Her marriage may have failed, but Cally Kwong is discovering some unexpected
HOW to fry black pepper crabs is hardly a subject I expect to be debating with Cally Kwong Mei-wan, but there we are in her expansive kitchen, discussing the finer points of the art. In fact, cooking is the last thing anyone will expect Kwong to claim an expertise.
The former beauty queen-turned-singer and actress has always appeared more at home in glamorous gowns and 10-carat baubles than in an apron brandishing a ladle, but she cheerfully admits that cooking is just one of the benefits of her failed 18-month marriage to actor Ray Lui Leung-wai.
Although she had decided not to talk about the reasons for the divorce, she says of her marriage: 'Before that, there had never been any need for me to cook or learn how to because there was never any incentive. After I got married, I wanted to be a good wife and my ex-husband liked to eat abalone and other dishes, so I learned how to cook those dishes. The interest just grew from there.' Her efforts to be a good wife saw her practically drop out of sight in the entertainment world as she made few appearances and almost halted her recording work in Taiwan.
Although she was keeping a low profile, the former Miss Hong Kong runner-up kept busy and took four months to finish writing a book on beauty and grooming called Cally Kwong's Book Of Beauty, which offered tips on 'top-to-toe' grooming.
The book, which will be published in Taiwan in September, also features forewords by some of Hong Kong's top stars, including Jackie Chan, Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Rosamund Kwan Tsz-lam and Alan Tam Wing-lun.
Kwong - whose nickname in the business is 'Mei Yan' or Beauty - laughingly admits she does not know how much the book will be selling for.
'I just did it because I was interested in the subject. I never gave a thought about the money!' she says, laughing.
Kwong drifted into the entertainment arena 'by chance', when friends persuaded her to sign up for the Miss Hong Kong contest in 1982.
Not unlike the other beauty queen hopefuls, she drifted into television work after signing up with TVB, and went on to co-host breakfast show Good Morning Hong Kong.
But a chance performance revealed that the former public relations person had a great singing voice and PolyGram Records quickly snapped her up.
Her first single, Please Sit A While Longer, became a big hit and she bid goodbye to Good Morning Hong Kong to concentrate on her singing career.
While other singers tried to develop a simultaneous acting career, Kwong turned down film offers and only appeared in TVB's The Twin Heirs and Operation Sharkhunt, apart from two small movie appearances.
Surprisingly, after emerging from her divorce, Kwong did not head straight for the recording studios but for TVB's Clearwater Bay Studios where she joined the long-running series, A Kindred Spirit.
In the daily half-hour series, she plays Nga-mun, an architect who discovers her fiance is having an affair with another man.
'There is so much less pressure being part of a series like this. With singing, the glare is all on you and you have to bear a lot on your shoulders. Besides, I have always liked watching the series and thought it would be wonderful to be a part of that show,' she says.
Kwong has signed up for 80 episodes but thinks that when her role is finally written out of the series, which is running close to its 1,000th episode, she will have completed closer to 90 episodes.
But she has not turned her back on singing.
Last week, Kwong returned to the studios to record a duet with Shanghainese singer Zhu Hong to commemorate the first anniversary of the handover.
It will be the first time a Hong Kong singer has recorded a duet with a mainland singer.
'But it is a duet with a difference,' Kwong says.
'Zhu Hong recorded it in Nanjing while I recorded it in Hong Kong and we never saw or spoke to each other! But it was too meaningful an opportunity for me to miss.' The music video, which includes footage of the singers as well as sights from Shanghai and Hong Kong, will preview on Star TV's Channel [V] at midnight on June 30 and on Shanghai television the following day.
When her role in A Kindred Spirit comes to an end, Kwong will take time off to clear some things from the house which she shared with her ex-husband in Vancouver. And she has also asked friends to sign her up for French and Italian cooking courses.
'I can cook Chinese food, but I think I still need help with Western dishes. All I know how to cook is fried spaghetti and steak,' she says, adding that she has embarked on a quest for knowledge.
'I've decided to make it a point to take a few months off each year to go and learn something. Now that I'm older, I do envy the people who have the chance to get a higher education. If I had to live my life again, I probably would opt to study more.
'At this point, I think it would be beyond me as well as impractical for me to go back to school and get a higher qualification. So I will go and learn about things I am interested in.' Curious by nature, Kwong's thirst for knowledge was fanned by her desire to find out more about her favourite pastime: precious stones. It was an interest she nurtured during her brief marriage.
'I was always fond of stones but developed this genuine interest during my marriage. I bought some stones and designed my own jewellery. After a while, friends were asking me to sell them my jewellery because they liked the designs.' Kwong saw a chance to indulge in her passion while earning a small income from her designs.
'After all, I knew mine-owners in Africa from whom I could get a good deal and I had regular workshops which made up the jewellery for me. I was not going to depend on it for a living but I figured if I managed to sell some stuff, I could then afford to buy other designs I liked,' she adds.
But to do that, she knew she needed a more intrinsic knowledge of the gems she was handling even though she believed she had a 'sixth sense' when it came to choosing the right stones.
Last year, she signed up for courses with the Gemological Institute of America in New York. To complete the course, she needs to stay another seven months in New York - which she cannot afford at the moment.
In many ways, her marriage has brought her more benefits than unhappiness now that the pain is behind her.
For starters, the 30-something says she now appreciates working a lot more.
'I think most women who work secretly long for the day they get married and can have a respite from work. To me, the last two years have been a bit like a holiday break where I didn't have to go to work everyday.
'But now that I am back, it has made me appreciate every minute of work. If there's one thing I learned, you can't be complacent and lazy just because you are married.' A Kindred Spirit, TVB Jade, Mondays to Fridays, 9.05pm