Yu Yanping, erstwhile chef of former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, used to serve top politicians and members of the city’s elite.
He gained fame for his culinary skills and exquisite dishes.
Later, he made headlines when he sued Tsang for some unpaid overtime and won.
Saying goodbye to the former Hong Kong leader’s kitchen, the Shanghai-born chef was left with a storehouse of memories about his days of cooking for the city’s glitterati.
And that gave him an idea: Why not write a book about the eating habits and preferences of celebrities? Why not write anecdotes about them? He did and the book became a minor best-seller.
This August, Yu will be back in the limelight. He will perform on stage, playing Chinese musical instruments and doing a stand-up comedy on the secrets of top politicians.
“On top of bringing laughter to the audience, my goal is to go through the history and present the true condition in China to Hongkongers,” says Yu.
“The way Hong Kong’s mainstream media have been reporting on Beijing’s attitude towards Hong Kong is superficial and high-sounding. Basically, they’re not telling the truth.”
About 10 years ago, Yu was a keen newspaper reader. Now he hardly reads newspapers.
“For stock market information, I read the Hong Kong Economic Journal. For general news, I only watch news on Now TV, Phoenix Television and the English channels.”
For his coming show, Yu got inspiration from local news.
“It’s all about what happened in Hong Kong this year. The tainted water scandal is the latest. Don’t you find it ridiculous when the government asks its citizens to turn on the tap for at least five minutes?”
How to rebuke people
An angry protest song — Fxxk the Police — sung in a concert organized by the Students Union of Lingnan University, also got Yu’s attention. He paid a visit to the students and gave them a piece of his mind.
“If you were some kitchen folks, I wouldn’t blame you for swearing,” he told them. “However, you’re university students and future pillars of society. You should never use foul language when scolding people.”
Yu then demonstrated to the students the art of rebuke by sharing his personal encounter with Kong Qingdong — a mainland commentator who had publicly referred to Hong Kong people as “bastards” and “dogs” in an interview back in 2012.
“I first told Kong that he was wrong about calling Hongkongers ‘dogs’ … I then explained to him that Hongkongers are not dogs, but they love dogs and keep them as pets. If someday he would find it hard to live in Beijing, I told him, Hongkongers would take care of him very well.”
Yu then talks about the nuisance calls received by police superintendent Chu King-wai.
He says getting 67 calls is no big deal. “I once received over 1,500 calls in three days. My phone never stopped ringing. To answer or not to answer, that’s the question. It could be noise from a police siren, an endless flow of swearing, but it could also be a call from my customers.”
Yu admits that his forthcoming show will be sensitive. He promises to do it with caution.
“Before the real show, I would return to Beijing and do a rehearsal with my friends first as I don’t want to cross the line. Otherwise, my mainland travel permit will become void!” says Yu.
Asked if he worries that he would make enemies, he says he’s only got one in Hong Kong.
Yu insists that he has no political stand and will not use the show to criticize anyone. “I am neither a left-winger nor a right-winger. I share no relationships with DAB or Democratic Party, Chief Executive CY Leung or legislator Long Hair.”
He jokes that if CY Leung decides to come to the show, he will love it and get the chance to become good friends with Leung Kwok-hung.
Reflecting on the mainland and Hong Kong, Yu notes that China writes the best constitution in the world but is the worst when it comes to enforcing it.
On the other hand, Hong Kong is enjoying all kinds of freedoms but doesn’t make good use of them.
“I don’t understand why Hong Kong doesn’t make good TV programs when it has freedom of speech, while the mainland is filled with vitality despite the limited [democratic] space. TVB always comes up with stories about firefighters and police officers.”
Yu has encountered great difficulties in finding a venue for his show. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department rejected his application without giving any reason.
Finally, he was able to make a booking at the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s Shouson Theatre.
Sad memories in China
Yu was born into a wealthy family in Shanghai in 1954. His grandfather was an official at the education ministry under the Kuomintang, and his father was a historian and capitalist.
His entire family suffered during the Cultural Revolution.
“I was 12 and took part in a propaganda team, singing, dancing and telling stories glorifying Chairman Mao so as to survive. After each show, I could take home a big lump of pork and an egg for my family.
“I hate the Cultural Revolution. We were a happy family before then. Traditional Chinese values and morals have been lost. I watch City Forum at times, seeing the left and the right arguing, or one group advocating genuine universal suffrage and another group opposing. It looks like the revolution all over again. I’m scared.”
Seriously, Yu is full of about Hong Kong’s future generation. Being an instructor for programs of Yi Jin and Youth Employment and Training, he has seen rebellious students showing no respect to the course and the teacher.
But he was able to gain the confidence and respect of his students. He shared with them his personal stories from his mainland years and some of them were moved to tears.
Yu says he enjoys being a talk show artist telling stories written by his father in public. His greatest wish is to be able to tell those stories on the big screen.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 28.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
– Contact us at [email protected]