陳明恩: This Blond and Blue-eyed Singer Wows Hong Kongers with Her Flawless Cantopop

Corinna

It’s rare to see Western singers attempt to sing in Chinese.

Celine Dion did it last year during Chinese New Year. An estimated 700 million people watched the Canadian diva sing a famous Chinese folk song — in Mandarin — on China’s state-run CCTV.

“I started to really feel like ‘where do I belong, who am I?’ And I was like, ‘maybe I’m not one of these people.’ So I thought ‘well, maybe I better just be a Westerner like the rest of the Westerners’ or something.”

Dion’s appearance may have been a one-off event, but in Hong Kong, there’s a Western singer named Corinna Chamberlain who’s fully committed to having a career in one of the city’s most famous exports, Cantopop (Cantonese popular music).

Her song “Yi Jung” opens with lyrics that are unlike any other Cantopop song. She sings that she feels like an “Alien from Mars” who’s landed on Earth.

“In a body with this skin color,” she continues, “I’m not quite like them. In fact, what kind of race am I?”

“Yi Jung” translates as “Different Breed,” which Chamberlain, also known as Chan Ming Yan (陳明恩) — is.

“I know it’s really not easy for a Westerner to have that kind of acceptance in Hong Kong. Westerners are accepted as Westerners, but as one of your own? That’s something really touching for me.”

Her parents are from Australia and New Zealand; she’s white and has long, curly blonde hair. But unlike most Westerners here, she grew up in a remote part of Hong Kong, far from any ex-pat enclave. She attended local schools and speaks fluent Cantonese.

Growing up immersed in local culture caused something of an identity crisis for Chan. In high school, she had many friends. But not necessarily close friends.

[Read the full story here, at Public Radio International]

“When it comes, like, especially to the girls in Hong Kong, to have your best, best friend, it’s always somebody who is the same as them,” Chan says. “Somebody who likes Hello Kitty, somebody who likes Snoopy as much as them.”

A best friend who’ll go everywhere with you — everywhere.

“It’s like, you know, ‘Oh, I need to go to the toilet, come with me, let’s go to the toilet together,’ “ she says.

At school, Chan wasn’t the same as anyone, so she didn’t have a best friend.

“I started to really feel like ‘where do I belong, who am I?’ And I was like, ‘maybe I’m not one of these people.’ So I thought ‘well, maybe I better just be a Westerner like the rest of the Westerners’ or something.”

The problem was she didn’t feel Western — direct, loud, independent. She felt Chinese — non-confrontational, humble, happy in a group.

“If you’re in their circle of buddies, then you’re there for life. It’s really on the inside, the way of communicating that we get used to,” Chan says.

As the daughter of missionaries, Chan learned to sing in church…(read more)

Public Radio International

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