I was born in 1965 in Gympie, a small town two hours north of Brisbane, Australia. My grandfather grew pineapples and my father grew up on the farm. Later, we bought some of the land off him, and we lived right next door. I have two younger sisters and as kids we’d ride our bikes on the dirt tracks around the farm. It was great fun. In 1980, we sold the farm and moved to the Blue Mountains, where my parents went to Bible college. Apart from studying, my dad worked as a handyman in the college. We were on the edge of Katoomba and if you walked five minutes down the hill you could see the Three Sisters (an outcrop of three eroded rocks) and the bush. I went to the University of New South Wales to study medicine. In the first year, I lived off campus and studied hard. I met the Hong Kong students in my class and we clicked. My best friend, Albert, was from Hong Kong and to get extra pocket money we delivered newspapers. We had to put the newspaper in the postbox rather than just toss it on the lawn, so one of us drove the car and the other ran along beside it delivering the papers. We’d get paid as soon as we finished the job and spend it all on pinball machines and hamburgers. Bonnie and I are not going to get vaccinated and we know it’s possible that soon only vaccinated people will be allowed to fly Gregory Rivers Learning the words In the second year, I moved on campus and lived at International House, where half the students were from overseas, and I was also the handyman there. It was there that I discovered Canto-pop. I borrowed a cassette of Alan Tam Wing-lun and listened to it over and over and began going to Chinatown regularly to buy records and cassettes from Hong Kong. Why Gregory Charles Rivers, also known as Ho Kwok-wing, is the ‘Real Hongkonger’ In the 1980s, each cassette came with printed lyrics in Chinese and where the singer’s pronunciation was good, if you listened to the music while reading the lyrics you could pick up the Chinese. I became skilled at looking up Chinese words in the dictionary. Every year, they had a gala night at International House and in my third year I performed two Canto-pop songs. I also performed in Cantonese singing competitions. I taught myself Cantonese using cassette tapes and once I got to the level where I could have a basic conversation, I progressed quickly. On stage with Alan Tam In 1985, Anita Mui Yim-fong and several other Cantonese singers were due to perform in Sydney and the organiser was looking for chauffeurs. I put my hand up and ended up being Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing ’s driver for a week. On his day off, we drove from Sydney to Canberra, it was cool. The next year, when Alan Tam had a concert in Australia, I was asked to be his driver. I became great friends with the band and the dancers over the course of that week. In 1987, I failed the exams at the end of my third year because I hadn’t studied. I left university and spent a year working a few jobs, including as a brickie labourer, and then bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. I was staying at a friend’s place on Broadcast Drive when I noticed an upside-down pyramid building. I went to see what it was and there were some guys at the back having a cigarette. One of them called out my name – they were the band people from Alan Tam’s concert. I ended up staying backstage for 30 concerts and was on stage as a guest performer for two of those concerts. Double happiness Looking for work, I went to an employment agency and they said, “You’re a foreigner, you can teach English.” A month after I started teaching, I met Bonnie. Her teacher had gone on maternity leave and I took over the last couple of lessons of her English package. She seemed lonely, so I asked her out. A few months into dating, I had a feeling in my chest that something wasn’t right, so I called her at home, and discovered she was off sick. We had a connection. I was coming in and out of Hong Kong on a tourist visa every three months and in 1988, they said they wouldn’t extend again, so I went to teach in Taiwan for three months. Bonnie visited me a couple of times and I wrote letters to her and made her cassettes. When I returned to Hong Kong, Immigration said, “We know you’ve got a girlfriend, if you get married, we’ll consider letting you stay.” So, we went to the marriage registry in August (1988), but we didn’t think it was the right time to start living together as a married couple, so in March 1989 we got married in a church, which is why we wear two wedding rings – one for the registry wedding and one for the church. Foreign parts While I was teaching English, one of the staff members said TVB (Television Broadcasts, Hong Kong’s sole free television broadcaster) was looking for a Caucasian who spoke Cantonese for a television series. I auditioned and got the job and, in 1988, I signed a contract with TVB . Every time they needed a Cantonese-speaking foreigner I was it, so a lot of Hong Kong people grew up watching me on television. I’m lucky because Hong Kong people don’t consider me a celebrity who can’t be touched, I’m one of their own. With every script that I got, I learned more Chinese. English lessons with Chow Yun-fat In early 2007, I was walking four of our rescue dogs near the village where we live in Clear Water Bay when Chow Yun-fat drove past after a hike and stopped to say hello. He took a couple of photos and as he was walking away asked if I taught English. I always say no to that, but this was Chow, so I said yes. He was doing dubbing for a movie that he’d done for Hollywood in China and his English wasn’t up to scratch for that particular film, so he asked me to help him out. I worked with him for two months and then after that movie stayed with him for another six months on a regular basis going through newspaper clips and teaching him English. At the end of 2007, I was thinking of ending my contract with TVB. I wanted the roles to become more significant and there were some good ones but overall, they weren’t, and being on contract with TVB meant it was hard to get work outside. I decided to take a chance and leave TVB and it was about then that Chow said he was going to Mexico to shoot the movie Dragonball Evolution and asked if I wanted to come. We left for Mexico six days after the end of my contract and I was on set for three months making sure his English was OK. Virus casualty As a Caucasian, there are not a lot of roles. I was getting offers from China, but we weren’t able to get the visas to go. In 2018, a Hong Kong director needed a Cantonese-speaking Caucasian for a role, and I was the only choice. He didn’t know if I could do it or not but a week into filming he started smiling because he realised I could. Until you’ve got the first big job, no one knows if you can handle it. I played a scientist who developed a virus to knock out a certain culture of people – the writers created two imaginary countries. We started filming the television series in November 2018 and finished shooting – 330 scenes – in March 2019, but then the coronavirus was out and now our series can’t be shown. It was disappointing because the director was really happy with what I did in the show, but it might never see the light of day. Flight risk I had a procedure for a heart condition in 2017 – at the Sanatorium in Happy Valley, it wasn’t a cheap operation – and the following year, I did two shows in Kowloon Bay, singing my favourite songs from the 1980s and ’90s. Friends flew from Australia to see the concert. There is very little work in Hong Kong and for a foreigner there’s even less. There’s work in China but I can’t get there because of the virus. So I’m looking at America, but not Hollywood because I don’t like the culture there. I’m considering places like Florida or Texas to see if there’s any chance of filming over there. Bonnie and I are not going to get vaccinated and we know it’s possible that soon only vaccinated people will be allowed to fly, so for the moment we’ve decided to stay here in Hong Kong.