L.A. (Sept 2006)

Posts filed under L.A. (Sept 2006)

A Few Extra Days

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Music, Music: My Songs, TravelTags: , ,

It was Peisha's idea. Almost from the beginning of our time together, Peisha strongly recommended that I have a 'product' to take home with me. She meant that I should record a couple of songs, if only to show the folks at home just how much I had improved.

I wasn't totally sold on the idea at first. It was the potential financial cost of doing the recordings that kept me from committing to the idea, but as time went on, as my voice continued to improve, and as I discovered more and more songs that I loved, I grew more attracted to the idea. After three weeks of being with Peisha, I made the decision to record the songs. It's a decision that I'll never regret, and I'll forever be grateful to Peisha for her encouragement and insistence that I do the recordings.

Peisha knows people. That shouldn't come as a surprise. She has been in the music community for many years, and she's a highly respected member. Many of the people that she knows are very talented, and so I could only be optimistic when she chose someone to record my voice and arrange the music. His name was Chris Hardin.

Chris is probably as busy as Peisha. Most exceptionally talented people tend to be busy most of the time. They're always in demand. Chris' schedule was tight but we found a slot of time that we could spend with him after one of my lessons with Peisha. Unfortunately, half way through my lesson with Peisha, it was quite obvious that I was far too tired to go to a recording studio. Without questioning me in any way, and quite aware of the reality of the situation, Peisha called Chris and we were fortunately able to organise another session time.

Remember how I said that those few extra days that I stayed in L.A. turned out to be invaluable? Now you know why.

Our first session with Chris was on Monday, the day after I had originally planned to leave L.A. Monday was a great time slot because it allowed me to rest my voice over the weekend. I did a little warmup with Peisha at her studio and we then drove over to Chris' home studio.

On the evening of Monday the 20th of October, we recorded my first song: "This is the Moment". We recorded this song first because we knew it was going to be the hardest vocally. By the time I had sung through it four or five times in Chris' studio, I was worn out. It's a very tough song to sing with lots of high sustained notes, but, it turned out fine.

In the studio, Chris recorded a very basic piano background while following the sheet music. I then recorded my voice to that background.

On Tuesday, Peisha and I went back and recorded two more songs: "For Once in My Life" and another that I'll keep as a surprise for you. With "For Once in My Life", Chris again recorded a basic piano background to which I recorded my voice. He added many of the other instruments while we were there. It was incredible to watch him work. His musical talent is amazing. And I think he was really enjoying himself arranging that song. He was obviously having fun with it which made it fun for us too.

The third song was a little different. I recorded my voice first, roughly, without music, so that Chris could hear it and analyse the chords. That's because I didn't have any sheet music for the song, and I didn't want him to hear the original so that he would have to create something new. Chris then listened to my voice recording and in real time wrote down the chords on a sheet of lyrics that I had printed for him. In real time! The man is astonishing. What else can I say? Chris then used the chords to play a basic piano background for me to which I then recorded the final voice.

Over the next week, Chris added instruments and finalised the arrangements for each the songs.

…    …    …

One week after returning to Hong Kong, I received mp3 versions of the songs in my email. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I have now listened to them so many times that I've lost count. My wife said that the songs were simply 「百聽不厭」. They're understandably already on her iPod.

Peisha was so right in insisting that I record the songs. Without the songs, I might have gradually over time forgotten what I had learnt in L.A., but the songs have shown me what I can do and they've given me renewed confidence and enthusiasm, something I desperately needed. These songs are without doubt one of the many miracles in my life.

Now it's your turn. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Links to the three songs are listed below. The last song is a surprise. It's also one of my all-time favourites. Even Peisha and Chris loved it. Once you've heard the song, you'll understand why that's so special.

Have fun.

All songs:
Sung by Gregory Charles Rivers 河國榮
Arranged by Chris Hardin of Chris Hardin Entertainment
Directed by Peisha McPhee

Song 1: This is the Moment from the stage musical Jekyl and Hyde, written by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn.

