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
STA, 13 February 2019 - The 13th annual auction of valuable wood in the town of Slovenj Gradec finished today. A record 3,706 logs were featured and the majority were sold abroad - almost a quarter was bought by a Chinese buyer. The sycamore maple was once again sold at the highest prices.
According to the organisers, the sycamore maple is still the most desired type of wood, used in yacht design, violin construction, or veneer construction.
This year's highest log bid for sycamore maple, offered by an Italian veneer producer, was EUR 15,389, which was not record-breaking.
There were other records though - the highest number of log owners, 566, most of whom came from Slovenia while some were also from the Austrian state of Carinthia, and a record number of assorted logs, 3,706, which estimated to 3,724 cubic metres.
There was also a record number of buyers, 39, coming from Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Croatia and Hungary, and a record number of bids.
The organiser Jože Jeromel told the STA that Chinese buyers were also present and one of them bought more than 900 cubic metres of oak, maple and ash timber, making him the biggest buyer.
Walnut, oak, larch and spruce timber were sold at fairly high prices as well.
The auction marked the first time state forest timber was offered. Some of it sold well, while some of it remained unsold.
EUR 1.2m were exchanged at this year's auction, said Jeromel.
The national Forest Service chief, Damjan Oražem, said that the auction had a bright future and stressed the importance of successful cooperation between the Forest Service and forest owners. In Slovenia, there are around 460,000 of them and they significantly contribute to the forest economy.
STA, 1 February 2019 - Gorenje, the Velenje-based household appliances group which was taken over by China's Hisense last year, is cutting 325 temporary-basis jobs, according to information from the in-house trade union.
Gorenje confirmed that fixed-term contracts of 190 workers had elapsed, but the head of the in-house trade union Žan Zeba insisted that 325 jobs were being slashed, including agency workers.
Speaking with the STA, the head of the in-house trade union Žan Zeba said the news came as a negative surprise after the company's plans about expansion of production and extra hiring.
Zeba said the Gorenje management had promised the workers who are now being laid off full time jobs. He also said that it would be hard to meet the output goals given the current labour dynamics.
"After the very good test results of our new generation appliances we definitely expect production to increase and the capacities to be filled; we will welcome all new investments once they happen."
Zeba also hopes that the employees' wishes be taken into consideration in the company's reorganisation.
He said the management was planning to launch a new dishwasher production line in mid-year, but the trade union did not have any information about it.
Production of build-in freezers and fridges is to be moved to the subsidiary in Valjevo in Serbia in the coming months.
Denis Oštir, director of corporate communication at Gorenje, told the STA that the mentioned workers were on temporary job contracts. "These contracts have now run out."
"Gorenje denies in the strongest terms the information that we will lay off 325 workers. We will not give notice to a single worker employed on fixed or non-fixed terms," Oštir said.
After receiving official information from the staffing department, Oštir also denied that employment contracts of 325 workers had run out, saying the correct figure was 190 workers.
He added though that it "is true that the fixed-term contracts of a number of workers have elapsed at this time. This is a matter of seasonal change, which is common in a company's operations".
Oštir said the company was adapting to the clients' demands and seasonal trends in demand. At the end of 2018, demand for labour force in production was bigger because the company created stocks because of the move to Valjevo.
Asked about the plans for a new TV plant announced by the Chinese owners, Oštir said the project was in the phase of acquiring the necessary documents.
The plant is to be built by the existing warehouse in Velenje and is to create 300 to 400 jobs.
Gorenje is currently being transformed from a joint stock company into a limited responsibility company. The company delisted from the Ljubljana Stock Exchange last year.
STA, 10 December 2018 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, speaking after an EU ministerial in Brussels on Monday, said the EU should respond to positive change in the Western Balkans with very concrete acts or else it risked losing the region geo-strategically.
Cerar said positive shifts could be noticed in the Western Balkans at the end of 2018, inspiring hope the region's integration into the EU could continue successfully if countries meet all the criteria.
He believes it is vital for the EU to intensively continue to integrate the region, since countries such as Russia, Turkey and China are interested in it.
"The EU is the best guarantee of Europe's stability. Countries from the region should be integrated as soon as possible, as soon as they have implemented the reforms, or else this part of Europe will be lost to us geo-strategically, which would be a major loss for our European family."
He also pointed to Slovenia's two positive initiatives for the region: an integrated border control management system, which has facilitated a shift towards better coordination in fighting crime, and an agenda for the youth.
Cerar also said the EU should do all in its power so that Serbia and Kosovo reach a comprehensive agreement solving all open issues and having no negative consequences for the broader region.
He expects the EU to decide to launch accession negotiations for Macedonia and Albania in June 2019. He believes this must be done especially if the Macedonia name agreement is implemented.
Tension with Russia in the region
Ukraine, or the escalation of tensions with Russia, was also on the EU foreign ministers' agenda, but despite calls by visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin to impose new sanctions on Russia and provide more financial aid to Ukraine, no such decision was taken.
