Mexico… Part 1 

13 December 2018

God I’m bad at writing blogs… Where were we? Oh yes, South America. Four months of it and four months of being rather underwhelmed. But that was about to change.

On 2 June 2018, we flew from Bogota to Cancun. It was a bit of a shock to the system to see all the development of Hotel Resorts as in South America we hadn’t encountered this much. However we were backpackers on a longer trip so to the budget hostels we went! Immediately though, everything was cheap, the food was delicious and the people were charming – at last!

After an amazing first week however, the rain came. Like properly. Like for ages. We met an awesome new friend, Eric from California who was staying in our dorm on Cozumel and since the weather was horrible, all there was to do was to get to know each other better. Eric was just there for a quick one week holiday, and the poor guy (to our protest) bought an early flight home as the forecast wasn’t showing any signs of improving. In just a few days we became close friends and two months later would stay with him in California. (Side note: Eric also has a Travel Podcast called “Getaway Bus”, where he interviews people about their journeys – including yours truly)

And so the rain continued. We had had about 2 weeks straight of torrential rain and Alida was getting fed up. She was on her phone looking at flights back home to Germany. I however was not ready to leave. I wanted my travels to be a journey of personal progress and growth and so far I had yet to really experience any of that. So we had come to a tough decision as a couple that we would part ways for two months, go on our own journeys and meet back up in Europe. The wifi at our hostel was so bad that Alida couldn’t book her flight and by the time it was working again the price had gone up significantly. So she was stuck with me!

Turns out that the rest of our time in Mexico was amazing. The real highlight though is our gorgeous adopted Mexican Street Dog, Daisy. From the mountains of Oaxaca lies the peaceful town of San Jose del Pacifico. Backpackers will know this as the place where you get magic mushrooms, and I won’t lie, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. One day we went on a hike in the forest and found a place to lie down. Minutes later, a pair of hikers passed us with a dog. But the dog came over to us and lay right beside me. I thought, strange, but I love dogs so I was also stoked. So the three of us lay there for a few hours. Anytime a hiker or local would walk near us, the dog would get up and bark at them as if to protect us. We didn’t even feed it as we didn’t have any food on us. I would look into her little amber eyes and could swear I saw her little soul in there. When we were ready to go home, we were also lost, not having paid any attention to where we were walking. No problem! We just followed the dog an 30 minutes later we were back in town. This dog stuck with us for the next 4 days, going to restaurants with us (getting shooed away by the owners), hanging by our cabin (also getting shooed away by the owners) and for more hikes. We developed a bond with this little creature and when we had to leave it was heartbreaking.

We got on a van to Oaxaca City, a 3 hour drive away and I can remember looking at her out the back window. I had never considered adopting a street dog, I mean that’s crazy right!? It’ll be too hard and too expensive. I remember seeing a video online of Steve-O from Jackass adopted a dog from Peru. And I have nothing in common with Steve-O! But a few things were planted in my mind. Alida said “If you really feel like you need the dog, we can go get her.” A couple we met in San Jose mentioned their friend had adopted a dog from there and brought it back to Canada with them. Also, when I told my sister about Daisy, she said “Go back for her!” So I got my research on. I looked up the costs and legalities of adopting the dog. Airfares, vets, vaccinations, health certificates, everything. Turns out it wasn’t THAT hard. So it was decided. We bought a collar and leash at the local market, hired a dog cage from the vet and the next day we would head back to San Jose to be reunited with Daisy.

To be continued…

Going South… 

23 September 2018

First of all, I’ll address the elephant in the room. It’s been 8 months since my last post… I know, I know. So much for being accountable.

After 8 months, you can imagine I have a lot to say, but I’ll try to keep it as concise as possible. This post is about our time in South America where we spent our first 4 months.

South America. Unfortunately I’m going to have to be downer and say right of the bat, we found it underwhelming. We can partly blame ourselves for being ignorant and not making a real effort to learn Spanish, and boy, you need Spanish on this continent!

I had these huge expectations to see amazing things, meet tonnes of cool people and be musically inspired by exposing myself to the exciting flavoursome latin beats. In reality, we saw a few cool things. The Salt Flats in Bolivia were genuinely a highlight, and we tended to love the places that were barely mentioned in the Lonely Planet, charming places that had not been overhyped and overrun by tourism. We met a few lovely people too, but it was not what we had envisioned. Oh and I learned pretty quickly that the latin genres of Salsa and Reggaeton are not for me.