Song 2: For Once in My Life written by Stevie Wonder

Song 3: Should I? (a surprise ;-)

A New Journey: The Beginning

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), TravelTags: , ,

My singing has always been important to me. Often, music is a precious companion, the one thing that will always be there no matter where I am or what I'm doing. Over the years, I've tried to improve my singing whenever possible. Through multiple unintentional spans of time when I didn't sing at all followed by periods of re-training and learning, I was able to forget some of my bad habits and learn better technique. In July of 2006, I was still not at the place I desired to be and hungered for further improvement. I needed a teacher.

My previous teacher had taught me well but you can only learn so much from one teacher and I needed more. I needed someone who could take me to the next level. Finding a teacher is always a gamble. You can never know until after you've begun working with them whether or not they'll be good for you but if you don't gamble, you'll always lose. I had to try.

In the months leading up to July, I had been watching episodes of the American Idol 2005/6 singing competition. The competitors were all exceptional performers. One of the competitors in particular really impressed me. Her name was Katharine, Katharine McPhee. While watching the show, I learnt that Katharine's mother Peisha was a vocal coach (i.e., a singing teacher). A little research on the internet revealed that Peisha McPhee was also an accomplished and respected cabaret singer.

People have asked me how to know if a teacher is good. I would first suggest that you observe the teacher's students. If the students perform well, that's a good sign. If the students have traits and abilities that you yourself admire and would like to develop, then that's an even better sign. This was very true in my case. Katharine was amazing. More than one of her performances gave me goose bumps. She was awesome and I wanted some of what she had if even only a small piece. Peisha therefore became a prime candidate in my search for a new teacher. In fact, she became my only candidate.

Studying in the U.S.A. with a vocal coach as celebrated as Peisha would be a dream for me, but an expensive one. There would be the air plane ticket, the motel accommodation, food and of course the tutor fees. It wasn't a decision that I could make lightly or quickly and so I began to ponder the decision, weighing the costs and the potential gains.

A week later while pondering the decision to study with Peisha, I received a phone call from someone in Hong Kong, an assistant to a local stage director. He was planning to put on an English musical stage play here in Hong Kong next year, and he wanted me to star in it! To me, that was magical, the chance to act and sing on stage. But it was more than that. It was divine affirmation that I should go to the U.S.A. and study with Peisha; assuming that she would accept me.

Now nearing the end of July, I used the email address from Peisha's web site and emailed her, telling her who I was and what I hoped to do. At first, Peisha was not sure about taking me on. There are after all lots of crazy people in the world. It wasn't until she had looked at my blog, viewed my singing performance from Teresa Tang's memorial concert, and seen my Indonesia photos that she saw my passion and agreed to help me. Over the following 6 weeks, we communicated many times as we tried to arrange a suitable schedule for both of us. I changed the schedule at least three times, trying to work around one TVB series 「寫意人生」 that I was filming at the time and another TVB series (「獄焰驚情」) that would begin filming sometime in October. Peisha herself was a very busy person and her schedule too was not entirely foreseeable. But the effort paid off and we eventually had a workable schedule.

On September 20, one day later than originally planned so that I could see the talented 周華健 in concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum before leaving, I left Hong Kong for an adventure. I had no expectations, and no preconceptions of what I would see, learn or experience in L.A. My life has taught me that it is very difficult to predict the future. It is better to go with an open mind, to enjoy the journey and the experience, and learn all that you can.

On Thursday afternoon, September 21 of 2006, having disembarked from my plane three hours earlier and just minutes before booked into a nearby motel, I walked up the footpath by the side of Peisha's home, up to her studio at the back of the house just in time for our first scheduled lesson. In spite of not having slept for more than thirty hours, I felt exhilarated and excited to be there.

As I walked up to the studio, Peisha walked out to greet me. A huge wonderful smile on her face, looking radiant in the afternoon sun, and perhaps just as excited to see me as I was to see her, Peisha held out her hand and greeted me with an abundance of positive energy and joy. It was the beginning of a brand new journey, and the beginning of a precious new friendship.

