They know your secrets
These people who look after our bodies reveal to Kawai Wong and Jacky Lee what they know about Hongkongers
Gym manager and personal trainer, FitMax
Who are you? I started as an instructor at a local body training gym in 1991. I now manage most of Sun Hung Kai Properties’ gyms including the Space at the ICC. I also own a personal training studio called Private Training Specialist.
What do you know? My second job was as a duty instructor at the Jockey Club gym. Unlike a personal trainer, an instructor merely teaches gym-goers how to operate the machines. Some of my colleagues moaned about me drafting training programmes for clients as it put pressure on them to do something out of their contractual duties. Eventually I quit what I enjoyed doing because I didn’t want to feud.
One day Leslie Cheung (the late mega Cantopop star and award-winning film actor), who trained at the Jockey Club, phoned me and invited me for a meal. It was little me he called! We got chatting and I told him I just quit without really knowing what I wanted to do next. Cheung said: “Why don’t you train me? I have an upcoming tour.” Without doing any market research whatsoever, he offered me – on the spot – a monthly sum which was bigger than my previous salary. He eventually went on his world tour and was away from Hong Kong for months on end, and I just felt like I couldn’t take his salary for doing nothing any more. I rang him and he said: “It’s not your fault, is it? It’s me who’s away. It’s me who’s busy. It’s not as if you’re busy and can’t train me. If that was the case then we have a problem. So – don’t worry about it.” It was very generous of him but I had moved on because I felt it was unfair to him.
I ended up doing my own thing – but I wouldn’t forget that, when I was at my most lost, Cheung gave me this opportunity which projected my life in a different direction. After that he still invited me to his annual Christmas and New Year dinners and he always sat me next to him and called me ‘instructor’ in front of his friends, so they warmed to me too. Cheung’s passion and generosity towards people was infectious. His attitude even extended to strangers. He has changed me profoundly. I understand the importance of giving opportunities to people and to just be a real person.
On a different note… Did you know that you can tell a gym-goer’s personality just by looking at how he operates the treadmill? My experience tells me that those who run up close to the panel tend to be more aggressive and anxious in life. They don’t want to lose a second – they want to be up in the front! Those who run near the end of the belt tend to be more laid-back and chilled – and those who run in the middle are usually quite normal. How you word your instructions to these personalities thus vary accordingly. While you can yell at those at the front as they can take more pressure, you’ve got to be more relaxed when coaching those who run at the back.
Boxing coach and personal trainer, Pure Fitness
Who are you? Kickboxing is my life. I started when I was a teenager and competed for my country, Slovenia. When I moved to Hong Kong in 2008 I was hired by Pure Fitness as a boxing trainer, who specialises in kickboxing.
What do you know? A lot of my clients have successful, high-flying careers. They are very committed and determined. Even when they have no time to train or exercise, they manage to find time. It can be 7am or late at night. This is very different from European countries, where you can just relax anytime of the day.
But, even though all of my clients are financially happy, they seem to have forgotten the simple pleasures of life – such as finding a minute in their daily routine to smell that flower by the road and, simply, appreciate life. Hongkongers can be angry but the right anger is good sometimes. A female client told me the other day she was groped from behind on the MTR and she gave the asshole a warning before she literally knocked the guy out cold. She wouldn’t have been able to defend herself like many others in this city – but, with some basic self defence, more people can feel confident when going out at night.
Facial therapist, Sense of Touch
Who are you? I moved to Hong Kong 11 years ago from Manila and I opened Sense of Touch in 1992. I worked as a facial therapist from 2002 to 2006 and I now focus more on management.
What do you know? Therapists are generally known to be kind and caring because when you touch a person intimately, you have this special connection with them and that alone needs a degree of trust. There have been clients who started crying when I put my hands on them because of the issues in their lives and their bottled-up feelings and stress. I remember a client who was engaged to her husband and, at first, we talked about pleasant stories like how they wanted the wedding to be perfect. But the topic gradually became upsetting for her. Eventually she began crying because her husband wasn’t showing much support in the wedding planning. I mean, I’m also married, so I understand what she was going through. When she asked me what she should do, that was the only time I gave advice. I’m a person of no direct interest and we have no mutual friends, so that’s why my clients open up to me. People don’t tell their friends secrets because they don’t want to be judged – or they want to maintain their reputation as ‘a person who is way up there’. I think of myself as an unprofessional psychologist – but when a person walks into my spa, he/she may appear cheerful and strong. But you can never tell if their world is secretly crumbling inside.
Hairstylist, Private I
Who are you? I’m originally from Detroit and I trained at Vidal Sassoon. I have been cutting hair since I was 17.
What do you know? One day a client told me her daughter was coming in. She said the daughter was in her late 20s and she had been expecting her first child – but, a couple of days before her due day, the girl’s body went into shock and she had a miscarriage. I was told she hadn’t left her bed since – and wouldn’t talk to anyone apart from her husband. When her family finally persuaded her to come in, she couldn’t walk because her spine was all screwed up, and she just looked an extremely down person – imagine post-natal depression times a million. But, we just joked around and I treated her like a normal person. I became the first person she spoke to about the incident, apart from her husband, and she was crying after the cut because she hadn’t felt like she’d possessed any quality which could make her feel beautiful any more. But getting rid of that old hair was like chopping off the old memory. The thing is, when something devastating happens, people who are close to the victim often tread on eggshells and don’t know how to behave around them. Sometimes pity and sympathy are reminders of the tragic past, and if you want to help – just treat them like a normal person and move them on.
Yoga teacher, Pure Fitness
Who are you? I’ve been a yoga teacher for eight years now.
What do you know? The majority of the students here are very stressed due to the amount of work they do. When they walk in here, their body postures are stiff, they breathe incorrectly and their shoulders are up to their ears. Their body rigidity probably reflects their mental attitudes. There’s one student who I’ve got to know well, who doesn’t ask for help at work and makes harsh demands from people. He gets upset when his colleagues don’t meet his expectations. The thing is, if you maintain your posture and breathing, it’s physically impossible to get angry. Generally people complain about how crappy their job is and how pissed off they are with their bosses and unreasonable customers. But I notice that they don’t have a lot of courage to communicate better. There’s a general culture where people just pretend. They put up with unreasonable requests and don’t express their true thoughts for the fear of losing their job. But it’s interesting to note that many of my other students decide to make changes to their lives eventually. They change jobs and they become happier.
Masseuse, Sutherland-Chan Centre
Who are you? I moved to Hong Kong five years ago from Canada, where I was practicing medical massages.
What do you know? Where I’m from, massage is classified as an actual treatment. It comes included in your health insurance. In Hong Kong, my patients usually have chronic health problems which don’t really have a quick fix. I’ve noticed that stress plays a big factor in their health. I know this patient who was going through a divorce and she mentioned how stressful it was. It was hard for her to deal with and she wanted to stay strong for the children. It literally took a big toll on her. But she came in here just to let go and get the treatment she physically needed. Hongkongers barely have any time for themselves. They spend more hours working here than in any other country – even when they don’t need to. They just want to be more accomplished. Their posture from overworking shows and they forget to be themselves or to breathe and relax. These problems manifest into their daily lives. They become easily irritated – particularly in that moody atmosphere in the MTR.