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Workers of Macao: their untold stories

Wed, 2nd May 2018
To celebrate 1 May, Labour Day, we share stories of people who contribute to society through their work.

As you leave home for work each morning, you cross paths with people heading to their own day jobs. Whether it’s the suited-up lady striding across the street, or the young man with headphones on waiting at the bus stop, it is a sight so common you probably never gave it a second thought.

But in a month that celebrates the achievement of workers – 1 May being international Labour Day – it is worth wondering about the busy people that walk past you each morning. Why is this girl carrying a sketchbook? Have I seen that man in sports gear somewhere before? There is a story behind every anonymous face, yet we rarely get a chance to learn them. Here, we present you with the stories of eight workers in Macao. They are dreamers who made courageous career moves, adventurers who found new challenges, and optimists who discovered their purpose in life through work. 

They may not be the same familiar faces you see every day, but their stories will surely inspire your curiosity, or perhaps remind you of your own story that has yet to be told.
 

Coreen Choi, Art Director at FOOD4U

Macao

“When I was a kid, I didn’t talk much, but I spent a lot of time drawing random things. I enjoyed it a lot. When my family saw my drawings, they were thrilled. They encouraged me to carry on with this interest. Through their support, I was able to pursue a creative career, studying design-related subjects in overseas countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. However, I stopped drawing by hand when I found that many of my classmates could draw way better than me.

I didn’t pick up the pencil again until more than 10 years later. By then, I had already worked as a full-time designer for several companies in Hong Kong and Macao. It was a tough job. I had to work long hours every day, frantically chasing deadlines. Because of the stress, I hadn’t been able to sleep well for many years. One day, I walked into a book store and found a book called Yoga for Your Brain. It taught people how to draw patterns with an empty mind. I gave it a try and found that it really helped me relax.

As I practiced more, I created my own form of patterns. I showed it to my friends and family, and they loved it. That’s when I decided to turn my creations into business. I put them on shirts, umbrellas and purses, and sell them online. Right now, I am also working full-time for a local food delivery app, in charge of its brand identity design. My boss knows that I have started my own business, but he is very supportive. After all, every designer has a dream to follow.”
 

Elzira Rosario, Dancer and Ballet Instructor at Stella & Artists

Macao

“I quit my job as an administrative officer at a local university in 2013. I was encouraged by my friend to pursue a professional dancing career because I have been dancing since I was eight. When my family learned about my career decision they were a bit worried; they thought I was wasting the education I received at school. I understood their concern, but it was a risk that I was willing to take.

I started taking a lot of freelance jobs teaching and performing; afterwards, I was introduced to a lady who runs a local dance school, Stella & Artists. We have very similar views on everything related to dancing, so I proposed establishing a long-term ballet course at her school. She said yes quickly; she really trusted me. After becoming a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance, I taught my first class at the dance school in 2015. Since then, I have already taught 100 students, from children as young as three to adults.

I continue to perform on stage as a professional dancer, taking part in a lot of major events and festivities in town. I realised that by doing my job well as a teacher and a performer, I am spreading a positive message to people who love dancing that it is possible to transform their passion into a career in Macao.”

Jeffrey Nungay, Fitness trainer

Philippines, aged 32

“I joined the police force in the Philippines when I was around 23, but I was not happy. It’s not who I am. After three years, I decided to leave. I became a fitness trainer in Bahrain in 2012, and quickly realised that it was my path. I felt so much more at ease. It really changed me a lot. People often spend so much on their appearance, but it is actually more important to spend more effort to make ourselves healthy. That’s why, as trainers, we focus more on imparting a healthy lifestyle than body building because fitness is also wellness.

In 2015, when I was visiting Macao for vacation, I learned that Macao Fitness was looking for professional trainers. I gave it a try and received an offer immediately. While providing personal training to around 10 members on a daily basis, I also compete in a lot of physique contests. Last year, I won second prize at Olympia Amateur Asia. It was an extraordinary experience. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of interesting people from around the world; and because I can dance, I am very good at posing. In terms of expressing my body, my physique and movement goes with the music. That’s the best part of it.”

Martinho Moniz, Executive Chef at Vic’s Restaurante, Rocks Hotel

Portugal, aged 38

“I grew up in a small town called Barreira in Leiria. My parents are farmers, very honest and hardworking people. They wanted to make sure that I would be able to take care of myself; so when I was just a kid, I had to wash my clothes, tend to the animals on the farm, and cook for my family. My father would sometimes bring home fresh fish, and my mother, who is very fond of baking, would let me cook with her.