I’m not going to mention everything we did as it will surely bore you. However, here are the countries we visited in those first 4 months; Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia.

Most of the time we stayed in hostels to take the social option, however the reality is that most hostels were empty. There were occasions where Alida and I were the ONLY people in the hostel (which would have capacities of up to 50 beds). As for the culture itself, yes they’re known for being passionate sexy party animals, but when you peel all that away we felt an undertone of very heavy energy. It often felt like the locals saw us as burdens, perhaps a representation of wealth they will never have, and rather than seeing us as tourism cash cows, we often felt resented. This is a stark contrast to our favourite travelled country, Cambodia. Whilst the people there don’t have much, and they know they don’t have much, they make the most out of their situation. The land of cheeky grins is how I’d describe them, all despite suffering huge societal tragedies so recently in their history.

South America also put a strain on Alida and I, and our plans. In Bolivia, Alida was looking for flights to Asia (Cambodia, in fact!) as in her view, she would rather go somewhere she could enjoy herself rather than wasting her time. On the other hand, I wanted to stay. Not because I was having a ball, but because I didn’t want to be a quitter. I wanted to soldier through and tick off all that I had set out to do. After all travelling is about character building and that frequently comes from tough situations, not easy ones.

We made a compromise and skipped part of the continent and shortened our time there. By June we were very ready to fly to Mexico.

Now, as far as personal growth, did I get anything out of it? Not really I hate to say. Musically, did I get inspired? I did write a few songs over there, but in all honesty, not really. Turns out Latin music isn’t for me. It didn’t resonate with me and I could not dance to it! (And I consider myself an alright dancer). I wasn’t able to become very inspired through meaningful personal experiences or the local music scene, which was very disappointing for me.

So there you have it. I know you wanted to hear funny stories, inspiring anecdotes and to live vicariously through my adventure, so I’m sorry to be a negative Nancy, but that’s just honestly how our experience was. Please note that this is only our opinion. A language barrier also played a huge part, so if you do go to South America, be sure to take some Spanish classes beforehand – it’ll take you a long way.

Do not fret though people! The next post will be about Mexico, and just quietly, the mood changes drastically.

Til then,

Ant

Folk Tales 

25 February 2018

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I grew up quite conservatively. I was never really one for taking big risks, it was just the way I was raised. Study hard, get a degree, a stable job in a good company with a decent salary and work your way up. It’s what Dad did and it’s always what I thought would be the natural path for me.

At age 15 I started singing and fell in love with it. I felt like it defined me and of course wanted to do it for a living. However, even though I knew I was good, it always seemed like success was farfetched and that the odds of me ‘making it’ were slim, just because “that’s the music industry”. Therefore, whilst I had this brand new shiny passion, my parents (who do heavily support my singing) strongly suggested I go to university and get a degree – which I agreed was a good idea.

Fast forward 10 years, and I haven’t made the progress in music I would have hoped. Call it an excuse, but I just haven’t put my heart and soul into music, which you need to do to be successful. All my energy was going into my 9-5 job and progressing that career.

As Alida and I were preparing to leave New Zealand for our travels, my Dad would ask me, “have you started applying for jobs in the UK and Germany yet?”. It was his expectation and understanding that I would continue the marketing route in Europe. I wasn’t sure if my folks would accept me taking time off to work on music full time.

I started thinking, “should I just let them believe I’m applying and eventually that I had a sensible job? How would they know otherwise, they’re on the other side of the world.” Then I thought, “I’m a grown man! I have a good relationship with my folks and rather than telling them tales, if I was just honest with them I would much better off having them in my corner.”

Mum and Dad are, and always have been my biggest fans, showing up at every gig, listening to the same songs over and over again. They would give me performance feedback, help setup and pack down my equipment and mum would always make sure I had water and a packed meal for my breaks. They are the best support crew and parents anyone could ever ask for.

So what was I so afraid of? I picked up my courage about a week before leaving the country to tell them I wanted to give singing a proper crack. I told them, I didn’t want to pretend that I was applying for jobs to keep them happy. The pursuit of my singing career would be a journey that I wanted to take them on, and I would also love to have their guidance and advice along the way.

Dad told me “I’ve always believed you have the talent and potential to make something of yourself in music, but you’ve got to work hard, I haven’t seen you do this so far. Of course we support you, and we want to be a part of that journey… but put in the work.”

I breathed a big sigh of relief as I was in all honesty expecting them to say I was crazy to throw away my corporate career. They were very open and supportive of my decision and at the same time gave me some honest criticism, that I need to work for it, which is something I know deep down inside.

