Interviewing Bobsy Gaia! (Part 2)

by Maria Grzywacz

Who were we kidding, thinking that one blog post will sum up the journey and eco-wisdom of one of Hong Kong’s most active, most prominent green minds, Bobsy Gaia. You might know him from MANA!, you might know him because of his tree-planting initiatives or you might know him for his unique style. The good news is, now you’ll get to know him even better! Read on!

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Speaking of sustainable changes, what are your green steps? What do you do in your everyday life?

I’m predominantly vegan, I shifted to a plant-based diet a long time ago. In the early days, I continued to eat fish and dairy and now I don’t anymore; the biggest impact that I can have is through my diet. And then that escalates to MANA!, operating a small chain of plant-based restaurants, where MANA! promotes everything it promotes. So on the personal level I changed my diet, I simplified my lifestyle, I have also been using natural soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants for a very long time. I recycle and compost at home, all the usual things that I am talking about… but it is so normal now! I am very aware of my impact, but the biggest thing anyone can do is change their diets. 

We were educated to switch off the tap when we brushed our teeth, to become more aware of water consumption, electricity, public transport, so those areas are fine. But I think if you really, really want to make a difference the start is with your diet because that’s the most anyone can do. I started with my diet a long time ago but everything is connected to everything else. So meditation, yoga - all come with it because you realise that you need to look after your health. If you want to look after the health of the environment your health is connected to it. Food waste at home is composted, the rest is recycled, waste is segregated, water filters are always on my taps - whether they are my shower taps, my drinking taps… So there is no use of plastic bottles, I don’t buy water in bottles at all. You put a filter on your tap and it is a perfect way of drinking fresh and clean water.

I also love vintage clothing, so I always look for vintage and second-hand clothes - not easy to find in Hong Kong, so I often go to places like Bali or Bangkok where I can find what I need. Otherwise, whenever I go to the West I always go to find some vintage clothing. I honestly don’t know what else I am doing, I never think about these things. It’s almost like second nature.

Who are your personal heroes and why?

The late Willis Harman, who was the biggest inspiration for me, more than any other person. He wrote a wonderful book called Global Mind Change. He wrote it in 1987 and everything in that book has come true… I read it in early 1990 and it was my eureka moment, by reading that book I went “Oh, wow!”. It all made sense, I could see why people don’t care for the environment. I could see why people are doing what they are doing. It’s because they are still within the old materialism paradigm. So what Willis Harman did was he brought my awareness to something called a paradigm or worldview, or zeitgeist which is a wonderful German word. Because otherwise, I had no awareness about that. Willis Harman was the head of the Noetic Sciences for 20 years - and these are the sciences that study the mind and consciousness. Cutting-edge scientists - physicists, biologists, mathematicians, all of them. He was the head of it and the more I found out about Willis Harman the more I realised what a beautiful man he was because he was a scientist but he was also deeply spiritual. I also found out that he was studying the whole psilocybin magic mushroom psychedelic movement in the US when it was legal and when LSD was legal. So looking back now I understand that he had taken some doses, at least, of magic mushrooms , psilocybin or plant medicines. And then I realised who else was taking these, and why these people were so influential in what they did - so, my greatest hero would be Willis Harman. 

Historically there were some wonderful heroes, I admire William Blake, he’s probably my favourite artist and my favourite visionary of all time. Of course, there are a lot of great people I admire… Emerson, Thoreau; I love the romantics - Byron, Keats, Shelly, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Those are the people that kept the human consciousness flame alive in the heart of the industrial revolution. 

It beautifully leads to our next question, which is what are you currently reading?

Good question… I tend to read multiple books at the same time. I mentioned Willis Harman earlier, but who inspired him was an American thinker, philosopher and writer, who wrote a very small book in 1956 called The Transformations of Man and in it he studied historically the transformations that took us out of being ape-like to palaeolithic, neolithic, archaic and so forth. All these phases of humans (back then they used the word man), all the way up to the current crisis which we face today. The author’s name is Lewis Mumford, and I devoured this book! It’s relatively difficult to find. I found the second-hand copy online, of the original version, it’s very, very old and I love old books. When you open them up they smell, their covers are crumbling, they are falling apart. I just finished reading it, and when I read certain books I highlight, so when I read them the next time I can go through them faster and get straight to the message. 

I am also reading One mind by dr. Larry Dossey, we have that book here in the library. It talks about the one mind that all of humanity is a part of. He calls it a universal mind. He talks about near-death experiences, extra sensory perceptions, remote viewing and so forth from a scientific perspective.

The Dao De Jing [also: Tao Te Ching] I’m always reading. I have a wonderful version by Stephen Mitchell, which is my favourite. I constantly have it by my bedside, I usually just flip open the book and read the chosen section. That’s my current reading list, but I read a lot. 

The last question is - what’s next for you and MANA!?

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For me, I want to go on a fast, a cleanse. I was going to start yesterday but you know, there is never a good time too fast, never - there is always something. But I wish to do a little bit of a cleanse and detox, get deeper into myself. Usually, when I embark on a fast, I start to meditate more, practice yoga more, I go inwards and look at myself. I am 54 now and this is a time I feel where I need to look at my inner ecology a bit more. The outer-ecology is MANA! and the things I do as a public figure such as the talks I give, the blogs I write, the interviews. I think MANA! speaks for itself and what we do stand for is quire clear, but personally I feel I want to go inwards a bit more, and usually what kick-starts it is a fast and a cleanse. That’s next for me. Of course, we are living in difficult and challenging times in Hong Kong and I am going to take a short break locally. I don’t feel like I want to jump on planes and travel. I wish to retreat here in Hong Kong. That’s on the personal level. 

For MANA! - well, we just opened the new location on Star Street, so it’s a bigger expression of MANA! as a concept, as a brand and a way of living. We want to use this MANA! as a benchmark, a new flagship store and then try to scale up by opening more of them in Hong Kong, following the blueprints of having a little more space, with places where you can get seated, where you can hang out. We are going to expand in Hong Kong, our next expansion will be a new one in Central early next year and another funky location too that will please a lot of people.

We haven’t announced it yet so I’m going to announce it now, but the block on Wellington Street where we have our original MANA!, is being knocked down sadly. Therefore, we are looking for new MANA! Central location as a priority. So MANA! is going to start expanding in the coming year or so, and then we would like to take MANA! overseas.

We are sowing very early seeds of regional expansion. But MANA! from the beginning was always designed to be scalable. The fact that we haven’t scaled as quickly as we could have or we should have or as quickly as people wanted us to, is because we have our own journey, we have had our own challenges, our ups and downs. It hasn’t been an easy journey but here we are, almost 9 years later and it feels like we are much stronger than we’ve ever been. We have survived some very challenging periods that would have shot us down very easily, but because MANA! has always been on a mission to raise environmental awareness, first and foremost, because of our mission-led business, that’s why we have survived. If you’d take that out of the equation, we would have closed down in 2016 when there was no point in continuing, unless for our mission. So when there was no money in the bank, when we couldn’t pay our staff on time, or our suppliers - it was bearable. We kept the integrity and the mission. I don’t think that is understood at all in Hong Kong, how difficult it is to keep a mission-led business, which is inherently set to do good, against all the odds. People look at how busy we are and they say “You’ve had it so easy” but they don’t know how challenging and hard it has been. So we want to keep expanding MANA! and the more awareness we can raise the bigger difference we can make. I think we have already been very influential with the young generation. When you look at our customers over all, you see that they are getting younger and younger. We get teenagers coming to hang out more and more - traditionally teenagers wouldn’t hang out in a place like this. So we know we are heading in the right direction. 

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