I stayed in L.A. for four full weeks. I studied privately with Peisha one hour a day, five days a week. I also joined three other cabaret classes that she and a friend taught; one advanced class in her studio on Tuesday nights, and two classes at the Los Angeles Community College on Saturdays where they have taught their cabaret classes to budding performers for more than twenty years. Every hour of learning was invaluable, and sometimes grueling and exhausting. Privately with Peisha, I was able to cure bad habits and build good technique. The improvement over the four weeks was astounding. In the cabaret classes, I learnt much from Peisha, her talented friend, pianist, teacher and music director Mel Dangcil, and the other students.

I learnt a lot more from Peisha than just singing technique though. She taught me about confidence, attitudes, delivery, self-worth and much much more. You can never predict the future, and in this case, I came out winning big time.

Originally planning to return to Hong Kong on October 15 for the new TVB series, I extended my stay in L.A. to spend a few more days with Peisha. Those few extra days turned out to be invaluable because we were able to do something very special. You won't want to miss my next article ;-)

Goodbye L.A. Hello H.K.

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Travel, WorkTags: , ,

I'm back in Hong Kong, back home with my wife and our kids. It's great to be back although the trip back was a little sudden and rushed.

Before going to L.A., I was filming 寫意人生 at TVB. Because filming took longer than previously hoped, I had to delay my trip to L.A. until September 16. Furthermore, TVB had another series planned for which I would need to be back in Hong Kong by October 16 or earlier if possible. This placed strict limits on the time I could spend in L.A., but the trip was important to me; improving my singing technique is always on my mind; so I worked around the limitations as well as I could and left for L.A.

My time in L.A. with my teacher was fabulous. My teacher and I clicked immediately, as if we'd known each other for a lifetime and my learning was significant.

While in L.A., I received information from TVB that the new series was willing to guarantee six half-episodes of work for me. Previously, I had expected a higher guarantee. Six half-episodes is not a lot of work, and the series would still lock me down for six to eight weeks. It was then up to me to balance the potential benefit of staying with my teacher in L.A. for another four days against the possibility of losing my role in the new TVB series if they couldn't wait for my return.

Sometimes, it's that little extra time, that small extra push, that final extra effort, that makes all the difference. I felt this would be true for me during this trip and therefore decided to stay the extra four days with my teacher, four days because my teacher had to leave L.A. on October 19 to go to New York for the 17th Annual Cabaret Convention and various personal reasons.

On October 4, I sent an email to TVB informing them of my decision to stay in L.A. an extra four days, and that I would accept the new series if they could wait for me.

Those extra four days in L.A. turned out to be invaluable. With my teacher's help, I did something which will likely have significant consequences in the future, something that you will all learn about soon. I am absolutely confident that my decision to extend my stay was the correct one.

Two weeks after sending that email and two days before I planned to return to Hong Kong, I was sleeping soundly in my motel room (sleeping soundly was unfortunately very rare during my stay in L.A.). I had just finished my last cabaret workshop with my teachers and student friends and I was preparing for the inedible good-bye; happy nonetheless. My time in L.A. with my teacher had been wonderful and well worth the expense. At one-thirty a.m., I was awoken by the phone. It was my wife. TVB needed me back in Hong Kong by midday October 20, one day earlier than I was scheduled to return.

When we explained to TVB that I wouldn't be back in Hong Kong until October 20, they became upset. Understandable. Every time they plan any filming, a lot of people are involved; i.e., a lot of money. Trying to change anything for the sake of one actor is never a good thing.

I felt obligated to change my plans and leave L.A. immediately. I was moderately upset because I had informed them two weeks earlier of my plans to return to Hong Kong on October 20, but certain people at TVB are very talented at moving the blame to the artist. It was later discovered that an unfortunate misunderstanding at TVB resulted in my email being read but not forwarded to the relevant parties. Therefore, the producer of the new series was not made aware of my changed schedule.