I was on a roll of honesty and showed them my fresh tattoo which caught them by surprise. As expected Mum hated it, but accepted it, whilst Dad actually quite appreciated the artistry and took a photo of it straight away!

The result of all this is that I can pursue this journey with the most important people in my life behind me and one of my biggest fears was to not have them on board.

Here are those amazing parents, sporting their my brand new logo.

 

It looks like for now I won’t be having to tell folk tales.

– Ant

Building my Brand 

9 February 2018

As previously established, I have a marketing background and have been a professional in this field for a number of years now looking after household brands such as Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose, OPI and Max Factor. I feel like I’m pretty good at it too. For artists, marketing is a huge part of becoming successful, almost as much so as the creative content you produce. Now, you would have thought that with my background I’d have been able to apply my marketing expertise to my singing career, but alas… I’ve been slack and awful!

So, now is my opportunity to start building my brand properly. I’m not saying I have a robust plan or anything yet as I don’t! But my first step has been to create a logo and an identity for myself. A couple in fact. One for myself as a singer, and one for this blog, the Corporate Busker. To do that, I commissioned an amazing designer slash my biggest fan Dave for the job. Dave is a Tongan guy I used to work with, with the most loud and infectious laugh you’ve ever heard. (The Tongan part is irrelevant, but I just want to paint you the picture – Tongans have awesome laughs). You could literally hear him from the other side of the office – my old colleagues will attest to this. Dave used to do design work for me when I was working on liquor brands and every time I came over to his desk to work on a project, he embarrassingly had a video of me on youtube on full blast through his speakers, disturbing his whole team in the process. Whilst I was mildly humiliated, I always appreciated his encouragement.

Anyways, now that you’ve met Dave, you’ll see why he was the best man for the job. After a few concepts and a small tweak, below is the logo we’ve come up with.

AU Logo montage

I’m hoping you can see it is both my initials, “AU” and a microphone. I’m also hoping you’re not like my sister who said it looked like a computer chair… now that she’s mentioned this, it cannot be unseen! But I still love it and am super stoked to have a logo to represent myself as an artist.

I spent $350 over the weekend, getting these printed on hats and shirts. It wasn’t a big print run as I only made enough to give to my parents and take travelling, however having these produced is yet another way of keeping myself accountable, motivated and inspired.

This is only the start of the brand building journey and there’s a lot more to do. Dave will be working on CD covers, album artwork, flyers, business cards and creative imagery. I also have a photo shoot this afternoon to update my portfolio (and I look forward to eating again afterwards…) I’ll keep you posted along the way.

AU Merch.jpg

– Ant

“Vision Arm” 

19 January 2018

Now I shouldn’t be forcing inspiration on myself, but I am… kind of. Ideally, everyone should inspire themselves automatically. Sometimes however, it doesn’t hurt to have reminders. My previous post mentioned accountability, one of the main reasons for starting this blog. Well, my next move is getting a tattoo.

To some people, tattoos aren’t a big deal. They’ll get one off the cuff, and good on them. But to me, they do need to mean something.

My session is booked in for tomorrow morning. I’m a bit of a wuss, so I’ve stocked up on numbing cream and ibuprofen for what will roughly be a 5 hour sitting. Alida, my girlfriend will be doing coffee runs and I’ve also got a nice audio book ready to go to distract me. Anyway, this tattoo to me is another means of accountability and inspiration. If you’ve ever done a vision board, you’ll know that the purpose of them are to provide a constant reminder of what you want to have or achieve. (A friend of a friend put a picture of boobs on her vision board because she wanted bigger boobs… and apparently she went up a few cup sizes! Wtf??)

With exposure to these images over time, the theory is that consciously or subconsciously (or both), you will put in the work and take the necessary steps to realise that goal. There are also theories about sending positive neutrons into the universe which then reform and come back in the shape of your success (…or boobs). Not sure I buy into those ones, but I do see the value of vision boards. Therefore, the sensitive, pale, and sadly ‘smaller than I’d like’ canvas that is my inner bicep will serve this purpose. *Sigh*. At least it’ll cost less?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a random rash last minute decision I’ve come up with. It’s something I’ve thought about over the past 3 years and I still want it. It’s future proofing any questionable times ahead, to remind me who I am, what I love to do and what my passion is.

This won’t be my first tattoo. I have one other on my right arm which is the last lines of sheet music to my favourite song to sing, my ‘signature song’ if you will, Unchained Melody. I got it 3 years ago, for similar reasons. It was a reminder of what I love to do and the year following that tattoo, I had an amazing time – that’s another story.

