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Lessons learned… and how jealousy must be earned…

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Spent something like two weeks on a Lloyd Trestino liner called Asia, below, with my parents and playing shuffleboard with a couple of Italian priests before arriving in this strangely named place called Hong Kong.

My parents told me we were leaving Ceylon for Melbourne. Our cats and dogs were given away. The Persian cat we had disappeared before this could happen. In the rush to get out of there, and at a time when us Burghers-a mix of the Dutch and Portuguese who settled in the island during the Spice Island Wars and intermarried with the local inhabitants- were being pelted by rotten eggs for some reason or another, they maybe got things mixed up.

I didn’t really care though sad to leave my Podi, the servant who had looked after me from my first day in this world. If anything, I was only embarrassed to tell my friends in kindergarten that I was going to live in some place called Hong Kong. Hong Kong sounded so, well, “Chinesey”.

After all, the only Chinese we ever saw in Colombo were noodle sellers on bicycles and who kids would taunt with “Chin Chin Chinaman, why don’t you go home? “. This, and how we were now going to live in their home though I wanted to think this was Melbourne. For me, it was one big adventure that would probably end soon.

I felt like Christian Bale’s character in “Empire Of The Sun”. Imagination is wonderful escapism. You can travel anywhere in your head. You can be whoever you want to be.

We were gypsies or hippies, definitely flat broke and forced to live with my Dad’s eldest sister and her family in a shoebox that included my blue eyed grandmother- Hilda Ebert- and a highly strung poodle.

Unlike the privileged upbringing of being a Burgher in Colombo, in Hong Kong I didn’t have any servants to do my bidding. No one was going to feed me. I had to learn to use crockery and table etiquette.

I went on the tram by myself to Quarry Bay primary school where I was called a “nigger” by an older kid for a couple of years. Playing the role of “Black Thundercloud” in the annual school play didn’t help though apparently superb in the role.

I was also a very good student and represented the school at inter school poetry reading competitions where I won every one I entered.

It was then off the KGV Secondary School where I was called a “wog” by some of my new friends. It was, I thought, a term of endearment and to do with being accepted into the schoolyard tribe.

Only recently did I remember my mother yelling out to my servant Podi to bring me back inside the bungalow where we stayed instead of playing cricket outside to save me from turning “black”.

Thinking back, I guess I was much darker then and in the middle of that Sri Lankan sun. Who was dark and who was fair were extremely important to my family- my parents and my aunts and uncles and Hilda, the family matriarch.

We originally stayed as one big Ebert commune on the 27th floor of a two bedroom high rise in the North Point area of “Melbourne”, Hong Kong.

It was a very different lifestyle for a kid who was used to “getting black” playing in a garden with a dog and cats, digging for and collecting earthworms, had never been in an elevator before, and, through my mum freaking out quietly thinking I didn’t notice, quickly understanding the meanings of acrophobia, claustrophobia and anxiety.

Think all this somehow didn’t affect me?

For fun, with my blonde cousin Suzanne- I know, I know- she was blonde- we would jump from one stairwell to the next. All 27 stairwells- and minus any injuries.

When alone, which was often as my parents worked, I would watch the traffic sitting next to the window and take down the numbers of cars or play cricket in front of a cupboard mirror using an imaginary bat. I scored the most runs, took the most wickets and made the most spectacular catches.

We were introduced to and survived typhoons, water rationing and riots which I thought were weirdly exciting though my father would break down and cry from fear when knowing one of these forces of nature were even heading our way and watching us tape the windows for protection against the strong windows. He was kinda like George Costanza without the Festivus.

One of the more weird things about these typhoons was if we ever did venture out being warned by your parents to watch out for falling air conditioners. Typhoon Wanda was the big one. The Big Kahuna of Typhoons.

I grew into my teen years, picked up a guitar, picked up different chicks and they picked me up and we smoked funny cigarettes together because it was that time of the season of the witch.

Then when the Beatles entered their trippy phase, Steve, my best friend in school, and I went on various magical mystery tours. I often visited Camelot and Doc Holiday. One pill makes you larger, another one makes you small...

Somewhere around this time, we lost my grandmother, my uncle was found to be doing the hanky panky with the part time Chinese amah, and my cousin Suzanne was finally told that she was adopted and that her real mother was French.

More traumatic for me was when I bent down to kiss my Uncle’s dog- another highly strung poodle-who snapped and bit me through my lip. She was in heat.

Feeling no pain, I kept talking until noticing blood on my shirt and that my Uncle’s wife was screaming in shock. I had some stitches put in to a lip and finally had a reason for growing a moustache.

