Since becoming Hong Kong's secretary for development in 2012, Paul Chan Mo-po has been involved in a different controversy each year. From suspicion of illegal property, to conflict of interest, to charges of defamation, Chan is often shown in a negative light.
But on Tuesday, he showed a different side. At an event organised by the Youth Hostels Association, he told secondary school students about growing up in poverty in a ramshackle squatter camp in Shek Kip Mei. He used himself as an example of why students shouldn't let obstacles like poverty stand in their way.
"Sometimes people will look down on you because you come from a poor family. Don't be intimidated because of that," Chan told the audience at Mei Ho House Youth Hostel in Shek Kip Mei. He was speaking close to the area where his family and thousands of other people had a tough life.
"Not only did we have to share a kitchen, we didn't have our own toilets either," Chan said. "We had to walk quite a distance to use a public toilet. When I first saw toilets with seats … I couldn't get used to them. I remember that if you looked down into the public toilets, you could see insects crawling around. To this day, thinking about those toilets makes me shudder."
There were drugs and gambling in the area, Chan added. He had to work after school and struggled to keep up at university, and his family lost their home in one of many fires to hit the camps. "Because I come from a poor family, my parents couldn't give me much of a leg up in my career," he said. "But it doesn't matter, because we have friends: in secondary school, we studied in groups; at university, we collaborated on student organisations. People you meet outside work … these people are your assets."
Leung Hei-sen, a 16-year-old student at Buddhist Kok Kwong Secondary School, said he didn't know much about Chan's previous troubles, and that he found Chan's story inspiring.
"Chan described the terrible conditions he had to grow up in, but he still became as successful as he is today. He managed to excel despite the odds, and we have much better conditions, so that's all the more reason for us to do our best."