Shanghai, a city where my musical career took off

Evelyn Jiang
The pursuit of dreams was never easy for this Indonesian student, but they were realized through determination and hard work. Shanghai has become her second home.
Evelyn Jiang

My first impressions of Shanghai came from my maternal grandfather's description of the city: a bustling and warm metropolis with modern skyscrapers and old Western-style mansions lurking in lanes and a constant flow of people.

Not only do Chinese and Western architectural designs converge here but so do Western culture and traditional Chinese manners... At least, this was how I envisioned Shanghai as a child.

I'm a member of the fourth generation of overseas Chinese born and raised in Indonesia, and very few of the Chinese in my life can speak Chinese, despite my family's continual encouragement to master the language. Since I've always been intrigued by Chinese culture, I aspired to visit China one day. I began learning Chinese as a child by viewing television dramas and listening to Chinese music.

Since elementary school, I have entertained the notion of attending college in China. Due to the fact that I was the only female in the family, my parents were naturally hesitant to let me go. Throughout my six years of middle school, I attempted to demonstrate that I was prepared to study in Shanghai by studying Chinese, architecture and Chinese culture. Finally, my parents gave in to my insistence, though I did not realize at the time that it was a pivotal juncture in my life.

A decade ago, as a high school graduate, I applied to the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at Tongji University and was rejected: Well, the pursuit of dreams has never been an easy journey. I decided to study Chinese at Tongji for a year to prepare for admissions the following year. I joined a guitar club in Tongji by accident. During our first rehearsal in the main building, our music seemed to illuminate even the unlit, dark corridor.

"The fluffy, freezing snowflakes on the ground alight

Against darkness lit by flickering neon light.

With aurora cheated by the star-studded celestial sight,

All the beautiful forms are no more than illusions at night."

Such beautiful lyrics reignited my passion for music. This was the work of a senior student, and seeing him sing and play the guitar by himself persuaded me that music has its own language and can resonate with people. It occurred to me that an introverted person like myself could communicate through music. The decision to join the band, Nevers, was a happy one for me. I spent the first three years of my stay in Shanghai studying and performing with Nevers.

After the band members graduated, I joined ET with some students from Myanmar and participated in a variety of activities and competitions. During this period, we studied during the day and held rehearsals in the evening. It was hard work, but I was enthusiastic about pursuing my dreams, despite the difficulty of the work.

In 2017, we participated in an open audition for "Sing! China," and we made it to the finals. Unfortunately, we finished fifth and did not make it to the studio, so we did not appear on television. But in retrospect, I found this entire experience to be invaluable.

There was less and less time to practice with others as our workload increased. I began to enter contests on my own and met several music-loving acquaintances in the process. I experimented with the creation and began to sing my own tunes. During the process of creation, I came to value a completely new self. In my childhood, whenever I tried to perform in public, I had stage fright. Now I not only have the courage to appear on stage with a brave face, but I have also begun to appreciate being in the spotlight.

I started to tell my story through music. One day, when I attempted to express my affection for my idol in a song, he responded, "I know you to be the girl with the guitar!" And I told her that I hoped to have my own album one day, just like her, to which she responded that there was no doubt about it. The encouragement from my idol validated my pursuit of a musical career. By the way, my role model is Michelle Chen.

I have published more than 10 original works to date, one of which, titled "The Warmest Companion," is a dedication to those who have witnessed my development in Shanghai.

"Thank you for giving me light in the darkness, for guarding my little wings,

For calling me brave in spite of the bruises I am suffering.

Thank you for your company, I found it so warm,

For without your support, how could I endure."

I was able to perform alongside Nicholas Teo, another of my idols, on Hunan Satellite TV, just as I was on the verge of giving up my music ambition. The experience made me realize how much I appreciate music and the stage. I felt as though I had found a place where I belonged. Teo also advised me that my age should not prevent me from pursuing my dreams. With perseverance and bravery, I would one day flourish. Everyone has the right to pursue their own dreams.

Since I touched down in Shanghai on August 31, 2013, the strong bond between me and the city has never weakened. My first study away from home; my first independent life; my first band; my first performance on stage; my encounter with Michelle Chen; my first duet with my childhood idol Teo ... Shanghai has become my second home as a result.

This elusive city from my childhood memory has become an integral part of my existence, providing me with an abundance of warmth and glory, just as Tongji has provided me with multiple stages for performances. Now that the pandemic has ended, I've returned to the place where my dream first began, ready to continue my story here.

(The author is an overseas postgraduate student at the College of Architecture & Urban Planning, Tongji University. The story is compiled by Wan Lixin.)

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