From Orchard Road cobbler to songwriter to the stars

From Orchard Road cobbler to songwriter to the stars

Two giant billboards, part of a multimedia exhibition called Ghost, have been making heads turn at Sculpture Square in Middle Road. One shows a gawky, diminutive man locking lips with a statuesque woman. A bigger vinyl print - mounted on the courtyard pavement of the arts centre - shows the same man, in shorts and crouched like a cat in front of a puddle of water.

Both images were shot by celebrated Singapore photographer John Clang 11 years ago and feature his friend, Beon Kan. At the time, Mr Kan was a 29-year-old cobbler and a man in the doldrums. Depression and a massive inferiority complex had paralysed him and stopped him from chasing his dreams of becoming a songwriter.

Clang, then a rising photographer, felt he had to do something to help his best friend. So, when he was approached to put on his first solo exhibition, he knew it had to include Mr Kan. "It was an opportunity to put him on a pedestal, raise his self-esteem and have him face the world in a courageous manner," recalls Clang, now based in New York.

The result was a show at the Esplanade titled Clang: A Self Portrait, a series of provocative photographs featuring his friend.

It changed Mr Kan's life. His starring role, the praise and the media attention gave his sense of self-worth a big boost. Not long after, his first Mandarin song, Ao Tu (Uneven), was picked up by Hong Kong singer-actress Gigi Leung. Others made the cut in albums by Singapore singers such as JJ Lin and Kit Chan and China artiste Kym.

To date, he has written nearly 20 songs, the latest being Love Shakes. Performed by up-and-coming singers Stella Seah and Melvin Sia, it is the theme song of the telemovie of the same name starring Fann Wong and Zheng Geping, broadcast on Channel 8 this May.

"If others could have faith in me, why did I doubt myself? Once I learnt to stop being hard on myself, I felt really happy," he says.

More than a decade later, Mr Kan, now 40, still feels happy, perhaps even more so.

For the past five years, he has been married to Ms Candy Chen, 40, a Taiwanese university graduate he met online. The fact that he had only N levels did not matter to her; she liked his honesty, industry and sensitivity.

They have settled in Hualien, a picturesque city on the eastern coast of Taiwan, where they run a little business called Leather Prince, crafting charming leather keychains and phone cases. Their workshop is also their home, a modest two-storey house with cheerful murals of animals and trees. Two dogs and a cat add to their domestic bliss.

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