Peter Cheung's Hot List: The Top 11 Moments That Shaped Hong Kong Culture
Increasingly of late, I have heard people complain Hong Kong is losing its unique cultural identity. To those people I say: allow me to illuminate just a few colourful people, places and things that I feel represent our city’s unique cultural heritage—past, present and future.
1/11 God of Song
Musician, singer, songwriter and actor Sam Hui Koon-kit sang about the everyday struggles of the working class, propelling him to stardom in the early Seventies and paving the way for the Eighties Cantopop boom. Dubbed the “God of Song”, Hui wrote lyrics using everyday Cantonese, rather than more formal Chinese, with western instrumentation. His lyrics were harsh at times, expressing discontent around social issues. Despite being officially retired, last year Hui was the first Hong Kong artist to host a virtual charity concert for Covid-19 relief, for 2.5 million viewers.
2/11 Golden Girls
Hong Kong is not known for athletic excellence. When “San San” Lee Lai-san won Hong Kong’s first and only Olympic gold medal, for windsurfing at the 1996 Olympic Games, she criticised Hong Kong for not supporting sports. More than 20 years later, winds of change are blowing. Four female athletes are hotly tipped for the Tokyo Games (if it goes ahead): Sarah Lee Wai-sze in track cycling, swimmer Siobhan Haughey, Grace Lau Mo-sheung in karate and fencer Vivian Kong Man-wai. If they do well, their success stands to shape the way sport is viewed and promoted in the city, inspiring the next generation of athletes, particularly women.
See also: How Lily Muni He Became One Of The World's Top Female Golfers By Age 20
3/11 Comic Relief
The US had Charles M Schulz’s Peanuts, but Hong Kong had Alfonso Wong’s Old Master Q. The longest-running comic publication in Hong Kong history, Old Master Q first appeared in local newspapers and magazines in 1962, finding humour in Hong Kong daily life. It was slightly risqué, too, and probably taught me the concept of swearing with captions that read: “$#%&!!!”. I’m sure my parents were impressed.
4/11 Variety is the Spice of Life
As a child of the Seventies, I recall how everything came to a halt at 9pm for Enjoy Yourself Tonight (EYT). Every household would rush home to watch the two-hour live TVB variety show that broadcast five nights a week. Each episode of the show, which ran from 1967 to 1994, was a star-studded extravaganza of song, dance (who remembers the TVB Dancers?) and comedy. Much like Saturday Night Live, which began a few years later, EYT united families, was the talk of the town the next day, and launched the career of many of Hong Kong’s biggest icons, including comedian Lydia Shum Dinha or “Fei-Fei”, who led each night’s closing song.
5/11 Towering Above
The HSBC Main Building, Bank of China or IFC buildings now dominate, but Jardine House was the tower that started the jagged neon skyline now synonymous with Hong Kong. Formerly known as the Connaught Centre, the building was the tallest in Asia when completed in 1972. Its unique metal frame studded with round windows earned it the infamous nickname “The House of a Thousand A***holes”. For me as a child, this building defined the power and success of Hong Kong and I dreamt of one day working in it. Reader, that dream came true.
See also: The Most Instagrammable Architecture Spots In Hong Kong
6/11 Host With the Most
Hong Kong hotels are renowned worldwide as leaders in hospitality and service, and no one personifies this better than Danny Lai Ping-pui at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. A former hawker and street performer, Lai joined the Mandarin as a part-time porter in 1972 and worked his way up to become the Mandarin Oriental’s executive assistant manager of guest relations. In 2007, Lai published a book about hospitality and good service—and donated all proceeds to charity.
7/11 Grand by Design
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise for international luxury brands but I get annoyed when people say we do not produce any world-class designers. I beg to differ: many have shaped the city’s sense of style. In fashion, Barney Cheng is still the go-to wedding dress designer. Vivienne Tam is the originator of East-meets-West chic and GOD creator Douglas Young defines Hong Kong culture. In the world of jewellery, we have Kai Yin-lo, Dennis Chan, Michelle Ong, Dickson Yewn, Wallace Chan... the list goes on. For the next generation, I can’t wait to see how far Anaïs Jourden Mak Chun-ting of Jourden will go.
See also: Peter Cheung Hosts A Panel Discussion Featuring Fashion Industry Experts For Tatler's House Stories Session
8/11 Opera Diva
Hong Kong has propelled many actors and actresses to international stardom, but the hardest-working person in showbusiness must be Liza Wang Ming-tsuen. Affectionately known as Ah Jie or “Big Sister”, Liza has been in the spotlight since the late Sixties as a singer, actress and star of many drama series. Since the late Nineties, Wang has fought to preserve Cantonese opera as the chairman of the Chinese Artist Association of Hong Kong. Still active on stage and on television in her seventies, she is still a force to be reckoned with.
See also: The Most Iconic Hong Kong Actors And Actresses—And All The Classic Local Movies You Should Know About
9/11 Kind of LKF
My partying days (decades) in Lan Kwai Fong hold very fond, if blurry memories. As my friends and I meandered from one hotspot to another, the streets were just as lively as the clubs. Melvis, aka Elvis Presley impersonator Kwok Lam-sang, was a cornerstone of Hong Kong nightlife until his death last year. My friends and I called him “Chelvis” (Chinese Elvis—he didn’t seem to mind), while he belted out tunes, posed for photos and strutted his stuff in rhinestone regalia. Always in character, never breaking for chit-chat, he just sang, swayed his hips, even in the rain, and then moved on for his next performance, night after night.
10/11 Unity in Diversity
Dennis Philipse fought for Hong Kong to host the 11th Gay Games in 2022, the first time the event will be held in an Asian city. Based on participation, inclusion and personal bests, the games are open to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or ability. Philipse and his team of more than 100 volunteers are working on hosting this world-class event that will show how far Hong Kong has come on LGBTQ acceptance in just a couple of decades.
See also: Stories of Allyship and Equality in the LGBTQ Community in Hong Kong
11/11 Rainbow Connection
For those who think Chinese art is all calligraphy, landscapes or flowers, the eccentric, multimedia performance artist Kwok Mang-ho, aka Frog King, blows away all stereotypes. Frog is a true original: he put Hong Kong contemporary art on the map in the Nineties and represented Hong Kong at the Venice Biennale in 2011. Anyone can view his “Frogtopia Arch”, a sculpture of Chinese ink painting, calligraphy and graffiti inspired by frogs, at the Ho Man Tin MTR station, or see other pieces at the Hong Kong Museum of Art or near the clock tower in Tsim Sha Tsui.
See also: The Man Behind The Mask: A Look Inside The Life Of Performance Artist Frog King