Checking in with Dawen (王大文)

It’s an unbearably hot summer day as I trek through the streets of Taipei, eager to enter an air conditioned building. I search for Eslite Bookstore. That’s where Dawen Wang and I are meeting. The last time we chatted was some five years ago at my alma mater, UIUC. “Back when I had a shaved head and was 20lbs heavier,” Dawen would tell me later, as we settled outside a coffee shop. “I was […] really, really struggling,” he reminisced, “Now, I struggle in different ways. But back then, wow – it was really a different set of circumstances.”

leftright1I can hear the hubbub before I see it – a promotional event for the musical, “Turn Left, Turn Right,” in which Dawen is co-starring. It’s based off a book, about a guy and a girl who live next to each other, but never meet because the guy always turns right and the girl always turns left. One day, they bump into each other in a roundabout and the rest is history.

“If you live in a big city, whether its Los Angeles, Taipei or Hong Kong, it’s easy to relate to,” Dawen muses. “Everybody is in such a rush to get about their lives. It’s very easy to not know your own neighbor. And it’s also easy to feel like a stranger in your own community.”

Getting to know strangers is certainly one of his fortes. After the event, he patiently takes photographs with enthusiastic fans. While some might chalk it up to publicity duties, Dawen oozes earnest graciousness. “Every day that I wake up and am allowed to do this crazy awesome thing called ‘music’ is a good day.”

He answers excited questions, and interacts with everyone waiting to see him. He has the longest line out of all the actors there.

I greet Dawen in English. He responds in Mandarin, “你忘了你的中文嗎?” We make our way downstairs to that aforementioned coffee shop so I can pick his brain.

Dawen last interviewed with two years ago. Today, he quietly reflects on his accomplishments in the last four years. Besides, of course, the Chinese language.

leftright3He has released two full length Mandarin albums. He continues to host two radio shows on ICRT. Oh, he’s also learning how to play the violin in preparation for his role in the musical.

“I will say it’s given me a new appreciation for the instrument,” Dawen laughs. “I started in November, and I’ve been playing like crazy. It’s so hard. At least I know how to hold it right! I think I’ve passed the “殺豬” phase, but I have admiration for people who have played for years.”

As our interview wraps up, I marvel at how things have changed since the last time we met. “In 2012, I was living in L.A. Like many other people – Asian Americans – I was putting up a lot of videos on Youtube.”

But now?

“I am a mandopop singer. I would like to continue to be a mandopop signer for as long as I live, as long as I can.”

Though he has reached what many young musicians only dream of attaining, it doesn’t seem to lessen Dawen’s ambitions.

“I want to continue to do things that slightly terrify me,” he explains. “But I guess the point is to do new things and not ever feel things are done rote by rote. And I think that’s the whole point of being in entertainment is to try new things and to try to challenge oneself.”

So we part. Perhaps we’ll meet in another few years. I ask him to impart some wisdom for budding Asian American artists.

“No matter where you find yourself in the world, don’t forget your bi-cultural roots. […] Without sounding to maudlin, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish without focus, hard work and passion.”

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Check out Dawen at:

Dawen’s second album, “Happy or Not” 快樂不快樂, combines his love for Classical music and also his newfound love of the ukulele. The music explores the ambiguous grey area of emotions. Spotify link:

The last track of the 2nd album is an English language duet titled “Our Vintage Love” featuring Zee Avi, who is known for her song “Bitter Heart”. She flew from LA to Taipei to record the song with Dawen. Spotify link:

Dawen’s 2015 NBC interview:

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