 I have developed a strong passion for traditional Portuguese cuisine due to my upbringing, but I also love new challenges because they help me progress. I have worked with several good restaurants in Portugal, from making traditional dishes to contemporary cuisine. I started my journey in Asia in 2010, when I moved to Hong Kong to open the first Portuguese restaurant in town. I couldn’t speak one single English word at that time, but I was able to make it a huge success in just six months.

 I took charge of the kitchen of Vic’s Restaurante a year ago. Although I have moved up the ranks, I am still very involved in the kitchen, working closely with my team 12 hours a day. I enjoy getting my hands dirty, leading my kitchen by example. I taste every dish before they are served to our guests. This mentality has a lot to do with how my parents raised me. That’s why I always tell everyone that I am not a chef, I am a cook.”

Natasha Fellini, Portuguese teacher at Macau Anglican College

Brazil, aged 34

“I moved to Macao from Brazil with my family in 2001, after my father was offered a job at Air Macau as a pilot. I completed a bachelor’s degree of Portuguese Language and Culture at University of Macau, and became a Portuguese teacher there in 2008. It was a natural decision for me, as I have always wanted to be a teacher. I would even pretend to be the teacher of my dolls when I was a kid.

Four years later, I was hired by Macau Anglican College, teaching Form 1 to Form 4 students Portuguese. It has been seven years now and I still enjoy it a lot. I do miss Brazil very much, but I am also aware that it is not a perfect teaching environment, with little support given by the government to the education sector.

Last year, I was invited by my cousin to give a talk about Macao in his class in Brazil. The students there were so excited. They asked all kinds of questions, including whether the Macao students behaved better than them. It was so much fun, so we thought, ‘why don’t we invite them to write to my students in Macao?’ Since then, we have received about 30 letters from my cousin’s class. My students were excited, too. They wrote back to them, answering all of their questions about Macao. Some of them even became friends on Facebook or Instagram. It is also a great experience for me because, in some ways, it allows me to stay connected with the people in Brazil.”

Rix Un, President of Green Future

Macao, aged 30

“I was running a green construction company with some friends when I became one of the founders of Green Future in May 2012. At that time, I saw myself as a businessman more than an eco-activist because I thought the organisation could provide for some development opportunities. But then [Queenie] joined Green Future a few months later, and she became a huge influence on me. She really devoted herself to the environmental cause; she showed me that it’s possible to be a real eco-advocate, and motivated me to be fully involved in environmental work.

Many people think that life is not easy when you are working full-time for an environmental NGO. For sure, you cannot compare its pay with that of other companies, but it’s a totally different lifestyle. Being an eco-advocate helped me get rid of all the unnecessary pursuits and desires. Because I don’t need beautiful clothes, shoes and other luxurious products, I don’t have to spend much money. I realised that I had been doing too much in the past, and now I feel very relaxed and light hearted. It’s a world full of wonders, and she brought me into it.”

Queenie Fok, Chairperson of Green Future

Macao, aged 28

“After completing a bachelor’s degree of environmental science at Nanjing University, China, I returned to Macao in 2012, hoping to find a job related to my education background. During a volunteer activity, I was introduced to one of the founders of Green Future, a local environmental NGO, and I learned that they were looking for full-time staff to run the organisation. I immediately signed up for the job.

And that’s how I met him [Rix], he is also a founder of Green Future. Since I was hired, we have been working closely together on small and big projects, from vegetarian cooking workshops to coastal clean-up activities. He has a lot of ideas and is more experienced than I am. I was often really idealistic in the past – I wanted our schedule to be full of activities – but he was able to pull me back to reality. When I felt stressed at work, he would tell jokes to make me laugh. I think he has changed me in many ways over the years. I’ve become more relaxed and easy going because of him.”

Nari Chand, Security officer at local gaming operator

Nepal, aged 40

“I grew up in Gwellk, my home town in Nepal. For many years, I had to walk one hour to school, sometimes – even had to run; eventually, I became very fast. I joined a lot of running competitions during high school and always finished first. I got even better with long distance running after I joined the Nepalese Army at the age of 18. Every morning, I had to run 5–10 km, as part of the military training that I received for the next 10 years.

I came to Macao in around 1988 because my friends told me that Macao was a place that could make people happy. I have worked as a security officer for local hotels since then, but I never gave up on running marathons. I train at Guia Hill every day and regularly participate in races held in Macao, Hong Kong, Zhuhai, and other nearby cities.

Two years ago, when I was on my way to Guia Hill, I saw a man being chased by two policemen on the street. I ran after him immediately and helped them stop the man. People who witnessed this event recognised me as the marathon runner I am, and in just one day, my photo was all over Facebook. Since then, I am constantly greeted by strangers on the street, and they would ask me, ‘Going for a run?’ I don’t know why, but people in Macao seem to be very happy with me.”

TEXT Cathy Lai   PHOTO António Sanmarful