Gawad Urian nominee Baboy Halas captures to save Mindanao tribal ways

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

It is more than perfecting the crisp sounds of trodden grasses and dead leaves, burbling water on river rocks and the wailings of a wild boar concealed in the remaining rainforest of Maharlika in Marilog District of Davao City.

A Gawad Urian nominee for Best Picture, Baboy Halas (Wailings of the forest) 2016 furthers its deep commitment to eternalize the cultures and tales of the Lumads or indigenous people in Mindanao. For the Davao filmmakers, it is an opportunity to reach a wider audience to help them retell the story.

It is also nominated for Best Sound (Willie Apa & Charlie Daclan), Best Production Design (Joel Geolamen), Best Cinematography (Raphael Meting and Mark Limbaga), and Best Director (Bagane Fiola).

The first Matigsalug film that was critically acclaimed by the most prestigious award-giving body of the country, Baboy Halas is the fruit of teamwork, especially with special participation of the tribe members themselves.

Bagane Fiola, who conceptualized the story, says his team was very lucky that the community adopted them and embraced the project with all their hearts. “They understand our advocacy to preserve their traditional practices and spirituality. We might not see them anymore in the next five years.”

The Lumad actors are the best representation of the film, Fiola says. He cites the protagonist Mampog, acted by the last hunter in Maharlika, who worries that his hunting skills may no longer be passed on to the young, as agriculture is gradually claiming the forest.

The filmmakers value their experience and moments shared with the community as already a form of award. They had lived with the tribe that is still very close to nature, performing rituals and prayers before they began a shoot.

It was a give-and-take. Fiola recalls a screening in the city cinema last December, when the Lumads were so happy and amazed to watch a movie in a theater which might be their first time. Let alone see themselves as the cast on a big screen.

Gathering stories from their immersions in Lumad communities for documentary video projects, Fiola and his team have committed to capture their traditions and translate their dreams and aspirations in feature films. He gained confidence to pitch the story for the QCinema International Festival grant last year from their growing relationship with the Lumads.

The team had two datu or tribe leaders as consultants.

“When we arrived in the community, we are not filmmakers but cultural workers, as we listen to them and learn their ways,” says Fiola. #

This article is published on the Mindanao Times. 

Local short films gain interests 

Locally produced short films have gradually permeated the interest of cinephiles, as the Davao Ngilngig Films (DNF) showcased products of its last years’ festival in a school tour dubbed Pasalidahay around the region.

“As long as there are people who commit themselves to make local films, there is always an option to see them,” said Edwin Oscar Gutierrez, Jr., teacher and school paper adviser of The Mover at Tagum City National High School.

“People will watch them, if they are of a quality worth their time, effort and perhaps, money,” he added.

The DNF, established in 2010 by young and aspiring Davao filmmakers, invites students to join its film workshops and submit their outputs for the festivals.

It aims to preserve and portray “gruesome or awesome” tales and urban legends in the country. It is presented by Malagos Garden Resort and supported by Morning Light Art Gallery and Shop, JCI Kadayawan, and Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity as Minor Sponsors.

Using Bisaya in films helps preserve the dialect and culture, LazaroSuello, Jr., Media Arts facilitator/adviser at Tagum City National Comprehensive High School, said during a film screening at the school’s mini library last Friday.

He encourages his students to make films in Bisaya or Cebuano, citing that such are widely spoken in Visayas and Mindanao.

This article is published on Sunstar Davao. 

‘Mga Buhay na Apoy’ smolders hearts and minds

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

“Mga Buhay na Apoy” (Breath of Fire), not only moved the viewers on its opening night on Oct. 2 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, but also triggered a philosophical discourse, as they sympathized with the characters’ struggles.

It explores the intersection between love and hatred; faith and religion; cultural preservation and modernization; and, past and present.

The play also portrays the prevailing colonial mentality among Filipinos, such that fluency in English corresponds with a higher social status. For some people, being familiar or well-adapted to American culture helps to ensure a more promising future in the United States or Canada.

Written and directed by Kanakan Balintagos, formerly known as Auraeus Solito, and first prize winner of the 2015 Palanca Awards for full-length play, Mga Buhay na Apoy tells about the reunion of a broken family in Manila.

Born in Palawan, Soledad Santos, the matriarch acted by Irma Adlawan, reconciles with her two children, Aurora Alba and Aran, performed by Karen Gaerlan and Russell Legaspi. They have been indifferent after Soledad broke up with their father and became violent to them.

