Six years or so after Rachel Lui Sum-yu graduated from Hong Kong’s best law school, she still was not making big bucks like her former classmates were – and her bank account only had HK$82 left.
Her younger brother had become a lawyer, and her parents could not stop saying how proud they were.
Lui’s parents thought they had her future mapped out. They had put her in a prestigious secondary school – St Mary’s Canossian College, where her mother had also studied – and then got her to study law at the University of Hong Kong.
The family had been expecting Lui to become a lawyer until she made a shocking announcement – she wanted to be a singer.
“My life before I became a singer, luckily, had been carefully mapped out by my parents,” the 31 year-old told Young Post.
“[Becoming a singer] was a gamble. But I wanted to try before it became too late.”
Lui is better known as singer-songwriter J.Arie. Her journey to the music scene has been filled with frustration and confusion.
J Arie said her parents had her entire future mapped out for her, and the first decision she made was not pursing a career in law. Photo: SCMP/K. Y. Cheng
Growing up, she never had strong views about what she wanted to do. She never opposed what her parents said, and even when applying to university, she had no preferences for a specific school or major.
In fact, the first decision she made for herself was to not take the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL), the legal qualification programme that law graduates need to take before becoming a lawyer in Hong Kong.
Her parents were disappointed by the decision, and felt she was wasting the efforts they had made for her to become a respected lawyer.
“My parents thought I would be a street performer, and said I was being unrealistic,” Lui recalled.
The year after she graduated, she was signed by a record label. But the music novice had no direction or goals at the time.
Everything from her song choices to her overall image was decided by her company. She had no idea what J.Arie represented.
“It was a very uncertain and muddled period for me,” she said.
Five long years after being signed by the label, Lui still had not risen to stardom, and her company started spending less resources on her.
The years of setbacks and confusion had already affected her health. For two years, her throat would become sore even after singing only two songs. No doctor or medicine was helping.
At her rock bottom, the singer only had HK$82 left in her bank account because she simply could not find any jobs or songs.
In 2018, she made a New Year’s resolution to believe in herself and get out of this funk.
Miraculously, her throat problem disappeared.
The next year, she decided to leave her label even though her contract had not yet expired. To compensate the company for her premature termination, she even had to borrow money from her parents.
She remembered how tears rolled down her cheeks when she told her manager that she was calling it quits.