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Flip sides: meet five Hongkongers who lead surprising second lives

Looks can be deceiving and there’s much more to these five Hongkongers than meets the eye, as Vanessa Yung, Kylie Knott and Bernice Chan find out

 

The Biker
Danny Gohel, 51.
Professor by day, biker at the weekend

Clad in a leather helmet, boots and jacket with a bandana covering his mouth and nose, Danny Gohel pulls up on his shiny 2008 Fatboy Harley-Davidson. “Sorry I’m late, I got stuck in traffic,” he says, peeling himself off his 400kg metallic beast, the copper and black colour marking the brand’s 105th anniversary. “Only 4,000 of these were made for the anniversary and this one is number 555, which is funny because my dad smoked the brand [State Express] 555.”

Hong Kong-born Gohel loves his Harley, an addiction he picked up from his roommate while studying in the US. He spends hours cleaning it – he uses a toothbrush – and has christened it Misty.
“I like to ride in the fog.”

It’s a good thing that his wife is also a fan. “I had a comfortable pillion specially added just for her.”

But while weekends are reserved for the open roads, his week days are spent in a suit and tie at Tung Wah College in Ho Man Tin, where he holds the dual posts of associate vice-president (academic development) and head of the medical science department.

“I ride my bike to work quite often – the students love it,” he says. “They become more open and friendly … I think they sort of see me as one of them.”

His passion for the Harley has taken him far and wide. About two years ago Gohel and three others rode their bikes down Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, covering about 4,000 kilometres. “One of the guys was from CCTV [China Central Television] and he was blogging about the journey. On the first night he posted pictures on Weibo and got 900,000 followers. When we finished 12 days later he had more than 12 million people following him. It was quite amazing.”

As chapter director of Harley-Davidson in Hong Kong, Gohel gets to cover a lot of the city. “We meet every Sunday and the first Sunday of every month is when we do our big ride … 40 to 50 bikes will come out. It’s an impressive sight.

“The only problem is that the roads in Hong Kong are very short. Just last week the police stopped us and asked why we were going so slowly,” he says.

The best place for him to unleash his inner speed demon is on trips to the US where the needle has hit 210km/h. Closer to home he loves the ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Chek Lap Kok. “It’s the most scenic and there’s a service road that runs parallel to the runway ... you can ride it all the way to the end of the runway.”

Hog wild: for more details about the Harley Owners Group (HOG) of Hong Kong, go to h-o-g.org
KK

 

The Drag Queen
La Chiquitta (aka Rye Bautista), 33.
Runs a performance company during the day, drag artist by night

La Chiquitta totters along Central’s Staunton Street in full drag queen garb, negotiating the sloping pavement in six-inch stilettos with all the finesse of a catwalk model. She’s packed into a sequined studded corset and long feathery skirt. Her lashes and legs are long, her cheeks chiselled and her tongue as quick as lightning. There is a lot of glitter. While she wears many hats: showgirl, thespian, radio host (“The Gaybourhood” on RTHK3 every Saturday at 9pm), partyphile and recording artist, today La Chiquitta is Drag Queen – and she pulls it off beautifully.

Born in Manila, La Chiquitta was a dancer with Ballet Philippines before moving to Hong Kong to work at Disneyland. 

“I started freelancing in 2008, but my career really exploded after the release of the video, ” she says, looking at home in the burlesque-themed Varga Lounge. 

The clip she refers to is for the catchy single, Tranny in the House, produced by DJ Stonedog and released by Volume Up Records. In the video you see La Chiquitta, Hong Kong’s first recording drag artist, prancing around in a variety of outfits, including Wonder Woman. “I really entered the public’s consciousness after that video,” she says.

La Chiquitta admits to liking attention, but she says the acceptance of drag queens in Hong Kong is a long way behind that of countries such as Australia and the US. 

“Hong Kong’s attitude to drag queens has improved but I still don’t think it’s ready to deal with us. There are not that many working in Hong Kong now – we have to ease ourselves into it.”

Getting ready for a performance is a long process. “Ideally I’d like to devote two hours preparation time before each show but that’s not always possible. My record for getting ready is 40 minutes.

“Removing the make-up is the hardest part – it’s when the glamour ends. It is like dragging a kid out of Disneyland.” 

Until recently, La Chiquitta’s day job was teaching ballet and drama as well as roles in theatre. She’s now setting up a performance company, RyeT Entertainment, with her partner. It will focus on staging shows – and that will include drag, of course.

Don’t drag your feet: welcome in the Year of the Horse with La Chiquitta at Volume Beat, LG/F, 62 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, on February 1. Party starts at 10pm.
KK

 

The Pole Dancer
Caryl Poon Hoi-yee, 28.
Civil engineer by day, pole dancer by night

Originally from Hong Kong and educated in Britain, Poon says she didn’t know what she wanted to do when she was in university – despite getting straight As in physics, geography, chemistry and maths.

“Originally I wanted to be a vet, but after I did an internship I realised I didn’t want to be a doctor,” Poon says. “My mother wanted me to do law, but I wanted to defy her so I picked civil engineering.”

By day she and her colleagues work on many infrastructure projects in Hong Kong.

One of their duties is to conduct on-site visits at the city’s reservoirs to check for leakage and work on the water mains for the redevelopment of Kai Tak.

Poon also has a role as problem solver on the Sha Tin to Central link with regards to drainage and sewage. “Once you dig things up, things can happen that you never imagined and we have to help solve them by coming up with different designs and such.”

While she thoroughly enjoys her job in a maledominated industry, Poon likes to express herself as a pole dancer after hours.