"We did not explicitly discuss introducing new sanctions," said Cerar.
"It's now important to exert constant, decisive and unified pressure on Russia to release the arrested members of the crew and return the ship to Ukraine, and allow the freedom of navigation," he said in reference to the latest escalation of tensions in the Azov Sea.
Cerar believes there should be no need to make the sanctions more severe if Russia acted quickly to eliminate the latest violations of international law. In the opposite case, potential new or additional sanctions would probably be discussed sooner or later.
At the moment the EU hopes for some progress to be made at Tuesday's Berlin meeting of the Normandy contact group, which brings together Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.
The EU is meanwhile expected to decide at a summit this week whether to extend the sanctions against Russia which expire on 31 January. Cerar believes they will be extended.
STA, 6 November - Slovenia's major strategic asset in relation to China is its geo-strategic position or access to a 500-million European marker, Zdravko Počivalšek, the minister of economic development and technology, said during a visit to China, where he is presenting Slovenia's business and investment environment.
"Slovenia lies at the heart of Europe, which gives us access to a 500-million market," Počivalšek said as he visited the Slovenian Consulate in Shanghai Tuesday.
Pointing to a well-developed infrastructure, Počivalšek was quoted by his ministry as saying that to unlock the potential presented by the geo-strategic location, some improvements would be needed.
The minister, who is China for the China International Import Expo fair, praised the good political relations between Slovenia and China, the country's biggest trade partner outside Europe.
He stressed that as part of the 16+1 initiative, which brings together Central and East European countries plus China, the two countries had managed to boost economic cooperation to top 1.2 billion euro.
See all our stories about Slovenia and China here
"Over the past few years, we've managed to attract a number of well-known investors to Slovenia, which proves we have a truly encouraging business environment.
"I believe investing in Slovenia can also be an important opportunity for Chinese companies, particularly in infrastructure and tourism, which I've presented to my Chinese counterparts," said Počivalšek, who met several ministers in charge of the economy, including Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and his deputy Fu Ziying.
Počivalšek also met on Sunday his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, to discuss Slovenia's participation in Expo 2020 in Dubai, and Austrian Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs Margarete Schramböck.
Meanwhile, State Secretary Aleš Cantarutti attended Monday's promotion of Chinese-owned Slovenian home appliances maker Gorenje's premium products in Beijing. The ministry believes this proves that Slovenian companies have a major impact in China.
The aim of the Slovenian delegation visiting China during the fair, which features 3,000 companies from 130 countries, is to strengthen economic relations with China, including in tourism, and intensify Slovenia's role within the Silk Road initiative.
Learn more about the Silk Road, Slovenia and China here
STA, 5 November 2018 - Minister of Economic Development and Technology Zdravko Počivalšek is leading a Slovenian delegation to the China International Import Expo (CIIE) fair in Shanghai, which features 3,000 companies from 130 countries.
The ministry said the visit was designed to boost trade ties with China, enhance Slovenia's role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), present measures to potential investors and boost cooperation in tourism.
The biggest BRI event this year, CIIE provides the platform to showcase a broad range of goods, services and industries. It is expected to attract more than 150,000 Chinese customers.
The fair is aimed at supporting liberalisation and globalisation of international trade and at opening up the Chinese market.
The participating Slovenian companies and institutions will showcase the country's potential as an innovative high-tech partner for winter sports.
The Slovenian delegation was invited to the fair by the Chinese Ministry of Trade after China recognised Slovenia as a potential partner in the runup to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Nordic Centre in Slovenia's Planica has been selected as the European training camp of the Chinese men's ski jumping team.
In August this year, the Ljubljana Faculty of Sport and Beijing Sport University signed a memorandum on academic and scientific cooperation in winter sports.
In the first joint activity spurred by the memorandum, a bilateral forum on development of winter sports will be held in Beijing on 7 November.
The forum is based on a 2016 agreement on cooperation in sports signed by the respective ministries.
While in China, Počivalšek is due to hold bilateral meetings with Chinese government officials, to brief them on the state of Slovenia's economy and discuss bilateral cooperation in trade and investment.
The focus will be on cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative and ways to boost trade, also through new forms of cooperation. The minister will also present the investment environment in Slovenia.
STA, 22 September 2018 - Gorenje chairman Franjo Bobinac has told the newspaper Večer that after the takeover by China's Hisense, the household appliance maker remains a Slovenian company with headquarters in Velenje. He said that Hisense had great plans about growth of Gorenje, which meant a bigger production capacity and more jobs.
STA, 20 September 2018 - Participants of a three-day meeting of ministers and state secretaries from China and Central and Eastern European countries, including Economy Ministry State Secretary Eva Štravs Podlogar, agreed that the Chinese tourism market was very important for CE Europe, including Slovenia.
STA, 18 September 2018 - Slovenian economists have told the STA that the trade dispute between the US and China could, with new tariffs, hurt export-oriented European economies due to a potential drop in volume of global trade, adding that Slovenia could also feel the negative consequences indirectly.