Burghers, dim sum, and... Chapter 5
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
It was her missionary shoes that first attracted me to her- flat, plain, black shoes that somehow accentuated her fabulous legs.
Of course, there was the beautiful gamin-like face, short short hair that she had been coerced to cut for the start of a possible career in modelling and which gave greater emphasis to her long slim neck.
All these years later, I am still writing songs for and about her.
This was Trina who attended Hong Kong International School and friends had mentioned as being very different to the other girls we knew.
She was extremely pretty and the youngest daughter of a Lutheran missionary and his wife who had moved to Hong Kong from Kaohsiung in Taiwan.
I first saw her at the Star Ferry magazine stand on Kowloon side. Commercial Radio disc jockey Mike Souza introduced me to her. Mike knew everyone in a kinda bright and breezy snap happy way.
Trina had just started her first job as the assistant to a Filipino film critic who had his own radio show despite having one of the strangest voices in broadcasting. But these were early days when Hong Kong was coming of age and where anyone with something to offer could find a job.
Trina’s job really was to escort this roly poly gentleman to cocktail parties.
At a time when homosexuality was still very much in the closet, she was his handbag. Nothing to do with Trina, but he and I had a mutual dislike of each other.
Meeting Trina that day didn’t exactly rock my socks off though she certainly had an unspoiled lack of bullshit and je ne sais quoi.
She was very much “in demand” and was dating someone I knew reasonably well- nothing serious, but she was still “taken”- and by someone I couldn’t see her with. He reminded me of television’s Mr Kotter. I could have been biased.
I had my own apartment by then which was more of a crash pad. It was shared with Mike Souza though I hardly saw him.
As the song goes, this was where women, they would come and they would go and where players only loved you when they were playing.
Plenty nose dived and crashed at where my apartment was- Arts Mansion in Caine Road.
It’s when many who were starting their careers in Hong Kong and trying to make sense of “it” all stayed. The rent was cheap, and it was like some bohemian ghetto for, especially, young foreigners in Hong Kong.
With my parents having emigrated to Melbourne, it was just me and Kitty, my cat and whoever came through the turnstiles, passed the auditions and got that ticket to ride and stay for as long as things worked.
For quite a few months this was a very attractive Chinese fashion designer whose dream was to work in London.
Apart from dinners at a restaurant called Pink Castle, we stayed in and got to know some of the other girls from everywhere in the world who would come and go. This is what gave Hong Kong an incredible buzz- the unpredictability of it all.
She eventually left for Swinging London and became a success as the main designer for a fashion house.
We met up after she left Hong Kong, but though we thought things might last, it was mainly to say our goodbyes.
I was too busy taking in life and the music scene in London to have a serious relationship. She also had a new priority which was her career.
Trina was different to all of them. She was worth bothering about. She was very, well, clean.
The first time this dawned on me was when she gave a party at her place in Shouson Hill while her parents were away.
I was invited to attend by the guy she was seeing at the time. I really didn’t wish to leave after almost everyone else had gone and stayed for as long as possible to get to know her better.
Can’t remember how it happened, but I managed to persuade one of my clients to use Trina in a television commercial for Wrangler Jeans.
Required was a girl with long hair, but a good wig and some quick talking got Trina the job.
The television commercial was hardly “high concept”- a couple in a hammock while a jingle I had written and sung by Sam Hui, who was still to become the Canto Pop pioneer that he became, played in the background.
Important was that I got to be around Trina for a day. I also helped out a British kid named Richard who hung out with us to be in the commercial.
Richard was a good guy who took the wrong short-cuts and ended up like too many other expat kids in Hong Kong during those days strung out on heroin. He always needed money and this “modelling” gig helped him out.
His father worked for the government, they stayed in a fabulous home on the Peak, but, too often, none of this brought happiness nor clarity.
After his mother took her life as his younger sister had her own problems, this ended their Hong Kong misadventure. I never saw Richard again.
