Take 5 with... Bobsy Gaia!
Welcome to Part 1 of our interview with Bobsy Gaia, one of Hong Kong’s eco-pioneers, and the incredible eco-preteur behind the favorite spot of many of Hong Kong’s eco-minds: MANA!.
We met Bobsy in MANA!’s newest café on Star Street and chatted away. We are talking past, present and future, and there is still more to come!
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, and why did you choose Hong Kong as a base for yourself and your business?
My name is Bobsy and I am Lebanese by birth, English by blood and Hong Kong by choice. I have now lived in Hong Kong for more than half of my life; longer than anywhere else.
I did not choose Hong Kong, Hong Kong chose me. I strongly know that it is my destiny to be here, and looking back over the last three decades, this destiny becomes even more apparent. When I came to Hong Kong I had no plan, I had no money, I had no family, I had no job. I had nothing. I came here following a strong intuition. That intuition was validated and confirmed from day one and has continued to be validated and confirmed for almost three decades now.
What's important to you, and how do these values affect your professional choices?
When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I knew who I was and what I wanted to do. I came to raise environmental awareness, and I began doing that, from day one, even though it was an unusual thing to be doing, back then.
From a business perspective, I came as an entrepreneur, and I have been an entrepreneur for over 30 years now. From an entrepreneurial perspective, starting conscious businesses and raising environmental awareness through everything that I was doing, was a little bit odd. The awareness and the “audience” simply weren't there. Also doing this in a city like Hong Kong with the way I look, was a little bit odd. A bohemian hippie was suddenly going into the heart of the business community of one of the strongest corporate business centres in the world!
I look the way I look, I have my values and principles, and I never felt I had to compromise them, but being who I am, doing what I do, was quite unusual and different. Looking back now, I see that the majority of the people, especially in the business world, had no idea what I was talking about or where I was coming from. So it made my journey a little bit more difficult and a little bit more unusual. I don’t think I was being understood and I was surely taken advantage of.
I spoke about integrity; back then I was focused mostly on fashion, tree planting and environmental activism, and people would be nodding their heads, but still asking “where’s the money?”. This never seemed to put me out of balance or disturb me though.
Had I been doing this in San Fransisco, New York, London or even Singapore, things would have gone a lot quicker. Hong Kong has been much slower for me to be able to do what I wanted to do because my actions were always "against the grain".
On a personal level, I was living on Lamma Island, but I could never afford the two months deposit, one-month in-advance payment, so I could never have my place. I lived in nature for six months. I lived in a hut that I semi-built myself. Situated on a beautiful cove, I even had my source of freshwater, from a freshwater spring! I had no money, so I ate a lot of fruits and made my own chapatis and my own tea too. I was living a very frugal, simple lifestyle, but at the same time, I was going into the city, working with “Friends of the Earth”, meeting people, finding out what was going on with Hong Kong’s environment. I was very active.
How would you describe the general eco-awareness of people in Hong Kong? You’ve lived in Hong Kong for a while, do you see a difference between the local population and the expat community?
What I liked about Hong Kong when I first arrived here was the fact that the government was putting out social messages about environmental education. Even in 1992/93 people were encouraged to use less water, use less plastic, be mindful of the environment. People were not necessarily paying attention to those messages. I found it admirable, but I could also see that it was not translating into the streets.
The messages were always bilingual: in English and Cantonese, but it was the expat community that was leading most of the beach clean-ups, the tree planting and other environmental campaigns. I could see a lot of involvement from the local community too, but sadly, the average person was not paying attention. You even see this today, almost 30 years later there is still a certain sense of disconnect.
Where I see the change happening, is with the younger generation!
“Diet Change, not Climate Change”, we LOVE MANA!’s message. Do you reckon that people in Hong Kong make their dietary choices based on environmental awareness?
Now they are, yes! The majority of people who are shifting their diets now, do it for the climate. If you go back 10 - 15 years ago, the majority of people who shifted their diets did it for personal health.
Almost 30 years ago, when I became vegetarian, I did it for the environment. I read an article about the real cost of a hamburger. I realized that I cannot be an environmentalist, going around planting trees and raising awareness, and still be eating meat. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and overnight I dropped meat, but I continued eating fish for several years.
I didn’t have the knowledge we have today because the information simply wasn't available. In 2008 I coined “Diet Change, Not Climate Change” and the first time you hear it is in “Save the Human, Don’t Eat the Planet” video. Since then it has become a louder voice, coming from both MANA! and myself.
Tell us about the “URNA! = You Are Not Alone!” movement! What change do you see in the collective awareness and consciousness?
All of MANA!’s packaging is wrapped in “URNA! = You Are Not Alone!”. Essentially it is a graphic design format meant to raise awareness about a conscious worldview. You see it on all of our packaging first and foremost, but there are posters and postcards too; values and principles that depict a consciousness worldview - a worldview that sees the entire universe made out of consciousness, as opposed to the dominant, and still current worldview that sees everything in the entire universe made out of matter. If you read all the insights of “URNA! = You Are Not Alone!”, you will realize that they are painting a picture of a certain worldview. If you are aware of this worldview, if you are shifting, you will relate to every single one of the messages. What I mean by “URNA! = You Are Not Alone!” is that you are not alone in believing that we live in a conscious universe.
It came out of my talks in schools where a lot of young people were resonating with what I was talking about, but their parents or their friends would not understand them. Not always using those exact words, but I would tell them “You Are Not Alone”. There are millions of us! Millions of people are not only shifting their diets but their entire lifestyles, looking at Mother Earth as a Living Mother, not just a rock going around the sun. We are all interconnected; that is the idea behind “URNA! = You Are Not Alone!”.
“URNA! = You Are Not Alone!” packaging has a QR-code. When you click on it, it will lead you to the final message that tells you that at least 500 million people have already shifted their consciousness. And therein lies the hope. Because we can only change the world if we change ourselves.