From Singer To Nun

Born in 1960, Liu Lan Xi was first spotted by talent scouts when she participated in a singing competition at the age of 16. This song, 小雨中的回憶 was written in 1976. Liu was later discovered by famous author of romances, Qiong Yao who found her suitable for playing some of the characters in her novels.

However, Liu was permanently cast as a supporting actress, playing second fiddle to Lin Qing Xia and Lin Feng Jiao. As a singer Liu could have been far more successful. With a sweet, soothing voice and demure looks, she recorded several popular albums with Taiwanese folk songs from the schools. But as the popularity of Qiong Yao movies declined, Liu Lan Xi moved to Hong Kong where she found some success but also as a supporting actress.

Below is an excerpt from the 1981 HK slapstick comedy 追女仔. Liu married doctor Liang Rong Ji in 1984 and she promised her fans that she would not give up on showbiz because of marriage. She finally got her lead role in the movie 亮不亮沒關係 1984 which turned out to be a big flop. Liu became very depressed after that.

The couple moved to the US. Her husband specialised in endocrinology. She earned her degree in mass communications. It was her husband who first introduced her to Buddhism. She became so absorbed in Buddhist studies that she decided to become a nun. After much discussion and persuasion, she finally had the blessings of her husband and her family members and was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1991. She became known as Master Dao Rong.

As Master Dao Rong, she once again wowed audiences, reappearing on the TV screen when the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan in 1997. She was then the translator for the Dalai Lama’s team and when asked if she would mind being interviewed, she readily agreed. After that interview, she kept a low profile and virtually disappeared from public view.

The Venerable Dao Rong passed away in California USA on 10 January 2022, age 61. There is no further information on how she died.

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Professorial Singers

After the Xinyao fever of the 1980s, Singapore’s music industry entered a period of flashy and flamboyant stage and MV performances. Many of these singers had no substance or their vocals might not be microphone-ready. Undiscerning audiences loved them anyway. To stand out from the crowd, one could either go for cheap thrills or in the case of law lecturer Jimmy Yeh, you could shock them with your qualifications.

Packed with substance, Jimmy was probably Singapore’s only “professorial” singer who takes centre stage (Liang Wern Fook normally works behind the scenes). He was also an accomplished local songwriter and composer. He has written hits for superstars of the Chinese music scene, including Jackie Cheung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Jeff Chang, Jolin Tsai, Alan Tam and Kit Chan.

Around 1995 when I was writing for a magazine and visiting Thailand like it was my second home, my editor gave me an interesting assignment – interview Jimmy Yeh at his home. I remember that interview very well for a number of reasons. First of all, the “press kit”. His company was generous enough to give me a CD. Most others only gave cassette tapes.

I would describe his home’s decor as avant garde but comfortable. And with all his daring use of Singlish and colloquial expressions, it was one of the most casual and comfortable interviews I had conducted with a celebrity. Jimmy was a very candid and approachable person.

Obviously from a well-to-do family, he had no airs at all. I told him about my profession and we had a good laugh at each other. At the end of the interview, we were almost like friends, talking about Thailand and trekking in Nepal. As all the arrangements were made between the magazine publisher and the recording company, I only knew his address but not his number. I thought it would be unprofessional to ask, but we could have stayed in contact and become friends.

Below are three of my favourite songs by Jimmy.

Those were the glorious days of students and lawyers recording albums, neurosurgeons and dentists writing books and magazine articles that have nothing to do with their professions. Will we see them again?

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Xinyao, Then The Age of No Substance

The age of Xinyao, with the emergence of boys and girls next door composing and singing songs that Singaporeans could identify with, is gone but fondly remembered. We had our own 三大天王, Eric Moo 巫启贤 , Peter Ang 洪劭轩 and Thomas Teo 姜鄠. Below is 巫启贤 (Xinyao’s most “accomplished” singer) Eric Moo’s signature song 你是我的唯一. I prefer this version to the noisier original which was first released 1988.

Peter Ang 洪劭轩 is another Xinyao singer with brilliant vocals. The video below is my favourite song by Ang – 从你回眸那天开始 1989. As far as I know, Ang does not have any album to his name. His recorded works are mostly found in Xinyao compilations. In that sense, he didn’t really enter the industry as a professional singer. Ang still appears on stage every now and then on mini Xinyao concerts. I’ve watched him perform on stage some years ago and he was still good.

A song that topped the Chinese charts for months in the 1980s – Thomas Teo or 姜鄠 and his signature song, 恋之憩 1986. Teo’s voice was gentle yet powerful and was a highly versatile singer. He also recorded many theme songs for our very popular TV series of the 1980s. Towards the 1990s, Teo gradually faded away from the music scene and went into the pet shop business. He said that it’s because of the changing “requirements” in the local music scene.

What are these changing requirements? Eric Moo went to Taiwan and the Xinyao as we know it was petering out. The new brand of local compositions and our local singers began to tailor their works and styled themselves to suit a wider audience, starting with Taiwan.

Our music scene was thus hit by another wave of homegrown “talent” in the 1990s. They were “performers” and dream makers more than they were singers. Sexy and flamboyant, they had girls screaming after them unlike Xinyao whose fans were more sedate or even nerdy. Like the Instagrammers and other influencers today, these folks had no substance, weak vocals and depended almost entirely on a sensuous image to attract young people who lacked that touch of heady euphoria in real life. I remember seeing girls fighting over one of them – Tian Jing.

Quite naturally, I was put off by these “singers” with no substance and even though I kept hearing their songs on the airwaves, I tried to ignore them. But it has been almost 30 years now. When I stumble on their songs, memories flood my mind. My repugnance then has died down and to be honest, Tian Jing (a local singer I didn’t like at all) did have a song I like. This song was written by our very own Li Weisong and the late Xing Zenghua, even though most of Tian Jing’s songs were “borrowed” from Thai composers. This is a nice song, but I would have liked it more if it’s sung by a better singer.

Tian Jing faded from public eye almost as suddenly as he had appeared. He was still very popular then and must have broken many hearts or left some yearning for years.

Then, there was 岳雷, winner of Chinese singing competition 斗歌竞艺 1981. His vocals were much better than Tian Jing, but as a nerdy Xinyao fan who admired originality and creativity, I was put off by all that flamboyance, commercialisation and his copycat moves and style. Needless to say, I did not buy any of his albums. His career or popularity also did not last for very long.

Then, I read in the Chinese news reports that he died of cancer in 2011. Towards the end of his life, he had to sell his property in Singapore to treat his illness. Looking back in forgiveness, I admit that there is one 岳雷 song that I like. Here it is.

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