Tanya Chua hopes passion for baking could be new opportunity for success

28 November 2015 / 10 months 4 weeks ago

The Business TimesThe New Paper
November 27, 2015 

Stuck in traffic in Beijing, Singaporean singer-songwriter Tanya Chua is mulling over a sweet business idea.

Chauffeured to yet another radio interview, the popular Mando-pop singer, who is this year's Business China Young Achiever Award winner, talked over her mobile phone about her passion for baking and French pastry: "I see an opportunity for this in China, especially in Beijing.

"I've been asking around, asking people to recommend a good pastry shop for dessert, and they say there isn't very much right now. I think it's a cultural thing, where people from the north are not much into sweet stuff. But I think it will change somehow in the next few years." 

What started as a hobby to combat the ennui of writers' block - "I would start baking instead of writing songs...I'm obsessed with pastry dough and how to get the perfect pie crust" - has become something of a serious pursuit for Chua.

Next year, she will attend a three-month baking course in Paris. Asked if we might soon see a chain of "Tanya bakeries" around the world, she said: "I hope so. I've been talking about this with my friends. But maybe the timing is not right. With everything I do, I have to be super ready for it."

Now, she is concentrating on what she does best: making and promoting her music. She is Business China's Young Achiever for contributing to Sino-Singapore relations with her high profile in the Chinese pop music scene.

She has been promoting her latest Mandarin album Aphasia in China. "It's a huge revolution trying to find a new sound and trying something that's outside of my comfort zone," she said.

Infused with an electronica vibe, the album has 10 tracks written by Chua and another Singaporean, Xiaohan. Chua, who is based in Taipei, also collaborated with musicians and crew from the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

Her new album is named after a speech and language disorder caused by brain damage. In Chinese, this translates as "shi yu zhe" - literally, "a person who has lost language".


The way Chua speaks about trying to fit into China as a Singaporean echoes that condition, albeit temporarily.

"I didn't fit in, it was scary," she said, of her initial venture here. You have to know this language and know what it's about. But it was not part of me when I first started. They spoke really fast and with an accent and you feel like you have to respond very fast.

"The first few years, I was just very scared. I lived in fear of expressing myself. At the same time, because you're there, it gets into your system. You start understanding what they're saying," added Chua, an alumnus of St Nicholas Girls' School. The turning point came when she became a judge on a TV singer-songwriter contest, Sing My Song, on China's national broadcaster CCTV last year. Having to give feedback to the contestants on the spot was challenging, she recalled.

"Right there, right then, you had to respond and tell them what this song means to you," she said.

"It took many, many episodes of recording before I got comfortable with just letting things happen, not be taken aback by all these people who are speaking so eloquently and not be intimidated by them, just to stay focused on what I am able to say.

"It helped in being confident. All these words start to flow into you because you just stopped fearing." Such is her appeal that she has already made inroads into mainland China. Recently, she drove up a mountain called Xian Nu Shan (literally "fairy mountain") and found fans there. "There was this huge community of people there and they knew my songs," she said, with a laugh.

Asked how she will continue to help to strengthen ties between Singapore and China, the star replied that she does not see herself as a diplomat: "As a human being, wherever we go, we try to strengthen bonds with the world. The government is doing a great job of strengthening ties with China."I try to strengthen the ties with my music."

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