“No matter how high you reach, you are never going to reach higher than the sky.”
Thinking back to my childhood, I was doing extra work most of the time.
I was a good student and I didn’t mess around much.
My mom wanted me to have a good education. I studied in two kindergartens and three primary schools, each one better than the other. Each time, I had to work to get better results to get into a better school.
But it made me more independent and gave me less of an emotional attachment to these matters.
No matter how close I was with my friends, our friendships would fade away as I moved to another school.
This influenced me as I grew up. Many people might have strong attachments to specific people, places or things, but I seem to find it easier to let things go.
When I was in primary six, I was selected to be a team member to take part in the International Mathematical Olympiad.
During the summer training camp, a teacher asked me to photocopy some exercises in the staff room.
There was no one in the room so I messed around. I turned all the medals and cups into a golden robot. Also I faked some love letters between the teachers.
I was kicked out of the team.
As a member of Hong Kong Children’s Choir, I was lucky to have more chances to see the world than other kids.
The places we went on tour aren’t the usual places that Hong Kong people would go: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Marseille in southern France and Kagoshima in Japan.
I really enjoyed it. I kept singing in the choir— until my voice broke.
I joined the debate team afterwards, and soon became the team leader and won “Best Debater” in public competitions.
Also, I got my Grade Eight with distinction in piano.
It was so easy to get what I wanted in my childhood. But I didn’t know how to deal with failure and setbacks.
As I grew up, there were more and more problems that had to be dealt with.
I started to become frustrated, even by small matters. Like if I couldn’t be the most popular person in a group, I would be unhappy about that. I was used to getting attention from everyone.
I turned into a quiet person. I hid myself away. I started not going to classes in university. I hid at home during the day and went out at night. My life was eroding away.
I met a gangster boy on the Hung Hom waterfront. We talked about our thoughts and dreams every night for two months, and then we never met again.
Our paths might not cross again, but once we shared our dreams with each other.
That’s the interesting and mysterious part of life.
I started writing lyrics. At first I just wanted to show others how smart I was and the interesting angles I could think of.
Later on, I came to regard it as my responsibility.
Writing Cantonese lyrics seems difficult to most people: This talent of mine is a precious gift from God. I should take the responsibility and help people to write out their thoughts.
I moved to a village house in Tai Po. By always looking at the blue sky, I realized how small we are. No matter how high you reach, you are never going to reach higher than the sky.
[Cantopop producer and singer] Eric Kwok called me after seeing my lyrics, and it got me the chance to write for Karen Mok, Charlene Choi and Eason Chan. I was a newbie but I got the chance to write for Eason!
Later I got a call from [legendary lyricist] Wyman Wong, who asked me to join his “Shot the Lyricist” songwriters’ union. It was a milestone for my career. After that I started working with Pakho Chau and Phil Lam.
I used to use words and music to express my thoughts. But then I thought it would be good to directly express myself to audiences. So last year I switched to being a singer.
My most recent song is about a fat boy: ‘If I am smart enough, I can be fat.’ You think my style is similar to Bruno Mars? Yeah, his music has influenced me a lot.
Why am I successful? There’s a theory I believe in.
There are many people waiting for a bus that hasn’t come. Some leave the line because it’s too hot under the sun. Some leave to go buy food.
After half an hour the bus has still not arrived, so some choose to walk or take a taxi. Soon there’s only me left in the line. So when the bus finally comes, only I can get on the bus.
You have to stick to your beliefs.
Chan Wing-him has written songs for almost every Cantopop star in Hong Kong, including Eason Chan, Pakho Chau, Joey Yung and Fiona Sit. Now the award-winning lyricist has moved from backstage to the spotlight, with a string of successful singles. He tells Isabelle Hon about an overachieving childhood, dealing with setbacks, and the key to success.