HONG KONG－Before his first trip to Hong Kong in 1995, Daniel Szuc had only intended to visit the city once.
However, several years later, he not only returned but also wed and settled down in the metropolis located more than 7,000 kilometers from his home in Australia.
Living in Hong Kong for 22 years, Szuc has found a comfortable place to live where he aims to use his skills to connect people from the East and the West.
"My first impression of Hong Kong was like electricity," Szuc said, adding there was "energy and a sparkle" and a feeling that anything was possible.
Hong Kong offers a great opportunity to do business, meet people of different cultures and understand more about the Chinese mainland, he said.
"That diversity and opportunity just wasn't always as equal or available in Australia," he said.
In 1999, Szuc decided to move to Hong Kong permanently and has worked and lived there ever since.
Over the past two decades, he has jointly set up a consulting and training platform, Make Meaningful Work, and married a Hong Kong woman who was his college classmate in Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria.
Having made Hong Kong his home, Szuc was saddened by the rampant destruction during the social unrest in 2019 and is glad to see that the National Security Law has restored peace and order in the city.
"You could almost feel on the day it (the law) was implemented that there was a sense of calm and restoration brought back to the city … and it (Hong Kong) has become more peaceful," he said.
Szuc said it was a huge relief for him to know that "people can get on and enjoy their lives again in Hong Kong".
Feeling more Chinese
Szuc's wife played a vital role in helping him blend into life in Hong Kong and understand Chinese traditions.
Although the couple come from different cultural backgrounds, they have managed to avoid friction and build a good relationship.
Szuc believes their secret is mutual respect. "We have enormous respect for each other's cultural heritage and we are both continuous learners open to improvement," he said.
He remembers the bitter taste of Chinese herbal medicine the first time he tried it. "But I was well aware of the benefits in the short and longer terms," he said. "To understand another culture, you have to be willing and open to try things you've never tried before."
He has become accustomed to taking herbal broth and is intrigued by the concepts of Chinese healing.
"The idea of the restoration of balance inside the body is amazing," Szuc said.
Over the years, his wife has introduced him to various Chinese traditions. To help him feel more at home, she found a master to give him a Chinese name, Song Qifeng, which matches his personality of being fearless and courageous.
"I've lived almost half my life in China … I almost feel in many respects more Chinese than Western," Szuc joked.
He and his wife have traveled a great deal on the Chinese mainland, from Beijing and Shanghai to smaller cities.
"Every time I go somewhere new, I am pleasantly surprised at the growth and the development of the cities. What's beautiful is the interplay between the old and the new coming together," he said.
Szuc believes he and Hong Kong play similar roles as intermediaries.
While Hong Kong serves as an integrator of cultures and a bridge to the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world, Szuc is striving to connect people from different cultures.
He calls himself a "cultural guide" who can view things from both Western and Chinese perspectives.
"There cannot be one model in the world," Szuc said.
"There cannot be one economic model, one cultural model, one language. The world is way more interesting than that and it's more complex," he said, adding that people from different civilizations should learn from each other in order to tackle global challenges.
China has made tremendous achievements by using the experience of Western countries, and the world can learn from China in areas such as digital and innovation development, and the handling of emergencies, including the COVID-19 outbreak, Szuc said.
He stressed people need to abandon prejudice and respect other traditions, which is applicable in both personal and diplomatic relationships.
"People make assumptions. I think what's really important is you need to pause your assumptions and your judgments and take the time to understand," he said.
Szuc said only after he made repeated trips to the Chinese mainland, did he finally grasp the real picture of the country, which is completely different from the image some Western media depicts.
"When I traveled to the mainland, I've never felt oppressed, never; actually quite the opposite in many respects," he said. "I feel more relaxed and calm and peaceful than I do in some other countries.
"If people from different cultures can exchange ideas and learn from each other on an equal basis, the world will become a better place."