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The Straits Times
5 March 2017
Nine-year-old Alan Fong was shopping with his mother in Orchard Road when he chanced upon a busker performing to applause from the audience.
He decided there and then that he could get more applause if he was the one performing.
"When he finished the song, everyone clapped, so I thought that if I busked, everyone will encourage me more because I'm younger than him," says Alan in jest.
Now 10, he busks in Chinatown once a week, singing English and Mandarin pop songs while strumming an acoustic guitar. And he has indeed received encouraging responses from his audience.
Apart from applause and money, the audience has also showered him with gifts in between his performances, including handwritten notes of encouragement, flowers, drinks, ice cream cones and, on one memorable occasion, a can of beer.
The Primary 5 pupil of Kheng Cheng School is the youngest licensed busker in Singapore, according to the National Arts Council (NAC), which auditions and licenses buskers under its Busking Scheme.
Other young buskers on the streets here include 15-year-old juggler Wesley Mok, and singing duo Alastair, 15, and Xander Hoskinson, 18.
While there is no age limit for buskers, those under 17 have to get consent from their parent or guardian.
"We understand that young buskers may see it as a way to gain performance confidence and bring good cheer to the community," says an NAC spokesman.
Alan has earned praise from passers-by such as Mr Chua Thiam Siew, 65, a retiree who watched his performance in Chinatown last Thursday. "It takes a lot of courage to perform in front of an audience," says Mr Chua in Mandarin. "He entertains the old folk around the area."
Being the youngest on the streets does not daunt the singer, who enjoys playing in front of a crowd.
Since getting his licence a year ago, the earnest 1.3m-tall boy has raked in an average of $100 every session. Each session lasts for about 1 ½ hours.
Busking, he says, trains him to be more comfortable when performing in front of an audience, which is especially important as he aspires to become a professional singer.
"I want to go on a very big stage. When I'm about 16 years old, I want to take part in The Voice Of China, like Nathan Hartono," says Alan. He was sporting a pair of sunglasses while busking to hide an eye infection.
The boy's interest in music was piqued when he was six years old. Then, he accompanied his mother to a karaoke session at a community centre near his home.
After seeing how onlookers had cheered his mother on during her performance, he asked to take up singing lessons. Within the next two days, his housewife mother had engaged a private singing teacher for him.
He later decided to pick up the guitar because his idol, British singer Ed Sheeran, plays it while singing.
At home, Alan, who has two older sisters aged 16 and 29 - both of whom are not musically inclined - spends 11/2 to three hours every day singing and practising on the guitar. He also learns from watching YouTube videos of other singers performing.
"When performers sing and talk on shows, they'll give out their secrets, so I'll take note of that," he says, adding that he jots down these notes in a notebook.
His father, 55-year-old taxi driver Alvin Fong, also provides "important comments" on his singing, says Alan.
When not busy with singing and guitar-playing, the boy enjoys hip-hop dancing, a newfound passion.
"I saw a person dancing hip-hop on the street and there was such a big crowd. I was so jealous," says Alan, who thinks that the presence of a crowd affirms one's skills.
"But I'm not going to dance on the streets. I just want to dance for fun."
However, all the time spent on these extra-curricular activities may come at a cost.
"I worry that he spends too much time on them and it affects his studies. But he's been learning for so long and he loves it so much, we can't just give it up now," says Mrs Fong An Li, 49, Alan's mother.
She says his school grades, while still acceptable, are not up to her standards. She is however, supportive of her son's dream of becoming a singer. "Of course, if he can become a singer, I will be very glad too. After all, it's an area that I really love as well."
His busking career has just begun, but it may be a short-lived one.
Alan says he might "retire" from busking when he turns 12, a decision he made on his own.
"After I turn 12, I'll be in secondary school, so I'll probably need to catch up on my learning."