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The rural idyll lasted for six years. Her parents found a retired Christian couple who agreed to take care of her and be her guardians. The peasant girl moved back toHong Kong.

“I was crying for my life. It took four people to drag me into the car,” she recalls.

It was hard adapting to life in the city. “I could scarcely believe it was the same sky. The sky inHong Kongseemed lower to me, uglier.” For a year, she refused to take the elevator and walked the 19 floors up to her new home.

It was also hard adapting to her new home life. Lai’s guardians, who she referred to as Gung Gung (grandpa) and Por Por (grandma), instituted a disciplined routine. They were well-educated people who wanted to nurture her intellectually. So she was only allowed watch to news programmes and listen to the BBC news. She had a rigid daily schedule of studying, reading and playing chess from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ‘‘My home was even more disciplined than school,’’ she recalls.

Lai first encountered drama at secondary school. She had managed to get into a Band One school but was seen as a bit of a problem student with unusual ideas. One of her teachers assigned her to write a play to express all her special ideas. “I think the teacher intended to make it a punishment on top of all the homework,” laughs Lai.  “After that first time, I couldn’t stop doing it.”

Drama was a godsend for Lai and she made her best friends through drama. However, her guardians did not like her participating in extra-curricular activities. Under pressure, she quit volleyball and choir, but she could not give up drama. “I quit and came back,” says Lai.

As she respected her guardians very much, she tried to pursue her dream in secret. “Sometimes I wrote the scripts in the toilet or under the blankets after they had fallen asleep,” says Lai. The teachers even lied to them and told them that there were extra classes after school so Lai could attend rehearsals and shows.

The reason for her Gung Gung and Por Por’s objections was simple. They were already in their 60s when they started to take care of Lai. They knew they would not be able to take care of her for long. So they wanted to make sure she could be financially independent. Acting and the theatre was not a good choice to achieve that aim. Their well-intentioned advice made Lai feel guilty about her rebellion. “These two saved my life,” says Lai, “They are my closest relatives, my parents.”