Home run

Home run

A young Venezuelan baseball player has made a mark - and a new life - here in Hong Kong

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Home run_L
Photos: Nora Tam
Au Colina Gabriel Chi-ho is away from his home base - both on and off the field. The 20-year-old Venezuelan is a shortstop - a dynamic defender stationed between second and third base - on the Hong Kong baseball team.

Gabriel came to Hong Kong from South America when he was 12. Ever since, he has been pulled between his two separate homes.

"My dad is a businessman from Hong Kong. My mum is Venezuelan. My whole family lives in Venezuela," he says.

After their parents' divorce, his father brought Gabriel to Hong Kong. "My dad wanted me to move to Hong Kong to have a better education here," Gabriel says.

There was also another reason. "My grandfather in Hong Kong had never seen me before and wanted to spend time with me," he adds.

His parents gave Gabriel the choice to stay in Hong Kong or return to Venezuela if he didn't like it here.

He has chosen to stay, but it wasn't always easy getting used to life here, he admits. It was partly culture shock, partly a language barrier for the Spanish-speaking youngster. The food was also very different from what he had in Venezuela.

"I only ate at the same restaurant downstairs and always the same meal - yeung chau fried rice. It was the only dish I could stomach," Gabriel says.

During Hong Kong's chilly winters, the teen - who had known only tropical weather before - regularly caught a cold. Often he had to stay in bed all day long.

"I will never forget that when I first came here, it was late October. The cold almost destroyed me," he recalls. "We didn't have winters in Venezuela. Even Hong Kong's mild winter was too much for me."

But then he began to make new friends - thanks to his love of baseball. His first friend in Hong Kong was Kenneth Chiu Chi-kam, whose father runs a baseball club.

"My uncle found out about the club on the internet," Gabriel says. "Kenneth and his parents were very nice to me. They often took me around Hong Kong on sightseeing trips after training. I started to be more open-minded and more willing to explore the city."

Kenneth began teaching Gabriel Cantonese, and the South American is now fluent in the language. He has in many ways become just like any other Hong Kong teen.

At last year's Asian Games, Gabriel was proud to wear the colours of his new home. "Our team was in the same group as Pakistan, South Korea and Chinese Taipei in the qualifiers," he says. "These are all top teams and we lost all our matches." But he wasn't disheartened one bit. "It was still a memorable tournament for me," he says. "I had the chance to play face to face against baseball stars whom I had only played against before in PlayStation games."

Gabriel has also taken on new responsibilities. Two years ago he started coaching the Diocesan Boys' School baseball team, one of the top school teams in Hong Kong.

"I didn't have any professional training in baseball before I came to Hong Kong," Gabriel says. "I only played PS1 baseball games at home in Venezuela. There, kids just go out on the streets and play in the afternoon after school."

Gabriel returned to Venezuela for a visit in 2008 so he could see his mum again. "I usually chat with her on Skype and she shows me photos of my family there," Gabriel says.

"I really want to go there more frequently, but it took almost four days of travel just to go there and come back. I don't have long holidays now because I am a first-year student majoring in aviation and hotel management."

Although he has grown to love Hong Kong, Gabriel still has attachments to Venezuela. "I am facing a dilemma," he says. "My mum wants me to marry a girl from Venezuela, but my dad wants me to marry a Chinese girl."

But he knows where his future lies. "I am sure one day I will go back to Venezuela," Gabriel says.

The photoshoot

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