Have The Courage to Follow Your Heart and You Won’t Get Lost - Interview with Maoshan Connie
Much ink has been spilled when describing Hong Kong as a “concrete jungle”, yet not enough has been mentioned about the natural side of this metropolis. In fact, most people who live in this international city are usually drawn to the hustle and bustle.
Yet, in light of the fast-paced and stressful lifestyle here, Maoshan Connie told herself she can’t be dragged into that reality. After pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture, she decided to walk away from the office-y side and 24-7 work life. Instead, she followed her heart, channelling minority voices and sharing the beauty of nature in Hong Kong through multiple ways. Spending half of her life abroad, Connie decided to make all the things she cared about into a career. She’s now an illustrator of Hong Kong’s landscape and natural habitat, the founder of the conservation campaign Dear Tree Mailbox, and also a coordinator for an animal protection NGO— all at the same time!
Call her a slasher*, a dreamer, or whatever you want! It’s often easy to get lost amidst the busy life in Hong Kong, yet Connie perfectly demonstrates how her sparks of courage can shine bright in this concrete jungle!
*Slasher, also known as slash youths, refers to those who refuse to be defined or bound by just one personal identity. They normally have two or three jobs (or more).*
AWW: How has growing up in Hong Kong shaped or inspired you to become an illustrator?
Connie: I spent nearly half of my life abroad in different places, but having lived in many other lovely places, I feel like Hong Kong is always my home. I guess growing up in different places showed me how everywhere else is like e.g. China, Japan, UK, or Canada. And all these countries have their own picture books, yet there’s very few in Hong Kong. This is perhaps one main reason why I wanted to become an illustrator and illustrate picture books with Hong Kong as the backdrop.
AWW: Can you share an illustration that best represents you and Hong Kong?
Connie: I would say this map best represents me and Hong Kong. I have included a lot of Hong Kong neighbourhoods and historical stories into it, partly because I used to work in architectural conservation. During that period of time, I realised that there's so many interesting historical stories that we have never learnt at school, but those are the things that establish our identity. I wanted to draw it in a way so people won't feel it's too heavy or serious to read. Moreover, every animal on the map represents some real people I met in the neighbourhood too. And It was also documented during the time of protests. That’s why I picked this illustration!
AWW: In Hong Kong, it’s quite common for youngsters to find a white collar or stable job after graduation. We know that after pursuing your Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture, you have been working on multiple roles like being an illustrator, the founder of the campaign Dear Tree Mailbox and also the coordinator for an animal protection NGO. What drove you to take on multiple roles after graduation?
Connie: I have always known that I wanted to be a picture book illustrator, and wanted to use illustration to channel minority voices to more people. Income apart, I think creative writing and art work could only be good if we have enough experience in life, so I thought I must get a full time job while developing my portfolio. Outside of my job in Architectural Conservation, I just ended up doing many things like starting the Dear Tree Mailbox, volunteering as an animal shelter foster coordinator, and taking up different freelance illustration works.
AWW: As a “Slasher” or “Slash youth” (which usually refers to those who have more than one identity for a career) in Hong Kong, which role is your favourite one? And what do you think is the best part of establishing a multiple identity in Hong Kong?
Connie: I enjoy having all of the identities, they all enrich each other. My experience in working in animal rescue, local heritage or on tree illustration — they all give me more ideas on my illustration and storytelling.
AWW: We found that the campaign “Dear Tree Mailbox” you worked on is really interesting and meaningful! People can write and send letters to the tree they love and you’d then illustrate their favourite trees and share it on your social platform. What inspired this project in the first place? And can you share the most memorable letter you’ve received?
Connie: I started the Dear Tree Mailbox on Facebook 6 years ago, the idea was inspired by a piece of news from Australia. In one of the cities in Australia, the government there would give every tree an email address on the tree trunk. If any neighbour passed by and noticed that the tree is not well, they can send an email to the address reporting the issue. But turns out, the government received thousands of love letters for those trees, and the passersby thanked the trees for accompanying them through good and sad days.
I found that very sweet and interesting and wondered if people would do the same if we had such a campaign in Hong Kong, so I started the Dear Tree Mailbox and invited people in Hong Kong to write to their favourite trees. With their letters, I would illustrate the trees for them, and share it on social media, hoping that more people will pay attention to our environment. Trees exist in our everyday lives and Hong Kong is not a concrete jungle like many people think. One does not have to be a scientist nor urban planner to care about the environment. Through connecting and noticing the green in our everyday life, it can be the first step to start learning about and making changes to our urban spaces.
AWW: Other than the roles and identities you have now, if you have a chance to work for something in Hong Kong, what would that be?
Connie: I love what I am doing, as an illustrator, and I would continue doing this.
AWW: Can you share with us 3 people from Thailand, Taiwan or Hong Kong that you love or would like to collaborate with?
Connie: Instead of artists, I think it'd be great to collaborate with different communities, NGOS in these places.
AWW: Okay, so here comes the last question, which animal do you think best represents your inner self and why?
Connie: I am the pastel yellow cat in my drawings. Part of me cannot help but be a glowing little sunshine even though our world is far from perfect.
To find out more about Maoshan Connie, please visit the artist’s IG account | @maoshanconnie
All images provided by Maoshan Connie.
About We Love Milk Tea Series
Since showing up on social media in 2020, #MilkTeaAlliance has been around for a while, and represents a shared love of tea drinks in Hong Kong (Milk Tea), Thailand (Iced Thai Tea) and Taiwan (Bubble Tea)! But the similarities are way more than that. Yes, people from all 3 cities love traveling and sharing their experiences, but there was also the way the youths were suddenly thrust into the world’s eyes as well. You could say that tea drinks are a powerful symbol of emotional connections and support!
This summer, we’ll be introducing the beautiful souls we met in these 3 cities. Let’s see what made their creative souls rise and shine!