Fortunately, I was able to suppress my feelings and think about the problem at hand logically. If I had reacted purely emotionally, I'd have stubbornly refused to change my schedule; partly out of defiance, and partly out of anger and retaliation at being manipulated. Instead, I realised and admitted to myself that my final day in L.A. did not contain anything essential to my trip. My last lesson with my teacher was to be a summary of what I had learnt and while valuable, it would not be indispensable. Other than that one-hour lesson, nothing else was planned for the day. It was therefore an acceptable trade-off to leave one day earlier (even though changing my flight would cost US$100 for which I would not be reimbursed).

At six a.m., I woke up and called Cathay Pacific reservations. We were lucky. There were available seats on that day's flight and I was able to move my flight one day forward. I was also able to reschedule my airport shuttle bus ride without financial penalty. Ten minutes later when my wife called from Hong Kong, I informed her of the situation and she was able to inform the TVB personnel who subsequently breathed a sigh of relief. Two hours later, I had packed all of my belongings and was ready to leave. I had just enough time to rush down to my teacher's home and say my final good-bye.

I caught a cab down to her home and asked the cab to wait for me outside. I couldn't afford to be late back to the motel. The airport shuttle bus was due to pick me up one hour later and I knew that it wouldn't wait for me should I be late. Cabs are few and far between in L.A. so it was better to have him wait for me than to try to call another one later on.

My teacher was getting ready for a special TV appearance; taking a shower and getting her hair styled. Ten minutes after my arrival, she came out to the living room to see me. It was difficult for both of us. We'd seen each other almost every day for a whole month and it was now time to go our separate ways. We had become great friends. Fortunately, the internet and cheap international phone calls from Hong Kong has made the world a much smaller place so we will never be far apart, and I believe that great things are destined for both of us.

From the motel, my ride to the airport went well. With me in the shuttle bus were several other Caucasians destined for China. Some of them had lived in China for two years and spoke Mandarin. It's always a happy thing to meet other non-Chinese who have taken the time and effort to learn one of the Chinese dialects. It's almost as if we belong to a special club.

The Cathay flight was delayed two hours, but that wasn't a bad thing. Because of the delay, we were each given a US$15 food coupon which I used to buy an authentic meat loaf meal and the last cappuccino I would consume at L.A.

The flight was painful. Fifteen hours in a seat just wide enough and with very little leg room (especially for anyone six feet tall or taller) is very difficult to endure. The movies are ok but not great. The Cathay video system is still the older one where you have to wait until all the movies have finished before you can begin to watch the next movie and there is no pause/rewind/fast-forward functionality. Additionally, when the person in front reclines their seat all the way down, the cheap LCD monitor with limited wide-angle visibility is lowered so far that it's almost impossible to view. If I was five foot eight inches tall, I'd probably be ok, but I'm six feet tall and I almost broke my neck trying to view the monitor. Japan Airline's video system is soooo much better.

The next day at two p.m., I was on location in Fenling 粉嶺 shooting my first scene from the new TVB series 獄焰驚情, almost feeling as if I'd never left Hong Kong.

Everything was back to normal, everything except for one thing: I was now a better person, an improved person because of the knowledge and talent passed on to me by a very special one-of-a-kind teacher. Thank you Peisha!

One Asian man

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), TravelTags: , ,

I'm tired!

This morning, I didn't have any chores to do and I didn't feel like going to Starbucks again, so I started walking with a full backpack on my back. An hour and 25 blocks later, I discovered a very nice 'French' cafe Le Pain Quotidien with tables outside on the sidewalk. Inside, incredibly attractive breads and cakes were on display and I knew this was the place I wanted to eat at, so I sat down at one of the outside tables and ordered breakfast: a parmesan omelette and a double-cappuccino.