Calm and reserved, Soledad first appeared waiting for Aurora, who left several years ago to escape the negative atmosphere enveloping the household.

The maids, Yaya and Gusing, acted by Peewee O’hara and Doray Dayao, are preparing a sumptous dinner for Aurora’s homecoming. Soledad’s two sisters, Lili and Selmah, played by Carol Bello and Malou Crisologo, and their families joined the celebration.

Aran spends most of his time painting inside the greenhouse, where nobody dares to enter. Nonchalant to his mother, he is talkative and bubbly with Aurora.

The dinner was lively as they shared mythical stories and collective memories of Palaw’ans, the family’s tribe in Palawan.

But at bedtime, their family secrets are revealed, and Aran, who was the last to know, will eventually accept them.

Suddenly, Soledad appears in a black night dress, sleepwalking, and tells her nightmare while in a trance.

Irma Adlawan as Soledad Santos acts superbly when she was in a trance, while her family tried to calm her down. PHOTO BY Trixie Dauz
Irma Adlawan as Soledad Santos acts superbly when she was in a trance, while her family tried to calm her down. PHOTO BY Trixie Dauz


Soledad’s struggles highlights the issue of violence against women, as she was raped first by a governor in Palawan, and then by her husband. As a result, she turned physically abusive towards her children and servants.

Their abundant lifestyle shattered after he left, alongside her relationship to their children.

But her active participation in a charismatic movement “saved her” from madness, according to Yaya, who invited her to the group.

Clearly stated in the whole duration of the play, their Christian beliefs are being challenged by the family’s cultural tradition. For instance, Aran says that humans came from the sun or fire, while Soledad insists from Adam and Eve in the Bible.

For Lili’s husband, intoxicated Kuya Benj, played by Jonathan Tadioan, wherever humans originated, what matters is that he’s alive.

Aran calls himself, “nakikibakang buhay na apoy,” a struggling breath of fire, when asked by Aurora about his condition.

Russell Legaspi as Aran climbs on the mango tree that has only one fruit. PHOTO BY Trixie Dauz
Russell Legaspi as Aran climbs on the mango tree that has only one fruit. PHOTO BY Trixie Dauz

Superb acting

The cast members performed superbly, especially Adlawan during the trance scene by showing contrasting characters.

Her character was the most that developed, followed by Aran, finally showing his utmost concern for her mother when she was in a frenzy.

Although he does not need to be strongly emotional in the story, Aran excelled in portraying his role that seems to mirror the young Balintagos.

It’s not only because of the character’s costume, wearing shirts of ethnic patterns and accessories, but also his energy and enthusiasm, especially when explaining how painting is similar to giving birth.

Formerly a baliyan or healer of the tribe, Lili is chanting in Palaw’an dialect that sets the general mood of the play. Bello’s powerful voice in accapella reverbrated in the whole theater.

She also performs a ritual during Soledad’s trance. Such ritual is similar to the one that was shown in Balintagos’ second movie of a Palawan trilogy, “Busong.”

As the curtains opened, the chanting began, while Lhorvie Nuevo appeared as a woman with long hair that touches the ground, while Aran was asleep. She was his recurring vision, as if calling him to discover his roots.

Kanakan’s home

With a big mango tree in the middle, the stage, designed by Paolo Alcazaren, almost resembles the backyard of the director’s abode in Sampaloc. The set captured a feeling of being in a mini forest or garden amid the bustling metropolis, which I also experienced when I visited there.

Changing the set in the second half of the play gives a different perspective of the house with the front being inside the greenhouse.

It was crucial towards the end, as Soledad, Aurora, Selmah, Lili and Topaz, Selmah’s daughter played by Kyrie Samodio, look at the audience while describing Aran’s imaginary painting on the wall.

Aran eventually goes to Palawan to follow his destiny.

Balintagos, the director of the movie “Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros,” considered the play as very personal.

It’s not only because it tells about the mythical stories that he has deeply known and grew up with, but also explains why he changed his name, which literally means “hunter of truth” for Palaw’ans.

This article was first published on NewsDesk Asia.

Hong Kong domestic workers want to junk ‘excessive’ fees


This article is first published by The Diplomat.

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Feliza Guy Benitez, 58, first came to Hong Kong in 1993 as a domestic worker. She was to be paid a monthly salary at 3,200 Hong Kong dollars ($413). She thought a contract of two years would be enough to help her family back home. But the family faced a series of financial problems, coaxing her to sign a new contract after another.

