Ruby Ong has helmed Reflections Bookshop and Resource Centre under the unforgiving economic climate of Hong Kong for the past 16 years. The sole proprietor started the business initially with partner Jonnie Oden, but tragedy struck four months into their first year when Jonnie succumbed to the cancer that she had been fighting.
Ruby was left to shoulder the young business alone, on top of her other commitment to her own public relations consultancy MV Reach Communications which she had established in 1991 as well as that of Reflections.
We last had this discussion at her Centre in 2013 when I first declared my intention to interview her. We were tucked away high up in an unassuming corner in an easy-to-miss office building on a side street peddling sharksfin and fish maw in Sheung wan. Her centre is exactly one of many conventional office spaces, thin blue carpet, white bare checkered ceilings, partitioned walls to make out three rooms, one office for herself, one room for private consultations and one storeroom.
The main room is lined with low bookshelves packed with new age books. A wooden table and a few office chairs form the centerpiece of this little space. All this is very no-nonsense, very Buddhist, very zen, just the picture of Ruby herself, consistently in shirts and cropped black pants, her face humble and completed with an enigmatic smile.
We are finally having a teleconference to put her whole story on record.
Elaborating on the situation she found herself in and her response:
"After Jonnie died, I decided to continue. Even as I was frustrated and I had no money, I told myself, 'Ruby, don't quit'. I received a lot of signs from the divine at that time encouraging me to keep going.
[Jonnie and i] envisioned a lot of things for Hong Kong. Recently one medium who came through shared a reading on Jonnie. The medium said my partner was happy with what I have done and assured me she’s here to protect me. In a lot ways I’m blessed by the divine.They always guide me."
Ruby contemplated closing again in 2011 when her last tenancy expired and she was unsure where she was to go. From November 2011 to feb 2012, she searched for her new centre, always wondering whether to keep going.
Commenting on the business of
holism, "this is not the business to be in if you want monthly high pay, save a lot of money and live comfortably...With this kind of work, it’s different..we get joy and happiness in different aspects. I’m after the spiritual awakening of people and I hope people will be happy with what they have."
And Ruby knows what big business is like. She worked for PR multinationals like Hill and Knowlton and Edelman twenty years ago in the early days of awakening China.
She was a totally different person back then.
"I never thought of opening a shop like this. I worked in China for 2 years. I was a PR consultant, I never thought of all these things..I was aggressive. I knew I’d grab 1-2 business projects every cocktail party. Business kept coming. I was happy.
That was before the demise of my parents and sister- in- law in 1995. In 10 months, one after another,
my mom got cancer, my father died of old age, my sister-in-law died of cancer. It was shocking and depressing- a big blow that awakened me. At that time I was still wondering about my life, I had my job waiting for me in china for 4 months. I then started to reflect on life...on hindsight, that was my life path, also why I call my shop Reflections, some people never awaken, no judgement about that, they are on their life path."
Ironically, an ex-colleague she met a few years back said she hadn't changed much.
When asked about perceptions and receptivity to new age businesses like her own in Hong Kong, she says,
"We don’t call ourselves new age, everything is ancient wisdom.
More people are open and receptive in HK to this idea of spirituality, natural healing, new age, yoga and meditation. We now know that there is more to meditation than relaxation.
Some think yoga is a physical exercise, yoga can help with the emotional and mental too.
People now are open and receptive.
When you talk to them, they’re open, accepting. People go to extent to research. It’s good. It also doesn't hurt that we have $7m people in HK"
On the the latest trends, advances and developments she has noticed in HK and the region in spirituality:
"I've noticed a younger and younger clientele. More social and civic consciousness. And more interest in spirituality. I have encountered many very spiritual and sensitive young people. There are different people in this market. Malaysians are more affected by religion. Chinese are more Buddhist. Malaysia has a lot of Tibetan Buddhism as opposed to traditional Buddhism. Everywhere is different. (Pause, she adds about having to adapt to technology changes) My Facebook was set up by young clientele. Our website was redesigned by very young clientele. I don’t go into all these things. Recently I got a Samsung smartphone. Now I have Whatsapp, Wiichat, Viber. Sometimes this can keep me very busy. Reading answering.. reading answering. You have no time for yourself."
" [What is most popular in HK?]
We have different categories of customers. Those who come for
readings and guidance. They make up 40 percent. Then we have those who come for learning, enrichment,skills and DIY like Buddhism, workshops to empower, they make up 60 percent."
About the changing scene in HK,
"There are a few very good centres still running. The 'New Age Shop' has changed its name to 'Guidance Light'. Then there is the 'Shakti healing circle'. A new one, 'Sanctuary' is very big. There are
many other centres on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side.
Many young Chinese are opening up centres for the young office ladies market. We hope they will bring them to the spiritual market and not focus too much on tarot readings only. We hope it will bring them one step further. Of course it is up to the owner or person in charge. We attract the kind of client and consciousness that are like us. The Young will attract the young.
Young concerns are physical level- love, life, relationship, career
We hope they will bring them more awareness.Everything is related energy
On how to grow the market, "Education as an industry is the key to that.
People have to go through traumatic experience in order to awaken.
We teach people they don’t’ have to feel the pain first or lose something, marriage, a loved one..to turn to spirituality. We pray that people will awaken sooner than later without going through loss or traumatic experience and become more aware on how to make life fulfilling and meaningful. They have to realise they have to live in the moment.
You are most powerful in the moment."
On her principles of price-making,"
We take the opinion of practitioners and my experience with the market.
We check with the divine and trust what is the number.
This is the fee we need to put down
We want a fee that will bring money for traveling practitioners who have high travel and lodging costs, yet is
affordable for clients. It’s a matter of feeling."
