The Top Ten Greek Destinations to Visit in the Aegean Sea

By Solaire Hauser

The chapel Ágios Ioánnis in Greece.

The chapel Ágios Ioánnis in Greece. (Photo: SH)

The media herald it on a regular basis: To experience the “real” Greece, unaffected by the financial crisis, the perfect destination are the Greek islands. Only there can tourists still get a glimpse of the relaxed life of the Greek population. “Chalaróno” (χαλαρώνω) is what the locals say, “Take it easy”. And that, in fact, is easier done than said for a foreigner visiting one of the country’s famous peninsulas or islands.

 

Find out how to make the most of your trip to Greece by reading the full article on GoAbroad.com.

How To Celebrate in Hong Kong

Paper dragons being hoisted into the air on New Year's Day in Tsim Sha Tsui. (SH)

Paper dragons being hoisted into the air on New Year’s Day in Tsim Sha Tsui. (Photo: SH)

By Solaire Hauser

HONG KONG – On the Southern edge of China is a peninsula, and directly underneath it are two bigger islands that stretch out into the South China Sea. These scrapes of land make up Hong Kong, or – as it is more correctly referred to – the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

In an article published on GoAbroad.com, you can read more about typical Chinese as well as Western festivals and how they are celebrated in the city that is currently the global trailblazer when it comes to breaking the “The sky is the limit” barrier in architecture.

–> Click here to read the full article.

Let Money Be Your Guide (Part 2)

(Click here to read Part 1.)

Text and photos by Solaire Hauser

BANGKOK – Being a tour guide means telling a lot of stories. Sometimes, however, it is the storytellers themselves who share details about their lives.

Ithidej Sarunsiri has been a tour guide in Bangkok since 1998, and it wasn’t exactly the career he had always imagined for himself.

“Life is easy for Thai people,” he says, because the weather stays sunny almost throughout the year. However, in terms of his professional career, life did not always seem so bright.

After working in his father’s business for a few years, he eventually had to look for a new job when the Thai-based company suffered a hard blow during the financial crisis of the year 1997.

Even though becoming a tour guide did not seem like the best option to him back then, there were not many other choices available. So he started his training and began to pray to Buddha to help him get his license.

Now Sarunsiri walks tourists around the most famous sights Bangkok has to offer and explains their history to them. “I keep details like a library,” he says with a laugh as he turns to a giant golden Buddha statue to explain the story behind its creation.

Let Money Be Your Guide (Part 1)

How Two Financial Turmoils Influenced One Man’s Life

By Solaire Hauser

BANGKOK – Scores of tourists climb the steep steps to the top of one of Bangkok’s famous temples. In the shade of the great Wat Arun sits a man. He is wearing black trousers and a beige button-down shirt. A slight gust of wind wafts through his short black hair as he shelters his eyes from the hot summer sun that shines almost throughout the whole year in Thailand.

Let Money Be Your Guide 1

Sarunsiri now earns money as a tour guide, showing tourists in Bangkok around temples and other sights. (Photo: Solaire Hauser)

Life did not seem so bright a few years ago. Ithidej Sarunsiri, who introduces himself to foreigners as Michael, was one of many Thais whose life was turned upside-down when a financial crisis hit his country in 1997.

Back then, he was working in his father’s company, a big leather goods production firm in Thailand. Sarunsiri says that the business received a strong financial blow during that time. That was when he had to start thinking about finding another way to earn a living.
“My father is a one-man show business,” he says.  “I am just like an ‘accessory’ on his head.”

So Sarunsiri had to go and find his fortune elsewhere, and after a while his path led him towards tourism.

In 1997 he started his training for becoming a tour guide. Being a Buddhist, like approximately 94% of the Thai population in 2010, he asked Emerald Buddha, one of the Buddha statues in the Grand Palace, to help him get his license. Because at the time not becoming a tour guide would have meant not having a job.

One year after starting his training he began to work. One of his big advantages in the job was that he enjoys talking; for instance about the Buddhist tradition of sticking gold leaves on Buddha statues.
“I would put them on the mouth,” he says with a grin, because that is where he sees his strength, which he would like Buddha to protect for him.

The next time the world engrossed in a financial crisis, starting in 2008, Sarunsiri again felt the effects on his profession. Tourists from Europe started to decline, while at the same time more people from Asia flocked into Bangkok.

In general, the effects of this second crisis were much less severe for Sarunsiri. “After the financial crisis in 1997 many people lost their jobs, lost their home,” he recalls.

Still, the money he earns from showing visitors around the city is not always enough, so Sarunsiri took a four-year break from being a tour guide in 2008 in order to figure out web marketing.

In the beginning, the online world was still a mystery to him.

“Wow! Hotmail! I have Hotmail! I have job!” is one of the things he used to exclaim in the early stages of his marketing career.

Now he knows that a web presence does not equal a job guarantee.
However, it has helped him to attract more customers and be more successful with his actual profession, so he can be prepared in case another financial crisis comes around.

