Who Mattered Most in Hong Kong 2009

Who Mattered Most in Hong Kong 2009

Every local has a heated opinion on Chrissie Chau, Long Hair and the other 20 on this list. In a year of scandal and drama, these Hong Kongers rose above the din

Chrissie Chau: Bodalicious “leng mo” model

Chrissie Chau

In a city filled with beauties, how can a budding model get noticed? For Chrissie Chau, the answer was stripping down to a bikini in Hong Kong’s business district for a Slim Beauty ad. Chau and a posse of leng mo are breaking taboos with their sexy antics, having made it into movies, onto life-size body pillows and into speaking engagements at universities. Older generations are aghast; youths can’t get enough.

Tanya Chan: Storming the LegCo

Tanya Chan

Tanya Chan became a new hope for democracy after she blitzed the 2008 LegCo elections, taking two out of six Hong Kong Island seats. The 38-year-old is living up to her nickname, “the Zhou Xun of the Civic Party,” with her theatrical productions of intelligent, hilarious political satire ("East Wing, West Wing").

Tanya Chan is no. 13 on our Hong Kong Hot List.

Securities and Futures Commission: Oh Brother

Hong Kong Stock Exchange

Mention the Lehman minibonds saga and locals will wag their fingers at financial regulators for lacking foresight. Anxious to prevent another crash, the Securities and Futures Commission wobbles towards tightening investment guidelines. Proposals include better product documentation, redefined investor categories and a cooling off period for buyers. The public has until the end of December to give feedback. Hold your breath.

Leung Fai Hung: Champion chef

Leung Fai Hung

In a grueling “Best of the Best Culinary Award” competition, Leung Fai Hung came out swinging his knife. The head of the upscale Hoi King Heen wowed the judges with creative fusions: winter melon stuffed with black olive mustard, grouper with Yunnan ham. He took home two gold awards and one silver, marking the best result of the decade.

Andy Lau: Scandalous secret marriage

Andy Lau

Tabloids whispered about Andy Lau’s love life after he was spotted in Hong Kong Airport with -- gasp -- a girl. The star has long been rumored to be romancing Carol Chu, but after photos piled up of the two together, he admitted he was secretly married to her. Lau claimed he lied to protect her privacy, but critics suggest he was more concerned with maintaining heartthrob status.

Manic moneyed mainlanders: Real estate bubble blows up

Penthouse at the Cullinan

They came from the mainland with fistfuls of cash, snapping up the most expensive properties in Hong Kong. Prices shot into the stratosphere. In October, an unnamed Chinese buyer paid a record US$57 million for a 6,158 square foot apartment at the prestigious 39 Conduit Road. The bubble is even hindering weddings: singles live at home and delay marriage to save money for a flat, but prices keep rising and the beat goes on. Authorities are trying to cool the market by reducing the mortgage limit for luxury properties. Bets are that speculation will continue for some time.

“Long Hair” Leung Kwok Hung: Populist screeching

Long Hair

He shouts, wears Che Guevara t-shirts and refuses to cut his locks until China apologizes for Tiananmen Square. And like the Fool in King Lear, Long Hair was one of the first Legislative Council members to make sharp remarks. To show his disgust at lukewarm electoral reform proposals, the radical threw a paper microwave at Chief Secretary Henry Tang. Long Hair's populist screechings make him the king of LegCo scene-making.

Jim Chim: Crowd-pleasing theatre

Jim Chim

Comedian Jim Chim is not afraid to put on a pink miniskirt and tiara for laughs. His latest stage show, “Planet of the Lang Mo,” brilliantly skewers Hong Kong society from teen models to brand-mania. In July, he created the sold-out “18 Poor Guys of Shaolin,” a comedy about ancient Chinese kung fu that mocks modernity. No matter what he touches, Chim delivers comedic gold and has succeeded in bringing the masses back to theatre.

Michael Geoghegan: Home is Hong Kong

Michael Geoghegan

When the banks crumbled this year, locals longed for a financial superhero to make matters right. Enter Michael Geoghegan. The CEO of HSBC group is moving to Hong Kong in February with a core London team. His goals include coordinating HSBC’s push into China and becoming the first foreign company on the Shanghai stock exchange. The leader’s message is clear: all eyes are on Asia and ground zero is Hong Kong.

Kimmie Wong

Kimmie Wong: Just say “no”

When lawmaker Kam Lai Wai allegedly failed to get his assistant into the sack, he sacked her. But Kimmie Wong fingered the married man for sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal -- and the tabloids lapped up her every word. Kam’s political career is in tatters and public opinion plummeted for the Democratic Party. A seven-member investigation will decide whether to censure Kam and strip him of his seat. Lesson learned: beware the wrath of a woman who scorns you.

