'Angry man' Chim continues to fight

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2007, 12:00am

Jail and cancer fail to mellow fiery politician

Lawmaker Chim Pui-chung, better known as the 'Angry Man from Chiu Chow,' shows no signs of mellowing despite a jail term and a recent fight with cancer.

The outspoken legislator for the financial services sector is one of Hong Kong's most colourful political figures, having carved out various careers as a banker, stockbroker, restaurant owner and even football team manager.

The 62-year-old legislator earned his fortune as a floor trader before making a name as a 'golden banker' for turning around troubled companies. He became a legislator in 1991, winning in the 1995 and 1998 elections before being sentenced to one year in jail for plotting the forgery of corporate transaction documents.

While jail is usually the end of the road for most politicians, five years after getting out of prison Mr Chim reclaimed his seat in the 2004 elections. He also ran unsuccessfully against Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2005.

Earlier this year, he started probably the biggest fight of his life - against cancer. He underwent treatment for months without the public hearing about it until media started to speculate he was on his death bed.

Now recovered, he is back in the Legislative Council fighting for his sector. Mr Chim is married, with two sons and five grandchildren.

How and when did you find out you had cancer?

In January, I had a regular check-up and they found a lump in my neck. It was confirmed as cancer in February. I then started to have treatment and injections.

Usually, when one has cancer, there are different reactions - fear of death, worries about death and anger about death. I did not have a strong reaction as I believe everyone must age and die eventually. I just consulted doctors in Beijing and Hong Kong for the treatment.

I did not tell anybody. But in July, the treatment was so painful that I could not eat or drink and I missed four Legco sessions. Some journalists noticed this and rumours started to spread that I was dying. I then clarified my situation - yes, I have cancer but am not dying.

How has it affected you?

I have recovered but the result of the treatment was so serious that I lost my taste. That is a shame as this year I cannot enjoy hairy crabs, t which all look so tasty. Also, I could not drink any wine during the treatment. I used to be able to drink two to three bottles of red wine a day.

Did you ever worry you may die of it?

No. I am not afraid of death. Even if you live to 100 years old, you will die one day. It's important to lead happy and full lives. After the cancer, my weight dropped from 74kg to 65kg. While in prison, I went from 74kg to 63kg. So losing weight may be the best benefit from cancer and jail.

Which is worse - jail or cancer?

Both are painful experiences. It would be better to avoid either of them. But cancer can lead to death while a jail term will not take your life. So it is better to be in jail.

How did your wife respond?

She is a traditional, low-profile woman. She always supports me. In Chiu Chow families, the wives always obey their husbands. My two sons, aged 39 and 36, help manage my investments and businesses.

You lobbied for a better diet in jail. Why?

I suffered from it and there was not enough food. When I was there 10 years ago, the Chinese prisoners only had rice and a small piece of fish costing HK$12 while foreign passport-holding prisoners could choose to have western meals costing HK$18. It is a double standard and unfair. After I fought as a legislator for the rights of prisoners, they now have chicken wings twice a week and a cup of tea with milk once a week. The cost for Chinese meals also has been raised to the same level as western food.

The market has been volatile. How does it compare with past crashes?

I entered the stock market as a trader in 1970 when the Hang Seng Index was 220 points. It rose more than eight times in three years to 1,774 points at the peak of 1973 before dropping 92 per cent to 150 points in 1974. That was the most substantial drop and most painful market crash in Hong Kong's history ... the recent correction was natural and the index may go down to 25,000 points before any bounce-back.

How can investors make money?

They must first understand how much they can afford to lose. They should not just look at how much they can earn. Never invest when you are short of cash, as you will be forced to sell at the wrong time.

When did you earn your first fortune?

When I was a trader in the 1970s, the market was good so it was easy to earn money. In the 1980s, I turned my focus to buying distressed firms, improving their management and fixing their problems before selling out. This was why I was called 'golden banker' or 'company doctor'.

You have been a broker, a director, a legislator and also a restaurateur - what are you most proud of?

I am proud of whatever I do. You forgot to mention I was the manager of two football teams - Seiko and Bulova - both of which were famous in the 1970s and 1980s. When I was a broker and stock exchange director, I was famous. And I earned my fame as a golden banker by turning 25 firms around. I ran the restaurant business because I like good food. Then in 1991, I became a legislator. There are 60 legislators but not all are well known. But I was known to the public as the 'Angry Man from Chiu Chow' for being outspoken. When I went in and out of prison, the media followed me. It seems I am always in the spotlight. Maybe that is an achievement.

What made you run in the 2004 elections after serving time in jail?

Even when I lost the seat in 1998 when they put me behind bars, I planned to come back to reclaim it. I had to prove I did nothing wrong. If I disappeared after the jail term, that would have proved my voters' support in the past was a mistake. Some friends urged me not to run, but I had to prove I was right. I won because I am sincere in wanting to help others.

Do you have any regrets?

No. I am not a saint, I have made mistakes and said the wrong things from time to time. But I feel comfortable - I do not cheat people.

Do you have any plans of retiring?

No. I enjoy my work and still have time to travel and enjoy life. I don't need to retire.