You’re from Hong Kong – how did you end up in Slovenia?
I was hired before I came to Slovenia as a Traditional Chinese medicine expert a few years ago. Back then I was a bit exhausted with the busy and crowded environment in Hong Kong, so I was looking for a change. Indeed, it was the internet that found Slovenia for me after intensive browsing and Google searching. I visited Slovenia for one week before I took the job and that was the first time I came to Europe. It is, however, my personal choice to stay in Novo mesto, a relatively quiet and small "city".
In 2017, I had a major change in my job. At that time, I needed to choose whether I stay here or restart in other city. I even got another job offer in Koper. But somehow I feel responsible to all my clients who have been visiting me for years, and I would like to continue to serve them. So despite some good business opportunities offers, I chose to settle in Novo mesto.
What were some of the problems you faced when moving here, and how did you deal with them?
Frankly speaking, at first, not many problems because I was hired as an expert, so basically someone took care everything for me – renting an apartment, arranging job, even taking me to the government office and bank with a person who speaks Slovene. But then, slowly, the longer I lived here the more problems I had.
The first challenge I had was getting my driving licence. It took my more than a year, even with the effort of my Slovenian driving instructor, and yet I was not able to satisfy the ever-changing and never-ending request for paperwork from the Upravna Enota. At a certain point I just realised that he was asking for documents that didn’t exist. And every time when I wanted to get some clear answers, instead of giving me one, the guy just tried to think of something to send me away. So I took the advice from the expat group online, tried another Upravna Enota, and guess what? I finally took the practical exam, passed and got my license. I was not so lucky the next time with my visa renewal though, and I really do not want to get into the details.
But you know, similar stuff like that, they never tell you the things once and for all, so the whole procedure is dragging on for so long and at the same time the officers are complaining that they have so many jobs to do. For a person who comes from a city that is world famous for its efficiency, this is unbelievable and almost hilarious. Interestingly enough, sometimes this could happen in private companies as well, but at least I can choose another bank and telecom and live with it.
What are some things you miss from Hong Kong?
As mentioned above, our efficiency, maybe some more pragmatism as well. The government and companies in Hong Kong are (or maybe were) famous for high efficiency and quality. This is very understandable. For a small city with seven million people and as one of the largest financial centres in the world, everything needs to be fast, precise, no-nonsense. And for the previous generation of the Chinese community, they also needed to face rule under the British. They needed to find their space to keep their own Chinese heritage and customs, but at the same time adapt to the British.
The British were also quite clever, especially after the late 60s, when they finally realised that instead of just taking and taking, as they did in other colonies, they also needed to build and develop the city as a modern society. So for my generation who grew up in the 80s and 90s, we kind of have the best of both worlds. I was able to learn from my Chinese heritage for our hardworking and can-do attitude, respect for tradition and authentic Chinese culture while at the same time I am familiar with the practice of the rule of law, have communication with the free world and enjoy our economic success.
And of course, the variety of food from home is also what I miss. It is not just about having Chinese food. It is the variety of fresh vegetables, seafood and all kind of imported food from all over the world. I do enjoy the quality of food in Slovenia, but I do want to have more vegetables than lettuce, spinach, broccoli and stuff like this.
What things do you think Slovenia could learn from Hong Kong?
In some ways, I think Slovenians are too comfortable or even obsessed with being a small country. Look – being geographically small does not mean that you cannot think big. Sometimes you really need to break through the comfort zone and explore. And in this process, there will be pain and difficulty but you need to have a long term plan and bigger picture in mind together with a good faith. However, the Slovenians that I have met are either too passive and pessimistic for advancement, or they react aggressively protective of their own rule, despite the fact that those rules are causing more trouble or are impractical in the real world. So in short, what Slovenia can learn from Hong Kong is more of our can-do attitude, with more flexibility and pragmatism.
What things in Slovenia would you like to show people in Hong Kong?
I do not want to show them anything because I want this country to remain a hidden gem (laughs). Just kidding. Well, to be honest, it is a difficult question to answer. I enjoy the relatively slow and quiet pace of the country but if I tell everybody about this then I am kind of ruining the peace. Slovenia has everything, but just a tiny bit of everything. And for people in Hong Kong, we are so internationalised. We travel a lot. So if they want the European heritage, they go Vienna or Florence; if they want to the city vibe they go to Berlin or London; if they want the nature or beauty, they go to Switzerland or Iceland. In the recent years, more Hong Kong people are interested in visiting the Balkans or somewhere with less people. This is the only time when people from Hong Kong will look for Slovenia, and then have trouble pronouncing Ljubljana.
Do you speak Slovene, and if so, how did you learn?
I took some private classes when I was an employee. But ever since I started my own business, I do not have the time and energy for more lessons. At work, I can understand many familiar phrases or vocabulary items related to my work. I have a translator and interpreter for my business. For my personal life, I mostly speak English. For some occasions I just hire a personal assistant or consultant for complicated or formal things. In general, my Slovene is slabo.
What’s the situation of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Slovenia?
Just like many other things in this country, Slovenia has everything but on a small scale. The first TCM expert was invited by the former Yugoslavia. Somehow that doctor settled in Slovenia, and since then more experts like me were hired to come here. Still, doctors come and go, while TCM here is kind of controlled by the business owner, so the TCM profession is way less mature than places like Canada, USA, Australia and Switzerland.
At the same time, Slovenia is also in a difficult position with regard to training their own TCM doctors. There are acupuncture services in the hospital and there are medical doctors who perform acupuncture. But if we consider the more internationalised and widely accepted standard of training, the formal training of TCM is basically non-existent in Slovenia. Slovenians can go overseas for formal training, but it requires a huge investment. Therefore, importing TCM experts and training capable interpreters for non-Slovene speaking doctors is a more practical and cost-efficient way of providing authentic and quality TCM services in Slovenia. To a certain degree, we are quietly assisting the overloaded medical system herem while generating profit for the government and creating jobs.
What are some things that people get wrong about acupuncture?
Acupuncture is not just poking needles into the body. There are different types of acupuncture. The one that I am practicing is the classical Chinese approach which is under the Traditional Chinese medicine theory and system. Other Asian medicines like Korean and Japanese ones are similar to the Chinese, but still have their uniqueness. There are some “modern” forms of acupuncture, to be accurate “dry-needling”. They are not performed under the TCM theory, but using scientific and anatomical knowledge like trigger points or the nervous system.
As I have mentioned, acupuncture is not just putting needles into the body. There is a reason behind it. However, after hundreds of years of reductionist science, many people refuse to accept the fact that there is another rational and logical approach to understanding our body. TCM is a holistic philosophy which is a complete and sophisticated system, but at the same time fundamentally different from science. We may be able to get some scientific findings in TCM, but again they are only small pieces under a reductionist system. Anyhow, I don’t want to bore people with too much academic talk, but instead to emphasise the value and importance of an independent and mature TCM theory.
What are some things that acupuncture can help with?
Throughout my years in Slovenia, I have helped many people. Some conditions that I find more responsive to my treatment are digestive system problems like irritable bowels, thyroid problems and psychiatric problems like depression and anxiety. The list is too long, really, to name just a few.
Do you think you’ll stay in Slovenia “forever”?
I do have some plans on the personal, business and professional levels. But who knows what tomorrow might bring. I will try and do my best to provide and serve my clients as well as Slovenian society. May the people here will help me, value me and God bless me.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ms Cheng’s work in Slovenia, then you can visit Aku Energija online or at Ulica talcev 9, 8000 Novo Mesto