OUR young people are named Doctor, Alien and Chlorophyll. They have tea-coloured hair and speak mouh leih tau (mad slang). Our national dish is Thousand-Island-dressing flavoured pizza. We collect Cartier watches and Mao badges. Our top hobbies are praising Communist Party leaders and swapping 18k gold Garfields. Are we, the citizens of Hong Kong, completely insane? Is this the world's biggest loony-bin? The only way to find out was to get professional help. So I had Professor Felice Lieh-Mak, Hong Kong's most famous psychiatrist, for lunch at Toscano, the Italian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. Professor Lieh-Mak is such a high achiever that you could use her CV to wallpaper a small-to-medium-sized hospital. She has done everything and seen everything. As a child, she hung out with dead bodies. As an adult, she hung out with appointed Legislative Council members: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, as the Chinese say (in Asia these days, the Chinese own all wisdom, whoever said it first). More importantly, she is one of the top shrinks on the planet. Until 1996, she was president of the World Association of Psychiatrists. At the moment, she is chairman of the Medical Council and is dealing with the recommendations of the Harvard Report on doctors in Hong Kong. Q: You have so many titles. Which is the most important? A: Mother. Q: But when you fill in a form, what do you put down as your title? A: Professor. Q: Do psychiatrists always make people lie down on couches and tell them their life story? A: No. I've never done that. I couldn't stand psychoanalysis. I felt it was a waste of time, useless. It was a good principle for literature and philosophy, but not for real patients. Q: Have you ever been on the couch? A: Me? No! But I shouldn't completely belittle psychoanalysis. You have to be inclusive. It can be one element in a person's treatment. Q: Gatherings of psychiatrists must be a nightmare. Do you guys all go round analysing everything each other says? A: No, we don't have time for that. People are busy getting their own points across. Q: Hong Kong is a highly stressful place. We must be desperately in need of shrinks. A: No. Actually, not many people have problems with alcohol and drugs here. But these are balanced out by the number of people who have stress-related problems. We actually have less depression in Hong Kong than many other cities. I have a theory about this. But it's a bit outrageous. Q: Try me. A: I think Hong Kong has a self-selecting population. The people who have managed to get here from the mainland are tough, adventurous, freedom-loving. They stay here because they find it challenging and they like the fast life. People who want a slower pace of life leave Hong Kong. So you see the system screens out people who are not competent to deal with life here. Q: In your work, you must meet lots of unfortunate people with strange mental problems. So why join Legco? Wasn't it just more of the same? A: It was a new experience. Q: In Hong Kong, we pay huge fortunes to live in tiny boxes. Doesn't that prove we're all mad? A: Studies show that over-crowding does not cause stress in itself, unless you are really not used to it. That problem only really affects people who come from a place where they are used to having lots of space - people like me. We had a huge house in the Philippines. I've always liked to have space. Q: So it's all relative? A: Yes. The reverse is also true. When Hong Kong people go to Canada or Australia, they can find it frightening. They find themselves in big houses, in the middle of nowhere, and they can't even see the lights of their neighbours' houses. Q: After interviewing hundreds of people in my career, I am convinced that many highly intelligent people are also incredibly stupid. Why do I think this? A: It's true. Many people are clever in their own field, but otherwise can be very naive. Most people are not broad enough to be clever in many areas. Q: Do psychiatrists have any special advantage in human transactions? A: They have an advantage in the sense that they know the theory. But not everyone can apply it. That's why you meet some psychiatrists who are just self-centred and awful people. Professor Lieh-Mak is not one of them. She is an easy-going and affable person, but with tremendous reserves of strength - this she demonstrated by being firmly pro-democracy at a time when many legislators were abandoning their principles to adopt rabidly pro-Beijing stances. This toughness is wrapped up in someone so small. She is tiny and delicate, like a wren. You feel she would blow away if you sneezed. She speaks highly articulate English with a slight Filipino twang. She dresses well and has a classy, upright bearing. Professor Lieh-Mak's family were teachers from Guangdong, who fled south to escape the invasion by the Japanese army during World War II. They settled in Davao, in the southern Philippines. When Felice was 17, she worked in forensics, spending her time helping to cut up bodies at a police laboratory. She got used to seeing corpses with gunshot wounds, hanged suicides, and the remains of people who had drowned. It was an education in itself. 'The drownings were the worst,' she says, blinking for a moment at the medium-rare duck on her plate. She was extraordinarily smart. She went to university in Manila and graduated as a doctor at the age of 22, after which she moved to Britain for post-graduate studies at Oxford. She accepted a post at Yale University in the United States, but first decided to spend a year in Hong Kong, where she had many friends - one of whom, civil engineer Gregory Mak, she married. By that time, she was a specialist in psychiatry, and took a job at the asylum at Castle Peak, in the New Territories. It horrified her. She resigned after the first week. The consultant in charge begged her to give the job and Hong Kong another chance. After much persuasion, she said she would stay for a year. She has now been here 30 years. During that time, Professor Lieh-Mak went from working as a government-employed psychiatrist to being a professor at the University of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Government quickly identified her as a woman to watch, and in the late 1980s, she was asked to join the Central Policy Unit, a group of smart people - including Anna Wu Hung-yuk and Victor Fung Kwok-king - who gave shape to many of the policies in the final years of the British-led Hong Kong Government. In 1991, she became one of the last appointed members of the pre-handover Legislative Council. She was an advocate of more democracy for the citizen on the street, but sympathised with the business lobby. 'By implication I am a democrat, but I am also a fiscal conservative. The Democrats were not my soul-mates. I thought their fiscal policies were downright irresponsible,' she says. In 1992, Chris Patten arrived 'like a hurricane' and Professor Lieh-Mak was invited to join the Executive Council. She stayed with them for four-and-a-half years, during one of the most dramatic periods of that group's existence. It has been an action-packed career, and the controversies are still flowing. As chairman of the Medical Council, Professor Lieh-Mak has to deal with the repercussions of the Harvard Report, a hard-hitting independent report on medicine in Hong Kong. But a slowdown in her tumultuous career is in sight. Now, she is looking forward to retiring in two years, at 60. 'I'll have more time for reading and writing,' she says. She has no plans to return to Davao. Hong Kong may be crazy, but it's home. And of course there are her three children to spend time with. For Professor Lieh-Mak hasn't forgotten what her most important title is.