Everything at this restaurant was 'organic', meaning that any animals involved were treated humanely and any food products were not processed any more than necessary. The omelette was fabulous, the cheese wonderful (I'm a cheese lover). Even the organic butter tasted great. The bread was above average, and the organic Belgium jam, marmalade and hazelnut spreads were also wonderful. The coffee was so nice; served in a large cup without handles; that I ordered a second cup. The food wasn't cheap. In fact, by Hong Kong standards, it was very expensive but it's simply another case of getting what you pay for, and I'm only here for a few more days so…

After that fabulous meal, I continued my walk until I found a Staples store where I purchased a second clear folder for my sheet music, and then photocopied sheet music that I had previously purchased here in L.A. so that the pianist and I would both have something to look at in my workshops. Then it was back to my teacher's studio for our afternoon lesson.

Following the lesson, I spent almost an hour waiting and photographing the humming bird that lives near my teacher's home. The humming birds are quite fascinating and I'll tell you more about them after I've returned to Hong Kong and chosen a few photographs to show you.

I then took a bus ride to an electric appliance repair shop where our KitchenAid cake mixer was getting repaired. Fortunately, very close to that repair shop was a specialty shop selling cardboard boxes (cartons). I just so happen to need a box to pack the extra things I've purchased while here in L.A. so finding this shop was perfect.

It was then time to go 'home', back to the motel. Imagine for a moment, a Caucasian guy with a 25-pound backpack on this back, a cake mixer nestled in one hand and a flattened 18" x 30" box in the other hand, getting on the bus. It wasn't easy getting everything home but it's finished now.

An interesting thing happened while on the bus coming home. A young lady stood up, walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver how to get to China Town. I watched her carefully. Her English appeared to be broken but I was almost certain that she wasn't Chinese. She looked Middle Eastern to me. When she returned to her seat, I realised what was going on. She was helping an Asian man with very limited English to get directions. Their communication was though almost non-existent. The young lady alighted from the bus a couple of stops later, leaving the Asian man wondering about how to get to China Town. He moved over to the opposite seat and asked the black man sitting there the same question.

(Minorities mix very very well here. There is no obvious racism that I can see, and people treat each other very well and with respect, regardless of race or colour. L.A. is a very special city in this aspect. The same cannot be said of much of the U.S.A. where minorities are few in number.)

The black man tried to help the Asian but was also having problems communicating. At the same time though, he appeared to be ready to help out the Asian man or at least felt that he had communicated what the Asian man needed to know to get to China Town.

I struggled with whether or not to talk to the Asian man. He looked Chinese to me, and chances were good that he spoke either Mandarin or Cantonese. My struggle was that others were apparently successfully helping him and I don't like to belittle other peoples' favours and good intentions. In the end though, it became apparent that the black man was not taking the bus as far as the Asian man and it appeared necessary to talk to the Asian man.

I stood up, moved over next to the Asian and asked him in Mandarin if he was a Chinese man. He was a little shocked at first, and then relieved that I spoke Mandarin. I couldn't take him to China Town because I was carrying so much, but I was able to help him understand what subways he would need to take to get to China Town. He assured me that he would be okay.

The Asian man; by my estimation now in his late 40s; was in fact from 四川 (Si-Chuan) in China. He had sneaked into the U.S.A. more than ten years ago and has been working here ever since. He spends almost all of his time working for and being with other Chinese and has therefore never learnt English. I know that the Chinese can treat their own people very unfairly, taking advantage of their illegal status. This is true especially in China Towns all over the world including L.A., London and Sydney. I asked if he was illegal and after confirming my intuition (without any hesitation by the way; he obviously trusted me), he commented that no matter how hard it had been, his life was still far better than it would have been if he had stayed in China.

I believe the situation in China is now changing; rapidly. Within a few years, many people will have better lifestyles although many others will unfortunately still be living in squalor, especially those coming from country towns to make a better living in the big cities.

Happily, this Asian man has much to look forward to. His children will be emigrating (legally) to the U.S. next year. It will be a wonderful thing for him when his family is once again together.

And now, having carried everything back to my motel room, I am finally back in Starbucks, drinking my coffee, resting, reviewing today's photographs of the humming bird and writing this article. It's nice to be able to sit down and simply relax.

6 days to go…

Living the student’s life in L.A.

