YOU can ask Jimmy Li just about anything. The North Point fruit vendor is never short of opinions. Women. ''Shanghainese most beautiful. Like my wife.'' 1997. ''China no good. Old men, old ideas.'' Money. ''Family expensive. That's why I work seven days.'' Age. ''58''. Pot belly ''Too much rice and beer''. But when it comes to hair and why he and so many of his contemporaries don't have grey hair, the Hong Kong native slips on a look that reads ''Danger zone. No trespassing'' and ends the conversation with a flip of the switch on his juicer. With Li and his generation, getting to the root of grey hair is an accident waiting to happen. Call it vanity, ego, virility, grey hair is for grandfathers. It signifies ageing, over-the-hill and dull. While their sons and grandfathers seem to handle this home-grown fact of biology, a certain generation finds the solution in the local chemist's. When Kiki Flemming Productions gets a request for an older, more sophisticated model, Julie Summerville doesn't hunt for senior citizens. ''You can take a 20-year-old and make him look 10 years older with the right clothes,'' says Summerville. ''Unfortunately, the reverse doesn't work.'' If Sharon Chui needs a Chinese grandpa, she never looks at hair colour. ''We look for a face,'' says the production co-ordinator for Catwalk Productions. ''That shows ageing.'' The significance of hair colour goes beyond genes. It's psychological, says one hair-dresser. ''Hong Kong Chinese men don't have the self-confidence (to go grey),'' says Jean Yang, who has both. It was Ms Yang in 1970 who barged into the local then ''good 'ol boys'' hair scene, fresh from studies in London. Not only was she the first independent female stylist, she appalled conservative colleagues with her outrageous spray-on silver streaks. Tenyears later, they became blue. Today, those streaks are god-given silver. ''I never tell clients what to do,'' she responds, her incredulous look a bit unnerving. ''Clients come to me because they like my style.'' Joe Fung does. The 34-year-old hairdresser cannot remember when he began working for Yang in her salon in Central. But he remembers well when his black hair started to go grey. ''It was right after my mother's. I was in my late teens.'' He likes his salt-and-pepper look. The natural look suits him. And his friends, mainly females, think it's very stylish. Fung says that among an older group, male or female, you don't talk about grey hair or covering it up. ''Chinese don't talk about certain things like illness, trouble in the family or death,'' adds Yang. ''Even with clients I've had for years, you just don't talk about certain things.'' To her relief the current generation and younger Cantonese are changing those staid attitudes. One example is an employee, a 19-year-old male trainee, in punk-style clothes and spiky haircut in burnt-orange-brown tones. ''Three years ago, the police always asked for his ID. He doesn't look like a Central kid.'' At the Mandarin Hotel barber shop, tinting doesn't exist in conversation with clients or between the three Shanghainese barbers, elderly men with jet-black hair. And Lynne Chapman never has to ask. ''I know who does and who doesn't,'' says Chapman, the manager of the shop. ''When you're my height (5'10'') you can look down on the heads in the MTR and see the roots. ''It's the older Chinese man who tints his hair. And he's in all levels of society - CEOs, labourers, salesmen. The younger ones see Europeans with mixed tones and think it is fashionable.'' Tingeing is done on less than one per-cent of clients in the Mandarin shop. ''The clients do it at home. Their wives do it. It's a private thing.'' Norman Ouellette agrees. ''Men in the 50-60 age range do it at home, the evening before their appointment,'' says the partner in Andre Norman Salon in Lan Kwai Fong. ''You don't have to ask. Freshly coloured hair has a certain texture. You can smell the peroxide. It stays for two days.'' While his younger Chinese clients ask for highlights - preferring mixed tones over the matte black look - his western clients in their 30s want to colour their grey. ''Maybe it's the stress factor in Hong Kong. People are going grey here faster.'' At Architects & Heroes in Causeway Bay, Ben Lee is painting semi-permanent colour - dark brown and blue black - on clients who want the shiny look. ''Colour makes the hair look healthy. It's trendy,'' explains Lee. He blames bad touch-up jobs, not on the colour products Chinese men buy to cover grey, but their lack of judgment. ''If you have grey hair and yellow skin, it makes you look dull. Lighter skin tones can take it. Not everyone looks good like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. Health makes a big difference. The 33-year-old Lee continues: ''If you have bags under the eyes, using a flat black tint makes you look older. It is hard and harsh, especially on Chinese.'' Men opting for blue black, charcoal brown, henna or auburn highlights today will continue to colour their hair tomorrow, bets designer Walter Ma. ''It's all about attitude. Some care about their looks. Others don't,'' believes the 41-year-old. ''There's a fine line between getting older and ageing. When some reach 50 or 60, they don't care.'' Ma is preparing for ageing by wearing certain styles of clothes that fit his changing physique. ''Some people my age want to look 30. And they dress appropriately. I have changed my look to what looks good on me at this age. ''The same with hair. Though I don't have much grey now, I'll wait and see.''