Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am

Ziggy Chau was five when her parents decided they would all join her grandparents in New York. Like many families at the time, they had been uncertain about life after the handover.

'Back then, America was the promised land,' she recalls. 'Everyone was afraid of 1997 and it was a chance for a family to start anew.'

However, the new beginning wasn't so promising. Chau's father had owned a few fast-food outlets in Mong Kok and Kowloon Tong; in New York he worked in other people's restaurants and the family lived in a cramped Lower East Side tenement building a few blocks from Chinatown.

'Our family of five lived in two bedrooms, maybe 500 sq ft in total,' she recalls. 'It was similar to the Hong Kong lifestyle, I guess, but in New York. Compared with an average [American] family [home], it was really small.'

When Chau was in junior high school, her father moved to Atlantic City to work in a casino; the eight-hour day was a step up from the 12-hour shift in Chinatown restaurants.

'One of my fondest Hong Kong memories is of the moon cake [Mid-Autumn] festival,' says Chau. 'The way families celebrated together, the cakes and how we'd go up to the roof with those colourful lanterns. In New York, the community doesn't celebrate so much because of those 12-hour shifts.'

In 1996, after her father opened his own restaurant, the family joined him in Atlantic City. But it wasn't long before Chau returned to her old stomping ground and, after dabbling in the music industry, she set up Lucky PR, 'specialising in criss-crossing clients between the US and Asia in the entertainment, music, film, fashion, casino and hotel industries'.

She's worked with Ed Bennett (a founder of music channel VH1) on projects such as Sing For China, which took three Chinese indie-rock bands on tour in the US to raise funds for Aids orphans in the mainland. She is currently working on a marketing campaign for Angelo Lambrou, a New York-based, South African designer of couture bridal gowns.

'A lot of companies are trying to target the Asian market in the US and I think having a Hong Kong side and a US side is an advantage,' she says.

But Chau has no plans to move back; she says she couldn't do without the vibe or convenience. She also digs New York dim sum.

'I find it healthier here; not as greasy,' she notes, recommending the Vegetarian Dim Sum House (at 24 Pell Street) and The Stanton Social (99 Stanton Street; www.thestantonsocial .com), which she describes as 'American tapas served like Chinese family-style dim sum'.

Chau comes to Hong Kong twice a year to keep her finger on the pulse and find ideas and material for her projects. Joanna Wang was a happy discovery the last time around.

'A lot of Chinese people in New York and elsewhere yearn to [come] back and they love knowing what's new [here],' she says. 'People in China look to the West for inspiration, even though there's so much in front of them that they should embrace.'