[Do you consider the market saturated for centers in HK?]
"A lot of people will still be awakened.There will a market for everyone. No need to fear.
Whatever is yours, divine will send to you.The divine is very good and will send the right people to you all the time.Trust and be aware."
[What advice can you give to aspiring practitioners from your past experience?]
"The more you talk you know you need to be humble. The moment you are teaching you are learning. You realise so many things you don’t know.In face of the divine, we are nothing. Ask for guidance. Humility is very important.
Spiritual teachers are put up on a pedestal. Before long they get mesmerised and fall from glamor.
It’s like a jacob’s ladder
Some up and some down. Our hope is we only climb up. Some will fall or climb down, not aware of it.
They think they are correct and right. Although no right or wrong. Some who are falling don’t know it.
It is important to go home and reflect. Did I say something wrong?
Did I do things wrong? If I feel say something wrong, I apologise immediately the next day if I hurt someone. A lot of people are not conscious. I’m sure you know so many teachers who are authors, who teach and talk. You can feel their Ego immediately. I once had a practitioner who insisted on having a projector in his class. We don't have one so I found one for him. It did not make a big difference to his turnout. Buddha only had a Bodhi tree and a rock and hundreds and thousands showed up to hear him speak.
How can you teach when you do not have visual aids? You need to be flexible and creative.
Everyday is an initiation.
Eventually I want everyone to
go out and do service.
In HK I have 4 master teacher level students already.
In Beijing I may have a few also soon. My father always said Qing Chu Yu Lan (mandarin for the student surpasses the teacher).
When I was teaching in university,
I encouraged my students to be better than me. You may be better than me and it’s alright.
My mom said, "When you are arguing, always leave them a space to step down. Don’t push them to a limit that they have no place to change and turn."
On commerce and spirituality and pricing, "Practitioners always ask me for advice. We know the market
Unless their services are very special, I will tell them this is the price. I’ll ask them their price in their home country and consider if people in HK can absorb it or not or
see if their services warrant the fee.
I will tell them. If they’re not happy, I say ok, it's up to the client if they’ll come or not. A lot of times I notice, and we do our best to promote them, practitioners have to do their bit as well. If they tend to be very tense with money, our clients can feel it. Then they won’t come
They can feel the enrgy of the practitioner when they receive the email. They are not attracted.
The humble and playful practitioners are attractive, clients will keep coming.Things will flow. You have to be very light. And not worry that
things will not flow for your life.
Let things flow. They are always for
the highest good of you and all concerned.
On how she has brought spirituality into her business, " It is a common practice to put the bottom line first.
For me, it’s important to pay bills and to have money to fall back on in case you need it. It does not have to be millions and millions. Just some money to live your life comfortably.
One of our UK practitioners who just left said to me, 'We need to pay bills. We need a roof on top of our head. We need food to keep our belly full.
That’s all, that’s all we really need.'
Personally I feel we still have a physical body, temple of soul, it needs to be fed, clothed. It still needs money.
At the moment money is the medium we use to change and exchange house, food, a piece of bread
Everything has a price.
Anything that is free, people don’t value. Usually our price angelic numbers 111, 222..
It’s nice to have price like that.
There are a lot of good people in HK doing meaningful projects asking nothing in return. They are not aware that their soul is awakened.
On TV I have seen a hawker who offers congee every morning to a group of elderly people, rain or shine..for free. 'I don’t need a lot myself.'He wants to share. This is very simple. He doesn’t know spirituality. He doesn’t have to be sophisticated, chanting om, shiva, or going up to a mountain to meditate.
Personally I feel wishing good morning to the security guard or asking one's mom if she has eaten
are just as spiritual.
When you chase after something, like money, you get very tense.
I told the divine I don’t want to work under pressure anymore.
Help me find a space I don’t have to work under pressure to pay my rental. Really I don’t work under pressure now. Interestingly, without working under pressure，things keep flowing. If January is empty, the center later fills up gradually. Things just happen.
When [foreign] people ask when I’m coming, it’s like the divine asking them to ask me. I need to be asked and I will go. Usually the business will be good for the host and the session for the student, but
I have to be invited first.
The Divine works mysteriously and miraculously. When certain things happen there is a reason. Whoever is not suitable to be my client, I can feel that the divine will make things happen so that they have no chance or time to come. I don’t do much now.
I will not go out and I wait a few days and things unfold naturally. These days I am less proactive. As a result there is less struggle. I am also
very straightforward. I will tell people if things will work or not. It is not personal, just professional service."
Her advice on how to work with the Divine, "Ask the Divine, 'how do you want me to serve you.' Step out if you want to serve. Make it known.
Love who shows up."
On the evolution and changes in her work, "I have been teaching Sekhem since 2002, it’s been 12 years. I also offer healing and mini workshops when I travel.
I am currently teaching the Law of one and immortality exercise. I am
not sure about the near future.
For Reflections, our biggest business has been in Meditation, numerology, ancient Egyptian teaching and living light energy. There is now more openness
to energy healing, more interest in
meditation for forgiveness and distance healing.
Every moment we are going through initiations. Actions you take in the face of initiations depend on awareness and consciousness. Every day I’m evolving and changing. I also tell my students. Everyday we take action and make decisions. What you say and think are important. How you’re feeling is important. Sometimes we evolve up, sometimes we evolve down.
We pray we won’t go back, we pray we get closer and closer to what the divine wants us to do.
[And what do you think the divine wants you to do?] To awaken more people in HK. There are still 7m HK people here. Locally we have lots of practitioners
Reflections wants to provide a platform for local practitioners
and we are here to provide them with resources, sometimes for free, to get them started."
By Sonia Ong