Non-stop fighter still finds time for family

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2005, 12:00am

Sitting in his office at the Legislative Council, Martin Lee Chu-ming, 67, seriously contemplates the prospect of dropping out of the political limelight to spend more time with his family.

'In 2008 it's very likely that I will quit [the Legislative Council]. I will be 70 by then - though I don't feel that old. But you can't keep doing it until you die.'

Thinking back on how his career has affected his family, Mr Lee adds: 'In 1985, during my first election, my son Joey was four. One day he looked at the newspaper and said to me: 'Henry Lytton [political rival] and daddy BANG!' He was telling me to beat him up.

'Three years later in Hawaii on holiday, I was waiting to see if anyone would run against me in the election. My son said he wanted someone to run and to defeat me so I could spend more time with him. In just three years so much had changed.'

This summer, his 23-year-old son surprised the legislator by planning a family trip to Switzerland. Unable to book a cruise, his son planned an extensive train trip.

The holiday was full of disasters - they were stranded at the airport for 14 hours and Mrs Lee's luggage was lost for five days. But Mr Lee was still happy.

'My son loves vacationing with me because I can be with him for 24 hours a day and not think about politics. I was surprised that he wanted to go on a cruise with us. He's all grown up and ... hates cruises,' says a proud Mr Lee, who usually spends his holidays hunting for the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Holidays also allow him to catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation, breaking his usual habit of functioning on 41/2 hours' sleep a night. He jokes that in Hong Kong, 'I always catch up on my sleep during Legco. I can even fall asleep leaning on a post on the MTR and miss my stop. But during the trip my son and wife had to sleep, so I slept in too. There's no point in getting up early all by myself.'

Anyone who talks to Mr Lee can see that the legislator has great love and respect for his wife, Amelia. Every time he mentions her, a faint smile crosses his face. Her words carry a lot of weight with him.

'I used to jog at 6.30am around The Peak every morning. Tung Chee-hwa walked at the same time. Every day we ended up meeting at the same place. When he became chief executive I told all the legislators that I'd seen him more often than anyone,' he laughs.

'Even when I had to go to court I had to go for a run first. But then my wife read something saying that jogging is bad for my joints. So I stopped. Now I speed-walk.'

Mr Lee, who still goes on four-hour hikes with friends, developed his stamina as a soccer player.

'At HKU our team had 10 players who were really good. I was the 11th. I didn't like going to class. When everyone was in class, I'd take a ball and kick it around by myself on the field. I kept running around, so they thought I had endurance.'

Even in his 40s, Mr Lee continued to play with other legal professionals and his former high-school classmates.

'I was like the referee because the games were never allowed to end until I said so. If my team was losing I would not let them stop the game until we were at least tied.

'Then one time a teammate broke one of my ribs when he smashed into me. It hurt so much. I couldn't even laugh. My wife hid my soccer shoes after that and I was not allowed to play any more.'

Thinking of the glory days, however, Mr Lee cannot help but talk about his most memorable game: a curtain raiser before a game between Brazil and Newcastle.

With an audience of 20,000 watching, Mr Lee's tactic of isolating Henry Fok Ying-tung during the game saved his team from being defeated by the Hong Kong Football Association.

'When we walked onto the field the audience cracked up. Except for the goalie, the whole team wore glasses. There was a big difference in ability,' he recalls.

'But I heard that Henry loved shooting goals and would pay anyone who passed him the ball $200. I was in charge of marking him. So regardless of where the ball was, I stood by him. I had glasses but was taller than him. He was scared of me pushing him to the ground. In the end we tied 0-0.'

Reflecting on his long career, Mr Lee says he does not feel disheartened by the slow progress of democracy and adds that he will not abandon his campaign even if he retires. Mr Lee also plans to continue his work as a lawyer.

'So long as I'm there fighting, I haven't lost. But the day I give up, I lose.'

When he encounters a setback, Mr Lee remembers his mother's advice.

'My mum always told me not to think about troubles at night. The next morning the problems are halved. Most people who commit suicide do it at night. So I just leave things until the next morning.'