“I didn’t plan to stay here longer,” says Feliza Guy Benitez, 58, pushing a stroller in Kowloon with the one-year-old daughter of her fifth employer. Sturdy but short, the stroller’s handles come up to her chest.

Over 22 years, her salary has increased a total of HK$810, from HK$3,200 to HK$4,110 this year.

“Almost all of my salary went to my family,” she recalls, citing the hospitalization of her mother, who died in 2005. “When my mother died, I had no choice but to re-loan because I needed a huge amount for all the expenses.”

Then her grieving father’s health worsened, leading to another round of expenses for medication and a caregiver, until he finally died in 2011.

After supporting her family during their trying times, Benitez can now start saving up for herself.  But she has to renew her contract one last time to access the state pension.

Benitez was among 105,410 Filipino domestic workers that arrived here in 1993, as recorded by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. In 2012, their population stood at nearly 156,000, about 98 percent of them women, according to the Mission for Migrant Workers.

Before they can leave the Philippines, overseas Filipino workers had to pay up to Php150,000 ($3,400) in fees imposed by the government and recruitment agencies, says Dolores Balladarez-Pelaez, chairwoman of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL).

Some 200 Filipino domestic workers, representing at least 100 organizations, called for “unnecessary” state-imposed fees to be eliminated, at a national consultation held here on March 29. The meeting was organized by the UNIFIL and the alliance of Filipino migrant workers, Migrante Hong Kong chapter.

Different government agencies earn a total of about Php21 billion (or more than $470 million) a year from the 5,500 Filipinos who leave the country each day to work overseas, notes Balladarez-Pelaez.

Fees are paid for police clearances, the National Bureau of Investigation, electronic passports, membership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a terminal fee, Philippine Health Insurance, pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS), Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), and Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund, among other things.

While in Hong Kong, Filipino domestic workers face more fees, such as annual renewal of the OWWA membership, contract authentication and verification, and overseas employment certificate.

Workers want the Philippine government to offer lifetime membership with the OWWA, to scrap the POEA processing fee, and to relax PDOS rules. They also want to remove the mandatory insurance, as the Hong Kong government already requires employers to pay insurance for their domestic workers.

To give strength to their demands, the meeting participants established the Network of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Opposed to Excessive Government Fees, or NO FEE.

It is a revival of the Coalition Against Government Exaction (CAGE) in 1998, which was able to end some state fees through series of protest actions, says Eman Villanueva, secretary general of UNIFIL-Migrante Hong Kong.

CAGE was successful in its campaigns, Villanueva recalls, to reduce the passport fee from HK$510 to HK$435 and the processing fee from HK$500 to HK$87; to open the Philippine Consulate General office on Sundays; and to lighten the OWWA fee regulations. The coalition was also able to require officials, staff and personnel to wear identification cards at work, he added.

Currently the chairwoman of Filipino Migrant Workers Union, Benitez has taken an active part in campaigns of OFWs in Hong Kong throughout her years here.

Had her salaries been higher, she would not be signing more contracts before she could actually save money for herself, she says.

Hong Kong has more than 360,000 domestic workers, representing 15 percent of the city’s women workforce, according to MFMW.

They are also drivers of the economy, Villanueva says, but they have been excluded from society.

Each foreign domestic worker has two years of employment under the standard contract established by the Immigration Department in 1974, providing also a minimum wage for all domestic workers.

Their minimum allowable wage, which was set by the Hong Kong government to exclude foreign domestic workers from the statutory minimum wage, was lowered in both 1999 and 2003 due to the decline of the city’s economy.

“As the economy recovered throughout the 2000’s, increases in the MAW did not correspond with this new prosperity,” the MFMW, along with Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Workers, said in its October 2013 study.

Most foreign domestic workers opted to stay longer by finding new employers or renewing their contracts, as they had not finished paying their debts or their obligations with their families.

Like most of them, Benitez wanted to go home and finally be with her family for good.

“But I don’t want to leave empty-handed,” she said, wiping away tears with her wrinkled, calloused hand.

Lorie Ann Cascaro is a journalist from the Philippines.

Salvaging Tai O in Hong Kong


By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — One of the city’s tourist attractions for its centuries-old stilt houses and salt pans, dried fish and seafoods, Tai O screams out for salvaging.

Despite a decreasing population of nearly 3,000, Tai O had survived typhoons, landslide and big fire in 2000.

Such oldest existing fishing village in Hong Kong has remained steadfast, as villagers thrive to beautify the old and rubbish.

