It was magic that won Mr Tommy Chiang his girl, and magic will be his way of celebrating Singapore's 50th anniversary.
On their first Valentine's Day together seven years ago, Mr Chiang made a piece of Hershey's chocolate appear from a playing card for girlfriend Evelyn Tan.
That brought a smile to her face, recalled Mr Chiang, 28. The pair, who have been together for eight years, will tie the knot in October.
The exhilaration from seeing her reaction stuck with Mr Chiang, who started picking up tricks from instructional DVDs and books.
Last year, he decided to make magic a full-time career.
Earlier this year, the street magician, with his blue-tinted glasses, spiked hair and signature red shirt and black suit, pledged 50 free performances to celebrate the nation's Golden Jubilee.
"I hope the audiences will reflect on the days when we were kids, free from stress and worry," said Mr Chiang, who goes by the stage name Tommillusions.
"Today, we are all rushing and chasing after material things, and might have forgotten to smile."
The 50 shows, he said, could bring in about $30,000 if they were paid performances. He aims to complete all 50 by December.
He has already done 13 such shows across the heartlands, at venues such as West Coast and Hougang community clubs (CC), entertaining over 5,000 people. His latest free performance was held at Yunnan Garden Restaurant last night.
Siglap South CC constituency manager Jasmine Ong, who was at a free performance at I12 Katong mall in March, said: "The magic shows are his way of giving back to the community. From the expressions of the children and adults, I believe they enjoyed his performance."
Since turning professional, Mr Chiang, who was formerly an IT salesman, does at least four paid gigs a month.
The fees range from $400 for a 30-minute children's show with interactive tricks, to over $1,000 for a 30-minute, large-scale illusion performance, where a table levitates, for instance.
"There are many elements to consider," he said. "I have to use the right words, keep in mind the different angles and play on the showmanship factor to get everyone excited. It is not a stunt but an experience I have to give."
He has spent over $150,000 on props, including a $30,000 substitution trunk.
This large box is used in illusions where the magician, locked inside by handcuffs, switches places with an assistant who is standing on it.
"Even as a hobby, learning magic is not cheap. But if I want to keep things fresh for my audiences, then I think it is worth spending the money," said Mr Chiang, an only child who lives in a four-room flat in Redhill with his taxi-driver father, 61, and 60-year-old mother, who works at McDonald's.
"Like most Singaporean parents, they wanted me to work in a company and receive a stable income. But they are still supportive of my decision."
Fiancee Ms Tan, 27, an accountant, said that he practises for hours just to perfect a single act. "With him around, there will never be a boring date," she said.
This article was first published on May 3, 2015.
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