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Humans of Hong Kong: On life and beauty with Mini Cheung

By Nicole Hurip 3 June 2020

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a brand-new story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. Mini Cheung’s journey to becoming an independent jewellery designer was buoyed by the tides of fate, through different cities and by way of meeting different people. Jimlly Jewellery is a means of self-expression and self-discovery for Mini, inspired by vintage European styles. We sat down with her to talk about the joys of free-spirited living, the role empathy plays in design, and dancing with a stranger at midnight in Paris.

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“Someone told me that I’m not selling my jewellery, I’m selling my story. Everyone has his or her own story—it depends on if they like yours. That really resonated me, because that means that your life experiences dictate your style. Someone who is really elegant may come from a good family or something to do with her background. I’m selling my own life experiences.

“I started in the jewellery industry when I was 18, with several big companies. I was usually on the floor. Around 10 years ago, the jewellery industry was doing extremely well. Jewellery and gold stores would line whole streets, and they really needed manpower, which is why they hired someone with zero experience like me. This also means that I was responsible for a lot more work, including the smithing process. You need to understand how the products are made because when someone walks in asking to trade in a gold tooth they’ve just pulled out of their mouth, you would need to test its purity by melting it down and then weighing it.”

“The company provided training for me to understand how the craftsmen would do things, as well as differentiate between different gemstones and how to explain it to customers. That was when I started to accumulate my knowledge of jewellery. After four or five years, I left to go abroad for a year, and then came back and didn’t really do much for half a year. This was the period in my life that was the most transformative because I was trapped in Hong Kong for all my life, and the jewellery that you were exposed to were the ones in the stores of the big brands. Lane Crawford and the stores in Landmark have some higher-class wares, but when you’re abroad, you realise that jewellery can come in many designs.

“My understanding of what jewellery can be started changing. I also started collecting some vintage pieces that incorporated elements and techniques that I had never seen before, or have never even thought about. Now, everything seems very homogenised, the backing is made a certain way, the stones are set in a certain way, etc. I’m not trying to judge which styles are more beautiful, because beauty can be exhibited in many different ways.”

“Going abroad made me more independent. I think I started working too early, and at that age, I just did what people told me to do. I was very obedient. The results were good, of course, but when I was away from Hong Kong, I had started thinking for myself. I discovered that there were often multiple paths, multiple options. Sometimes that makes the path more difficult, but you will experience different things. Perhaps you need to let me try falling down; I don’t want my life to just be smooth sailing. That scares me more, actually.

“I think I’m very used to living on the edge; I’m not scared of not having money, because that means things can’t get any worse. If things get too stable, I would start wondering if that’s where I will be stuck at for the rest of my life. Will I have to constantly try to maintain how things are? Every time I feel like I’m almost at a stable place, I get scared and I do something weird.”

“I was in Paris one time, and I met a really famous artist. I literally met him on the street, I didn’t know him before. One evening around 10 pm, I was in front of a theatre where every night from 10 pm to midnight, there would be people dancing. I was just there to spectate, and then someone asked if he could dance with me. I told him I didn’t know how, but he said that it’s okay, he’s going to teach me. This was an older man, an uncle.

“I found out afterwards that he was born in Hong Kong, moved to Paris at a young age to attend art school, and ended up staying there. He told me that in Paris, you can do anything. Asking a stranger for a dance is not something particularly romantic. You might see a pretty lady on the street, and go up for an embrace. They actually would do things like that. They are extremely romantic— being homeless is romantic to them. Or perhaps you ordered lobster at a restaurant, but they don’t give you your order. Instead, they present you with a crab that looks like a lobster, and tell you it’s a lobster. I don’t think I’m on that level. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Hong Kong too long, my brain is not as nimble. They’re very quick to make unusual connections. One day, when I’m free of any constraints and responsibilities, I would like to try their way of living.

“My friend ordered a bottle of champagne for me at my hotel, and I didn’t want to drink it alone. So I invited my new friend over to enjoy it together. We danced together the first night, and the second night, we drank champagne together on the steps of the theatre. People would stare if you did something like that in Hong Kong, but there, you can do anything.”

“I think if you’re doing design, you need to be very sensitive. This might be an exaggeration, but you need to be at a level where you would want to cry when you see someone fall down. You need to have empathy; sometimes I look at a tree and wonder if it feels bored sometimes, looking at the same things for hundreds of years on end. You need to know how to daydream, to have conversations with yourself. Some of my friends know that when I am alone I like to talk to myself, out loud. Now I have Cooper, my cat, so I would talk to him sometimes.

“I am really happy. I think I have no regrets. I am doing what I like, and it can support me. I have good friends by my side, good people by my side. Nothing too complicated, not much gossip or drama. My life is simple—I have fun, I laugh, I play with Cooper. My family is solid too, so I feel like so far, I am content. That being said, it is hard for me to stay in a very stable place. I always feel the need to push myself to the brink, so I might have to find that ledge to throw myself over soon, and see what happens.”

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.

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