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Music, TravelTags: , , ,

I came to L.A. to study singing, nothing else, and the studies are coming along wonderfully. I have one-on-one lessons with my teacher once a day from Monday to Friday. Additionally, I attend one Cabaret workshop with other students on Tuesday nights and another singing workshop on Saturdays in a totally different place.

My teacher is simply amazing. Her knowledge of singing is so broad and extensive that I would never be able to learn everything from her even if I stayed here a whole year. For the workshops, she has a friend and partner who acts as the musical director. He is also incredible and I feel incredibly lucky to have met both of these people. Sometimes, you get lucky!

Other than my lessons, I have very little to do, so my days are relatively relaxed in spite of the small hiccups I've encountered along the way (which I'll describe in a later article).

I live approximately fifteen blocks away from my teacher's studio. When I planned this trip, I used the internet to find the accommodation closest to my teacher's studio at the lowest price. The motel I'm staying is not quite the cheapest but it is the closest, albeit fifteen blocks. But I don't mind the fifteen blocks. When I stayed in Hollywood two years ago, I walked everywhere and quickly discovered that walking for an hour or so each day at a medium pace with seven to ten kilos in a backpack is a great way to get fit. So I decided to the do the same thing this time. Besides, I don't have a lot to do so walking for two or three hours each day is definitely not going to hurt me (although my beloved Birkenstock sandals are suffering). So my motel location has turned out to be excellent for my needs.

Coincidentally, my motel is just two minutes walk away from a shopping mall with a Starbucks store, so my coffee and internet needs are also provided for.

So basically, I get up in the morning, walk on over to Starbucks, have a cup of coffee and a raisin bagel, check my email, surf the internet for a short while and then go back to my motel. These days, I'm drinking a grande 4-shot 2% latte in the morning and another tall 3-shot 2% latte in the afternoon. I was drinking whole milk lattes but I soon realised that they were probably slowing my weight-loss in spite of all the walking, so I've switched to 2% milk which still tastes great nonetheless. At night, because there's nothing better to do, I come back to Starbucks for one last latte and a final email check before watching a little local tv and retiring to bed. Unfortunately, that night latte was causing sleep problems for me so a few nights ago, I started drinking the decaf version and my sleep is now much better.

Funny thing about Starbucks: They use less coffee here than they use in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, we have the Short, Tall and Grande sizes. The Vente size was only introduced a month or so ago in Hong Kong. In the U.S.A. where food portions are usually extravagantly large, Starbucks doesn't have a Short size. What is intriging though is that they use less coffee in their drinks. While in Hong Kong, the Tall and Grande sizes have two and three shots of coffee respectively, here in the U.S.A., they only have one and two shots of coffee. I remember the first time I tried a regular Tall Latte here. It tasted more like milk than coffee. I have subsequently remembered to always order extra shots of coffee. Conversely, Starbucks' primary competitor, The Coffee Bean, seems to use more coffee. Their regular Medium (ie, Starbucks' Tall) lattes taste just fine without adding any extra coffee.

It feels as if I've been here forever. I can hardly remember getting off the plane two weeks ago. It's been an excellent adventure though. My teachers are fantastic and I'm learning a lot more than I could have dreamed. And I've met new friends (hello Mandy and Michael ;-). In fact, it will be difficult to leave my teachers and go back to Hong Kong. But I miss my wife and family and it will be wonderful to see them again.

11 days of this fun adventure remain...

L.A. — First (second) impressions

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Travel

Six days. That's how long I've been here in L.A. It feels like forever. I can hardly remember getting off the plane at LAX and catching the buses to my motel. Did I say buses? Yep. Three to be exact, but I managed to get to the motel for only US$5.50 instead of US$50 or more if I'd caught a taxi. I'm a student here, and I therefore need to keep my expenses as low as I can although I still occasionally spend a little more for better food.

L.A. is not an attractive city to me personally. I much prefer Hong Kong, or Brisbane (Australia), or the beautiful Blue Mountains (Australia). My home in Hong Kong is surrounded by bush and country. My home in Australia is also surrounded by bush and I grew up in the country so it's only natural that I prefer country to the city. For me, the city is an impersonal place where many people live superficial lives, where what you wear and what you drive (and how large your -silicon- breasts are while the rest of your body remains as skinny as possible) identifies who you are rather than the real person within you, and where people compete nonstop to better each other in financial and status terms. It's not a good way to live.

