Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 501, 19 Dec – 1 Jan, 2015)
Epoch Times Staff
Elmo Chung fell in love with Tai O, a quiet fishing town located on the western side of Lantau Island in 2011.
Since then, she has resigned from her job as a manicurist and beautician in the city, and moved to the tranquil Tai O, which is surrounded by traditional fishing stilt houses and is close to nature and the sea.
In 2012, she painted on her first seashell as a Valentine’s Day gift for her boyfriend Benny. With encouragement from Benny to continue painting and making seashell accessories, the self-taught seashell artist started her own brand She- SawSeashells.
The seashells are collected from Tai O, and through these miniature art pieces, the 25 year-old hopes to remind people of the peacefulness of this picturesque fishing village.
Tell us more about yourself.
I am Elmo Chung, a self-taught seashell artist from Tai O in Hong Kong. I specialise in miniature paintings of marine life and various motifs inspired by nature on seashells, and transforming them into wearable art, such as necklaces, bag charms, earrings and bracelets, under my own accessories brand, ‘She Saw Seashells’. These hand-painted seashell accessories are retailed online and at EARTH.er, boutiques in Tai O and Causeway Bay that retail eco-friendly clothes designed by my boyfriend, Hong Kong high street fashion designer, Benny Yuen. I also work as a shopkeeper at the EARTH.er boutique in Tai O. Benny and I are active environmentalists. To us, being responsible about the Earth also means helping people who are in need. EARTH.er gives five to 10 percent of profits to sponsor six children through World Vision International.
You are courageous to quit your day job and choose to be a dessert chef in Tai O. Why did you make that choice?
Before I started ‘She Saw Seashells’, I was working in the city as a manicurist and beautician. The pace in Hong Kong City is vastly different – very frenetic and focused on profit maximisation. Yes, it was an exciting life, but very competitive and stressful as well. Even during holidays, I never completely felt rested…my mind was constantly on what was happening at the parlour. Stepping into Tai O was like literally stepping into a different world. In the city, we are hardly close to nature. But when I visited Tai O back in 2011 during a weekend getaway, I suddenly felt a peace that I had never felt when I was in the city, being so close to the sea, surrounded by traditional fishing stilt houses. From then on, I made a decision that this was the kind of life I wanted to lead.
Why did you start painting on seashells?
My family loved to travel to beach resorts since I was a child, and I have always been fascinated by the unique textures of seashells. I painted on my first seashell in 2012 as a Valentine’s Day pendant gift for Benny. From then on, he encouraged me to keep on painting and start an accessories line of seashell art.
Tell us about your life in Tai O on Lantau Island.
Just staying close to the sea and nature gives me inner peace and joy in life. In Tai O, as I run the EARTH.er boutique for Benny, I do have a schedule to abide by, but unlike the city, I feel more at peace working in the shop as I am so close to nature. Even if I work all week without any day off, I still feel the peace I never felt when I was in the city, so it never feels like work at all.
Also, the values and mission of EARTH.er is one that is close to my heart – respect and a deep appreciation for the environment.
Is living in Tai O an inspiration to your work on seashells?
Yes, definitely. The sound of the waves beating against the harbour has a calming effect on me, as well as the sight of the clear skies, chirping of sea birds and the general old fishing village charm of Tai O – all these sights and sounds inspire creativity as I paint on the seashells. I also imagine myself wearing these seashells as necklaces, earrings or wrist bands as I walk around Tai O.
Tell us more about your inspiration for the Arbutus Watches.
For the Arbutus Singapore Heritage Timepieces, I did substantial research on traditional batik art and the old architecture of Singapore, and was struck by the bright colours of conserved shophouses in and around the city. I have never seen such imaginative use of colours for conserved buildings elsewhere in the world. I also studied the artistic style of Peranakan porcelain as well as the flora and fauna of Singapore.
What will your future or dream project be?
My dream project will be one that will have an impactful contribution towards raising environmental awareness and activism amongst young people. I am in discussion with Arbutus for a future series of watches featuring endangered animals in China which are often illegally poached, such as the Panda, the Siberian Tiger, the Pangolin and the Asiatic Black Bear. I hope to activate young people to put an end to the cruelty of bear bile and tiger farming through such a project.
As a Hong Konger, you support the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. Do you have any words of encouragement for the students?
Yes, I took part in the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ demonstrations in Hong Kong in September 2014. My advice is: “Stick to your values, listen to your instincts, make the choices that your heart tells you to. And always believe in yourself.”
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