Interview with Cliff Hui
by Óscar Pereiro
Mr. Hui, first of all, I would like to thank you for lending us part of your time. For a start, would you please tell us a little bit about you, where do you live, how is your daily life, what do you do for a job… anything you consider relevant for aquarium hobbyists.
I live in Hong Kong. I was working on Film Production, a Scriptwriter and Editor. As long as it is a not regular routine job, few years ago, I started using my spare time to help aquarium store to design aquatic layouts. And now, I am using most of the time for doing that. However, I am so sure that one day, I will back to my field of dream.
A corner of my working room now
12 years ago when I was firstly working on the film industry
How and when did you get into the hobby of setting up and keeping aquaria?
I started my first planted tank about 7 years ago. I love to create and build anything in art form, which are my life and my characteristic. Aquatic plants give me a strong impression on its beauty and the sense of living. The first day I known about aquatic plants, I was addicted to it, and I try my best to show its beauty by making aquascapes.
Another corner of my working room
Yours are well-know aquariums, and some of them can be seen here. Which one do you like best and why?
Honestly, I love “Destiny” very much. Actually it was the layout which I spent a lot of time on it. Each part of creating it is still in my mind. When this idea first came up in my mind, I went a lot hiking to see what it should be happen and natural. I tried to collect and grown every plant which I thought it would be suitable. I went to ask every friend whom had or known where can I found suitable driftwoods, and I finally use 4 days and nights to think and cut one of the big strange driftwood into 15 pieces, re-organized them into that hardscape. I still cannot believe that two tree roots are originally from one piece of strange driftwood, which was not even like a tree or roots at first anyway.
You belong to the prestigious CAU “club” (Creative Aquascape Union)… How did it come into existence? Could you explain briefly which are its main goals? Is it still possible that some other aquarists enter the club or is it already closed to further members?
CAU is a club based on a bench of friends, whom have the same hobby, Aquascaping. The main goal on CAU is promoting the hobby to everyone in the world, and trying to tell them it is an art form. We added new aquarist this month, Tony Wong, which is also one of our best friends.
CAU members gathering in 2008 lunar new year
My view is that there is a “Western” aquarist culture (Europe and America) and an Eastern one (Asia), with hardly any communicative exchange between them and with a universally-acknowledged superiority on the part of Eastern hobbyists with regard to aquascape creation. This notwithstanding, have you any knowledge of the “Western” aquarist culture? Is there any European or American aquarist that you appreciate?
Firstly, I do not feel it is a big difference. I can say they were different cultures in 5 years ago.
5 years ago, “Western” aquarists liked to do Gardening layouts or Biotopes, Asia aquarists liked Iwagumi and hardscapes. But now, I can see they are mixed. I saw many people from Europe and America doing NA [Nature Aquarium] style layouts. Moreover, much Asians pay attention on healthy planting. However, the most I can see are people around the world trying to mix every style together into one.
Try to take a look of the AGA contests showcase from 2001 to 2009, we will see the changes.
I can say pictures of aquariums putting on internet are the best communicative exchange. We can read many things in the pictures. Even you do not know their language; you can see links and pictures all over internet.
Recently you took part with your aquarium “Treasure” in two prestigious contests, IAPLC and CTA, being the winner of the latter. Mr. Filipe Oliveira has recently stated in this web-site: “I cannot understand the manner in which the first prize has been alloted. In my opinion there are much better layouts than that… I never understood the evaluating criteria of ADA judges.” My personal view is that your aquarium (and this is no lip service!) should have ended the first in the contest, or at least among the three best… In a similar manner, although the “Destiny” aquarium you introduced last year was most people’s favourite, it ended in the fourth position… Do you agree with these evaluations? In Spain many aquarists consider you the best aquascape creator in the world… Don’t you feel that your work is not being fairly valued in contests?
I have to thank for your kind words and thanks for aquarists from Spain.
I am a very optimistic person, I love aquascaping, and I like most of the aquarists, and their works. It is always hard to compare “Art”, whatever it is Music, Painting, Movies, Dances or Aquascaping. Being in a contest is only a part of this hobby, we should spend more time on enjoying the rest on it.