A couple of years later, I lost my friend and band mate Steve who got lost in the armpit of it all, but found the wonderful American girl who became my wife.

With Trina being white, this was cause for much jambalaya moments amongst my family. Plus, she wasn’t Chinese which would have been another taboo.

We had a baby girl and survived against all the financial and cultural odds. We were living a Phil Collins hit record.

All was cool, we managed and life zig zagged and took us all over and up and down the place through very different career paths though still being in Hong Kong and, for me, whether in journalism, advertising or the music industry, always, always, always coming back to marketing and being an advertising Mad Man.

Most things in life worked out and other things didn’t, and, looking at things positively, these changes kept life from being boring. Except losing my pet cat and our dog Nipper, below. They were the glue that kept everything together.

Once, they were gone, pretty much everything fell apart including my marriage, which, thinking back, was on its last legs anyway. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Like taking different career paths, life changes were taking place.

We could have worked at saving our marriage, but where there’s a need to “work” on anything, this usually means that it’s already gone.

Like a U2 song, there were female mainstays in my life from the States, the UK, Denmark, Lithuania, Estonia, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong.

Some calmed me down, others turned things upside down and had me disappearing into various rabbit holes. This was where I met the Mad Hatter and dined with kings and queens, and sang how, darling, oh, darling, yours are the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen.

Love is a fleeting thing. Longtime relationships, at least for me, seldom go the distance. I think I know what I want, but don’t know what I don’t need. This is when one takes in the strays. And when you try and sample everything, something or someone will always snap, trip you up and which means being a prisoner in your own self-made fight club.

I’ve always looked at life that way. Not just both sides now, Joni. All sides.

Let me take you back where I came from...

When one door slams shut and things you enjoy are taken away from you, there are, at least for some, always other doors one can open, walk through and start to enjoy life again.

Been thinking a lot about this recently and how and why so many, especially in Hong Kong, live today in fear worrying about what’s next and which they have no power to control other than falling in line and being good little boys and girls and obedient order takers.

From where are the orders coming? Respect them? Respect yourself for being a spineless toadies? Why when there’s a beautiful island like Sri Lanka and where I was born?

Sri Lanka is not exactly perfect, and there are the usual doofuses playing the usual games of politics and greed-stupidly- but where today is Paradise?

At least, other than the beaches and tea plantations, what’s regarded as the eighth wonder of the world, natural beauty and so many areas to explore, there’s also honest to goodness traditional Sri Lankan cuisine- diverse, healthy, tasty and a journey of its own and well worth discovering.


Arrived in Hong Kong

when the barren rock

was still finding its feet

Now everything is falling apart

So pull yourself together

and grab the best seat in the house

Maybe we’ll find some answers

But it will mean

going back to the start

Plenty to see and plenty to learn

And how jealousy must be earned

Just don’t stand too close to the fire

There’s a snap, crackle

and pop happening

You just might get burnt.

So much has happened

between now and then

It’s tough to know where it starts

and how it all ends

There we were together

strangers in a strange land

Trying to figure out what was next

Living in a shoebox in the city

And sharing carpets for beds

We had this thing called television

Showed black and white moving pictures

There was Lin Dai and Peking opera

Sometimes silent movies that would flicker

There was the Ding Dong Song

And offbeat cha cha’s

The Metropole and Blue Heaven

And as the bands played on

Those sassy singers knew how to move

They went, “Kiss me, honey honey, kiss me!”

This was the early Sixties groove

Love Is Many Splendored Thing

And The World Of Suzy Wong

William Holden and Nancy Kwan

Met Steve McQueen and Judy Garland

before they were both suddenly gone

Hong Kong was making giant steps

She was becoming her own man

Entrepreneurs saw future money trees

As they looked up at those ceiling fans

The school girls at KGV

seemed so much prettier then

Sweet little things making The Scene

Some played it safe and some took risks

Unchained Melody and Puppy Love

Slow dancing and sealed with a kiss

PE always was an obstacle course

Just randomly throwing your

body around

Running through hurdles protecting

your nuts

There was no meaning to be found

The expat kids lived up on the hill

They were doing their best to belong

But some of us saw them as the enemy

We were from the poor side of The Kong

Maybe some things never change

It’s always been about us and them

It’s about wanting what you cannot have

And trying to get a ride on that Magic Bus

Be like water the Dragon said

And the game started to change

But The Dragon suddenly left with The Crow

Flew away with secrets we’ll never know

Noble House and crooked taipans

All those others living on sampans

Hong Kong’s always been a paradox

Oliver twisted and the

rich man’s Club BBoss

La Vida Loca and a five star life

Designer bags to play show and tell

But The Shadow knows

where the truth lies

And the difference between

heaven and hell

Don’t say too much but never forget

You know where the bodies lie

They can always change the

way they look

But they’ll never rewrite the history book


We got married for the right reasons

Or so they seemed at the time

We had Made In Hong Kong babies

Most turned out really fine

Box lunches and dim sum days

Jimmy’s Madras Chicken Curry

Is still here to stay

Remember you can’t delete the past

You might try but you will fail

Learned more from McDonald’s

than I did from any school

Learned to separate the wheat from the chaff

And recognise the clowns and the fools

Q talked about “Thriller”

