TUCKED away on the upper floor of the colonial-style Western Market in Sheung Wan is a gallery - and refuge - of political-cartoonist-turned-painter Yim Yee-king, more widely known as Ah Chung (the worm). Ah Chung's philosophies of life can be found on the paintings hanging on the walls of his gallery. One of his works depicts an old man happily kicking a shuttlecock. On it he has written: 'Don't laugh at a man who is old but whose heart is not old; the best prescription for longevity is to be young at heart.' Although Ah Chung is 63, his heart is as young as the old man kicking the shuttlecock. He commutes between homes in Hong Kong and the United States, where he goes to the gym every day, drives a sports car, sings at a karaoke club, and generally does things young people do. 'The meaning of age is not being old or young, but whether you keep the heart of a child. You can be 70 or 80 years old but you can still be young,' he said. For Ah Chung, art helps bring the hectic pace of life to a more reasonable level. He believes it is hard for people to keep up in this fast-changing world. Principles and ideals seem less important, and earthly pursuits become life's main concern. 'Before we know it we are lost in a materialistic jungle and become one of those faceless and heartless beings we despise,' he said. No matter how difficult a situation Ah Chung finds himself in, he never gives up. Instead, he creates his own interpretation of life through his paintings. His thoughts, feelings and frustrations are those of his characters in the paintings. Dominating his work are the themes of love, forgiveness and the joy of living. 'We can't change reality, most of us live unhappily in the real world. We must find ways to make us happy, to keep us smiling,' said the philosophical artist. Ah Chung's paintings can be divided into two categories: one created more spontaneously and the other carefully thought out. With the former, he paints what he feels at the time, offering very little insight to the public. With the latter, however, Ah Chung is more focused, showing his desire to communicate his thoughts with the public. He says it is through the years spent on his paintings that he has learned the meaning of life. 'I have discovered that life, though sometimes unbearable and filled with despair, could also be beautiful. God has been kind to me. Through all the unhappiness, I have somehow managed to live a full and beautiful life, 'Like everyone, I have my share of good and bad times. Yet life has taught me how to face [the trials] and eventually accept it. If beauty can be found in life, so can love and hatred. 'There are times that I may curse and whine, but I try not to think of it too much. All these years have given me a heart filled with love.' Ah Chung's interest in painting started when he was 16. 'I came from a poor family and we lived in a bed space in Shamshuipo. I was a newspaper boy. I studied until Form Three and then went out to work. 'After work I didn't want to go home so I went to the Botanical Gardens, and usually sat there with nothing to do. I became restless so I bought papers and pencil and started to draw what I saw around me - a leaf, a flower,' he recalled. 'After seeing exhibitions and reading books, my interest in art grew. I began to draw with a pencil first and later changed to ink.' By the time he was 24, Ah Chung improved enough to get a job as political cartoonist at the Tin Tin Daily. He was violently opposed to communism and applied well-sharpened wit to all the upheavals in China, from the Cultural Revolution to the trial of the Gang of Four. 'I felt they were doing something wrong so I poked fun at them - Mao and his wife Jiang Qing, Lin Biao, and others,' he said. He endowed the traditionally harsh and critical political cartoons with a new artistic dimension, and his work grew increasingly popular among readers. But the respected cartoonist tired of the constant conflict and utter cynicism of politics; instead he put away his brushes in 1984 and headed for the United States. 'I didn't want to draw any more political cartoons in this decadent society. To be a cartoonist, I had to read a lot of political articles every day and I became disgusted with what I saw. 'I didn't want to be in touch with this any more. The world I see and the world I want are two different things. What I want is harmony, love. But there are so many conflicts, it is a world without principles. Today we are friends and the next day we become enemies. There is no moral standard. 'If I hadn't left Hong Kong, there would have been no way I could escape from this. All my friends and readers in Hong Kong want me to draw but I don't want to,' he said. Los Angeles gave Ah Chung the chance to start a new life. He grew a beard and sported a ponytail, but still had the same lively spirit and look in his eyes. He worked as a picture framer and it wasn't until years later that he picked up his paint brush again with the encouragement of a Taiwanese friend, who later became his agent. 'When I started drawing again after six years, it was totally different from my previous cartoons. I wanted to create a picture in which I lived happily in love and harmony. The pictures became my second world,'Ah Chung said. Ah Chung now feels he has moved into a new phase. He has grown older, but feels a vitality that didn't exist when he was in Hong Kong. 'Now I live in two worlds - the real and the ideal. When I don't feel happy in the real world, I can retreat to my ideal world where I won't feel hopeless. I draw not what I see but the world deep down in my heart,' he said. Yim Yee-king's exhibition of paintings at Western Market, 323 Des Voeux Road, runs until August 27.