A late summer evening the year before. I arrived at the church door, stood outside with my Nike hoodie and one-strapped my luminous honey-yellow hiking bag. My off-term casual clothes seemed humorously incongruous with the divinity of the church.
The sun peaked shyly from behind the spire. It casted a long shadow on the buildings opposite. People walked slowly past as expected on a sleepy sunset evening. I am not sure whether they didn’t notice me or did and decided to ignore me. I am glad they were blind to my standing there because in hindsight, I looked rather suspicious, like I was meeting to exchange naughty white powder with another hooded road-man.
Earlier in the week, I was instructed by the Church’s Rector Canon to meet him at this front door. He scheduled me in to give a piano recital during the weekday. The concert was paid, luckily, sourced from the ticket sale proceedings; part of it, too, would go towards the maintenance of the church.
5 minutes had passed. Down the street, across the small, cramped intersection with the poorly placed zebra crossing around the sharp bend, the low grumble of a motorbike echoed. The high-street buildings, tallish and packed together, exacerbated the echo.
The Rector Canon came towards me, dressed on leather, and lurched to a stop. It was a black touring or enduring (my memory is hazy) motorbike. I was surprised; the echo made it sound more furious and aggressive than what I had seen.
The Rector took his helmet off cooly, like some Hollywood womaniser that had bronze skin and could easily find a woman on his arm just by breathing in the bar.
We both greeted each other. He took his jailers keyring and opened the side door of the church. We entered to the nave and sitting on the far side was the grand piano. A leather protective covering draped over the beautiful instrument. To me, seeing it in this respected manner, invariably reminds me of a sports car, with its taut stringed engine sitting underneath.
He directed me to the noticeboard on the other side of the nave as he was super keen for me to see the marketing they had done. Confidence and pride beamed across his face. The distance from which he pointed to the board was too great so I had to squint. This was when the problems started.
There was one piece of paper on the board that I registered as a concert poster. I have designed many myself during my undergraduate days — the pianist’s picture placed dead centre with some laconic details about time, place and price. In the photo, sitting down with my left arm propped on the piano, I was wearing a cyan blazer and a chequered shirt.
I have never, in my life, owned a cyan blazer and chequered shirt.
I closed the distance between me and the poster to reduce the embarrassment of wrong accusations. I finally stood directly in front of it, trying to suppress my annoyance — an understatement, actually. I was furious.
The picture was slightly pixelated due to possibly a shoddy printer. But, I at once declared the error of this “intelligent designer”. The picture was another Asian man with short black hair. His nationality? I have no idea. Was this deliberate and racially motivated? Do we all look the same to the white people? Or was this just somehow an error that I can’t seem to understand how it came to be?
“Sorry, but that’s not me.” I said, terse and unwavering.
His face double took as if all his previous pride and confidence seeped out of him, along with the colour of his face, too.
“Really?”, he looked agape.
“Yeah, I’ve never owned a light blue blazer in my life.” Again, still looking at him, being terse.
He apologised and made an excuse that it was the office’s mistake. Did they just Google search my name “Anthony Cheng Pianist” and took the first one? Couldn’t they have asked me for a photo instead?
The practice session after this exchange left a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t run through without thinking structural racism in my head. I came close to cancelling this concert. But I realised I needed to go into a saner place; I waited it out until I felt neutral and objective again. It might have been a genuine mistake, after all, and that the administrator committed this ignorant act out of pure professional laziness.
After I got home I emailed the Rector explaining my rationality on the issue. He was understanding and even gave me the option to cancel the concert because of the offence caused. I was itching to spite them, to deny them of a concert where ticket proceedings were going towards maintenance. But I didn’t want to debase my character in that way. I diligently prepared my repertoire and wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to share my music to audiences.
After I gave the concert, at the front of the nave and behind the grand piano, the Rector slipped me a white envelope. Inside had been the agreed price taken out of the ticket sales and, to my surprise, a little bit extra. I assume it was for the ‘identification’ trouble.
People recognising mistakes and endeavouring to make amends are the people I appreciate. Mistakes are always a possibility. But acknowledging them is how we grow. That’s how we transform contentious dialogue into something meaningful and progressive. That’s how we become human.