By Hans Ebert
We decided to extend our stay in Colombo and explore more of the new nightlife that is slowly opening up here. While wondering who were the successful young entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka might be came the news that Sir David Tang had passed away at a very youthful 63.
Though not being great friends, we got to know each other through the Remixes of the original recordings by the Shanghai Divas and the passing idea of a Shanghai Tang recording label. To some, David Tang was a somewhat eccentric Chinese gentleman though this eccentricity seemed part of cultivating a personality needed to suit his needs and lifestyle. He moved in very rarefied circles- with actors, actresses, models, Rock stars, royalty, aristocrats, politicians, and, who knows, probably many who were not what they appeared to be. Maybe he knew and just tolerated them. Maybe they were just a sideshow.
Without getting into his background and just how much his grandfather gave to Hong Kong, the David Tang brand was bigger than the Shanghai Tang fashion brand he created and sold and the iconic restaurant and public yet private club that is The China Club- ironically named as regulars at the club these days are hardly Chinese.
It remains an almost Pythonesque testament to Colonial Hong Kong with a sense of Chinese humour hidden amongst its interior design and spittoons. It’s not nouveau chic. It’s actually Chic de Tacky which makes the pretentious ones who so want to belong gasp and believe they’re back in old Shanghai. Same when he first launched his Shanghai Tang brand. Stick a Mandarin collar onto a shirt, add some garish colours and market it as a fashion statement. It worked splendidly.
I hadn’t thought about it until now, but despite usually only seeing him in the company of the rich and famous without the fawning of Robin Leach, David Tang, who was knighted in 2008, was very much a vital fabric of Hong Kong life. He was Hong Kong Tang, an extremely astute and well read intellectual who always seemed to know much more than he cared to share in his column in the Financial Times.
He knew many in the British Royal family including Princess Diana whereas Sarah Ferguson became almost a walking billboard for Shanghai Tang in NYC during those years when she was broke and doing the talk show circuit and flogging her friendship with the late Princess.
Only a fool would think he didn’t know what exactly happened that fateful night in Paris.
What was always intriguing was that despite being this larger than life character, David Tang was more an observer of life who only wanted to offer the world a glimpse into his real self and share only what he wished to share. It was always the public persona that he marketed while selling the uniqueness of Hong Kong in the process.
Until hearing of his passing, I had never thought that he was married. He was such a bon vivant that everything and everyone else faded into the background. But he was married. Very.
David Tang didn’t just think big and talk big. He did big. He didn’t see The Big Picture simply because he saw so many Big Pictures.
Many of my Chinese friends didn’t like him. They thought he was a phoney- the very proper British accent, the clothes, the cigars and who they thought was someone not “Chinese” enough. But these same people don’t have anything nice to say about anyone as they’re still suffocating from being possessed by that dreaded green eyed monster that I think sometimes only lives in today’s Hong Kong.
Perhaps, David Tang also saw this as his later columns reminisced about a Hong Kong that is no more. It’s soul has been missing for at least a decade.
The last time I saw David Tang was when he agreed to give a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club about Hong Kong- its past, present and future. I can no longer identity with this Hong Kong. It saddens me.
More and more I feel trapped in what has become a very angry city fuelled by pettiness and a generation lost in space and with very warped priorities.
As when John Lennon, George Harrison and Steve Jobs left us, the passing of David Tang has had a profound effect on me. It’s definitely knowing that mortality is slapping me in the face and that the time to board that midnight train is fast approaching. There’s an excitement about that. The only regret is leaving the only person that mattered in this life without her forgiveness. The rest? Well, there’s nothing much to most of them to hold my interest. They have their own lives to live and their own priorities.
Every waking day makes me more and more tired because it’s more and more of the same- the same glib conversations, the inane company, constant talk about money and making more money, the women who come and who will go, those players who love you only when they are playing… The list is listless as it’s endless. And the ending to the song must happen soon.
This journey must end abruptly as anything living on borrowed time is only going through the motions.
Sir David Tang must have known that it was time to check out and check into a different Oriental Express.
#SirDavidTang #ShanghaiDivas #RobinLeach