Alan. One song at a time.

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I love to sing, but the last several years have been tough.

Quite some time ago, I had a manager who believed in me and worked very hard to find me singing gigs in Hong Kong and China. We found a few, but it didn't last long. There were two problems. First, the people of China were not yet ready to be entertained by a foreigner singing Chinese songs. Second, they preferred shows where the performer was a 'fun' person and the singing didn't matter so much. Unfortunately, I'm more like Frank Sinatra or Michael Bublé, people where the show is all about the singing.

Much of that was happening around the year 2000 when I first encountered severe exhaustion and the depression (possibly burnout syndrome) that developed as a result. That took several years to recover from. On top of that, it was almost impossible to arrange gigs and jobs outside of TVB unless you had inside connections because TVB always had first priority on your time, and they had the legal right to require you to show up at TVB at the last minute even if you had booked a gig months in advance. This was exactly the reason many movie companies were hesitant to engage my acting services, and is also one of the reasons I declined to renew my contract with them in January this year.

Through the years since 2000, I haven't done a lot of singing. There have been gaps of up to a full year where I haven't sung at all. Being the eternal optimist, I saw something good in this. First, each time I stopped for an extended period of time, it gave me the chance to forget bad singing habits before learning correct ones. Second, I believe that the time wasn't right for me to try to advance a career as a singer. The people of China were not ready for it. A foreigner singing Chinese songs would only be seen as a gimmick, something to giggle at for a few minutes. The welcome wouldn't last long.

The world has changed. A friend told me not too long ago that the people of China need me, a foreigner who sings (well) in their language. Now is the time to make my move, and I'm preparing for it. My singing voice has improved markedly over the least couple of years with Peisha's guidance. I simply need to sing more to strengthen the chords, and I need material.

Whenever people ask me how many songs I know, I have to say "just a few". I have an excellent memory for tunes, but not such a great memory for lyrics. When it came to the question of what to sing, I always wanted to find the songs that the audience would enjoy listening to, and that I would enjoy singing, but never knew how. Now, I've decided to simply find and learn the songs that I know and love. What I sing will become my signature.

So I have begun my research. As often as I can, I'm visiting the Karaoke at APM and listening to every song of the singers I know and respect, searching for the songs I remember (not by name unfortunately) and love. Many of you probably think I'd listen to 張國榮 Leslie's songs first but you'd be mistaken. My first target was Alan Tam 譚詠麟.

Alan was probably more important than any other singer in changing my life and bringing me to Hong Kong. My whole experience with Leslie in Sydney was limited to a wonderful conversation in the car as we drove from Sydney to Canberra and back. My experience with Alan reaches much further than that. When Alan was performing in Sydney in 1986, I became friends with his backup singers, three wonderful attractive girls. They informed Alan that I loved his songs, and he consequently asked me up on stage during rehearsals one day to sing with him. That was an amazing experience.

After arriving in Hong Kong in May of 1987, I lived at a friend's home in Kowloon Tong. Having no job, no friends, and no knowledge of Hong Kong other than what I'd seen in movies, I spent my time walking and exploring. One fateful day, I found myself in a place with lots of trains and a very large squarish building. It was the Hong Kong Colosseum 香港體育館. I didn't know where I was, or what I was looking at. It didn't matter. I was exploring. What happened next though could not have been planned or scripted by anyone.

The back door of the Colosseum was open, and several people were seated there taking a cigarette break. As I walked by, they recognised me; me, a 鬼佬 who had been in Hong Kong for just a month!!! They were members of Alan's band, the same band that had played back in Sydney one year before, and they were rehearsing for Alan's home concert. I was invited into the Colosseum to see Alan. One thing led to another, and in July of 1987, I watched 30 of Alan's 31 concerts from backstage, and guest-appeared in two of those concerts! A month later, I was a special guest at Alan's birthday party celebration for his fan club. After that, Alan and I rarely saw each other. I ran into him once during a TV project where we chatted a little. We never have much to say, but he is always the gentleman, and will always be an important part of my life.

