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As a child growing up in China, I heard music in my head all the time. I danced to the melodies that passed through my tiny mind, turning in circles while humming these mysterious sounds. We were very poor at that time and we didn’t have music. The only music I ever heard was in my head and I dreamed of becoming a composer. Of course, music lessons were impossible.
When I was older, we moved to Macau. I went to a church and saw a piano for the first time. I loved listening to the piano in that church but my parents made me stop. They already thought I was different because I was left-handed so they made me use my right hand. When they told me turn left, I went right. When they told me that I dropped something on the floor to my left, I said," Where?" They were starting not to trust me anymore. When I went to the church, they thought I was doing something bad there. I stopped going because I did not want them to worry.
We moved to Eugene, Oregon, when I was 17-years-old. I heard you could play the pianos in the University of Oregon’s music department for free. One day, I rode my bicycle there at 9 a.m. and started playing. It seemed like minutes had passed but I became thirsty and cold and shaky. When I went into the dark hallway, it was 11 p.m. Time means nothing when I am playing music.
Later, we moved in Salem and I found a music store that I loved. I would pretend that I wanted to buy something. I would touch their instruments, trying to play the music that I heard in my head. I had saved $1200 to go back to Macau to visit Kam Meng, my fiancé at that time. But one day, I bought a piano instead. That was sad for him, but I thought I was not good enough for him anymore. I loved this piano so much that I forgot I was living in an upstair apartment. Fortunately, the store was able to deliver it anyway. When my parents saw it, they were scared and unhappy. They didn't understand my music and they didn't want me to play. I was afraid to play because I didn’t want my music to upset them. I was very sad all the time because I thought everything I did was wrong. I felt worthless.
Even after Kam Meng and I moved to Newport and opened our own restaurant, I was afraid to try anything new. But that started to change when a local artist name Helen Kropp noticed that my daughter, Tinha, loved art. She gave us watercolor paints and paper for Tinha to use. It looked interesting to me so, with Helen’s encouragement, I painted pictures of sunsets. My daughter’s name means sunset. I painted two pictures and put them in the window. A gallery owner came in and said that I could sell them. He was right. Within a week, both paintings sold. Art made me feel good. Many people encouraged me and bought my paintings, including fisherman who commissioned pictures of their boats.
Although music was my first love, I gave it up because no one was able to understand my music. I was making everyone unhappy when I tried to play. I thought everything I did was no good for the people around me. I became very nervous all the time. Every time we ate out, I spilled water. When I went shopping, I dropped money. I could not focus because I was worried that people thought there was something wrong with me and that I was no good. Kam Meng tried to protect and comfort me. We moved from our little bay front restaurant to a new, bigger location and started having problems. Some people said the restaurant was failing because I wouldn’t listen to them. My daughter was clinically depressed. They blamed me for her depression because they said I spoiled her. I prayed that God would take my life and give my daughter happiness. But God knows what you really want.
I worked hard to try to make our business work. We couldn’t afford to hire many helpers so Kam Meng and I worked all the time and we were exhausted. One night my husband put the money from our business in a bag and carelessly set it in the unlocked car. Someone stole it. All of our work was for nothing. But that made me realize an important lesson. Why work so hard for money when it could be gone so easily? There was no point in stressing. Losing that money made me feel free.
Right after we lost the money, my husband moved my piano to the restaurant. Business was slow so I played at work when no one was around. I didn’t mind any more that business was slow because it gave me the opportunity to play. I started to pray through my music. I asked God to help me. One day, a man was outside our restaurant and he heard my music. He thought I was playing a famous artist's CD. He wanted me to turn on the CD again because he loved the music. He was surprised to learn that I was playing the piano live. He wanted me to play something for him. I told him I didn’t want to disturb the customers but he said, “The music I just heard is from heaven. You have to share it with us.” So I played a couple of original pieces for him. He was touched by my music and cried. I cried, too, because he was the first person in my life to tell me that my music was good. I started to share more of my music with my customers. More of them started to encourage me and now I perform in our restaurant, Kam Meng, to a full house every time I want to play. Of course, I learned not to overdo it.
I remember I went crazy at the beginning and played anytime people asked me to -- even when my restaurant was very busy! It was driving my mom crazy. She yelled at me when I performed because she was so worried that my playing would cause us to lose our business. I was mad at her because I couldn't understand why she was not happy for me. I even wrote a song about her at the time called, "Be happy for me." It is a very sad song. But now, I realize that she may be right because I have been receiving some bad comments about my music via e-mail and on-line reviews, such as Google, tripadvisor.com/, urbanspoon, and Yelp. There are people who really don't like me playing music while they eat in my restaurant!
