David chu yu-lin

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 1997, 12:00am

David chu yu-lin IT HAS not been a jolly month for David Chu Yu-lin. Towards the end of November, the provisional legislator had to drop out of Trailwalker after 34 kilometres, blaming an ankle injury. Ten days later, he was involved in a minor altercation with a van driver in Central who had allegedly reversed into him; the remarkable detail was the fact Chu had been waiting for his driver to deposit him 200 metres further down the road at the Legislative Council Building. And a fortnight ago, he failed to be elected as a deputy for the National People's Congress.

It was not, however, a crushed and chastened individual who turned up for breakfast at The American Club on the 49th floor of Exchange Square two days after his defeat. The height of the venue is relevant because Chu had intended to walk up each floor, as is his occasional wont, but he was worried about being late so he took the lift. He announced he had just spent an hour and 42 minutes walking from his home in Repulse Bay with a 20 kilo backpack ('This is absolutely nothing!') which he invited me to try on.

I staggered around dutifully for a few seconds and then we sat down, ordered coffee and Chu immediately said he was about to rename the column he does for Eastweek magazine. It was formerly known as 'The Office Of The Flying Pig' and will henceforth be called 'The Office Of The Pig's Congressman'. He explained that his name translates into a porky pun in Chinese but, still, it is not many of us who would bravely opt for such a byline. The congress reference seemed to be a little joke about his failure so naturally I wondered if he was sorry about losing.

'You're absolutely wrong!' he cried. 'I met my father-in-law on the way here and he's flabbergasted that I'm so happy. He's very gloomy but I told him I'm seeing reporters later today and I'm going to thank the people who voted for me but even more I'm going to thank the people who didn't vote for me. I'm not joking! Because failure to me is a tremendous encouragement to work harder and to be more successful.' I couldn't quite grasp how the dimensions of time could possibly accommodate further Chu input because if anyone flogs himself physically and mentally, it is this diving, flying, writing, Harley-Davidson-riding, politicking 53-year-old maverick who runs a property business. 'People think I'm a playboy but look at the volume of my intellectual output,' he said, pulling out his policy proposals from his backpack, thereby lightening it by several kilos. 'I wrote 358 articles in the last year and gave 349 media interviews in the last two years.' He had a photograph of all these works carefully fanned out on a floor and said, accurately, 'The amount in the last five years would fill a closet.' Why is he so driven? He grew up in Shanghai and fled to America when he was 14 without a word of English. 'I started from the bottom. This is like a penniless Vietnamese refugee and even those refugees know a few words in French. And I ended up at Harvard Business School sitting next to Steve Carey, the son of the chairman of IBM which is America's best.

Here's another joke: when Steve Carey's father came to Hong Kong, he had a big party at the Regent. I thought it was formal and I arrived late and I was the only one in a tuxedo. I sat next to Mr Carey, on his left, with all the IBM people. And everyone in the Regent's ballroom thought I was his personal butler. I'm not joking! Everyone thought he was giving personal orders to his butler! Isn't that fantastic? This is the funniest thing ever happened in my life.' It occurred to me that this was exactly the sort of hilarious incident which wouldn't discourage one from giving up an American passport, which is what Chu did in 1993 to show solidarity with China. (So why were we meeting in The American Club? 'Because I came to Hong Kong as an American citizen, no other reason.') A little later he said: 'When I was in America in the early '60s, we Chinese people had to go to the blacks' bathroom in the south. This is a negative experience but instead of getting mad at Americans, I don't, I truly thank them. I could have demonstrated, screamed my head off, right? But I don't waste energy. These segregated bathrooms are jet fuel for me to rocket ahead.' Just then, the waiter came up to the table, gave Chu a thumbs-up sign and said to me, 'Very good member'. When he left, Chu said: 'I treat everyone the same. I'm not class-conscious. This morning, a lady was pushing a garbage cart up Lan Kwai Fong and several bags fell off, so with my big bag on my back I help her reload the cart. I enjoy doing things like this.' He's been in Hong Kong for 20 prosperous years (his Cantonese is still heavily accented 'but getting better'), has four Harley Davidsons, a farm in Guangdong and a courtyard house in Beijing in which he says he lives like an emperor, though no other Imperial ruler is on record as having furnished his court with a table and two chairs made out of Porsche tyres. Meanwhile, his penchant for dangerous sports verges on the pathological; in September, he smashed into the Great Wall on a paraglider, hence his ankle injury. Did he think he was going to die? 'Definitely. I don't know whether you want this joke, I invented it myself: 'I'm only David, not Copperfield'. ' What does Mrs Chu (and indeed his two children) say? 'Not very much. But I haven't finished the positive thing. Because of the crash I get a lot of publicity and I learn how to feel what it's like to be disabled: the condescending looks in Central.' At this point, I was irresistibly reminded of that literary American heroine, Pollyanna, who spends her noble young life playing the Glad Game despite everyday slights which culminate in paralysis. 'That's me!' agreed Chu when this was explained. 'You can live a more positive life. And also, don't take yourself seriously. When I apologise I say, 'Hey, sorry. I goofed' and the world still turns.' He knows of what he speaks: in August, he had to apologise to two Western academics here after an unpleasant spat about patriotism. 'I was carried away. This is natural, human and normal. It's testing the edge of the performance envelope; you're bound to go over once in a while.' So is he an eccentric? 'Absolutely not! Other people are eccentric because they don't explore their life potential. Anyone who's different from me, that's their problem.'