It all started when Amanda was 2. My small family of 3 were at Yama, then Cairns’ most popular Japanese restaurant, when Amanda suddenly got up and began singing and dancing, using the raised wooden platform we were seated at as a stage. The other diners were good sports, clapping and cheering after her impromptu performance, calling for an encore. Being Amanda’s mother, I was proud of her, if somewhat flustered by all the attention.
Then when Amanda turned 3, she came to me and said, “I want to be Lady Gaga.”
“Alright,” I said, humouring her. “You can be Baby Gaga.”
“No, I’m going to call myself something else. I will write my own songs.”
“Fine,” I said with a chuckle. After all, who takes 3 year olds seriously?
She continued to sing anywhere and everywhere, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and often being her only audience, I clapped and cheered on cue. But I still didn’t take her seriously. After all, good Chinese girls usually grow up to be whatever their parents want them to be; an example of this is myself, but for a lack of career commensurate with my qualifications.
Then when Amanda turned 5, suspecting she might be my only child, I started recording a series of interviews with her as part of my efforts to commemorate my mothering experiences. Naturally the first question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Surely given my non-too-subtle hints about suitable career choices, which at times made me sound quite like my own mother, her answer would be something sensible.
“Are you sure?” I asked her. “How about a doctor or lawyer or architect?”
My suggestions can be traced back to my own childhood when there was an often-spoken, if unofficial, list of “acceptable” careers for the average Chinese person. In the order in which they were preferred, they were: doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, architect. Pre Y2K, anything to do with computers was added to the list. Over the years, banking and finance-related careers were also deemed desirable, if still after options 1, 2 and 3.
But singing? Being an “artist” in the lose sense of the word myself, I can relate to Amanda’s need to create, to perform. In fact, many of our friends in the 4101, our neighbourhood in Brisbane, belong to the arts scene. One hosts her own TV show, “Love TV.” Another is an international opera singer. Yet another designs and makes jewellery for a living. But the arts, like sports, is a winner-take-all type arena; those who manage to belly-crawl to the top get all the money, all the recognition, whereas everyone else struggles to find work and make ends meet. As a professional, you may never be rich, but if you’re any good at what you do, you’ll make a decent living.
My opera singer friend said, “Amanda can sing in tune and she has a good voice.”
Her teachers from dance and drama class said to me, “Whatever you do with Amanda, make sure she continues performing. She’s incredible to watch. She’s a born performer.”
The problem is I am a born worry-wart. What will I do if she insists on singing for a living? I blame myself for showing her too many youtube clips of Wang Leehom on stage. If you’ve never heard of Wang Leehom, you should google him. He’s an object of adulation for women between 8 and 80 all over Asia. Here’s one of my favourite videos of him singing live in Taiwan.
More years passed. Recently I asked Amanda again what she wants to be when she grows up.
“A singer, doctor, writer and Prime Minister,” she answered most self-assuredly.
Notice her first choice? Why, it’s still the same! Now I don’t want to be one of those parents that kill dreams but how many Chinese you know join shows like Australia’s X-factor or Australia’s Got Talent? How many Chinese emerge as stars in the West? Is the world ready to hear Chinese sing or perform in any language other than Chinese?
I look at Wang Leehom. Born in the States, he had to return to Taiwan, where his parents are from, to realise his dreams of stardom. Would singing or acting have been his parents first choice of a career for him? Being of professional stock like they are, I don’t think so.
After much soul-searching I said to Amanda, “Look, I’m happy you enjoy singing but I want you to promise me this: you will always put your studies first until you finish university. Get me that medical or dental degree and you can do whatever you want after that. I’ll give you my full blessings.”
Even Wang Leehom achieved a perfect GPA score before embarking on a singing career. One needn’t burn the books just because one is no longer going to read them as all education has residual value. Secretly I’m hoping that by the time she finishes university she’ll have forgotten all about singing. Based on the number of concerts I’m subjected to weekly, there’s a fat chance of that happening. Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to dream.