L.A. is also a city where many of its inhabitants have come here hoping to be tomorrow's superstar, the next big TV celebrity, America's next millionaire. The sad fact is that most people fail and resign themselves to 'ordinary' lives here with 'ordinary' jobs, assuming that they can even find good work at all. What a lot of people don't realise is that more than 5000 people come into L.A. every week hoping to be the next big thing. That's a lot of people. Unfortunately, to get any decent chance of succeeding in the entertainment business, it is essential that you have an agent. However, most of the agents are very full; i.e., no vacancies; and unless you're incredibly special, or very sexy, or can get wonderful inside references, there's very little chance of getting an agent. It's therefore near-on impossible to get anywhere in the business here. Does that mean that people shouldn't try? If I didn't say No, I'd be a hypocrite. How could I, someone who flew on a one-way ticket from Australia to Hong Kong with the dream of becoming a Cantonese pop singer, tell others not to try when success is so remote? How could I, someone who has not given up after 19 years in Hong Kong tell others not to try? I couldn't. The truth however is that it's very difficult to succeed in this business and if you're not ready for hardship, then you shouldn't try.

There are many things I don't like about L.A., but here are some of the things I do like about it.

The public transport system is actually pretty good. Armed with a portable computer and omnipotent access to the internet (in my case via T-Mobile at the Starbucks cafes), you can practically get to any place in the city. Simply log in to www.mta.net, specify your from and to locations and voila, MTA tells you how to get there, and all for a maximum of US$3 per day if you buy a Day Pass.

For me, the blue skies are very special. The horizons are usually brown with pollution but the middle sky is almost always blue and clear of clouds. After living in Hong Kong where the sky is more often than not white or yellow-brown, blue skies are a real treat.

The trees here are magnificent. They're old, huge, wise and majestic. They're wonderful to admire and respect. (The Mexican gardeners here do incredible work with the flora. Their tree trimming skills are truly admirable.)

Wildlife is far more limited in this city but I've already been enchanted by the squirrels and the humming birds. I already have a few (good) squirrel photos. I hope to get photos of the humming birds but just like the Sunbirds back home in Hong Kong, they're small, very quick and rarely stay in one place for more than one or two seconds. They're also not as common as I'd like so it may prove very difficult to get good photographs of them. But the way they fly and hover is hypnotising; absolutely amazing.

I'd like to post one or two of my squirrel photos but my 'clamshell' iBook (mine is Lime running OS X 10.4.7 on a 466MHz G3 processor with 320MB of RAM) is far too slow to process my photographs so you'll all have to wait until I get back to Hong Kong to see them. I'd like to get a new MacBook Pro but I'm waiting until Apple upgrades them to use the new Intel Core 2 Duo chips that they're now using in their iMacs. It'd be a shame to buy a MacBook Pro now only to see Apple release new MacBook Pros in two or three weeks for the same price but 15 to 20% faster.

I'd like to upgrade my Canon EOS 350D camera too. The new 400D is a very nice camera but it unfortunately doesn't offer everything I need. I'm particularly in need of a brighter and larger viewfinder. Much of my bird and animal photography requires manual focussing and the small dark viewfinders of the 350D/400D make it very difficult to focus accurately. Happily, the introduction of the 400D means that Canon will upgrade the 5D soon and when that happens, I'll upgrade. With any luck, the 5D will be upgraded around the beginning of 2007.

More later.

On vacation?

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Music, Travel, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags: , , , ,

It's been a while since I've posted any articles here, but you can be sure that I'm still here, and you can be absolutely sure that I've read every one of your comments, even if I haven't responded. And I appreciate the comments. Even if it's not obvious, your comments are important to me and provide an important source of support.

