My life: Sharon Kwok
The actress and organiser of this week's Elephant Walk tells Martin Williams about a wooden shark and growing up in Ocean Park
PARK LIFE I was born in Hong Kong and my dad was a founder of Ocean Park, which I explored with my brother. We got into everything. I remember birds and animals, including an albatross that couldn't fly, and dolphins. I learned to swim from a dolphin, which rescued me when I fell in its pool. I find dolphins extremely intelligent; there is a sense that I sometimes click with them. I get this sense with a lot of animals; communicating without needing words. We're silent, yet everything is understood.
When I was 10, I moved to San Francisco with my mum, when my parents split up. My brother went to Papua New Guinea with my dad. In California, I had few pets, as my mum was not into animals. One was a little snake I kept in a matchbox. My mum opened the box and screamed, so I gave it away quickly.
TOMBOY TO ACTRESS The only thing I was good at in school was art and, through it, I almost retreated into myself. I liked competitions and entered model-building contests every year, winning against adults nationwide. I used to hang out with boys - we played paintball, practised martial arts, roamed the mountains. My mum decided to feminise me, by entering me in beauty pageants. To me, these were more competitions to go and win. After three pageants, I ended up in Hong Kong, as runner up of the first Miss Chinese International contest. I received job offers, for movies and television dramas. Though I had no training, I had a good time filming (Kwok acted in dozens of Hong Kong movies in the 1980s and 90s). Three years ago, I co-produced a series for TVB, which was like a travelogue highlighting conservation. I was back with my brother, who had become a dive instructor at 15, and we covered Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in a 10-part series. I want to do more of the same.
CONSERVING ENERGY Around 15 years ago, marine conservationist Brian Darvell got me into Reef Check (an annual survey of corals in Hong Kong), which had just started. I saw cowries and several species of fish, and was surprised we still had them in Hong Kong. I also dived in places like Mexico. But the conservation bug didn't bite until three or four years ago, when I saw the need to raise awareness. I wanted to stop moaning and groaning, and bring about change. Nancy Nash got me into conservation. She was among the founders of WWF Hong Kong and I had known her since the Ocean Park days. After returning to Hong Kong, I ran into her again, and was invited to be on the board of WWF, though, at the time, I was too busy with work and wasn't aware of the issues. I also became an ambassador for the SPCA's Cadet Inspector programme. I enjoy chatting with youngsters; they give me hope for Hong Kong's future.
FEELING THE FORCE I believe there are forces at work helping me along. I'm a Catholic, though I haven't been to church in years; and I believe in good forces and bad forces. I happened to meet oceanographer Sylvia Earle via Nancy. We both went to the World Ocean Summit, Singapore, and she thought I'd be good on the board of her marine-conservation group, Mission Blue, as I'm a local celebrity and can make a different connection with the public. Oceans cover 70 per cent of the Earth and have never been under so much distress as now. On land, we have learned we can't eat carnivores like lions, tigers and wolves. But we're eating bluefin tuna, sharks, garoupa and humphead wrasse without a thought.
FIN FIGHT CLUB I was invited to WildAid's (an NGO seeking to end the illegal wildlife trade) first annual ball in San Francisco - I met (basketball player) Yao Ming and was impressed with him. We have recently established WildAid in Hong Kong. I helped with the bill on banning the sale of shark fin in California, helping to disprove traders' claims that (the ban) was simply the United States government attacking Chinese culture. In the Solomon Islands, a chief gave me a carved wooden shark. He said, "Take this to the American leader, as my letter to him; I want my great-grandchildren to see sharks and what he does can help." It sat on (Californian) Governor Jerry Brown's desk every day. Here in Hong Kong, I recently directed the Finished With Fins campaign shots and called many friends to join. I've been given a hard time for this, with verbal fights. But now, with shark fin, we are at the point where it's OK to say no, even at a banquet.
I recently founded AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation as things need to be done, and it can be more flexible than some NGOs. We have two staff and an office in Tsuen Wan, with about 10 people on the board. The situation is like my art: I start moulding something and I might change it along the way. If it turns out OK, that's OK; which is kind of my life's motto.
TAKEN TO TUSK Current projects include a joint campaign to stop the ivory trade. We're letting people know ivory is no longer a desirable product. While I admire the artwork, there are other materials. Some people think that ivory is from old animals that have died but if we show photos and tell them it's part of an animal that died a horrible death, I believe they will not buy it. This might be easier than the shark fin (campaign) as people feel more for elephants.
Elephant Walk, co-organised by Kwok, will begin at 11am this Friday, World Animal Day, at 1881 Heritage, Tsim Sha Tsui. The march is calling on the government to burn its stocks of confiscated ivory and for a ban on all trade in ivory in China. For more details, go to www.facebook.com/HK4elephants.