To you or me, Lamma-Gung, the popular webmaster of one of
the largest websites in HK, might not be a dashing Clark
Gable or a Chow Yun-fat.
To his adoring wife Lamma-Poh and his many friends, however,
he has it all – charm, humour, wit and lots of heart.
But it was not always that way. Back home in Europe, today’s
Lamma-Gung the heart-breaker was Lamma-Gung the
heart-broken. With a university background that combined
biology and computer studies, he found himself ill-trained
in the delicate art of feminine seduction and the science of
cheeky chat-up lines.
He was too shy to summon up the courage to even talk to
girls at the bus stop, let alone drop into a swinging
singles bar. Needless to say February 14 would be just
another day, with no Valentine in sight. Working night
shifts and self-conscious about his looks, Lamma-Gung became
a self-confessed “computer monk”.
But all that changed late one night, more than a decade ago,
when he sent out into cyberspace a brief instant message
that was picked up by a woman in Hong Kong.
“Basically, I worked as a babysitter for a mainframe
computer during night shifts,” he says. “And if everything
was running well, you could spend the time as you liked.
“I knew a lot about telecommunications and I knew how to
find out another instant message user’s ID in other places,
and from that ID you could usually tell if they were male or
female,” he adds. “I was always insecure about my
appearance. I thought a lot of girls wouldn’t like me
because I’m a big guy. But on-line, I could shed all my
fears and insecurities and just be as crazy and funny as I
wanted to be.”
Initially, because of the time differences, he chatted
electronically with computer users up and down the United
States east coast. But late one evening, he decided to go
Selecting a number of female-sounding IDs from his unique
little black book, he slapped on a dash of virtual cologne,
virtually slicked back his hair and sent out a blind instant
message to these IDs, saying: “Hello, a mighty yodel salutes
you from Europe! Are you busy?”
More than five time zones away, this message appeared on the
screen of another computer user. Mistaking Lamma-Gung’s very
short ID for another online friend, Lamma-Poh felt there was
no harm in chatting.
Soon enough, Lamma-Gung pulled his cyber stool closer to
Lamma-Poh’s and with wolf-like cunning he e-mailed her a
much longer message listing his many hobbies and part-time
“We’d talk about all kinds of things, everything under the
sun,” he recalls fondly.
“Because I was also a big Bruce Lee fan, I asked her
questions about Hong Kong, about its film industry, about
the people, the food. And she asked me about my home country
and about life there.”
Before long, the two were spending hours communicating
almost every night.
After a few months, Lamma-Gung decided to make a move into
the real world, boldly going from e-mail to “snail mail”.
He began to deluge Lamma-Poh with a vast array of fantastic
multi-coloured, cartoon-festooned works of art that would
appear to be the combined effort of Salvador Dali, Jackson
Pollack and Bugs Bunny.
Lamma-Poh’s reaction to these hand-crafted creations, some
of which took 10 hours to produce, was immediate. “The
feelings which came whenever I received these strange and
wonderful envelopes made me rush over to pick up my office
mail, and I couldn’t wait to read Lamma-Gung’s messages. All
my office friends would come over to ask: “What’s all this
about?” and I’d tell them about Lamma-Gung.”
Many Europeans may be diligent and dependable, but they are
not reckless romantics. It was Lamma-Poh who made the first
long-distance “verbal interlock”.
Lamma-Gung recalls receiving her first call: “Her voice was
so quiet, so shy I could hardly understand her. And she
couldn’t understand my accent at all.”
After several more months, he decided it was time to meet
some of his computer pals in the U.S. He saved the last week
of his holiday for Lamma-Poh.
“Basically, I had to convince a very shy girl to travel to
the other side of the world to spend a week with someone she
had never actually met,” he says, adding that he finally
succeeded after months of effort.
Not only that, but she had to pick up her own airfare as
well because Lamma-Gung was still a student and part-time
worker and could not afford the expenses for both.
To top things off, he claimed he did not have money to pay
for two single rooms.
So within hours of their first meeting, Lamma-Gung had
managed to draw a shy young Chinese quail into his lair,
using frugality as his cover.
“Up until then and at that time,” Lamma-Gung insists, “we
were just good friends and she called me ‘Dearest Comforter’
because I always managed to bring her through tough problems
and cheer her up.”
Their first meeting took place at the airport in Miami,
Florida. Lamma-Gung strolled up to Lamma-Poh and introduced
“I was a bit nervous,” remembers Lamma-Poh. “I didn’t really
know what he looked like, because he had only sent pictures
from the head-up. I don’t know how I could talk to him so
easily, so quickly, but I just felt comfortable.”
“And she swept me off my feet,” says Lamma-Gung, conjuring
up a scene that would seem to defy the laws of physics. “But
I was thinner then,” he adds with a hearty laugh.
“The nice thing I found about Lamma-Gung over the first few
days together,” remembers Lamma-Poh, “was that this guy
acted the same in person as online.”
Lamma-Gung says: “Often people are very different in person
from on-line. Actually, Lamma-Poh is very different in
person from on-line. On-line she’s very quiet, not
outspoken. She can type very fast, but she doesn’t write a
lot. I would send five times more lines of instant messages
than her. But in person she’s much more lively.”
After a few months, Lamma-Gung decided to find out whether
their mutual attraction was more than mere flirtation, and
asked Lamma-Poh to visit his home country, where she was a
big hit with his family.
He then decided to see what living in Hong Kong with Lamma-Poh
might be like. While he had kept his family informed of the
rapidly unfolding events in his life, Lamma-Poh had kept the
reasons for her trips to Florida and Europe secret.
But her mother eventually found out after spotting them in a
cafe one morning. Luckily she was broad-minded.
The courtship was not without problems, however. While he
had sent only passport-type photos of himself before their
first meeting, Lamma-Poh had not revealed she had three
children – aged 10, 12 and 14 – from a previous marriage.
“I was quite furious and almost flew back to Europe,”
Lamma-Gung says, recalling when she gave him the news.
“Eventually I realised that she hadn’t mentioned her kids
because she was very concerned that it might scare me away.
Basically it’s a difference in perception of the importance
of truth, and for me this is very important.”
But Lamma-Gung calmed down and they married in November
1991. Now, he attaches a metallic “I love Lamma-Poh” pin on
his lapel almost every morning as he dresses for work.
Despite having found true love in cyberspace Lamma-Gung
warns: “Don’t fall in love on-line because it’s very
dangerous. I did not fall in love with Lamma-Poh on-line,
only after meeting her in person.”
“The great thing about on-line communication is that you see
the inside of the person first; the outside comes later.”
© South China Morning Post