Playing games, hiking gave me freedom

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am

I still wake up with nightmares about school in the 1980s and it's usually to do with examinations. As a child I found it difficult to focus on schoolwork.

I knew then that what I wanted to learn lay outside the classroom so one refuge I found was the playground. I now know something else: I have an 18-month-old son and I don't need him to be intelligent and at the top of the class. We live in the New Territories and I want him to go to a neighbourhood school and if he wants to be a ballet dancer that's fine by me. Studying textbooks wasn't for me. I related more to images and people around me - and that made me hungry to learn when I later went out to work.

My family had a seafood restaurant in Lei Yue Mun on Kowloon side next to my primary school. What I liked about those times was hiking into the countryside behind the village and playing games. It's such a shame that kids living in the city can't do that. It gave me a sense of freedom and of being creative.

I was lucky that my family was comfortably off and being the youngest there was no pressure to do well. I went on to St John's Co-educational College, which later became the Delia School of Canada, in Taikoo Shing. I didn't enjoy it - the uniform was nice though I didn't want to wear it - but it was a chance to get involved in activities such as running though I can't say I was good at it.

I do remember one teacher called Mr Yip who taught English. He wasn't the least bit traditional, unlike many of his colleagues; I liked his open mind and found him inspirational.

I remember thinking that one day I wanted to be like him as he made me see the world as a panorama. It made me think that maybe I needed to make some western friends who might share the same outlook on life.

I left school after Form Seven and turned my hand to deejaying. The parents of a friend from Australia wanted to open a club in Hong Kong and were hiring DJs for the place they set up which was called Nova. I jumped at the chance. Those were good times for clubbing because the music scene was buzzing and the atmosphere was energetic and happy.

My poor old family, though, didn't even know what a DJ was. I'd researched the whole thing even down to the cabling. A lot of DJs know how to play music but don't know how to use the mixer properly while I can even fix it.

After deejaying for 20 years, I found that I was growing up and hungry for other things. Setting up the Pure Art Foundation has been about helping young people reach their potential. It's about giving them the courage to find their way.

It started with a friend asking me to help a young artist by lending them a space to work in. I'm finding it's about helping small projects and maybe giving small amounts of money to facilitate them.

We sponsored one movie and it was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and that thrilled me. That's what I get out of it. I think the world needs more light to make it bright. And if people need candles I don't mind being the candlestick maker.

I'm lucky my parents feel proud of me. I'm the youngest of more than half a dozen siblings so I didn't have a real position in my family. Mum and dad only got to know about what I did from seeing me on television. I'm sure to them I am just this girl who played loud music in my bedroom.

Abby Lai was talking to David Phair