Hanjin Tan, 39, is a musical all-rounder.
He is a singer, lyricist, songwriter, composer and record producer. He also often appears on television as an actor.
Soon to be a permanent resident of Hong Kong, Tan finds people in this city to be quick, diligent and efficient.
He is amazed, he said, by the fact that people are able to manage a lot of things simultaneously.
“I have seen musicians practising while eyeing the stock market,” Tan said.
“They can still play mobile games when they are about to sing!
“I simply can’t do it. Don’t try asking me what I have been composing lately while I am changing my guitar wires.”
“Don’t even ask him what he wants for lunch,” his wife, Prima, agreed.
Born in 1976 in Singapore with ancestry in Wenchang, Hainan, Tan has strong opinions on one of the dishes commonly associated with his heritage — Hainanese chicken rice.
“Hainanese chicken rice in Hong Kong comes in two styles, the ‘Tsui Wah’ style or the Thai style,” Tan said.
“Neither of them is authentic.”
He said Hongkongers may be surprised to find that in Hainan the chicken isn’t deboned before it is served with the rice.
During singing competitions on TV where Tan is one of the judges, he often appears captivated by the contestants’ performances and immersed in them.
It may come as a surprise that, as a musician, Tan has had a hearing impairment since the age of 14, when he was diagnosed with a benign tumor in his right ear.
He has retained only 50 percent of his hearing in the right ear and 75 percent in the left ear.
The hearing difficulty has not stopped Tan from pursuing his love for music and a career in it.
“My hearing is inevitably imbalanced, and so the tune becomes a bit out of phase. I do the adjustments myself,” he said.
“I am not deaf!”
Tan admitted that it causes a bit more difficulty when he is mixing audio.
But he said he is perfectly fine when it comes to appreciating music.
Tan achieved excellent results in school, obtaining nine As in his O-Level examinations, and majored in economics at the National University of Singapore.
Asked if any economic theories apply to music, he considered the law of diminishing marginal returns.
“For example, when you have your first scoop of ice cream, you are deeply satisfied,” he said.
“However, as you have more, you will find it less tasty.
“In economics, this law says you will stop when the marginal return becomes zero.
“However, in producing music, I often feel unsatisfied, and so I will keep recording and composing the piece again and again.
“The result is always the opposite of what is suggested by the law.”
Tan started working in Hong Kong because of Cantopop star Eason Chan — who hired him as a record producer when he was only 25.
The producer recalls many happy moments working with Hong Kong artists.
The drummer, singer and producer Jun Kung is a “music genius”, Tan said.
“He can replicate a complex series of notes after listening to it only once.”
Cantopop singer “Denise Ho Wan-Sze has perfect pitch, but I bet she doesn’t realize that it is a rare gift”, he said. A person with perfect pitch is able to identify or recreate a given musical note without a reference tone.
Sammi Cheng Sau-man, a Cantopop star and movie actress who has recovered from depression, would share her thoughts with Tan, who suffered from depression when he was bullied at school at the age of 17.
“Many of our discussions ended up in her songs,” Tan said.
He himself has tried out acting in TV dramas, which became popular among the Hong Kong audience.
Nevertheless, his heart is always with his music, and with his Hong Kong-born wife, who keeps him here in the city.
Tan owns a music studio in Wong Chuk Hang.
He recently left Sun Entertainment Culture Ltd. upon completion of his contract.
Tan can enjoy greater freedom without a contract, his wife said, as opportunities to accept independent invitations to work on music at home and abroad become possible.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 7.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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