Saturday February 23, 2013
Ray Cheong reminds us that dreams keep our hopes alive
By ALEXANDRA WONG
Musician Ray Cheong reminds us that dreams keep our hopes alive.
It so happened the first time I met him, we were both on the brink of a new life. I was in my third month as a freelance writer, and shopping for a “proper” camera to replace my old faithful 2MB Fuji.
As I was drooling over the shiny new models at the camera fair, a young boy with the biggest smile I’d ever seen addressed me.
Salesgirls will tell you I have a heart of stone. But there was something about Ray. He had a natural charisma that rooted me to the spot for at least 20 minutes as he made his sales pitch. But in the end, RM1,500 was just too much for a budding freelancer.
I felt really bad for Ray who had so spent so much time, not just trying to cop a sale, but educating me about cameras in general. On impulse, I did something totally out of character. I walked up to Ray’s supervisor and tapped him on the shoulder.
“I’m still deciding whether to buy your camera, but I just wanted to tell you that this young man here did an outstanding job,” I nodded at Ray. “I think he’ll have a great future in sales.”
Ray’s face could only be described as gobsmacked. As I was walking to the entrance, I heard footsteps behind me. Ray thanked me profusely and we exchanged emails.
He had a lot to write when I told him I gave up my day job to pursue my dream as a writer.
“I don’t care if you’re not buying the camera from me. I’m proud to know a talented person like you. Maybe your time hasn’t come yet but that doesn’t mean you should wait. NEVER wait ... Fate is a motivator but it could also be the total opposite. Time waits for no man. You’ve got the vibe to write, so don’t stop. Spread your words to others. I wanna see your name in books ... magazines ... everywhere ... I won’t wish you any luck coz luck is random. I wish you all the best!”
His earnest words touched me. I had every intention of keeping in touch, but life happens, and we never spoke again until half a year later. “Please vote me for Digi celebriteen!” came his sms.
“What’s that all about?” I asked.
I’ll be damned. My young friend had qualified for the finals of a nationwide talent search. Two nights later, an sms at 2.11am woke me up. There were only two words: “I won!” I went back to sleep with a smile on my face.
That would be the last time we communicated until an open mic session at the new indie venue Merdekarya. Ray was selectted to perform with five other musicians. It would be the first time I get to see him as an adult.
When he enters, shock ripples through me. His face looks preternaturally dewy, and an earring in the left ear hints at youthful rebellion, but make no mistake, this is no kid. The baby fat has melted off; in its place, a lean, experience-chiselled man. For some reason, Nicholas Tse comes to mind.
Any residual suspicions of childish naivete are wiped out when he shares his adult-making experiences. He talks of balancing freelancing gigs with pro bono efforts to keep body and soul together. He tells me how he bought himself a ticket to London with his hard-saved money with just one gig in hand. Then, upon arrival, went round knocking door to door until he ended up performing over 100 songs, which eventually landed him an opening for Pixie Lott.
“How are your parents coming to terms with your career?” I ask quietly.
“They are slowly coming round.”
“Have they ever seen you play?”
There’s just a brief pause before he strikes off his fingers. “Yes. They have seen me ... one, two ... three times.”
He actually remembers how many? An overwhelming impulse to hug him seizes me. So much of what he’s told reminds me of my own life – the hard struggle to gain the acceptance, then approval, of my loved ones for the unconventional path I’d chosen.
Then, Brian, the host, calls his name. I trail after Ray back into the room. Fleetingly, I wonder whether he really has the talent to make it big, or whether his parents have grounds to doubt his potential?
As he sits down with his guitar, my stomach flutters nervously. By golly, I really really want him to be good. For the next 20 minutes, he proves that he’s more than just good.
His fingers run up and down the guitar like lightning. I know for a fact that very few guitarists in Malaysia have mastered the slapping-tapping and percussive technique. Ray not only makes it look natural, but easy – an accomplishment more admirable when you learn that he taught himself how to play the guitar.
It’s his next performance with the ukulele that gives me a clue to the ingredient more important than raw talent for driving him this far – unrelenting perseverance. Ray took two weeks to learn it from scratch, just in time to perform it for the show! Being musically trained myself, I know how hard it is to achieve that level in such a short time.
Watching him enthrall the crowds with his virtuoso performance, mixed emotions course through me. Awe. Shock. Something like maternal pride. Then comes the involuntary thought. If he could do it, so could I. Pretty ironic coming from an older person, but that’s the most honest way of describing how I feel. At 27, he’s doing ok. Not quite superstar, but definitely well enough not to give up.
On the way back, I open up one of his albums that I bought at the show. What I read makes me smile: he signed it, “Music = Life” Some things never change.
Alexandra Wong (www.bunnysprints.com) believes dreaming keeps you alive. You can follow Ray’s trails on http://www.youtube.com/stingeray" target="_blank">www.youtube.com/stingeray and www.facebook.com/raycheongmusic.