Wednesday, January 29, 2014

4. The test of fire

February 8, 1996, Thursday.

Of everything Mark Seeu-Sung Lee did in the Chinatown campaign, the Chinese-language radio talk shows troubled his mother the most.  She was afraid to listen to it, but couldn't help herself but to do so.  This last one was the last straw.

What happened during this late-night open-line interview frightened his mother so much that she pleaded with him to abandon his enemy-making pursuit, and she didn't even know what he had to do to escape unscathed, which he concealed from her to prevent a total impasse. She was already worried enough about him riding a motorcycle! 

This was the third time in as many weeks when he was invited to go on a Chinese-language radio talk show, and there were hundreds of thousands of Chinese listeners in the Vancouver and Richmond areas.  With every succeeding interview, it got hotter than the one before.  And this third one was a late night show.

In this hour-long interview, a dozen calls came in, of which 7 or 8 were openly hostile, including: “What is more important – people or animals?  Why are you working for animals against people?”, “Our glorious culture dates back five thousand years.  Who are you to change it, not to mention destroy it, much less overnight?”, “How much are your white cronies paying you?”, and, last but not least, the not-so-veiled threat: "Remember what happened to Lam Bun?"

In 1960, Lam Bun was a 30-year-old radio personality in Hong Kong who starred in a prime time radio satire-sitcom as Tseew Jai, a quick-witted and sharp-tongued teenager who was constantly needling the old traditional culture and jabbing the new Communist Chinese government - a more than irritating thorn in the sides of both.  He wrote his own script, and by acting Tseew Jai, Lam Bun was being himself.  Lam Bun and Tseew Jai were one.  Both being well loved, even revered, as well as being openly hated, not without deadly intent.  His fans numbered well over a million, one of whom being the then 16 year-old Seeu-Sung (Beautiful Life - subsequently christened Mark).  Though it had never been thought of as such, Lam Bun was in essence very much Seeu-Sung's role model.

In 1965, Mark took his one way flight from Hong Kong to Canada in pursuit of his higher education and greater destiny, while Lam Bun had developed into a towering social activist.  

In 1967, Mark received one of the worst shocks of his life.  If you search Wikipedia for Lam Bun, you will come across the following passage:

[Lam was a radio commentator at Commercial Radio Hong Kong in the 1960s who was fiercely critical of leftists (*Communists). During the 1967 riots, he criticised the leftist agitators on his own radio programmes. He created a programme called *"Can't Stop If I Wanted To" (欲罷不能) to satirise the leftist agitators. Some leftist newspapers at the time labelled him an anti-China spy.

[On 24 August 1967, whilst on his way to work, men posing as road maintenance workers stopped his vehicle (*a VW Beetle as I recall) at the end of the street where he lived. They blocked his car doors and doused Lam and his cousin with petrol.  They were both then set on fire and burned alive.  Lam died later that day in a hospital; his cousin died several days later. A leftist group reportedly claimed responsibility for the assassination.  No one was ever captured...]

When the next call came in, the host got up to peeped out the front window, and, looking a little alarmed, waved Mark to join him.  There were five men loitering around the front entrance of the building.  There was what looked like a gasoline can sitting at the foot of a lamp post.  One of the men had a mobile phone pressed to his ear.

... You’re a Chinese person yourself.  Why are you trying to blacken the Chinese reputation?" the last caller blazed on the phone line.  Could it be the man with the gasoline can outside?  Or was he the precious caller?

This was such a tired question that Mark, keyed up as he was, answered it almost lethargically, "On the contrary, I'm attempting to save the Chinese reputation.  If we carry on the way we have, we will drive endangered species to extinction without a question.  Our already battered reputation will be forever mud.  Only if we rise up now and change our ways can we have a hope of preventing this from happening.  Only with our success can our reputation will saved."

"You will pay for this, traitor!"  Click.

The host called a commercial break.

"What do you want to do, Mark?" he asked anxiously, almost pleadingly.

Mark peeped out the front window again.  The men were still there.  He looked down the street.  His motorcycle was half a block away near the street corner.  He went to the back of the building and looked through a window, and saw that the alley was clear.  It was five minutes before the end of the show.  

"I will say a couple of things after the break, then I will leave, without seeming that I'm leaving," Mark told the host.  At 3 minutes to the end of the show, he left via the rear door, black full-face motorcycle helmet already on, key in hand.  He walked the half block down the alley, rounded two corners, peeked around the corner to see that the five men were still at the front entrance of the building half a block away.  As nonchalantly as possible, He went to his motorcycle, mounted it, full-choked it, started it, and, without warming it up, roared away to talk another day.

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