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Corinna Chamberlain (Chan Ming-yan)

A singer and actress who was born and raised in Hong Kong, Corinna Chamberlain shot to fame after performing in the TVB series “Inbound Troubles”—in fluent Cantonese. In her first ever English media interview, the 31-year-old tells Andrea Lo about her childhood, her views on Hong Kong culture and her career.

Mar 21, 2013

I was born in Hong Kong. My mum is from Australia and my dad is from New Zealand. They came here over 30 years ago and they have been living here ever since. My brother and I were both born and raised here.

I went to a local Chinese kindergarten. For the first six months of primary school I was at an international school. But after that we moved pretty far out to the New Territories, and my parents decided to homeschool us. My mum was a school teacher in Australia. She taught us at home for a few years. We enrolled at a school in Australia, and we did long-distance learning from here.

There are a lot of third culture people like myself. When you ask people where they come from, they have all these long-winded answers. They’re not really sure where home is or who they are.

I was struggling with that when I was a teenager—am I Chinese, or am I western? What am I? At some point I thought I should just be a westerner again.

I’ve grown up here with Chinese people as my friends—kids in my village and my church—which is a little bit different from the westerners in Hong Kong who go to international schools.

I had this feeling of being an outsider the whole time, but I considered myself as an insider. It’s a feeling of, “Is there something wrong with me? How can I change [in order to] be become one of them?”

I discovered as I grew up that I don’t need to change to become someone else. Who I am actually has a lot to offer.

Cantonese is not an easy language to learn, and I’m still learning. My reading is slow. I can write a little bit. [When I am reading a script] I have to write out the characterization.

Whenever I speak in Cantonese here, people’s eyes go wide. Going back to Australia, the first thing that feels weird is to speak English. Then when I speak, there’s no reaction. It’s a reverse kind of shock—I’m normal.

I feel more at ease when I talk to Chinese people. The Chinese might not be not quite as outgoing when they are getting to know you, but when you’re good friends with them they really go deep into each other’s lives. It’s a lot more than the westerners do.

When I graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts, I was tossing up between whether I should go overseas and study more or try out on Broadway. At the time, a company in Hong Kong also approached me to be a singer. I decided that since I knew Cantonese fairly well, and because I was born and raised here and familiar with the culture, then why don’t I give it a try?

It was around that time when I hit a brick wall. I came to a point in time when I thought, “I want to give up.” I found it hard to find a different technique—especially in singing. Some people told me I was too technical. That made me even more confused—that was a tough time.

Now that I look back, I’m really thankful for that time. It helped me discover—how do I say it? It’s funny, speaking in English!—a new way of thinking.

I’ve had many people ask me if it’s hard for me as a westerner in Hong Kong to be in the arts, especially as a pop singer and actress, because everyone is Chinese. If I’m always aiming for perfectionism, wanting a normal career as a pop artist, I’m not going to get that. But I can blaze my own trail and accept who I am, and use that to my benefit.

Am I typecast? Well, I am the type of cast that does all the western roles. But within western roles you have many different types. Everybody who is an actor has types. Somebody who is the fat guy is always going to be the fat guy unless he loses weight, but he can be a good fat guy, or he can be a bad fat guy.

Since “Inbound Troubles,” the biggest difference is that a lot more people know me now. I’ve had a lot more experience doing interviews. It’s been an interesting time for me to talk more to the public about who I am and what I believe in.

One of my big goals in being an artist—it’s important to put your heart into what you really love doing and be the best at it. I hope that through acting, singing, dancing I can encourage other people to do the same with what their dreams are.

I’ve actually never dated—which is kind of weird, I suppose.

I know I’m blessed with a close family and close friends to support me, so I haven’t had to find a boyfriend in order to have somebody there with me. Of course, I really want to have a boyfriend and get married!

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