Making an entrance I was born on November 23, 1964, in Beirut, Lebanon. My father is half-Lebanese, and was involved in running the family business. My mother is English. Mummy thought she wasn’t going to pop for a few more weeks. So off she went to a house party with daddy and ate some spicy food. She started feeling a bit off and ran to the loo, thinking it was indigestion. To her surprise, her water broke and she thinks she saw my head pop out. Luckily, the hospital was round the corner. She and daddy jumped in the car, and I was born quickly and without fuss. Mummy has always said I was excited to come into this world. War child April 13, 1975, was the day the Lebanese civil war started. It was a school day. But mummy woke us and said, “You’re not going to school.” This was music to my ears because I never liked school. She told us that men from Pierre Gemayel’s Christian Lebanese Phalanges Party had ambushed a bus, killing more than 25 passengers. I was only 10, too young to understand what was going on politically. But that was how the civil war broke into my consciousness. For the next month, life went on as usual – until our school bus was nearly hijacked. We lived in the Christian, eastern part of Beirut, but our school, Charlie Saad High School, was beyond the Muslim western part. Our school bus was stopped on the way home by Palestinian gunmen who got on and started shouting. It was a moment of absolute terror. Thankfully, the bus driver talked sense into the gunmen and we got home safely. After that, we changed to a school in our area. Bangkok bound Mummy had had enough. She moved back to the UK with my little sister. I didn’t see either of them again for almost 10 years. The next time I saw them was when I moved to the UK. It was 1984 and I got into art college in Hastings (then known as Hastings College of Arts and Technology), where mummy lived. After a few months, she could see I’d lost momentum and suggested I get a job. The irony is I ended up working in the meatpacking section of a Tesco supermarket. I ate meat then. I loved the money, although not the nine-to-five. And then life changed. In 1987, I received a phone call from Roger, my childhood friend in Beirut. He was an entrepreneur making jewellery and trading between Bangkok and Beirut. Roger was going to Bangkok to meet people and his business partner couldn’t go with him, so he invited me. I didn’t even know where Bangkok was, but I knew I was going. I shadowed him for a month and loved it. I decided I was going to be an entrepreneur and start a fashion company, and that I was going back to Beirut to do it. Eur-eco moment One of the defining moments of my life happened at a fashion trade show in the summer of 1989. Two British buyers approached us and said they loved our designs, and asked if they were environmentally friendly. This was like a lightning bolt. I’d never heard the words “eco-friendly”. Looking back, I realise this was a eureka moment for me. So was the fall of the Berlin Wall that November, which everyone had said would never happen. It taught me about the power of human potential. And the question about eco-friendly fashion was the spark that woke me up to the spiritual truth that there is no separation between the planet and me. “Eco-friendly” was my new mantra. Roger and I parted ways and I went to Bangkok to learn about making eco-friendly cotton. I set up a small, trendy eco-fashion shop called Sidon Conscious Clothing, in Siam Square. But after four years, it was time to move on. I loved Thailand but didn’t feel secure living there. So I decided to move to Hong Kong. I already had clients there (Seibu Department Stores) and felt a connection to the city. Having a British passport also helped. I officially arrived in Hong Kong on November 5, 1992. Seeing the wood and the trees One of the first things I did in Hong Kong was go to Friends of the Earth (HK) and ask how I could help. I wanted to get in touch with Hong Kong’s environment . I was lucky, Mei Ng Fong Siu-mei, then director of the organisation, took me under her wing. This was 1993. She saw my designs and got me working on a project called Trees for Life, designing the banners, fliers, posters, T-shirts. I also learned how to plant trees. I fell in love with Lamma Island and moved there in May that year. Planting the Lamma Forest is without doubt the most valuable thing I have achieved so far. It is situated on the northern hills of the island. On April 22, 1997, Earth Day, we planted 2,000 trees. I had a vision that if we planted there every year, eventually there’d be a forest. That mission has been accomplished (the forest now has more than 20,000 trees). Now, we carry out forest maintenance through the ABLE Charity, which I co-founded in 1994. Veggie ventures Life on Lamma was great, but there was nowhere for vegetarians to eat. One day in 1997, some friends and I were discussing the lack of food choices. That was my second lightning bolt moment. We raised about HK$100,000 and the vegetarian Bookworm Cafe opened in Yung Shue Wan in January 1998. We had my wonderful recipes for hummus and baba ganoush, but I had no real cooking experience and neither did my partner. Eventually, my ex-wife and a good friend took over the kitchen and the food excelled. People kept asking me why I hadn’t opened a Bookworm in Central. So I started looking into it in late 1999. It took four years to arrange the finances, find the best partners and the right location. We signed the lease in October 2003 and six months later Life Cafe opened on Shelley Street, SoHo. Seven months after that, I pulled out of the Bookworm. Setting up Life was hard. But we were busy off the bat. People were queuing down the street to eat at our organic vegan/vegetarian restaurant. Save the human After a while, I became disillusioned with my business partners and I pulled out of Life in 2009. By then, I was doing a lot of public speaking and I’d come up with the “Save the Human! Don’t Eat the Planet!” campaign in 2008. I teamed up with my friend Will (Senn) Lau, now a yoga teacher in Shanghai, to write and direct a short documentary ( Save the Human!, Don’t Eat the Planet! ) that we uploaded to YouTube. Somehow Australian filmmaker Craig Leeson noticed it. He suggested we submit it as an entry in the I Shot Hong Kong film festival, which he had founded. We couldn’t believe it when we won the award for best documentary. Fast-slow food Winning the competition didn’t win me any favours while I was putting my next project together, Mana! Central. It took me another four years of toil before I found the right location, at 92 Wellington Street, and we opened in 2012. Again it took six months to open after signing the lease, because I refuse to cut corners. Mana! is an eco-friendly, organic vegan/vegetarian fast-slow food joint. It’s called “fast-slow food” because it is healthy, organic and eco-friendly. We have just opened our third branch, Mana! Starstreet, at 8 Queen’s Road East. I’m so excited, I have another space to build a community, a place to host events and raise awareness. Awareness is so important. I truly believe the most radical act of any generation is to become aware.