I continued to bump into Trina at parties and around town, but though she wasn’t seeing anyone by then, she was happy being with her family or her best friend Nancy.
It was pretty much impossible to make any headway with her. So, like the song went, if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.
Though there was no one like Trina, there came the time when I felt I was getting nowhere with her. It was like pursuing the impossible dream like a love sick puppy from La Mancha.
I even had disc jockey “Uncle” Ray play a song for her on his late night radio programme and which I requested to her- Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” about “what a drag it is to see you”. It just might have made an impression.
This “pursuing” was less than six months, but when getting nowhere, it seems like an eternity.
After another bout of rejection when asking her out on a date and me telling her off and slamming the phone down, the doorbell rang about an hour later and there she was with a pizza for dinner. We were together from that day on. It was my birthday. She used to tell friends that I “wore her down”. It worked.
Despite being asthmatic and allergic around cats, she was somehow immune to Kitty.
What a special cat Kitty was. She would test potential female “stayers” for me by jumping onto their laps. If they screamed to “Get this f***ing cat off me!” or found cats “creepy”, the sale was off.
Kitty jumped onto sat Trina’s lap- and purred. Trina petted her. There were no signs of any asthma attack. That said it all.
Her parents- absolutely wonderful and supportive people- and two younger brothers might have been a bit shell shocked at her choice of with who she wanted to be, but it all worked out. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
Let’s not kid ourselves that there was no racism in Hong Kong at the time. A coloured guy marrying a white girl was still something difficult for most parents to get their heads around. That Trina’s parents did without flinching was extraordinary. They were fine people.
There was also reverse racism. Think my parents would have liked me marrying someone who was a Chinese? Or a “dark” girl?
Racism will never go out of “style”.
As for Trina and myself, six months later we were married at the Lutheran Church Of All Nations in Repulse Bay with the wedding reception held at the iconic Repulse Bay Hotel.
The photo below is with Norman Cheng and “Uncle” Ray Cordeiro and where Trina looks in shock and I look like a Bee Gees reject.
My proposal was one that hedged all bets: “I could marry you, you know.” It was that fear of rejection. I think her reply was something along the lines of “I could marry you, too”.
The photo above might not show it, but it was a very happy day. Mike Souza was my Best Man and my parents returned to Hong Kong from Melbourne for the wedding- and what turned out to be an extended stay.
It was a good marriage because it was a decision made for all the right reasons: Love.
Money mattered, but it never ruled our life. We more than managed.
Love brought us together and really did keep us together.
Could we have done with more money? Maybe. But the wedding gift of HK$25,000 from my parents which they could barely afford, and our combined salaries of around HK$1300 a month helped us setup home in a tiny but beautifully designed Japanese-style apartment in Park Road.
Quite rightly, Trina couldn’t think of us continuing to live in the “gweilo” ghetto at Arts Mansion. Kitty agreed with her.
Though she lost her job being “the handbag” for the movie critic in Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard who believed that Trina could have done better than being with me, we slipped effortlessly into wedded bliss.
She wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest cook, but between the excellent tacos, Sloppy Joes and Spaghetti Bolognaise she made plus dinners at nearby legendary La Taverna and Czarina restaurants, we really didn’t need much more.
My family loved Trina and she and I were particularly close with my elder cousin Carl. I was friends with her two younger brothers in Hong Kong and got to know her elder sisters and their families when we would visit her folks in St Louis.
Going to church every Sunday with her mum and dad was a pretty surreal trip for me as one doubts many in middle America had seen anyone who looked quite like me. But once those in the congregation knew I had eaten potato salad and liked its taste, everything was fine.
Family for us could wait as I was still finding my feet in advertising with Tse Needham and Trina had started work for Adrian Zecha Associates.
AZ was and is a visionary, someone never short of businesses. A small fun project he started in Bali- a luxury resort named Amanpuri and the Amanresorts brand was to become a huge career move for Trina.