Singer-songwriter JJ Lin: Being bilingual opened doors for me
Home-grown singer-songwriter JJ Lin said knowing both English and Chinese has given him a "wow factor" in his singing career.
Being bilingual also meant he could enter the market in Taiwan, where he is now based.
Lin, 34, was speaking at the China-Quotient Student Forum 2015 at the St Andrew's Junior College (SAJC) Cultural Centre yesterday.
The event was jointly organised by the school and Business China (Singapore), which seeks to nurture bilingual and bicultural Singaporeans.
Lin, who gave a talk at the event, also performed three songs, including the theme song he composed for this year's Chingay festivities, Dreams, as well as two other Chinese songs with former schoolmate and fellow singer-songwriter Hong Junyang.
The event drew more than 1,000 students from over 20 secondary schools, junior colleges and universities.
Lin encouraged students to hone their bilingual and bicultural skills, and motivated them to work hard to realise their potential.
He said merely mastering the Chinese language was not enough for him to break into Taiwan. It also took a knowledge of Taiwanese culture to truly connect with the locals.
He related an anecdote in Mandarin: "Once, when I was filming a green tea commercial, the director told me to suan rou (cook meat) in a steamboat. But I heard it as 'count meat' and proceeded to literally count the slices of pork on the plate.
"Of course, this earned me a huge chiding from the rest of the crew. It was extremely embarrassing."
He cited other differences in the way Taiwanese and Singaporeans use the Chinese language.
For instance, the same character may be pronounced differently. The same object may also carry a different name in Taiwan, he added.
Even though most of his songs are in Mandarin, Lin believes in maintaining a high standard of English.
In his free time, he watches American television programmes and dramas. This is not only because he enjoys them, but because he believes in exposing himself to as much English as possible as he is based in Taiwan, which uses Mandarin predominantly.
Lin developed a love for Chinese songs in his secondary school days in Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).
He was especially passionate about the songs of Hong Kong singer-songwriter Jacky Cheung.
He said in English: "In ACS, if you speak Chinese, people will give you weird looks. But this was something I really loved."
His big break came when he was in SAJC.
Mrs Chia Lim Lee, who was then the teacher in charge of the arts enrichment programme in SAJC, recognised Lin's singing talent when he was performing on a grassy field at the school's Alexandra Road campus.
Now in her 60s, she had recommended him to attend a music school to learn how to write songs in Chinese.
Lin heeded her advice and began to shine.
In 1999, at the age of 18, Lin began training formally under local music label Ocean Butterflies. It became the first firm to manage his career.
Despite his success, Lin retains a down-to-earth quality that has endeared him to fans.
National University of Singapore undergraduate Phua Mei Qi, 22, said: "I love him because he is such an earnest and sincere person. Even though he has little time, he tries his best to properly answer all our questions."
Mrs Chia, who was at the forum as an invited VIP, said: "Even at school, he was such a good boy. He was very well behaved, polite and carried himself well.
"I believe he didn't change much as he progressed through his career and we are proud of his success."
Fishball noodles was something I ate every day in school at Saint Andrew’s Junior College (SAJC). If I had not gone into the music industry, I might want to open a cafe and it will sell fishball noodles.
— JJ Lin speaking at the China-Quotient Student Forum 2015 at SAJC