THE SIMPLE LIFE My father came from China and my mother was born in Hong Kong. There were seven of us in the family. I spent my school years in Yau Ma Tei and Sham Shui Po. We were street kids, we rode bikes, got into fights and played football. Everyone was poor but they still thought of ways to look after each other. People didn't have high expectations. Having new clothes for Lunar New Year, eating chicken during Mid-Autumn Festival - these things made us really happy. Nobody talked about what they wanted to be; the only aim was to get a job as soon as possible to get your family out of poverty and live a better life.
THE CAN-AMERICAN DREAM I got into Kowloon Technical School. At that time, the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company, owned by Swire, was hiring apprentices. They offered training to become an engineer as well as a salary. I left school and got a job there. The pay was really good. A police officer made HK$400 - we were paid the same, but we were also studying.
After the Hong Kong leftist riots in 1967, Canada opened up immigration to Chinese people and especially welcomed those with skills. I felt like Hong Kong had no future. It was the colonial period and gweilos had all the say. I wanted to leave for the American dream. Canada counts as the American dream.
I moved to Canada in 1968. My family came with me. The air was good, there was lots of space, I had a house and a car - I was happy. I was an active member of the Chinese community. A few of us were fighting against racial discrimination and trying to raise the status of Chinese people. I joined the New Democratic Party and became one of its community leaders. After a while, I realised I could do more than engineering.
CULTURE SHOCKED A lot of Hong Kong people were emigrating to Canada back then, and Sally Aw Sian (former owner of Sing Tao News Corporation) asked me to set up an overseas edition of Sing Tao. I became a business consultant. Then Aw asked me to restructure Sing Tao in Hong Kong. I was glad to have the opportunity to return - I wouldn't have come back on my own.
I had cultural shock when I moved back to Hong Kong. I left Sing Tao after two years - it wasn't right for me because it's a very Chinese company. The old guard were there and you basically couldn't get anything done. We were going to collaborate with Playboy in the United States and launch a Chinese edition - Aw promised, but didn't do it.
I got in touch with Playboy and did it on my own. After that I launched (a local version of) Forbes. My publishing firm later merged with Paramount Publishing Group and I became the chief executive. As the CEO of a publicly traded company, I really was a taipan (Taipan is Cheng's nickname). American publishers at the time usually wore bow-ties and I was the first (in Hong Kong) to do so. I only stopped after seeing Donald Tsang Yam-kuen wear one. In 1994, I began hosting News Tease (a talk show on ATV). One of Paramount's shareholders said, "Do you want to be a celebrity or a CEO?" My shareholders had some issues, and I left Paramount.
COMMERCIAL BREAK The last Legislative Council election (before the handover) was taking place in 1995 and I thought about running for a seat. Then I was asked to host a prime-time show, Teacup in a Storm, on Commercial Radio by (deputy chairwoman) Winnie Yu Ching. It was an instant success. I was still thinking about Legco but I had a good time on air and was able to help people, so I carried on. The rest is history.
Life wasn't always easy, though. In 1998, I was attacked (on his way to work; he spent two months in hospital, the culprits have never been caught); and I was sacked (in 2004, after Cheng and co-host Raymond Wong Yuk-man came under fire for their opinionated attitudes). I had taken five months off to go to the US and got fired while I was away. Yu and I had been friends for more than 20 years and I saw her as family. She once said to me that as long as Commercial Radio existed, Albert Cheng would exist. I was shocked at the way they suddenly fired me. We are not in touch now.
POLITICALLY INCORRECT I was unhappy at Legco, which I joined in August 2004. I'm not a politician - I don't see things the way politicians do. In 2005, Tsang became chief executive and proposed political reforms. The pan-democrats disagreed with him. I couldn't convince them to accept his reforms and I didn't have the guts to push harder. That was when I felt like I wasn't right for Legco, because I didn't have that courage. I didn't run for a second term.
SINGLE MINDED In 2011, I launched the Digital Broadcasting Corporation. The next year, I was kicked out after "the incident" (Cheng was forced out after internal disputes with a shareholder). People gave me money to fund a lawsuit. After I settled out of court, I launched Global Chinese Network Limited - D100 radio station. I like acting alone. I'm boring and have no small talk. I don't get along with mainstream media.
GIVING BACK I've been back in Hong Kong for almost 33 years. This city has given me a lot. I established a family, made a name for myself and have some money. Growing up poor, I never thought it would happen. That's why I feel I need to do something for society. If you have no standing in society and no money, it doesn't matter what you say - no one will listen to you.
I'm turning 70 next year and plan on retiring. I've been working for 50 years - it's about time. I would like for D100 to become a social enterprise.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post's opinion pages.