A Wish Upon A Tree

One Woman’s Choice to Pursue Enlightenment

[A long-form article]

By Solaire Hauser

HONG KONG – Jian Jue Sik, 31, kneels before a table in a small room, her face illuminated by the sunlight streaming in through the dark wooden bars of a window in front of her. She is wrapped in a gray robe, her hands folded in prayer. A statue of a man with a long black beard towers over her. The light changes, falling on the woman’s head. Her hair is shaved, only a few millimeters of stubby wisps remain.

Jian Jue is a Buddhist nun living in the Chi Lin nunnery in Hong Kong, a recent and controversial addition to the UNESCO World Heritage site short list. Since the age of 12, Jian Jue has been trying to find her path. Now, more than a decade later, she is following in the footsteps of her mother and devoting her life to Buddhism.
The story of how she came to Chi Lin is connected to two things: one of her Buddhist masters, and a tree full of money.

A Wish Upon A Tree: Jian Jue SIK

A Buddhist nun walking along the streets of Hong Kong. (Photo credit: Evita Li)

Before Jian Jue became a nun, everyone knew her as Yee Lai Heng. At that time, she was searching for the answer to a question that had haunted her since childhood.

One day when Jian Jue was 12, her mother asked her to pluck out her gray hair.
“Mum, why do people get gray hair?” Jian Jue remembers asking.
“When people get older, they get gray hair,” her mother said.
Then they get sick, and then they die.

“I felt very sad,” says Jian Jue. And that’s when she asked the question that would change the course of her life.

So Yee Lai Heng became Jian Jue Sik, a Buddhist nun on a spiritual journey towards enlightenment and a quest to find the answer to that one simple question:

How can I find a path that doesn’t lead to eventual sickness and death?

Abteilung_Punkte_klein

Jian Jue’s search lasted years.

Born in Malaysia, her first job was working as a secondary school teacher in her home country in 2005. She also taught 3- to 12-year-old primary school kids math using an abacus.
“I have always liked calculating,” she says with a laugh.
She took the teaching job after quitting college, where she had studied Accounting for one year.

But even then, she felt life held something else for her. Still, her efforts to find out what it was had so far been fruitless.

Jian Jue was accompanied in her search by her mother. They went to Christian church together, in case they would find their calling there. When that didn’t work, they turned to other religions.

For Jian Jue, Buddhist temples had always contained a certain fascination. While working as a teacher, she was also volunteering at a temple.

Jian Jue still remembers the first time she went to a temple as a girl. Upon entering through the gates, the first thing she heard was the chanting of the monks.
“For some reason, I started to cry,” she remembers. “It was a feeling like going home. I felt ‘touched inside’.”
Then she smelled the incense.
“I always thought it looked easy. But it’s actually quite complicated.”
Jian Jue realized that incense burning requires determination to the task. Usually, a number of sticks are used, which have to be burnt more or less equally.

Jian Jue went to temples regularly after her first visit. She also started chanting at home almost every day.
Her decision to eventually become a volunteer was sparked by her trip to a temple for Buddhist monks.
“I felt that the temple was very dirty,” she recalls. “All the books were so dusty.”
So she offered to help keep the place clean.

Even though she went to the temple three to four times a week after school, Jian Jue hadn’t yet considered becoming a nun herself.
In 2006, her mother got in ahead of her: she told her family she wanted to become a Buddhist nun. For most of them, this choice was unexpected. Jian Jue was 24 at the time.
“I think maybe she didn’t make her thoughts about Buddhism too obvious because she didn’t want to leave her husband,” she says.

That may also be the reason her mother didn’t ask to become a nun right away. Instead, she asked her husband’s permission to live in a nunnery in Malaysia. About two months later, she told him she wanted to be ordained as a Buddhist nun.
Jian Jue’s father agreed, only demanding that she go to a temple only for women.

“I was in Indonesia at that time, in a temple,” Jian Jue recalls.
But she came home to see her mother’s ordination ceremony, as did most of her other family members. Together, they watched as a Buddhist master, also called a shifu, shaved her mother’s head and presented her with her Buddhist robes.

[Click on the page numbers below to read the next part of this article.]

Fishing in Deserted Waters

Text and photos by Solaire Hauser

HONG KONG – Wading through the dark brown muddy ground, Ho Jeon Pak is looking for shrimp. The villager, who is currently in his seventies, collects the small sea creatures, as well as tiny fish, simply for fun and to eat them.

“There is nothing else to do here,” says his wife.

She and Ho have been living in the Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island in Hong Kong for many years. Before his retirement about 16 years ago, Ho used to work as a fisherman, just like many other men in the small village. But now, there is hardly anything left to catch.

“I quit fishing when I was about 40,” he says. “No fish for us anymore.”

Simon Chau’s Tree of Life

By Solaire Hauser

Simon Chau is currently teaching Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. (Photo: Solaire Hauser)

Simon Chau at the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus. (Photo: Solaire Hauser)

HONG KONG – Simon Chau is known in Hong Kong for both his environmental work as well as his achievements in the field of translation. Being the only one out of four children to have a university education, he feels that he should use it to improve the way of living in Hong Kong.
He says that “at this very moment, I think Hong Kong is in a big crisis; economically, politically and socially.”
According to him, many well-educated people left the country about five years before the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China.
“Like abandoning a sinking ship,” he says. However, Chau and his family stayed.

