was taken away much too soon.
Trendsetter: Canto-Rock pioneer Sam Hui for changing the face and sound of Cantonese music by making it less shlock and more Western pop.
Oddball Trendsetter: Included purely because of his pulling power, weeklong parties, and incredible scorecard with underage schoolgirls- Carlos Leitao, one-time singer with the awful Ragamuffins, who was deported to Macau where he landed in another underage mess before some mysterious family ties had him sent to Brazil and army service. The stories are sketchy as to how it happened, but Carlos Leitao was shot dead in Brazil.
Failed trendies: Disc jockeys Mike Souza, below, who claimed to have written “Galveston” before the great Jimmy Webb, Darryl Patten, Tony Myatt, the very weird and highly dubious Singaporean Mike Sebastian, and the dubious Tony Orchez whose real name was and is Tony Leung.
AND NOW WHAT?
Hong Kong has some very good people- people of all nationalities and trying to make a difference as Hong Kong Belongers. Unlike the musician on Facebook, perhaps having an off day- and we’re all prone to these- throwing his hands in the air and saying minorities talking about the local music scene is nonsensical, this is the short-sighted thinking that will make Hong Kong more and more insular- insular with an inferiority complex.
This is why the Hong Kong music scene plods along to Canto dross that keeps being regurgitated. It’s because of those who sell out to be accepted by the Fat Cats Canto Club, and then criticise those who try to bring something new to the mix. And this type of selling out happens in every facet of Hong Kong life. How can this type of confused, crackpot and blinkered thinking create a new and Feel Good Hong Kong and restore the city’s Can Do spirit?
Like all the restaurants and other businesses in this city, Hong Kong is a melting pot of nationalities. Remember when Hong Kong was described as being cosmopolitan? It’s been a very long time since this city has been “Cosmopolitan Hong Kong”.
Looking back at all this city has been through- and has overcome through this incredible mix of cultures- is something that should be celebrated, and, somehow, brought back through people working together as opposed to working against each other.
It’s time Hong Kong grew up, put politics aside for a while because timing is everything, and becomes something equivalent to an United Colours Of Benetton poster.