'I remember being transfixed by my friend's lunchbox'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2007, 12:00am

I'm half Iranian and half Saudi and have nothing but fond memories of growing up in Queensland in the 1980s. In fact, I think I've had a pretty amazing life and that's been an immense privilege.

Mum married Dad when she was 16 and they lived in Saudi Arabia where he was from, then London before moving to Brisbane.

Dad had been a businessman and wanted to get into farming so he started up a farm despite having no real experience of it. It's that entrepreneurial get up and go that I now realise I inherited.

Mum passed it on to me too. She really didn't adjust to Australia when we first moved there but she's a funky person and she made a life from nothing.

We lived in an old house on the Brisbane River and next door to us was a Hari Krishna home for unmarried mothers who Mum hung out with.

It was from that beginning that the Brisbane riverside market started with hats and hair accessories and Mum turned it into a real business.

There'd be homemade lemonade on one stall, while the next would have tee shirts and so on.

Despite Mum and Dad coming from what are often perceived as conservative countries, they were atheist and very open minded.

Home was an open house with people coming and going all the time.

I went to a local primary school where I remember being transfixed by my friend's lunchbox. Hers always seemed more interesting with chocolate bits and pieces and ham and cheese sandwiches.

I never felt different though one boy did torment me - he thought we lived in an over-the-top house.

He'd say disparagingly: 'Go back to the Taj Mahal.' All I could think was: 'You've got the wrong country, you dick.'

I loved my teacher, Mrs Stallman. She wore this lovely perfume, was sweet and attentive.

Mum ran into her not so long ago. I had a new baby and my former teacher sent me a present with a card that read: 'I always knew you'd grow up into a nice girl.' It thrilled me to think she even remembered me.

I went on to an all-girls school and that's where my organisational skills came into play because I was put in charge of assemblies and special events. It was detail orientated, required me to be responsible and I loved it. Geography and history were my favourite subjects; maths and science I just scraped through.

Even though I was very studious, I did the usual things like underage drinking.

I'd also hang out of the window of the laundry room at home having a fag after removing the mosquito screen.

I went on to university to do marketing then did a postgraduate qualification in IT. It was at the time when Internet marketing was all the rage.

I loved uni and accumulated lots of work experience in offices. I'd be the tea girl and would get yelled at but found it was an excellent way of preparing for the real world.

When I landed a A$65,000 a year job with a telecoms company, it led to my coming to Hong Kong.

Setting up the Borrett Road and Pok Fu Lam markets was the next natural step. I'd accumulated all these name cards of creative people who could make things whether cookies or jewellery, etc.

Living in Borrett Road, the nearby Island School seemed perfect to hold a market and I hit the ground running, vetting the participants carefully so that the market was balanced.

We charge a HK$20 entry fee to cover the costs of all the licences that we need. A percentage of the proceeds also goes to charity.

As it happens, I've found the whole thing's been good, especially for women wanting to be creative.

But it's also been hard work and I've cried a few times when things haven't gone according to plan and taken criticism to heart.

You learn such a lot on this job. For example, if people aren't selling something maybe it's because the prices are too high or the display's all wrong so you have to keep an open mind.

I'm also involved with The Wren Press which makes bespoke hand- finished stationery.

But overall the markets have been worth it and I've made some amazing friends.

And the funny thing is even Mum's got in on the act. She's popped back from Australia and done a stall herself.

'You need someone to do tarot,' she told me. So that's exactly what she did.

Tarlan Amigh is the founder of the Borrett Road and Pokfulam Sunday markets, which are being staged next on May 13 and 20. She was talking to David Phair