So you can perhaps understand why I would choose to listen to Alan's songs first. Don't worry though. Leslie is next on my list, followed by Jacky 張學友, Danny 陳白强, Roman 羅文, etc.

Listening to the songs of these incredible singers is an amazing journey, bringing back memories and feelings. Maybe I'll tell you more about that later. For the time being though, I need to get back to work; vocal training, singing, researching, performing :-)

An eye for an eye. An iPhone for a cup of tea.

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Our car, like most cars, has a cup holder. It's just next to the gear stick. I don't use it all that often, but when I do bring something with me to drink in the car, it's a life saver. When I don't have a beverage with me, I usually place my iPhone in the cup holder instead.

The other night, like most nights, I drove to my wife's office to pick her up from work. I had a few minutes to spare, so I bought a cup of 'Chinese café' tea 茶餐廳奶茶. When my wife came out of the office, I placed the tea into the cup holder and we began our drive home.

Clouds in my iPhone

After 'repairing' my iPhone, the LCD unfortunately looked like this. The anomalies do however appear to be fading away. With any luck, the screen will be nearly as good as new in a few days time.

Almost home, I handed my iPhone to my wife to show her something. When she handed it back to me, I absentmindedly placed the iPhone back into the cup holder. It was almost a full minute later before I realised that I had in fact placed the iPhone into half a cup of tea. I quickly pulled it out and my wife wiped it off, but...

Back home, I wiped the phone again and sprayed it with vinegar (what was I thinking!!!) hoping to drain the tea out of the iPhone. It didn't work, and later that night, the iPhone began showing the first signs of infection. It repeatedly thought that an unrecognised accessory was connected to the dock connector, and it was no longer possible to synchronise the iPhone with my Mac. The Home button also failed to respond to my repeated presses.

The next day, I took the iPhone in to the local Three repair centre. They noted that the connector had changed colour indicating that water was involved, and took the iPhone to their technician to quote the repair. The quote? HK$5,400!!! Why? Because Three are not authorised to repair the iPhones, only to replace them under warranty. If you damage your iPhone (here in Hong Kong at least), you have little choice but to buy a new one.

In my case, I found it extremely unreasonable that I would have to buy a new iPhone because the old one had sustained a little water (tea) damage, and I cannot afford to buy another one at $5,400. So I went online and searched for other similar stories. What I found were a couple of instruction videos on YouTube showing how to disassemble the iPhone. Since Three were not going to fix my iPhone, my only choice was to attempt the repair myself, hoping that it was a case of shorting wet contacts within the iPhone.

A few hours later, after 3 or 4 attempts, I had finally cleaned and wiped the inside of the iPhone, and found the source of the connector problem; tea had gathered around the the ribbon connection for the connector assembly. Using an electric toothbrush, I carefully cleaned both sides of the connection (twice because the first try wasn't successful) and put everything back together. My iPhone is now working.

Unfortunately, because I'm not a professional, I made mistakes while 'repairing' the iPhone. My biggest mistake was introducing alcohol (95%) to the LCD screen while cleaning the Home button. The LCD now has a permanent background resembling a cumulus nimbus cloud formation. Nothing I can do about it at this point. At least the iPhone works, and is almost perfect again. The next time I visit the States, I might send the iPhone in to one of the online third-party repair centres to have the LCD replaced; a cost of approx USD$50 to $80, much much less than the cost of a new iPhone!

The lesson to be learned from this story? Be very very careful with your iPhone. If you damage it in any way, no matter how minor, you might find yourself paying full price to 'fix' it.


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I recently took up weight lifting again. I have a job coming up where I'll be standing next to attractive thin women, and in my current condition, I would look very large in comparison, so it's the gym for me. I also began running again just over a month ago, barefoot of course ;-)

So yesterday, I packed my sports bag, including the usual things; clothes, shoes, headphones, gloves, etc; and left home. I spent a few hours in a local karaoke first doing song research, and then around 4pm headed off to the gym.

Frog in shoe

At the gym, it wasn't until I was preparing to put my gym shoes on that I realised I had inadvertently brought a guest along with me. There in my right shoe was a frog, and not a small one either! In Australia, they're called toads. Over here in Hong Kong, they're usually referred to as frogs. In Australia, they're a troublesome non-native immigrant pest. Here, they're native and harmless.

