SCMP Wednesday, August 22, 2001
Lust for life
Cecil Chao Sze-tsung, extraordinary Casanova, socialite and businessman, is the kind of person who makes other men jealous. In his case, the number 10,000 is not the amount of money he makes a day, nor the number of flats he owns, but his lifetime tally of girlfriends . . . to date.
Chao is 64, so assuming he started at the age of 18, that means he has dated 217 women for every 365 days each year. Where does he get the vitality and stamina to handle this? The answer is simple: plenty of sex and exercise.
''For me, at this age I am very healthy,'' he says. ''Sexually I'm improving, not deteriorating.'' Everybody gets old, he admits, but that should not be a deterrent.
''You have to have regular sexual contact,'' he says. ''You do not have to do it to please a girl but do it whenever you want to do it.'' But is he absolutely sure about this figure of 10,000? ''Yes, 10,000,'' he answers firmly, then hesitates. ''I don't know. I don't have a record.'' But what's a few hundred here and there?
No matter how many girlfriends he may have had, he claims he never tires of the seemingly endless trail of women trooping through his life. ''Nice dates are the most enjoyable thing to do,'' Chao says. ''It is part of my life.'' Love, he maintains, is also a crucial part of his life. ''It is most enjoyable to love and to be loved, but you can love more than one person.'' Chao further justifies his philosophy: ''Without love, life would be dull, no matter how much money you make.''
Chao is sitting on a luxurious sofa in the newly furnished living room of Cheuk Nang Lookout, the new property on the Peak which he is marketing. Wearing a linen suit, a violet v-neck T-shirt and this season's Chanel sunglasses, he looks every inch the suave man about town. The house, designed by Chao, who is also an architect, is elegantly decorated. In fact, the house is not unlike Chao's life - never dull or understated.
As the son of Shanghai-born shipping tycoon Chao Tsong-yea, the public has an enduring fascination for details of his private life. Pictures of Chao garnish the society pages every other day. The faces of his current and ex-loves, and details of his romantic escapades, are always top of photographers' and reporters' most-wanted lists.
Business journalists have plenty to say about him too. As executive chairman of the billion-dollar property development firm Cheuk Nang (Holdings) Ltd, Chao is often quizzed about this and the family shipping business, Wah Kwong and Company (Hong Kong) Limited.
Despite having fathered three children - Gigi, 22, with a Hong Kong actress; Howard, 17, with a Taiwanese actress; and Roman, eight, with Terri Holladay - he has never married. Well, there was that one misconception about his relationship with the much younger American-Vietnamese beauty Holladay. Despite being referred to as husband and wife for two years, Chao revealed on their break-up in 1995, that they had never actually been married. ''She understood very well there was no marriage, I just wanted to give her face so people would respect her in society. She took my surname because I allowed her to use it,'' he was quoted as saying at the time. Holladay was embroiled in a long-term court wrangle with Chao over a financial settlement.
Chao says he is realistic and accepts his limitations when it comes to fidelity. ''I don't want to get married and then cheat on her or keep many concubines,'' he says. ''My theory is that if you feel you would not be faithful, then do not get married, unless you really want to settle down.''
But how can he know that he is unsuitable for marriage when he has not attempted married life? ''I tried. I was engaged to a Shanghai-born, Hong Kong girl for one-and-a-half years when I was 20,'' Chao recalls. ''But it was miserable because the idea of being tied down just made me feel unhappy. I feel like being free so I can have my own friends.''
In June, there was a 20-something mainland woman, Tina, gracing Chao's arm. Reports in the Chinese papers said Tina was involved - they did not specify how - in the construction material business, making frequent business trips between Hong Kong and the mainland. ''She is one of the many girls I am dating,'' Chao says without a hint of boasting. ''But she is a more regular girlfriend. She is not always in Hong Kong.'' Tina is not the only out-of-towner Chao has been reported dallying with in recent years; he seems to have a penchant for partners from north of the border. Perhaps he has a soft spot for mainland girls.
''I come from Shanghai and I am fluent in Mandarin,'' explains Chao, who spent his childhood in Shanghai until finishing his primary education in 1948. ''For me, it is easier to contact and understand, and it is very nice to go out with them.''
It's good to know that communication ranks so highly among Chao's criteria for a perfect date. ''We must be able to get along with each other,'' he says.
