Thursday, May 28, 2009


By Chip Tsao | published May 28, 2009

Apple Chan. Milk Wong. Pineapple Chung. The creative self-naming strategy adopted by some of Hong Kong’s young, middle-class intellectuals has never failed to bore westerners. But did you know that it’s easy to tell the age of a Hongkonger you’ve just met simply by looking at their western name? If you’ve met a Tony Leung, Johnny Lam or Bobby Lee, then he must be in his late 40s or early 50s, for these names were popular in Hong Kong’s private English colleges during the 1960s, when teenagers were crazy about pop icons like Peter, Paul and Mary. Horace Hui, Cecil Szeto or Ernest Au? No they weren’t born in the late Victorian era and brought up in the First World War. More likely, they received their elite education in the 1980s at a decent Christian secondary school, where they were enlightened by the likes of Oscar Wilde or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, pressed upon them by their Irish missionary school principal.

Then, there’s Coco Cheung and Ferragamo Lee. It’s difficult to guess whether they came from a Mong Kok family or from the more respectable Robinson Road crowd, but the card-bearer is most likely in their late 20s or early 30s, for never did Hong Kong’s young generation begin to broaden their horizons with Italian fashion and French perfumes before the 1990s, realizing that the west is so much more than just Coca-Cola and Buckingham Palace.

An Australian diplomat recently told me about another case. A Hong Kong SAR government delegation traveled to Australia earlier this year for an official visit. At a welcoming banquet upon their arrival in Canberra, they were invited by their hosts—a bunch of cynical Aussies—to briefly introduce themselves in English one-by-one. One young Hong Kong administrative officer gave his name as “Indiana Cheung,” and he added with a grin and an American twang: “I’m getting married next week. I’m here to learn from you guys.”

Dying of curiosity, an Australian official privately asked the young man if he had a brother called California and a sister called Virginia, as he was getting ready to suggest the name Sydney to his Hong Kong guest, should he have a baby soon. “My dad gave me my English name,” Indiana Cheung announced proudly. “He was fascinated by ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ which was released in Hong Kong when my mom was pregnant.”

I checked Stephen’s Spielberg’s filmography and rightly concluded that the young man is 28. I wish him a great honeymoon, and I also hope that he’s not a fan of Tom Hanks and that his wife doesn’t give him twins. Imagine the embarrassment when the teenagers “Angel” and “Demon” enroll in class together at London’s Harrow School.

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