Since fishing ceased to be the villagers’ primary livelihood, tourism has provided a source of income for vendors and business owners. In 2000, the village had a total of 300,000 visitors, 90 percent of which were Hong Kong citizens, according to a 2010 study.

But, massive influx of tourists and development projects in the village have caused the destruction of habitat for marine plants and animals.

The big motors in their modern boats tell how far they need to sail to catch fish.

Garbages found under the stilt houses, in small canals and vacant lots show the persisting problems of solid waste disposal and household discharges.

As their backyards and street corners gather up scrap metals and old appliances, their traditional architecture and implements have slowly been eroded from their daily lives.

An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old.
An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
A fisherman in Tai O starts up his motorized boat on a Wednesday afternoon. The village had been flooded many times by storms but despite the threat of coastal flooding, it has not fully developed a strategy for coastal flood management, according to a 2013 research[1]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Some Tai O villagers buy fish from the fishermen to put salt and dry in the sun and sell in the market for a meager income. Most tourists from Hong Kong visit the village for dried fish and seafoods. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The stilt houses in Tai O, locally called Pang O, have existed since 200 years ago [2] to respond to the practical need of fishing people to have a land-based residence. They are designed to protect them from high tides, but the impacts of climate change pose coastal flood risk[3]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The traditional hats, which have a round brim and crown that distinguish the Tanka people[4], the major ethnic group in Tai O, have almost lost touch in their daily lives. Only seen being used by street sweepers, the hats can be bought at HK$40 from a store owned by two old women who made the hats themselves. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Old boats, like other unused implements in Tai O, found their places, unmoved and unintentionally serving as an artifact of a fading culture of the village. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The people in Tai O continue to pass on the skills in boat-making to the young generation, especially crafting the traditional dragon boats that also provide a source of income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The Dragon Boat Festival is a parade of Tai O’s dieties in long traditional boats made by the villagers to drive away “water ghosts” that caused epidemics hundred years ago. Today, they continue to make boats also for dragon boat racing that has been a popular water sport event, not only in Hong Kong, but also in other Asian countries. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Villagers keep scrap metals and other old items in their yards either to find new usage or make money by selling them. They bring life to their places by planting flowers and vegetables in used boxes and pots. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

[1] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[2] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from

[3] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[4] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from

Like the waves


By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong Island turned into a collage of colored umbrellas and tents this past Easter holiday. Hundreds of people sunbathed while their children were digging in the white sandy beach with plastic toys.

Swell rarely happen in the bay after winter, but Typhoon Maysak made the waves favorable for surfing. Waves at 0.6 meters high appeared every 11 to 12 seconds with a speed of 6 to 8 knots on April 6, according to Magicseaweed’s forecast.

Some 20 surfers paddled up as a wave chased behind them. Before the wave broke out into white foams, one of them had already pulled off a surfing stunt.

Wearing a black rash guard and striped board shorts, a 39-year-old Scottish woman was sitting on a surfboard in the inner part of the swell.

It was easy to find her in the crowd when she still had dreadlocks, said Julie Barrass, a European headhunter, renting a house in Big Wave Bay. She has known Jacqueline Donaldson and most regular beachgoers since she moved here eight years ago.

Barrass was smoking cigarette beside the lifeguard tower when Donaldson came out of the water carrying an 8-foot blue fun board.

Donaldson’s former dreadlocks once saved her life during a surfing accident in 2011 by cushioning the blow as she landed on the seabed. She suffered only a spinal compression fracture.

Having worn dreads since 2009, she considered removing them, but felt guilty “like killing a pet or betraying someone who’d saved my life.”

Jacqueline Donaldson surfs with dreadlocks that saved her life from a surfing accident in 2011 in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

Changing her style, she took out her dreadlocks in Thailand early this year.

After washing up, Donaldson tied her shoulder-length hair and sat with some friends, lounging and sipping beer with upbeat songs from a tiny portable speaker.

A Filipino born in Hong Kong, Anton Pelayo, 29, joined her, laying down his surfboard. He met Donaldson when “she was doing cinematography video stuff and teaching drama to kids.”

Donaldson took film and photography at the University of Wales College, Newport in United Kingdom.

The two friends had their late lunch at a restaurant facing the beach. It was packed mostly with foreigners.

“I’m going to get the anchovies pizza… Put lemon in my beer please,” she told Pelayo and headed to the toilet.

“She’s a very friendly outspoken lady,” Pelayo said.