Chao's ideal woman is possessed of a pleasant nature - the most important asset. She must have a sunny disposition, there should be no arguments and she should like his way of life and, of course, she must be pretty. And he is capable of being faithful, in his own way, to whoever is his current love. ''We don't go out just for one date but many dates,'' he stresses.
Chao has been linked with all kinds of women - Americans, Europeans and Chinese - and has dated many Hong Kong women, though never for an extended time. They clearly realise that to get Chao to commit is like trying to pin jelly to the ceiling. ''Hong Kong girls are nice too, but most of them want to have a husband, which is something I cannot afford. My life is so enjoyable,'' he says.
The longest relationship Chao has had was with an Australian, a nationality he likes. ''I was with this girl for a few years,'' he says. ''It was the longest relationship I have ever had. She was a beauty consultant for Cathay Pacific's air hostesses when she was in Hong Kong.'' But the Australian beauty pales in comparison to his Shanghai darling, who became his fiancee. ''She was the most unforgettable,'' Chao says wistfully, looking out of the window. There is a touch of sadness in his eyes.
It was the late 1950s. Chao was in Britain studying for a degree in architecture at Durham University and met her during a vacation in Hong Kong. ''I was in Hong Kong only for a very short period of time, but we fell in love,'' he says.
Chao returned to his studies, leaving the young woman pining and unable to wait two years to see him again. In order to get an air ticket, she entered a beauty contest and won, the prize being a ticket to London. She landed in London to find Chao was in the north of England. Clearly relishing this tale of the star-crossed lovers, he adds what even now sounds like a feeble excuse: ''You know in those days communication was very difficult.''
When they met up again at a party two years later, she was already married, and pregnant. But fate works in mysterious ways and a few years later she divorced, finally allowing Chao the opportunity to be with her. But his aversion to wedding cake prevented the fairy-tale ending.
''The relationship did not work out because I did not want to get married,'' Chao says. ''We were together for just one or two years.'' Luckily, by all accounts, her heart remained intact and she is now remarried and living in Canada. ''I am not in contact with her anymore,'' he says. ''But I know that she is happy.''
It is never easy to wish your former lover a better life, but Chao can do it. Many people persist in labelling Chao a playboy, unaware of this deeper, caring side to his nature. But while he changes partners with extraordinary regularity, one aspect of his relationships remains constant; as Chao gets older and wiser, his girlfriends' ages seem to stay much the same. It's a phenomenon which presents him with few problems. .
''I always discuss the age difference issue with my girlfriends,'' he admits. ''First, they do not feel that I am that old. Second, there is no communication problem, and there is no money problem.''
But what is it about the multi-millionaire that these young women find so attractive? Could it be the money? After all, past girlfriends have become temporary queens of his palatial bachelor pad, the 20,000 sq ft Villa Cecil on Victoria Road, Pokfulam. They might expect to be showered in designer labels and jewellery - but they might be disappointed.
''I don't really take care of them [in monetary terms],'' Chao says. ''If they are staying with me of course I would. But girls nowadays are very independent. They become demanding only when we break up.'' He could be referring to the high-profile American-Vietnamese Terri Holladay, who has a son by Chao, named Roman. They broke up in 1995 and Holladay was involved in long-term court wrangle with Chao over a financial settlement.
Chao remains magnanimous in his attitude to the queen bees who buzz around his moneypot. ''It is reasonable for them to look for security, and wealth could be one of the best indicators,'' he says. ''Girls need something reliable. That is fine [to go out with a wealthy guy], but it cannot be the sole reason. It is just like some guys liking beautiful girls. But that is not the only criteria you are looking for in a girl. You need feelings.''
Chao displays remarkable energy levels for his age, playing basketball three times a week and golf once a week in winter.Exercise is the keyto keeping himself healthy - and, of course, lots of sex. He also warns of the dangers of overwork.''I used to work for 12 or 14 hours a day, but now I only spend seven hours on my business.'' His philosophy on life is simple. ''Never get yourself worrying,'' he says. ''If you consider nothing is more important that your own happiness and life, you can eliminate your worries.'' Have his children ever asked him about his multitude of girlfriends? ''Chinese children normally do not ask their father about his private life,'' Chao says. ''But they probably realise the way I live.''
Chao would be happy if his children grow up to be like him. ''I am very happy with my life, and if they can live in a life happier than other people, why not?'' Some people may be jealous and some may admire him; he accepts that. ''You only live for one life. I don't really bother how people think of me. This is the way I live.''
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