Once upon a time Elven Ho was an ordinary Hong Kong media man: ex-The Standard, ex-South China Morning Post, ex-wife. Then one day in 1996, when he was busy putting MTV Asia on to the World-Wide Web, he received an e-mail inviting him to be a guest lecturer at a small Ukraine university, and his life changed. It did not happen overnight: it took Mr Ho two months to even accept the invitation - which was sent rather randomly when an enterprising soul in Ukraine got hold of an Internet directory of media people - and it took longer for him to fall in love with that part of the former USSR once he got there. But now, back from a year's lecturing and two years' travelling through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Baltic States, he is engaged to marry a Latvian model called Galina (if her father can be persuaded) and is setting up a business bringing CIS-Baltic artists, models, photographers and film-makers to Hong Kong. 'As I was travelling to these different places I was astonished. In Hong Kong when people talk about Russia they think of prostitutes and mafia. And when people in Russia talk about Hong Kong, they think of exactly the same thing. The stereotypes are wrong, and I want to help change them.' As we talked, Mr Ho's computer switched every few seconds from one promotional picture to another. My eye was constantly caught by new beautiful women posing in their underclothes, or by pictures of Mr Ho (who has been doing modelling and body-building for 15 years) in his. Isn't that kind of picture, I couldn't help asking, helping to support at least one of the stereotypes? 'That? Oh, that's models: that's what they always look like in promotional pictures,' he shrugged. Are there no other men than Mr Ho on his talent list? He laughed: 'There are lots.' He has visual artists, musicians, photographers and even a group that bills itself as 'the Russian answer to the Chippendales' ('very tasteful though', he said). After Ukraine, and with a couple of trips back to Hong Kong, he went on a tour around the former Soviet Union. 'I went to 35 cities,' he said, 'from Latvia to Lithuania, to as far away as here' and on a map he traced a route through Siberia to towns further east than Beijing, and even to the remote 'and cold' Sakhalin peninsula north of Japan. And in each city he found friendly people: 'Nobody mugged me, nobody stole from me,' he said. He took the elementary precautions of neither wearing expensive watches nor carrying valuable cameras; his other apparently failsafe anti-thief device was to carry his entire savings in his jeans pocket. 'I figured they would think that was too obvious,' he said, slightly unconvincingly. The one thing he couldn't compromise on was music - that MTV habit was too ingrained - and his rucksack was bulky with ghetto blaster and 50 or 60 CDs. In the beginning, even six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr Ho found himself sent, without choice, to the old Intourist Hotels. The old tourist stories - dank dining rooms, sullen staff, cold watery borscht and soggy potato salads - were still valid in those bastions of communist hospitality. 'They were horrible - and expensive.' But later he learned Russian - there was little else to do most evenings - and a different way of travelling. At each railway station or more often airport ('the plane fares are so cheap you don't really need the trans-Siberian railway anymore') there would be grandmothers - baboushkas - holding up placards. When he learned to read Cyrillic he realised they were advertising rooms for rent. In a country where pensions barely buy bread, older people are trying their hands at entrepreneurial activities. If they have a spare room in a housing estate flat, they offer it. Mr Ho - whose three tasks in every town were to find a talent agency to sign on to his books, get an Internet connection, and find a gym for his daily 1.5-hour workout - must have seemed a rather formidable house guest to some of the old women who trotted him back to their homes. His hosts were always welcoming 'and however ugly the housing project flats looked at from the outside they had always made it comfortable inside'. Everything was rudimentary: many places had hot water only once or twice a week, with baths being drawn by boiling 10 litres or so of water in small saucepans and hoping that the first litres would not be too cold by the end. In most towns outside Moscow and St Petersburg there were severe electricity cutouts: walking through streets in the total blackness of winter nights became normal. 'In the beginning I wondered why so many hawkers were standing around selling candles: I was soon buying from them.'What that left Mr Ho with was an overwhelming sense of how lucky everyone is in Hong Kong - 'even the poor people: nobody has to deal with those kind of problems'. Coming back here - temporarily he hopes - to start his business, Mr Ho finds he has changed his lifestyle. 'I want simplicity in my life: I've sold my books and my music and my films,' he said, although admitting he had kept his old Hong Kong habit of watching three or four movies a day - and sleeping only three hours a night. Which brought us back to his Internet agency: films that could be shot in Russia ('they've got such a tradition of film-making but no money to make them') using local camera operators and directors; commercials and fashion shoots with CIS or Baltic models and all those musicians lining up for international gigs. 'There is so much talent, and no jobs for them there: it's sad.' Mr Ho's ambitions are not limited to the Internet: projects for the immediate future also included writing a book on 'the great legs of Latvia', which I rather quaintly misheard as 'the great lakes' and expressed tremendous interest. I couldn't help, as the wallpaper glamour pix flicked on and on in the corner of my eye, asking the stereotypical question: is there a casting couch? 'Oh no, I never mix my work with my social life,' he insisted. 'And anyway,' he said thoughtfully, 'there are so many of them.'