With regard to the setting up of your tanks:
Where do you get the inspiration from when creating your aquariums?
Do you observe any norm or standard proportion when creating your hardscapes?
How do you obtain the material (stones and rocks) you use in your hardscapes?
Inspiration is a very indefinite thing. It came in everywhere in our life. I don’t have a standard way on creating my works. Of course, basic techniques and skills are always important, but it should be well prepared before creating.
I am trying to make things between new and standard. Norm or standard proportion is always in my mind which alarms me not to create things for creative purpose only. Aquatic layout is a very personal thing, which characteristic and creativity are very important, but, aquatic layout is also something presenting nature and peaceful, I am always trying to get the balance of them.
I collect materials after I had an image in mind, they were from aquarium stores or friends, which is same as everyone.
Now, if you don’t mind, a few technical questions:
Which kind of substrate do you use?
ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia I
Do you consider filtration to be an important part?
Yes, of course. Water condition is the most important thing for an aquarium.
What else do you consider a must when setting up an aquarium?
No. nothing is a must.
What kind of fishes and plants are your favourite fo your creations?
The cleaning fishes – I think they have the interaction between the plants and the layouts, which is so amazing when I saw them moving or lying on the plants.
I love Glossostigma elatinoides . I used them in different ways on each of my layouts with different purpose.
Can you please briefly explain how you set up an aquarium from zero? Do you use all the lighting from the start? Do you periodically renew the water as the aquarium matures? Should the emergence of algae in the tank be judged as normal, or should it be avoided?
I start a layout same as every hobbyists. Done the basement, and then do the hardscapes, planted a little bit before the water condition is mature. Half of the lighting should be used before all the things become stable. Keep the water clean by renew the water, how much? It depends on how dirty the tank was, and observed the plants, the fishes, and the algae. Then planting and trimming, Adjust the layout before it is too late. That is what most of the hobbyist doing. I am doing no different at all.
What kind of fertilizer do you use?
Usually TMG. ADA brightly K and ECA.
Let me now please address a touchy topic, at least among Spanish aquarists. There are mixed opinions regarding ADA products. Some people think that ADA fertilisers are readily dispensable, that glass material gets too easily dirty and is excessively fragile, etc. What is your personal view regarding these products and this prestigious brand?
I think ADA is a brand trying to presenting lifestyles.
For my personal view, I can say people should use anything that suit them, and you have the right to choose.
ADA fertilisers are not that heavy, they pay more attention on the whole layout and trying to “keep” the plants, but not to grow them in a 3 inches “big head”. ADA soil plus their fertilisers are already enough on growing the plants which NA style layouts usually used.
For the glass products, I had used them myself and for my clients. I think it is not that difficult, but need patience and carefully use. Patience is always needed in this hobby, so I accept it. Especially when you need an open aquarium, glass products are always looks good.
Photographs of your aquariums are magnificent. Would you please tell us what techniques, material (flashes, lenses, etc.) you resort to?
Photographs is just important for internets and contests, as I said, I love my real aquarium more. My friends who taking photography for my layouts, Gary Wu and Alan Chan, they are geniuses. But, is there any special technique??…. Only they know…..
All I know is Nikon or Canon is not important, they are using both. They were using wide angle lens sometimes, but after tests, which is not suitable for every layouts. Flashes were what they usually used, for the right WB, creating the mood and the dynamic feel.
I’m going to give you a list of words and I ask you to say what first comes to your mind:
A woman has a fish tank with plants, keeping them in a different way from me.
We have the same hobby but different interest.
One of the Best!
One of the biggest contest.
My spy, it tells me the condition of the tank.
You care when you start, you don’t care when are experienced, and you started to care again when you are lazy.
A way to let more people to see your aquascaping.
A lovely aquatic plant.
The amaze of open aquarium.
Apart from aquariums, do you have any other hobby?
I love movies and sports, especially soccer.
That’s all, Mr. Hui. Thanks again and best regards.