But, I won't give up music because of them. My husband encouraged me and he said, "Huiya, you have to remember that your dream, your happiness and yourself are very big to you and me, but the restaurant is only a small part of us. Those people do not understand what we are doing. They are just as small as dust. We have a long journey ahead of us. Please don't let anything take away your big dream!" And I asked him, "If we lose our restaurant because of my music, will you regret it?" He said, " No regrets. I am proud of you because you are doing something like this in your life. I am very proud to have you in my life." He made me cried.
Anyway, now I only playing music for the people who really wish me to play, because I don't have time to play for the people who don't care for it.
I never took lessons. I can’t read or write music. I hear music in my head and that is what I play. I can play the same piece a hundred times but I can’t write it down so someone suggested that I record it so it isn’t lost. Customers started asking if they could buy my CDs. I felt embarrassed because my recordings don’t sound as good as what I hear in my head but people insisted. I used one of my paintings on the case and started selling them in our restaurant. To make myself feel better about selling it, I said to myself, "I am not selling my music, but I am just selling my painting and it comes with music." Wow, it scared me! I sold about 500 CDs in just two months for $ 17.95 each. I was so happy because I had enough money to fix up my old piano. Even though I am still not allow to play music at home, I also bought another piano for my house. I am so lucky! I am blessed!
One day, I was playing a song and my father asked me if it was from China or the United States. I said, “Neither. I just made it up.” He couldn’t understand how I could play something over and over without having it on paper. He said he liked my song. That was the first compliment he ever gave me. I was so excited that my brain kept writing happy music. So I called this piece, "Your first compliment."
One day, my mom asked me, "How many CDs have you sold today?" I said, "About ten." She asked, "How many songs do you have on your CD?" I said, "Fifteen and it is about an hour long." Then she said, "Really. How come I only hear you playing two notes over and over again -- ding, ding, ding?"
I laughed, At that moment, I realized that some people really have a different way of hearing and seeing. They could not see me, hear me, or understand me the way I view myself. Not because they don't love me, but because they see the world differently, with varying ways of feeling, experiencing, and dreaming.
Sometimes, I get mad at myself, too. I should not be unhappy just because people don't agree with, or understand, me. They are not me and it is not their job to accept me. Instead, I need to simply understand, love, and accept myself more. Even if I am different, I need to be myself.
I am so glad that I found God. He found a way to teach me about life and make me understand that each one of us is unique and special just the way we are. Even though the whole world is changing everyday. I know we should never let ourselves, or anyone else, change who we truly are.
I also realized that everything happens for a reason. I am not worried anymore because God has already planned everything for us. That's why we are all here today. That's why we all have amazing experiences and great life stories to share. It is a miracle that I can share my life experiences though my music today.
Anyway, my daughter got the help that she needs and is happy now. Through all of this, I learned that life is not about being wrong or right. It is about learning from our everyday experiences and figuring out how to nurture the dreams that God planted inside of us. My dream is to study music when my son is grown. He is young so I have a long time to wait. But I don’t care. I have found this bit of happiness and I could die tomorrow and feel fulfilled.
----The Story about my album "With Loving Gratitude"----
Music comes to me when I am sad. But ironically, this makes me happy because my sadness is translated into the prettiest music. When the music on this CD came to me, I felt tremendous gratitude. As I sat at the piano letting this music flow through me, I felt thankful for everything that I already have in life. I saw the image of me standing in the center of the world and looking up at the beautiful, vivid clouds racing through the sky and the world was turning and I was turning with it and praising God. I could see tears in my eyes and I fully experienced how blessed I really am.
I once read, "God will never leave you empty, He will replace everything you lost. If he asks you to put something down, he wants you to pick up something greater." So I am just enjoying every minute I have and trusting God's plan for me.
This lovely piece of music is called "With Loving Gratitude." Playing music keeps me moving forward and enjoying everyday. I feel like I am on top of world now, even though we live modestly. The image of me praising God inspired the title of another song on this CD. It is call "On Top of the World." Sometimes I have to pinch myself see if this is real. People all over the world are listening to my music and it is even on the radio now.
Recently, God's plan for me was to focus all my energy on creating and recording this CD myself, even though it meant I didn't sleep until it was finished. If you find your true self and do what you love, you will never feel tired, but rather energized every day. Time moves very quickly. Every minute is important so don’t let them get away. One hundred years can be gone in an instant. 4-28-2013
My website: www.huiyachen.com