Profile Features: Juong Nguyen & Jacqueline Donaldson

Burning inner fire of creativity: Juong Nguyen

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 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 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.”


Like  the waves 

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. 

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.

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.

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."

Travel Stories: Vietnam and Laos

These are the stories I co-wrote with a friend and fellow journalist, Jessie Boga, about our trip from the south to the north of Vietnam. 


Saigon: The city has two faces

The towering buildings, bars, tour agencies, and hostels lined up like sentries can give visitors the impression that Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon), is a place ahead of every other city in Vietnam. Read more


As Vietnam train leaves, life moves in a fleeting space

No one heard the typical train whistle sound as the Reunification Express train at Saigon station prepared to take off. Read more


Hue: A city of “perfume and purple”

Our journey to Hue from nearby city Danang in Central Vietnam had us go through a mandatory discomfort in a small, cramped bus (and being puked on by a seat mate) before finding peace in another old city that lives in the present. Read more

Hoi An: Old but alive

The road to Hoi An, a small city in Central Vietnam, was literally long and winding. Read more


Vietnam and Laos are neighbors, but strangers

The transition from one city to another is ridiculously abrupt, like a smash cut in a horror film. One second you’re screaming, the next you’re yawning. Read more

Find a serious relationship on dating sites that leads to marriage

Is it possible to find a serious relationship on online dating sites and apps? If you met your partner online, are you most likely to get married? Is it even possible to find your future husband or wife on the internet?

These are only a few things that most people who are seeking for true love or a serious relationship are wondering about before considering online dating. Is it worth your time and energy swiping left or right on your phone, or chatting endlessly with someone you haven't met yet in person?

Would you rather wait for the right timing? When is the right timing and how is that supposed to happen?

Do you prefer meeting your future partner at the grocery store while picking up the same favorite vegetables? Do you need a regular schedule to go to a bar, yoga studio or church – depending on where you think your ideal partner typically would spend their time?


Right timing

Quoting from a character in Wong Kar-Wai's movie 2046, "Love is all a matter of timing. It's no good meeting the right person too soon or too late."

Timing simply means when everything falls in the right place. It's when both of you are ready for a serious relationship and you have similar interests and goals.

That's when they say, "You just know." Some relationship experts say, when you're in a relationship with someone, it doesn't matter where and how you met.

With the coronavirus measures in place, this could be the right time to look into finding true love on the internet. During a lockdown, traveling is limited to essential purposes, which means going out to public places in the hope of randomly meeting a potential partner may not be considered "essential".

However, it is essential in our life to be with someone who cares for us, especially in these times of uncertainty. It's our basic human need to belong to a healthy relationship with someone whom we can talk and share moments with.

Once you realize that this is what you're looking for, then you can decide right now that you're ready. Being ready means you are open to any possible ways to meet people.

That includes meeting someone online.


Online dating to find a life partner

If you're searching for a partner that you can spend the rest of your life with, then online dating can be a good place to start.

There are plenty of websites, apps and platforms where you can meet different kinds of people. It doesn't have to be a dating site. You can also simply find people on social media.

Going back to right timing, it's important to realize what kind of person you're looking for. What kind of activities or interests that you would like to share with your future partner?

It doesn't hurt to have a short list of non-negotiable things. Do you prefer someone who is vegan or non-smoker, an artist, has a degree, likes to travel, has no kids but likes kids, doesn't want kids and so on.

If you can't get everything – which is more likely to happen as nobody's perfect – then what is the most crucial thing on your list?

Just decide and then you'll know where to find them. There are dating websites that cater to specific traits or interests, including veganism or vegetarianism, spirituality, sports and hobbies. There are also different communities on social media platforms that gather people based on interests or advocacies.

Through online dating, you will be able to find people whom you share similar traits with but otherwise you might not encounter in person, let alone in the grocery store or on a bus.

In fact, he or she might be living in a country you have never been before.

In the United States, three in 10 adults used an online dating site or app, according to a 2019 survey of Pew Research Center. Among those who met their partner on the internet, 12% have married or in a committed relationship.

The same survey also revealed that the majority of the respondents who have been online dating have an overall positive experience. They said with online dating, it was easy for them to find someone they can be physically attracted to and have common interests.


It starts with hello

Even before the invention of smartphones or the internet, people have made use of the technology available at the time to reach out to others, hoping to meet the right one.

With airmail, people send postcards or letters to people they haven't met but found their name and address on newspaper or magazine ads "looking for penpals".

Then there's walkie talkie, by which some people would enter random radio frequencies to find someone to chat with. "What's your 20?” (This means asking for location.) "Roger that. Over"

When telephones arrived, some would dial random numbers or pick one on the directory in the hope to hear a sweet voice. "Hello?"

Before emails and social media, there were chatrooms or mIRC where you could type: hello, asl (age, sex, location).

Some couples first met on a plane or in a bus while traveling. This makes backpacking exciting for those who are soul searching, as they could end up finding their soulmate.

For those who can't travel like most of us during a lockdown, the internet is the best place for soulmate searching.


Couples who met online get married faster

There's no ticking clock involved here. And it's not about those who are in a hurry to settle down.

Again, it's about timing.

Imagine spending time and money going out on dates, hanging out in bars or joining events with slim chances of finding the person who could tick off a few items on your checklist. With online dating, you cut those hours and expenses, getting right to the point.

Of course, it's also nice to meet somebody in a gallery and you just started chatting while looking at the same painting. Who knows that such a random meeting was the beginning of your life together. It still does happen. It can happen anywhere and anytime when the timing is right.   

The big question really is how do you make it happen? Now that you met your potential partner, based on your non-negotiables list and commonalities, how do you develop and nurture a serious relationship with that person?

Getting to know each other is a crucial stage before you both decide whether it's worth starting a relationship and meeting in person.


A few important things to make it work

  1. Keep a regular channel of communication. Always be honest and respectful. Make sure you're on the same page in terms of intentions. It's important that you're both looking for a serious relationship that could potentially lead to marriage. 

  2. Have a regular schedule for video calls. While chatting can be very convenient and fast, it still makes a difference to be able to see each other's faces real time. It creates a strong bond and builds up your idea of each other's personality.

  3. Discover your compatibility or chemistry through humor, flirting or a friendly debate. It's good to know your opinions on things by actually engaging in a discussion. If you'll  be engaged in an argument, it's helpful to be on a video call rather than on text messaging, so you can be mindful of each other's facial expressions and body languages. 

If you can talk in hours and you're still not bored of each other, then it's a good sign of compatibility. You may have some differences in terms of likes and dislikes, but what matters most is that you can talk about anything.

After all, communication is the key to success in any kind of relationship. Remember that there's no perfect person and perfect relationship. It's all hard work and it's up to you to decide if it's worth it. ❤

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