Perry So

Perry So: Young maestro

When the chief conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic fell ill -- hours before a demanding concert -- his 26-year-old assistant Perry So picked up the baton. He stunned both the packed audience and orchestra with his masterful command of Rossini, Mozart, and Dvorak, finishing with a vivid rendition of Ravel’s Bolero. Bravo!

Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen: Waffling chief executive

Donald Tsang

Has Hong Kong’s bow-tied chief executive gone from political darkhorse to China puppet? Democrats panned his October policy address for lacking substance and not addressing livelihood issues. Tsang continued to drag his feet over constitutional reforms that would govern the 2012 elections. Then came conflict-of-interest accusations over his half-baked energy-saving bulb voucher initiative. Locals spent the year scratching their heads, trying to figure out who he’s speaking for -- and strongly suspecting it’s not them.

James Tien v Carrie Yau: A tiff over tickets

East Asian Games

The East Asian Games sealed Hong Kong’s reputation as a world-class host: tickets sales rocked and the opening ceremony dazzled. But the lead-up was full of doubts. The twin mascots, supposed to represent a lion and fire, looked more like goofy white vegetables. Then, Tourism head James Tien Pei Chun complained that his board had not received tickets, making it difficult to promote the Games overseas. The planning committee retorted that tickets had been held and the onus was on his team to follow up. Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Carrie Yau had to step in to stop the squabbling. Yikes.

Mak Pui Gor: Michelin-starred yum cha

Tim Ho Wan

Prepare to stand in line for an hour, but your taste buds won’t be disappointed: Tim Ho Wan’s steaming bamboo baskets live up to the hype. Mak Pui Gor, former dim sum chef at The Four Seasons, took a risk in opening a Mong Kok 20-seater -- and pricing all dishes under HK$20. But after only a few months of business, Tim Ho Wan holds the title of the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.

See CNNGo’s review here.

Richard Li Tsar-kai: Privatization powerhouse

Richard Li

His father, Li Ka-shing, built his empire slow and steady -- but Richard Li rides the rollercoaster. In April, the Court of Appeal blocked his bid to privatize telecom company PCCW, calling his share-splitting scheme “outrageous.”

Score one for Hong Kong’s regulators. Despite the tightened reins, Li’s lofty visions remain: in 2009, he bought AIG Investments’ advisory and asset management arms, and partnered with Caijing in a business journalism venture.

Michael Lau: Fashion horror show

Michael Lau's freaky-faced dresses

Michael Lau’s freaky-faced dresses made the rounds of blogs, inviting comparisons to The Mummy and Friday the 13th. The designer, best known for his vinyl toys, stole the spotlight at Hong Kong Fashion Week with his debut. The line blurs concept and clothing; it provokes and confuses, as couture should.

Faithful stocks flippers: Succumbing to the stock market siren's call

Lay investors eye the stock market keenly despite the financial crisis.

Never mind the recession, Hong Kong’s lay people remain obsessed with "chao gu," or flipping stocks as if they were casino chips. The Chinese love to gamble. And that’s fine if the game is fair. But meddling watchdogs and sketchy broker ethics muddy the field, resulting in many a belly-up. Still, the stock exchange looms large and the people keep the faith.

Kung Chi Shing: Street leader

Kung Chi Shing

Violinist/composer Kung Chi Shing is at the vanguard of avant-garde. The fiery, flowing-haired icon has begun curating a monthly Street Music Series outside the Hong Kong Arts Center. And “street” is the operative word: he opened the gates for local musicians to perform experimental music and interact with the public.

Douglas MacLagan: Child welfare advocate

Douglas MacLagan

Fourteen years ago, a distraught Nepalese mother handed Douglas MacLagan her sick baby and she died in his arms. From that moment on, he dedicated his life to building health and child care centers in Nepalese villages. This year, MacLagan received what is known as “Nobel Prize for Children” -- $50,000 from World of Children to support his Hong Kong-registered charity, Child Welfare Scheme.

Stanley, Lawrence and Pansy Ho: Future of Macau?

Lawrence Ho

Macau waits with baited breath as Stanley Ho recovers from brain surgery. It’s the billion dollar question: what would happen to the market if he dies? Ho’s heirs are taking steps to carve out their own niches. Daughter Pansy was building a US$1.2 billion casino with MGM until Nevada gaming regulators found her to be an unsuitable partner. Eldest son Lawrence joined forces with Australia’s James Packer, opening a US$2.1 billion casino in Macau last November. His “City of Dreams” is a gamble, but with shares of Stanley’s firm rising in December, sustained growth appears to be in the cards.