and working with The Gloved One

Had a night out with two Gorillaz

Bowie popped in one night

And Bollywood remixes were done

Learned about the game of chance

When to hold and when to fold

Played some bad hands along the way

And didn’t see what was hot but also cold

Met the girl who helped me find myself

And not try to please everyone else

Reminded me of where I’ve been

And never accept anything less

She’s the girl who saw through it all

Knew how to call every bluff

Slapped some sense into me

Along with lessons in trust


Cheongsams and almond eyes

Never saw behind those neon lights

Red light districts and so much hiding

Workers to the left and poseurs to the right

Weekends in Macau

with part time winners

Playing the horses

with saints and sinners

Sometimes you won

But you knew you lost

To get in the game

There was always a cost

Entrepreneurs came to Hong Kong

Flim flam people ready to play

Celebrity chefs cooked up stings

When things went sour they called it a day

There was a Canton in Kowloon

Everything was beautifully chic to chic

Clubbing suddenly became the big thing

So did Miami Vice and Le Freak

Saw her slumped over the FCC bar

It wasn’t a very pretty sight

Words were slurred and eyes were blurred

There was no one there and the lights were out

Priorities have begun to change

New vows have been suddenly exchanged

Marriages are now put on hold

Spies are coming in from the cold


The night you blindfolded yourself

You spoiled me for everyone else

We had to be together and enjoy the ride

Had to take it further than anywhere less

We both knew things couldn’t last

We flew way too close to the sun

The fall would have been too hard to take

We both needed a safer home

Didn’t realise you felt that way too

Didn’t know you wanted it to last

Had someone else hiding in my mind

Though she was part of the past


You played the horses

And they all played you

Everyone in the game had

something to sell

Most of them out of view

Those ladies in racing wanting to be

who they could never be

Forever young and at every party

Sipping shallowness and high tea

You got out just in time

Finally saw through it all

Saw the quiet desperation falling apart

Heard the starter’s call

That’s when she first appeared

You saw she had a different point of view

She turned your head right around

Made you face the real you


Poseurs and Influencers

Trying everything to sell themselves

But audiences know how things end

Reruns always end the same

Squares are pegged and

lines are crossed

No one knows what’s

coming down the wire

Waves are crashing all around

and the tide can’t get much higher

That famous Can Do spirit

has got up and left

Everything’s been replaced by fear

There’s nothing to do but to forget

The music has been made to stop

There’s nothing much going around

Everything is on sale for free

but even this is way too much

Everything has moved backwards

Hey, people, what’s that sound?

It’s so easy to see through the fakery

And those who can and those who can’t

Those ruled by toxic jealousy

Losing the race that’s already been run

They’ve lost touch of everything

There’s nothing left to be won


Gone up those 39 Steps

And stumbled on the ninth

Finding that Higher Power

doesn’t come easy

He starts to play with your mind

Good things go into hiding

the more that you’re needy

Don’t preach with a forked tongue

The hypocrisy is creepy


Suddenly so-called friends are looking false

There’s a quiet desperation in the air

They know how to take but not how to give

With nothing here they’re running scared

What happened to all that matey talk

They’ve sunk without a trace

When the going gets tough

you see who’s weak

Let’s now all play Spot The Fake

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

They’re extremely rich sons of a gun

They played it well cashed in their chips

It was about looking after number one


Petty people with jealous minds

Too many pretending to be your friend

They’ll knife you whenever they can

They don’t see how it all ends

Hallmark greeting card sentiments

From the nearest five and dime

So many tired doing nothing

And wondering why life isn’t fine

Forgot to remember about Mum and Dad

Thought they would live forever

Didn’t make time for the things that matter

Should have shared more love together

. _____

The pen is mightier than the sword

Words can rewrite history

Sentences can paint the future

The one that blind men can see

Writers have brought down Kingdoms

And exposed the Emperor’s new robes

Marched to the beat of their own drum

And felt the cloth of what’s been sold

People busy selling themselves

Always fine tuning their smiles

Designer brands can never hide

Lack of class and style

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