All you need is love

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am

The darling couple of Hong Kong society, Brenda and Kai-bong Chau, will not reveal how many Christmases they have spent together. Etiquette forbids such a tawdry reference that might be connected to age.

But at the risk of anyone doing their sums, Kai-bong recalls as their most romantic Christmas memory the year when he as a teenager and she a mere slip of a girl were seated with their families at a banquet.

The young and beautiful Brenda, looking sophisticated in a cheongsam and with her hair piled high, did not escape his attention.

When his mother handed him a piece of cake with a marzipan heart as decoration, Kai-bong saw his window of opportunity.

'I took a bite of the marzipan, gestured with my eyes to Brenda, and passed it under the table to her,' Kai-bong says.

'She took a bite herself, and then returned it.

We exchanged a mischievous smile. I realised then, over the exchange of hearts, that we looked at each other in a very special way.'

Their love affair continued as the pair studied law in England, Brenda on her way to becoming a barrister, and Kai-bong a solicitor.

While these were mostly happy years, Kai-bong recalls as his 'worst Christmas' the time when, still a student, he had left all his Christmas shopping till the last minute. Dashing in to have a haircut, he placed his parcels by the door at the suggestion of the barber.

'I believe it was a conspiracy,' Kai-bong says. 'I turned my head and when I next looked back, all my shopping was gone.

In those days I had no credit card, and nothing to eat for Christmas. All I had were some peanuts, some dried Chinese sausage and some eggs.

The day was saved when the kind folk at the China Garden restaurant, in their customary gesture to the students of Hong Kong, put on a sumptuous buffet.

'At least I had one delicious meal of Chinese food that Christmas,' he says.
It was also around this time that Brenda received her most precious gift of all - a choker made of imitation pearls.

Although their subsequent wealth has allowed Kai-bong to shower Brenda with fabulous, very real jewellery, she says 'nothing can compare' to the treasure of those plastic pearls presented to her on red velvet in a heart-shaped chocolate box. 'It did look grand,' agrees Kai-bong. 'Fit for a queen.

When they came home from London for Christmas vacations, Kai-bong says, the student Brenda shocked Hong Kong with her trendy Carnaby Street clothes.
'Hong Kong was very old-fashioned in those days,' he says. 'The people had never seen shiny patent knee-high boots and micro-mini skirts that barely covered the derriere.

'Brenda shocked the whole town. Once she even had a Sophia Loren outfit, a whole suit made of leather. My mother would beg her: 'Don't dress like that.' She said she looked like a bad girl. So, before we went out, Brenda would hide her outfits under her coat. Then she would take it off and reveal a deep, plunging neckline. We were quite rebellious in those days.

For their first party of the 2002 Christmas season, friend Nancy Jong Miller's dinner at the Grand Hyatt, Brenda and Kai-bong arrived in their trademark pink Rolls Royce, with the pink upholstery and pink-liveried footmen.

At home were their other modes of transport: the gold spangly Phantom ('like the Queen's'), their 'normal' Rolls (a pearl-coloured Silver Shadow) and a white van they use when travelling incognito.

Here, Brenda - pretty in pink from her mink stole to her ruby jewels - carried on the story of her best Christmas, involving a 'minor miracle at Lourdes'.

Again, it stems from their student days.

'One year while we were still students in London, we flew over to France for a vacation,' says Brenda, who is a devout Catholic, while Kai-bong is a Buddhist.

'We were due to meet some friends of Kai-bong's late father in Paris, but I had an allergy on my face so that when I put makeup on, my face did not look good at all.

Kai-bong was a bit worried, but I said, never mind, I will do my best to pray.

'So I asked Our Lady of Lourdes to clean up the allergy as soon as possible.

When I came out, the sun was shining and Kai-bong said: 'Waah! Your face is smooth again.

'I was a bit doubtful.

How could this have happened so fast? I won't say I didn't believe.

I just couldn't imagine that it had gone so fast.

'But after two hours, it came back.

My face was puffy again.

Kai-bong said: 'Go back to the grotto, say you are sorry, and pray again.

' So I knelt in front of the grotto, and I prayed to Our Lady of Lourdes.

I'm very sorry, I told her.

I did not mean to disbelieve you, but it was too good to be true.

I prayed for forgiveness.

'After praying, I came out and Kai-bong cried: 'No more! It really works!' This time, I believed.

The allergy never came back again, not any time during my life.

And he was the first to believe.

There are many family Christmas memories involving the Chaus' son, Brandon, who is at present studying in England, working hard with the intention, they say, of following his parents into law.

Brandon always meets his parents wherever they are for Christmas.

'One time, he was very happy with us, because we made him a special outfit and dressed him up like Father Christmas,' Brenda says.

'He was about five or six, and was so excited and happy in his red suit with the white cotton beard.

'We were having a TV interview that day, and they took his picture.

It was the first time Brandon was on TV, and we all thought it was memorable.

Of course, there have been numerous TV appearances by the two voted as Hong Kong's most outstanding society couple for no less than 18 consecutive years.

They have 'been doing TV for 30 years' and have even made it into Who's Who, Kai-bong says, all with the aim of promoting Hong Kong.

He cites a recent disagreement with CNN because a reporter seemed down on Hong Kong.

'I reminded him of the old Chinese saying - a person cannot be well for 1,000 days, and a flower cannot be red for 100 days,' he says.

'Why pick on Hong Kong? This [current economic situation] is a minor setback, but Hong Kong people are intelligent and strong, they have the technical know-how, and I am sure Hong Kong will come back.

Kai-bong insists he is 'doing his part' to aid recovery - not by cutting down on expenditure, but by at least giving it a second thought.

'What do they expect me to do - sell Villa d'Oro [the couple's home overlooking Lamma Island] and live in a shack? Sell my Rolls-Royces? This is a transitional period.

The whole world is affected.

This year it will be 'Christmas as usual' in the Chau household.

They will visit Thailand to pay homage to the Buddha with the four faces, and swap gifts of matching jewellery fashioned as flowers from pink pearls, pink and green sapphires, and platinum.

'Christmas is about love and humanity; it is a time for family and good friends,' Kai-bong says.

'We rejoice at these festivities, hoping the coming year will bring peace, prosperity and good health to everyone.