In the time I've 'been away', I've filmed a new series at TVB. The name of the series is 寫意人生 and I'll talk more about that in a later article. It was a pretty busy part, including two sessions of five nights of continuous studio filming involving nine to eleven hours of filming each night.

Strange and interesting things have happened in the least few months. Perhaps the most important event is my decision to go back to Hollywood for more training, this time for singing ;-)

From September 21 until October 15, I'll be in Hollywood, taking daily singing lessons with a teacher who I have come to know by chance. I'm nervous, apprehensive and excited all at the same time. Daily lessons will be tough. It's also difficult to know how much I'll learn during my stay there, but it's possible that I'll make a break-through in my singing technique (two break-throughs would be better) and that would make me the happiest guy alive, if only for just a short while until I begin fighting for the next break-through.

In my lifetime, I've known a few singing teachers. I had two teachers in Australia when I was small but those teachers did nothing for me. I had another teacher here in Hong Kong and she did nothing for me either. I even had a few lessons with the incredible Roman 羅文 but learned very little even though I enjoyed my time with him.

Not every teacher is right for every student and finding the right teacher for you is normally hit-and-miss. I was lucky. After having had so many not-so-helpful teachers, I finally met one who helped me a lot. 鮑老師 took me on as a student after I was introduced to her by another of her students/fans. She took me on even though she was retired. After teaching for more than 20 years, she just wanted to relax and enjoy herself, but she took me on anyway, and I learnt more from her than from any other teacher I'd had. I only had the occasional lesson with her but every lesson was full of information and techniques which required time to absorb, understand and practise and over the three years or so that I studied with her, my singing improved immensely. I'll never be able to thank her enough.

But you can't learn everything from one teacher and a few months ago, I decided it was time to take the next step and find my next teacher.

It was difficult. Finding the right teacher is a case of chance. Only one of my friends has ever had singing lessons and she wasn't enthusiastic about the teachers she knew. Historically, I feel that there are many 'self-qualified' teachers in Hong Kong who either developed their techniques themselves or became singing teachers because they themselves were successful singers. Neither qualifies these people as real teachers and I felt that it would be difficult to find what I needed here in Hong Kong.

I should emphasise though that this situation of 'self-qualified' teachers exists all over the world, ironically possibly more in Hollywood than anywhere else.

In any case, I was considering finding a new singing teacher; possibly in the U.S.A.; when out of the blue, I received a phone call. A director in Hong Kong wants to stage an English musical here next year, and he wants me to star in it!!! As far as I was concerned, that was the sign that my decision to go to the U.S.A. to study singing was the right one. If I was going to do well in the musical, my singing would need a lot of work.

I have more than a few problems with my singing. My biggest problems are that I know very few songs, that I get extremely nervous in front of an audience, and that my voice gets raspy after the second or third song.

I have been working on the first two problems by going to a local karaoke three times a week. The more I sing and rehearse the songs, the easier I'll remember them, the better I'll sing them and the more confident and comfortable I'll be in front of a crowd.

My karaoke sessions are very unusual. People often ask 'how can you sing by yourself for 2 hours?'. It's easy actually. I love singing and when I find a song that entrances me, I will sing that song four, five even eight times before moving on to the next song. I do not get bored repeating the same song over and over again although I'm sure anyone else in the room would. Some of the songs on the top of my list are 你把我灌醉, 該不該, , , 愛如潮水 and 愛如刀割. One day, I'll have enough for a concert ;-)

The karaoke sessions have also helped with the raspy problem. Singing for two hours three times a week helps to strengthen the voice but I'm also looking forward to my lessons in Hollywood where my technique will be further improved and I'll be able to sing better for longer.

Anyway, you can look forward to more updates on my blog. While in Hollywood, I will probably have lots of free time, time that I'll use to learn more about the basics of music and music theory, work on a pet proposal of mine, and write more for my blog ;-)

In the meantime, I've encoded and uploaded my guest performance in the Teresa Tang 50-year Memorial concert, held at the Cultural Centre in Hong Kong in 2003. I hope you like it, and hopefully I'll have more clips for you in the future.