Jacqueline Donaldson in pink shirt relaxes with her friends after surfing in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island on April 6.  PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Donaldson first came here in 2001 from trips in Pakistan, India, and Nepal and back to Pakistan, her favorite country next to New Zealand. She saw Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Of course, now it’s not that safe there anymore,” she said.

After seven months in Hong Kong as English tutor, she travelled to China and Southeast Asia. She tracked wild Orangutans in North Sumatra with a friend. Then, she came back for a year and travelled around Australia and New Zealand.

Settling down here since 2007, she had taught English through drama and pop-culture programs, and took different film projects for free to build up her cinematography skills.

She works as a fitting model and cinematographer on corporate video and independent films, while managing her company, Media, Theatre and Modeling Consultants.


“Did you see the documentary about the Jonestown massacre? I sent you the link,” she excitedly told Pelayo, who was at the time devouring his burger and fries.

Donaldson was hooked into cult documentaries, exploring similar ideas to document in Hong Kong.

She got permanent residency here in 2014. Foreigners can get a legal status of permanent resident if they have lived here lawfully for seven years.

Itching to travel again, she planned to celebrate her 40th birthday in Hawaii by the end of the year.

After lunch, Pelayo asked if she wanted to surf again.

“I don’t like the waves today. But, I want to get more,” she replied, as her turquoise eyes widened.

Having invested here for 15 years, Donaldson wanted to keep Hong Kong as her base at the moment.

“You never know what will happen in life, love or family. Maybe, one day, I’ll have to move somewhere else.

Hong Kong food waste reduction counts on children, creativity

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — The city is counting on the younger generations in solving the problem on food waste, while being creative in promoting sustainable habits.

The Environment Bureau launched last December the pre-primary environmental education kit to raise children’s awareness of protecting resources and reducing food waste. It points out that childhood is “an important part of environmental education.”

The bureau also prompted the education sector to cultivate among children the culture of “use less, waste less,” which is the theme of the government’s food waste plan launched in February 2014.

Supported by different sectors, the Environmental Campaign Committee set up last June an internet platform called “Waste Less School” for kindergarten, primary and secondary students. It aims to promote “zero food waste” among children, extend awareness through school events and encourage the public “to change their behavior.”

In its plan, the government aims to cut the disposal rate to landfill of municipal solid waste on a per capita basis by two-fifth in 2022. It says the critical part is to reduce food waste production.

Food waste here reached 3,600 tons every day in 2011. Households produced two-thirds of it. The rest came from food-related commercial and industrial establishments.

The amount of food waste from households had increased from 786,200 tons in 2008 to 925,200 tons in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Department.

“Apparently, it is still more effective to start the environmental education at home,” said Wise Wong, who used to teach at the York International Kindergarten. Children learn the value of conserving food from their parents first, she added.

Sandy Zeng from Hung Hom district said she occasionally takes her 4-year-old daughter to a farm to show where their food came from. The child can see the tedious processes of planting and harvesting vegetables in the farm, and learn to give importance to the food and its sources, Zeng said.

Since the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign began in May 2013, schools have done various activities and platforms for their students to participate in reducing food waste.

Meanwhile, Wong said it is effective to use animation characters to instill the values among children, especially if the ones being used are their favorite cartoons. “It’s like having a role model in a creative and fun way,” she added.

Cartoon character “Big Waster” that symbolizes food wastage in the FWHK Campaign “is gradually gaining popularity,” according to its press release. It also went online to interact with the public, especially the young generation, through its Facebook page.

"Big Waster" of Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign poses in a poster retrieved from its Facebook page.
“Big Waster” of Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign poses in a poster retrieved from its Facebook page.

However, it is yet to be surveyed how Hong Kong people respond to animation characters and mascots of environmental and other campaigns, said Ms. Wong of the industry support section of Create Hong Kong that has the mandate to boost creative industries.

CreateHK held in 2013 the first mascot design competition here for “Hong Kong: Our Home” Campaign. Its four themes each with a mascot were “Hip Hong Kong,” “Vibrant Hong Kong,” “Caring Hong Kong,” and “Fresh Hong Kong.”

Burning inner fire of creativity: Juong Nguyen

Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype PHOTO COURTESY OF Juong Nguyen

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG—Strolling around Kowloon neighborhood, Jordan, after work, Juong Nguyen was randomly taking in the sights. Billboards. Buildings. Neon signs. Window displays. Posters. People. Clothes. Cars.

He was silent, but his mind was not.

If he were thinking aloud, he would say something like: “The design on this one’s a bit off. That one is nice. The lines are skewed. The hues are perfectly matched. That man and that woman in the picture are the same person.”