I couldn't leave him in the gym; he'd eventually end up dead somewhere; so I carefully lifted him out of the shoe and placed him in my locker. After my workout, I picked him up again, put him back in my shoe (he probably peed in there but oh well...) and took him back home, which incidentally is also his home, and set him free again.

In our previous home, we had the occasional wild visitor. We had the occasional monkey, one or two snakes who fortunately remained outside, and we had several centipedes come inside. Since the centipedes can deliver a very nasty sting, I would pick them up, usually with bbq prongs, and move them back outside again. We never had frogs though.

Centipede Centipede Centipede

Our current home has quite a few froggy visitors. I don't mind the frogs, but they can attract other visitors, in particular snakes looking for a tasty meal. On one occasion, I discovered a 4' snake on our porch. When I carefully pulled various objects back to see him more clearly, I discovered that he had one frog in his mouth half swallowed while eyeing another frog just in front of him. When the snake saw me, he slivered off very quickly leaving one very relieved frog behind him. I don't mind snakes either, but ever since that encounter, I've made a point to move all frogs found within the house or on the porch back to the neighbouring scrub area. Our kids don't really know their way around snakes, and I wouldn't want to see one of them get fatally bitten.

Cantonese Opera anyone?

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Just before we left for Macau for the International Series of Mahjong competition, I received a telephone call from ATV. They wanted me to perform in the National Day Cultural Night production 「香港同胞慶祝中華人民共和國成立五十九週年文藝晚會」, which was cool, but what was even cooler was that they wanted me to perform Cantonese Opera!

My part in the performance was only 30 seconds long but it was special. Ten days before the show, I had the music and lyrics. Then on Friday, five days before the show, I had my first 2-hour lesson in Cantonese Opera followed by another lesson on Sunday morning. That was it. The rest was up to me.

I knew it was going to be hard because we would be performing live, and because the show would be broadcast through much of China, so I worked hard to memorise the song and spent one to two hours every day rehearsing the routine on our balcony.

On Wednesday afternoon before the performance, we had rehearsals, my first time to work with renown masters of Cantonese Opera 梁漢威先生 and 尹飛燕小姐. Rehearsals went fine, and then there was more fun to be had. I was to be dressed in full Cantonese Opera robe with full makeup. Yippee!

My nerves were steady for most of the day, but by the time I reached the stage, my heart was racing a lot faster than I would have liked. Near the end of the first sentence of the song, with adrenaline racing through my body and all of my senses hightened much more than necessary, in my mind, I momentarily forgot a character in the lyrics. I'm not exactly sure what happened next but I heard the last character of the sentence come out of my mouth and held on to it. Then I smiled, because I knew I was going to be ok.

It was not as good a performance as I had hoped for but for someone who had just had 4 hours training in something as complex as Cantonese Opera, it wasn't too bad.

More importantly though, it was a personal victory. Many years ago, I developed a physiological form of depression resulting from severe and prolonged physical exhaustion, possibly a form of Burnout Syndrome. During that time, whenever I performed publicly, my nervousness would morph into terror, terror that was clearly visible on my face. Those episodes of terror left a mark on me. Since that time whenever preparing for a new performance, I have had to face the memory of those terrors and overcome them. It has only been during the last one or two years that those terrors have gradually faded away, and I have been able to enjoy performing again.

Without knowing it, several of my friends have been instrumental in helping me to overcome the fear of reliving that terror while performing by helping me to enjoy performing, good friends including Fred, Walter and Peisha.

And now, for your entertainment, here is the clip from that night's performance. I make my appearance just after 5:23 minutes into the clip. Try not to laugh too much ;-)

Caffeine free, for now

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I have been caffeine free for almost five days; no coffee, tea or caffeine-spiked softdrinks. The reason? I have a special performance tonight, a short one, but special nonetheless. It involves singing and Cantonese but it's definitely not what you would expect ;-)

If you want to catch my performance, watch tonight's China National Day show before the fireworks display.