When she visited a strip club in London, she was amazed by how athletic the dancers were. “The things they were doing were really hard. They had these amazing bodies and were confident and sexy.”

Because she was living on her student budget, Poon could only afford six lessons, but she was hooked, thinking about it all the time and when she came back to Hong Kong in 2008 she was determined to pick it up again.

She takes lessons at Aerial Arts Academy in Causeway Bay.

“I feel very confident and sexy when I do pole dancing. It’s so much fun because you can go upside down and tone your body at the same time,” she says.

Performing is a way to motivate her to improve her skills and she enjoys the rush of adrenaline that comes with it. “People appreciate you – not in a slutty way, but your skills – and it’s nice to show your body off. It does feel like I have this other life, like switching to be someone else.”

Poon is a woman of many talents; not only has she mastered pole dancing and chair dancing, she also designs all her costumes. She is even taking a shoemaking class in Lai Chi Kok to develop another of her hobbies – high-heeled shoes.

Aerial Arts Academy offers pole dancing classes as well as chair and lap dancing, and for more air time, hoop, silk and trapeze.

Pole position: aerialartsacademy.com
BC

 

The Cosplayer
Yau Wong Siu-lun.
Nurse by day, cosplayer by night

Green cloak, jet black wig, leather jacket with feather-motif badges, and ebony kneelength boots with harness. If you are a fan of Hajime Isayama’s vastly popular manga Attack on Titan, you may agree that Yau Wong Siu-lun’s interpretation of Captain Levi – complete with swords and gear on both sides – is no child’s play.

Wong loves her challenging job as an outreach nurse, which allows her to get out and interact with her patients. But paying home visits to patients who are mostly older than 60 and the paperwork that follows don’t usually call for creative expression.

Instead, Wong finds inspiration outside work in cosplay (costume play). Wong, who is a key member of Hong Kong-based cosplay fan group Balance, began dressing up 15 years ago as one of the characters she had penned to boost sales of her own comic strips.

“I work on each character I’m portraying from scratch. I do my own make-up, tailormy own costumes, and dream up different ways to fashion all those accessories and weapons,” says Wong.

“As manga, online games and animations from which I draw my inspirations are mostly 2-D, cosplay allows me to unleash my imagination as I have to come up with detailed features, execution methods and such, to replicate the virtual into reality.”

Over the years, Wong’s time, effort and money in portraying numerous roles has earned her accolades – as well as money from prizes and paid demonstrations for events – in both local and overseas contests.

If you’re looking to bring one of your favourite manga characters to life, Wong recomends getting your hands dirty. “Create your own outfit instead of buying one, because the fun is in the process,” she says.

But what Wong enjoys most is being able to channel different sides of herself. Strutting in a sexy gothic gown, her portrayal of the dark, mysterious “Maiden of Lust” Cydaea from Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo 3, for instance, won her first prize at a competition at 2013’s Ani-Com & Games fair.

“I’m actually quite an introvert who isn’t super expressive, but taking up a different identity makes me more audacious. It encourages me to socialise with fellow cosplayers, who eventually become my friends,” says Wong, who is looking to publish a photo album of her previous outfits to mark the 15th anniversary of her cosplay “career”. “I’d be a such a homebody, surfing the internet around the clock if I wasn’t cosplaying.”

Role models: for more details, go to facebook.com/hkteambalance or facebook.com/yu.balance
VY

 

The Fighter
Neon Lai Yuk-ming, 32.
IT consultant by day, Muay Thai warrior by night

You don’t want to mess with Neon Lai Yukming. For the all-smiles IT consultant may look as professional as he is placid in his suit, he transforms into a kick-ass (pardon the pun) Muay Thai boxer once he peels off his shirt and shoes.

Having grown up watching Bruce Lee’s kung fu movies – and later inspired by action films such as Andy Lau Tak-wah’s A Fighter’s Blues, Lai says he has always been fascinated by the martial arts and boxing world. “It’s my dream to become a strong fighter like those portrayed in the movies, although it’s easier said then done.”

He studied kung fu and sanda (Chinese free fighting) when he was in his 20s, but none seemed to give him the satisfaction or sense of achievement he has been yearning for. He became frustrated and gave up the pursuit altogether.

The turning point came when he was introduced to Muay Thai four years ago, when his coach Bryan To Hang-lam at Hayabusa in Central showed him what he was capable of and encouraged him to take part in various competitions soon after he joined.

“I cried when the judge raised my hand in the ring after I defeated my first competitor,” says Lai recalling winning the newcomer championship at the 2009 Hong Kong Muay Thai Championships. “I had been quite disappointed with myself, convinced that I wasn’t the right material. But winning that title recovered my spirit and enthusiasm.”

He takes as much pride in making it through the harsh training he had to do every night after work before the competition. When he is not preparing for a bout, Muay Thai is a great outlet for stress and a positive influence on his work and life.

“Muay Thai demonstrates great strength and the skill and style of combat is comprehensive. It has helped me develop my persistence, concentration and health like never before,” says Lai.

“It takes a great deal of willpower to go through the very formulistic and exhausting training: you have to be very focused in order to fulfil all the tasks given within two to three hours. My health and build are also much better now – the muscles and six-pack come with the training.”

Lai has a new baby but he has not put Muay Thai behind him. He trains at lunchtime, three times a week, so he can devote his free time to his family without having to sacrifice his passion.

“At 28, I wasn’t considered young when I picked up Muay Thai. But I succeeded and have even won competitions. So I figured when it comes to making a dream come true, it’s never too late – as long as you are determined.”

Get fighting: hayabusa.com.hk
VY

 

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