His survey continues like this until he falls asleep, he said over dinner in autumn. “Look, these vegetables embellished the steamed fish,” he added in jest.

Nguyen’s job does not stop as he steps out of his office at Tsim Sha Tsui unlike most professions. A creative designer at Dickie Toys, subsidiary of German-based Simba Dickie Group, he continuously examines every detail of designs as far as his sight can reach every single moment.

“It’s part of my life,” he said candidly.

Juong Nguyen PHOTO BY Patrick Massman
Juong Nguyen designs toys using an electronic drawing pad for Dickie Toys, a subsidiary of German-based Simba Dickie Group that provides one-stop service from designing toys to their actual production. (PHOTO BY PATRICK MASSMAN)

In the beginning, the 28-year-old man first thought he could not earn money by following his passion for art and design, but later found otherwise.

“The piece of art is the emotional part of the creativity, while the design is the part that you get the salary for,” Nguyen said.

Before realizing this, he had gone through years of boredom, working menial factory jobs in Germany.

Finally, he decided to rekindle the “inner fire” that he always had since childhood.

“I was drawing a lot when I was younger and I wanted to try to make it as a profession,” he said.

Raised in his early years by his mother, Noc Trinh, Nguyen unfolded his artistic flair back in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. His father, Than Nhan, fled the country on a boat with other soldiers after the fall of South Vietnamese government and ended up in Germany. After a few years, Nguyen, his mother and brother, Anhkhoa, now 29, were reunited with their father in Germany.

Nguyen was 3.5 years old when he arrived in Germany with his mother and brother.

As a child, Nguyen recalled that he always had such “small fire in me like a designer.”

Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype PHOTO COURTESY OF Juong Nguyen
Juong Nguyen creates a toy prototype out of paper in his office in Tsim Sha Tsui. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JUONG NGUYEN)

To add fuel to the fire, Nguyen focused on his creative side by taking a yearlong informal course on design after leaving the factory.

The course made him realize that it was time to get serious with his two hobbies, sketching and photo editing. Consequently, he enrolled at the University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück to earn his bachelor’s degree in industrial design.

Some professors and classmates considered him as one of the best and diligent students, said Patrick Massman, who came to the university during Nguyen’s fifth semester in 2013.

Before the two schoolmates had a chance to become friends, Nguyen left for a six-month internship with the Dickie Toys here.

The German managers at Dickie Toys needed interns from Germany to communicate effectively with their teams, said Florian Blau, a product manager.

“For me, it was a perfect chance,” Nguyen said.

His creative juices found an outlet through designing global toys for Simba Dickie Group and under private labels of their clients, mostly in France, the United States and Germany.

He was the first German design intern of the company since its inception here in 1984.

The company’s services are a package, he explained, from generating ideas to designing the toys up to their actual production.

Among the 30 offices of Simba Dickie Group worldwide, its Hong Kong site has been important for shipping products as 90 percent of its suppliers and manufacturers are in China, Blau said.

As “one of the world’s leading exporters” of consumer goods, including toys, Hong Kong has been built up into a creative hub of the region, according to CreateHK.

Such trends have attracted designers like Nguyen to work here, but the city was not his main reason for accepting the company’s offer after graduating this year. “I could work anywhere in the world,” he said, as long as he wanted the job.

After taking the job, Nguyen once again met Massman, who became the second German design intern.

In the office, Nguyen always looks like he has the situation under control, said Massman.

When it comes to using design software such as Photoshop or Rhino, he said, Nguyen has more experience and diligence. “He’s a very clever person, even outside the office just like in the university,” Massman added.

Being able to do what he loves to do and manage to feel at home in a new city, Nguyen desired more to life than a stable job.

His ultimate goal is to build an art school that not only teaches children about art, but also allows them to be creative by designing things. He envisions it as a venue to lead them to innovate designs and transform tools for new purposes.

“It’s a new generation of creativity,” he said and smiled.

Inspired by Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” Nguyen said people should not give up on their dreams. “It’s about your happiness,” he said.

Most kids do not know what they want to become, Nguyen said, but he will find a way to teach them how to question themselves what they really would like to be.

“When they put more fuel to their inner fire, the fire becomes big, and in the end, they’re burning for this,” he said.

In the midst of his untiring creative survey, Nguyen thought of an old man, sitting on a couch and asking, “Why didn’t I do it?”

Some people are afraid of change because they think it is too late, he said with narrow eyes.

“The saddest thing is to die without trying.”