King of Hong Kong
For Michael Tsu, growing up in Elko was the perfect preparation for being crowned Mr. Hong Kong
Few can claim to understand the title Mr. Hong Kong. First of all, the contestants do not need to live in Hong Kong. In 2005, winner Matthew Ko wasn’t a Hong Kong citizen. He was Canadian. The 2006 winner, Francois Huynh, was from Paris. Finally, in 2007, the Hong Kong public chose Hong Konger Benjamin Yuen to be their Mr. Hong Kong. But Hong Kong’s reign over its own title didn’t last long.
Michael Tsu is Mr. Hong Kong 2008. For much of his life he grew up as a Chinese-American in the ranching and mining town of Elko, Nev.
“I spent pretty much my whole life in Elko,” says the 23-year-old Tsu. “It’s very deserty, dry. … They have some of the greatest steaks in Nevada. The pasture here is amazing, unbeatable.”
Elko is where Mr. Hong Kong calls home. Tsu only needed Chinese citizenship or Hong Kong residency to be eligible for the competition—a feat he easily achieved while serving a Mormon Church mission in Hong Kong.
His rippling body and “cute smile” garnered him enough votes from the Hong Kong audience and the judges to win the title in August 2008. Nearly 600 women swayed, swooned and clamored for his attention while Tsu muscled around in a tiny Speedo.
Surprisingly, his life since then has been as modest as it was before. He proclaims himself a goofball and a fitness geek. He hung out with the track athletes at Elko high school, and when he studied for a year at the University of Nevada, Reno as an accounting major, he worked at the Lombardi Recreation Center. Back at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, he has been studying for an exercise and wellness degree, all the while enjoying the perks and benefits awarded with his title.
So what are the perks of being Mr. Hong Kong? He says he was disappointed about not receiving oodles of money. He did win “two really cool trophies,” a watch, a trip to China, golfing lessons and a gym membership.
“Oh, I got two pairs of shoes,” he says gleefully. “I was super happy when I got the shoes because they were really nice shoes. I normally don’t buy, like, the really cool Nike shoes or the Nike Dunks. I usually buy the New Balance or $42 shoes because money is hard to come by.”
Tsu brought the shoes home with him from Hong Kong. After taking the title, he was offered a contract for doing television stints. But he had known from the beginning that pageant life wasn’t exactly his calling.
Crack the whip
It all started in December of 2007. Tsu’s mom told him about the pageant. “Well, why don’t you send your photos in? You’re pretty cute,” she said. He obliged, sending in silly photos of him modeling with a motorcycle. The next month, he got a call, and talent scouts flew him out to Los Angeles. It was a good sign.
He interviewed for a day, meeting other contestants from all over the world. When he left, he told the scouts he needed to know if he’d be a contestant soon because he anticipated a summer job with a drilling company in Elko. Within a month, they called him.
“Yeah, you’re in,” they told him. “Don’t take any more jobs right now.”
It wasn’t until Tsu arrived in Hong Kong that he learned the different segments of the pageant: debate, dance, swimsuit, a talent portion, a “resurrection period,” a “get to know you” segment and then, martial arts. The media was all over the contestants, and Tsu played along.
“I was the only contestant that had crazy pictures of me playing on an escalator,” says Tsu. “There were pictures of me playing video games and playing on the escalator—just all these really funny pictures goofing off.”
Much like Tsu, the competition wasn’t entirely serious about its segments. Tsu’s training included learning a dance routine under the guise of Indiana Jones. He wrangled a whip around his head. Meanwhile a “little Asian girl” dressed up as Marion Ravenwood accompanied him. To demonstrate even more of his manliness, Tsu showed off his newly acquired martial arts skills for the final round.
Into the frying pan
But the contestants also needed to show their intellectual machismo. Here’s where Tsu really shined. In the debate section, the judges asked, “Some people say that Hong Kong women have too high of standards, and no one will want to marry them.”
Tsu responded, “It’s not bad that the women have high standards. It’s that the men have to work harder to satisfy them or to get them to be attracted to the men. The men should work really hard to attract the women.”
But because Cantonese is a tonal language and because Tsu is not as fluent as a Hong Kong native, he incorrectly spoke the word “attract.” Instead of “attract,” it came out “suck.” Translated: “The men should work really hard to suck the women.”
“At that point, one of the hostesses just starts laughing really hard, and everyone was in a riot,” recalls Tsu.
Tsu also incorrectly used the idiomatic expression “big frying pan” on live television. The expression is regarded as vulgar and rude—it’s akin to cursing on television. The expression usually means “big trouble,” which is exactly what it meant for Tsu.
“I didn’t know it was rude or vulgar because all the contestants would say it when we were together,” says Tsu. “So they always said it around me, and they taught me some other words. So I … thought I’d say the word that made the most sense to me.”
Tsu had trained for two months in Hong Kong for the one-night competition. As contestant No. 12, he went last each time. But by the end of the show, when he gave his final dance routine, he came out first.
“I put my own routine together, and we performed,” he says. “I didn’t mess up, so I won.” The second the judges announced Tsu as the winner, he was swarmed by a number of people, and his mom needed the director to help her through the crowd.
“Like, I was shocked,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I actually won something. I never win anything. All the really famous actresses came up and gave me stuff, and of course I had no idea who they were. They’d be like, ‘Hi, I’m such and such, I’m the second most famous actress in Hong Kong.’ and I’d be like ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ ”
After the competition, Tsu decided not to sign the producers’ contract. He returned home after two more months of training in the Hong Kong gym. But Tsu is still happy about the title. If anybody ever picks on him for anything—like not making BYU’s dean’s list—he has this comeback: “I don’t care if you’re on the dean’s list. Everyone in China knows who I am.”