Attracted by opportunity, adventure, familial ties and an intriguing culture that traces its lineage back millennia, millions of people decide to visit or make their home in Hong Kong. But many, whether they’ve lived here for generations or mere months, encounter the same problem. They sense that the cultural waters run deep, but they’re not sure how to begin swimming.
That feeling led two Hong Kong Moms to do something. Stephanie Djerejian and Fernanda Artese Baker are the founders of Yu’, and they aim to put Hong Kongers in contact with the city’s deep roots and traditions. Yu’ is now offering five experiences centered around Chinese traditional medicine, feng shui, temple life, I Ching, and Chinese astrology. And they’re planning to launch more experiences this autumn to form a holistic, approachable way to understand this complex city.
What inspired you to create Yu’?
Fernanda: As an expat of 20+ years, I have always felt that immersing myself into a local culture was a great avenue for personal growth. Arriving in Hong Kong, I thought it was very difficult to pierce through the expat bubble. Maybe because of the language. Or maybe because Hong Kong is a city with so many hidden layers. So Yu’ was born from this yearning – this search.
Stephanie: I came from a documentary background. Where I’d always tried to find pockets of interesting culture that managed to survive in this homogenising world. And the question I would ask is what does keeping these traditions alive bring to them? Why do some traditions continue to exist and others don’t? And what can a different approach to similar topics bring to us?
But in Hong Kong it always felt like we were falling short. I wanted to experience that mind shift. We had both travelled all over the world. But we couldn’t find it on our own in Hong Kong. We needed to find a new way. So we began to search.
What were you searching for?
F: We just wanted to reach the source. So we started in the usual places. Google. Libraries. Academia. But it wasn’t easy.
S: The breakthrough was when we started to find the actual practitioners. We wanted to hear their story. Who are they? Can they help me incorporate this into my life? It felt incredible to finally have a direct dialogue – in English!
F: Once we started to find these experts, or masters as we call them now, it was interesting because they were searching too. They were on the other side of the chasm. They’d been looking for a new audience and a more direct way to reach them. And they were doing such interesting work, but they were disconnected.
Do you remember the exact moment you said ‘OK we’re going to make something out of this’?
F: I do. It was on a walk. We were on the promenade between Repulse and Deep Water Bay. I come from a management consulting background. So I was trained to look for these sorts of gaps in the market. And as we talked I just realized ‘Hey, no one is doing this.’
S: We decided to call it ‘YU’, with an apostrophe.‘YU’ is a taoist term meaning to go on a journey. We added the apostrophe to make it yours. ‘Your journey’. We wanted to help people add elements to their life. We wanted to help them connect with their surroundings, and also themselves in a different way.
So how does it actually work?
F: The experiences range from one hour to three hours. The setup is easy. Book online, or you can contact us for customised services. We get you all the info via email and you’re off.
Every experience has three main goals: 1. Getting to know the master 2. Knowledge sharing. 3. Engaging with the material.
We took into account people’s budgets and busy schedules. We wanted people to be able to incorporate an experience into a full day of work or of exploring Hong Kong .
S: The interesting bit is they’re all interconnected. So when you learn about the concept of Qi in a Chinese traditional medicine experience, it will come back when you do Classical Feng Shui. Only now you’re not just talking about your Qi, it’s the earth’s Qi, heaven’s Qi. So you can go deep on one interest or wide in different disciplines. You can choose one single experience or you can start a journey from one experience to another. On our website, we have created three categories: Within, Around and Beyond: experiences under the “within” category focus on you and your body like Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Around” includes experiences that relate to your surroundings such as Feng Shui, and under “Beyond” you would find experiences emphasizing spirituality or destiny.
Is that why you don’t call any of your experiences ‘classes’?
S: We don’t want a teacher-student dynamic. It’s a meeting of stories. It’s dialogue. It’s incorporating not listening for notes. A class doesn’t have the blurred lines of cultural knowledge and personal growth.
F: We don’t have a hardwired schedule for the experiences. There is more than one story. More than one agenda. We have goals for each experience but it’s adapted to the customer’s interests. It was built to be experiential, so that our customers can sense, feel, see.
Who should sign up?
F: Everyone! (laughs) Everyone who wants a genuine experience. Everyone who wants to meet a local master who is passionate about sharing their knowledge. We want to keep it very real. This is not a VIP/5-star/glamping thing. This is the real workplace. It can be a small studio in an industrial building in Sheung Wan. Sometimes just navigating there is an experience.
S: We see it as a great option for people who live here and want to go deeper. But also for people who are travelling. For a lot of people Hong Kong is the first place they touch down in when they visit Asia, so this is a great way to get a cultural understanding that will be useful at their next stop. We’ve also had friends and family members coming to Hong Kong for work or to visit and asking us to show them a different Hong Kong- one they haven’t seen.
Is it kid-friendly?
F: Yes and no. Age wise, maybe 14 and up? But there’s not a hard rule. We are planning to unveil some experiences for younger ages soon.
What experience have you learned the most from?
F: We’ve shaped each experience with the master, so it’s a bit hard to answer. Plus they’re all interconnected… you don’t have to start or finish in any one place. It’s all about a more wholesome understanding. I’m still learning.
S: My dad is a scientist. His passion is physics. I was really surprised when Chinese metaphysics started to make connections to things I knew from western science. They touched upon similar theories with different explanations. For me that’s exciting. It helps me bring my worlds together like a new way of telling a story. Creating these experiences has helped me to see the landscape of the city differently. Now buildings are containers of energy. And I have this thought process where I go ‘How would I feel in this place?’ ‘Are these buildings communicating or impacting each other?’ It’s made me see so many things differently. It made me understand my body as an ecosystem.
F: We want YU’ to provide wonder like we see in our kids. We wanted to discover better uncertainties than the certainties we grew up with.