He urges people to do more for their country and the preservation of its environment. Chau himself is a “green campaigner”, as he calls it, setting an example of a sustainable and healthy way of living. The roots for this engagement in environmental activities reach deeply into his childhood, while the origins for his interest in translation can be found in a rather unexpected place: the Catholic Church.

A Man of Memories

By Yan Chiu, Solaire Hauser, Evita Li, Momo Mao

HONG KONG – Light bulbs, cables and fans hang from the ceiling of a small store on the side of the street. A man sits in an old chair next to the tiny door, his wrinkled hands buried in a box of shiny silver tools.

Choi Chueng Yun, 77, has been sitting in this chair almost every day from early morning until afternoon since his retirement.

The products he sells in his store in Wan Chai are former possessions of people he has helped to move out of their apartments. Ties, housewares, memorabilia and old books tell a story about their former owners. Customers rummaging through Choi’s bookshelf might sometimes even find a dinner invitation from the 1980s between the dusty pages of a Harvard Law book.

What the products in the shop don’t tell, however, is Choi’s own story.

Born in Guangdong in China, Choi came to Hong Kong when he was only 13 years old. Those times still hold bittersweet memories for him.

“Those days were not easy, but we felt happy,” says his wife.

Working used to be an obligation for Choi. Now he does it for fun.

“I could have retired. But I’ve become attached to the old stuff, so I can’t just leave.”

Interview by: Yan Chiu, Momo Mao
Camera operators: Solaire Hauser, Evita Li
Editing by: Yan Chiu, Solaire Hauser, Evita Li, Momo Mao
Narration: Solaire Hauser
Special thanks to the Choi family.

Hong Kong Taxi Drivers Fight for More Money

Text and photos by Solaire Hauser

HONG KONG – Easily distinguishable from normal cars in most cities, taxis come in different colors. In Hong Kong their signature colors are red, blue and green, depending on which area they are serving.

Drivers of the red cars, which are also known as urban taxis, have recently been on the news due to a discussion about an increase of the taxi fare.

At the moment, most drivers earn around HK$ 300-400 on an average day. Poon Shu Keung, who has been a cab driver for 20 years, thinks that the current price is acceptable. “Not too much, not too little,” he says.

On the contrary, cab driver Chow Chi Leung says that almost half of that money needs to be spent on oil and the renting fee for the car.

What urban taxi drivers are demanding now, in order to solve this problem, is a HK$ 2-increase in the taxi fare, according to a report in The South China Morning Post. They are also asking for an additional 10 cents for every 200 meters.

There have been a number of fare increases in recent years to deal with this situation. Whether this one will be approved or turned down remains to be seen.

A Ping Che Resident’s Fear For His Home

Chan Sing Shun sits at a table in front of his hut in Ping Che village. (Photo: Solaire Hauser)

Chan Sing Shun sits at a table in front of his hut in Ping Che village. (Photo: Solaire Hauser)

By Solaire Hauser

HONG KONG – Chan Sing Shun shoulders his backpack as he stands on the front step of his small hut. The gray-haired man, wearing a gray pullover, black sports trousers and a black jacket, is off to do volunteer work for the elderly community.

Chan is one of three residents sharing a small complex of three huts in a village called Ping Che in the northeastern New Territories in Hong Kong. He moved to the area when he was about 20 years old and has been living there for approximately 40 years. Now, at around 60, Chan has to fear losing his home, as a government plan intending to replace the shacks and organic farms in the area with residential buildings threatens to leave an estimated 10,000 residents no chance but to leave the place they call home.

The plan has evoked protests by the villagers, who don’t want the government to build “another concrete jungle,” according to one of the protesters, Chang Guichai.
“This is our Central Park. We don’t want another artificial park,” he says.

Chan, who has been a school bus driver in Hong Kong before a stroke in 2010 forced him into retirement, does not worry too much about the impact the government plan might have on his farm. The vegetables he grows, he says, are not for sale, it is only a hobby for him. However, he wants the government to offer redemption for residents who will lose their homes if the plan is put into practice. So far, none has been offered.

The hut Chan lives in consists of two rooms, the first one equipped with a couch, a table, a few pictures and shelves on the wall, as well as a flat TV. In the adjoining room, Chan often sits at his computer in the afternoon to play chess or mahjong. He calls his living arrangements, in his matter-of-fact tone, “not inconvenient.”

Since his ex-wife left, together with his son and daughter, Chan has been living in the shack with an adjoining kitchen alone, and he wouldn’t mind moving somewhere else. However, the HK$ 3,000 he receives every month since he had his stroke are not enough to find a new place to live in the city, since he says that the housing prices in Hong Kong are much higher than what residents pay for their homes in Ping Che. Therefore, he supports the protesters, who are demanding a revision of the government plan.