Now the fun part is going to be showing my parents! Typical conservative Asian parents don’t take too kindly to permanent ink. I remember showing friends when my last one was a day old and them saying:

“My parents would kill me if I got a tattoo.”

To which I replied:

“But… you have white parents! What are MINE gonna do!?”

So in a nutshell, I’ll be adding to my ‘vision arm’. And what is the tattoo of?

Tui

This little guy. This is a native New Zealand bird called the Tui. Here at home, they are known as the NZ songbird. This isn’t a rare thing to have tattooed for a New Zealander, however as I embark on an adventure to the other side of the world, to me, the Tui represents myself. A proud New Zealander who loves to sing. I’ve even got an image where he’s crouched over and ready to take flight.

Excuse me… did you just roll your eyes?

I know, know, it’s cheesy as. But seeing this guy when I look down or check out my guns in the mirror, will be a constant reminder to keep me accountable, determined and motivated.

Wish me luck!

– Ant

 

An Introduction 

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8 January 2018

Welcome! My name is Anthony Utama. I’m a 29 year old marketing professional, currently working a 9-5 job, in my hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. That’s more or less what life has been for the past decade. Asides from a brief 9 month backpacking stint, it’s been High School, followed by University, followed by a string of corporate jobs – to the delight of my parents. Starting off as a Market Analyst in the magazine industry, moving into Brand Management roles responsible for household names such as Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire and Grey Goose, and now currently OPI and Max Factor. My career has progressed quite nicely, however I’ve never really felt… satisfied.

As a child, I did the typical “Asian extra-curricular activities”. The violin and piano were the big ones that took up most of my evenings and weekends, largely driven by my parents who encouraged me to practice, a lot. It wasn’t until I was 15 when I considered auditioning for my High School production of Les Miserables. Other than in the shower, I hadn’t done much singing, however thought I’d give it a shot. I did pretty well and was lucky to land one of the lead roles of Marius. The rest is history, and ever since then I’ve been singing as a hobby, and part time job.

Singing became my passion in High School and has been ever since. People (not just my mum) have always said I have the talent and the potential to ‘make it’. I’ve participated in local musical theatre productions, sung at big local events, and hired myself out for all sorts of events; weddings, birthday parties, cruise ships, casinos, corporate functions… even funerals. These have all taken place supplementary to my ‘proper’ marketing job.

Since High School I’ve always been ‘that guy that sings’, and it’s probably the thing that most defines me to other people. Whether at school or at work, people may not have remembered my name, but they knew I sang! (Mainly because I took every opportunity to sing in public to the point of annoying… did someone say Talent Quest?? Where do I sign up!?)

Now at age 29, though I’ve made some pocket money, I still haven’t ‘made it’ as so many people told me I would. Although there have been a number of dodgy promises made by people (it is the music industry after all) as well as a number of failed Idol, NZ’s Got Talent and X Factor attempts, I can only really blame myself. I blame myself for not doing myself justice to unleash what I believe to be my real potential. I’ve done a poor job of marketing myself and I’m a full time marketer for God’s sake! For the past decade, singing has taken the backseat in focus. I’ve treated it more as a good secondary income more than anything else. When you treat it like that, it’s hard to stay passionate, sometimes it even feels like work. After High School, all I wanted to do was sing, but I followed the responsible advice of my parents to go to University as a back up – which I do thank them for. God knows where I’d be if I went the tortured musician route. However, I recently read a quote:

“If you have a back up plan, you haven’t made a decision”.

This spoke volumes to me. It reminded me of an old friend from Auckland, a fellow singer, who literally dropped everything and moved to Berlin because some random guy approached him at a pub gig and told him he’d make him a star if he made the move. He’s doing pretty damn well for himself today – even featuring in a song that went #1 in Germany. Then there’s me. The guy who still hasn’t made a decision.

I am writing today as in 4 weeks I leave home. My resignation has been handed in (from a great job at an amazing company might I add) and come the 12 February, my girlfriend and I are heading to South America, travelling north to end up in Germany. (Side story, my girlfriend is German, having moved to NZ for me… that’s a story for another day). The real reason for leaving is that she really misses her family and friends.

Whilst it’s sad to leave home, there comes an exciting opportunity to give my passion a real crack and have a blast doing it! After playing it safe my whole life, I have the chance to back myself and prove that I can be successful as an artist. Growing up in a conservative family, instinctively I cower away from risk so this is going to be a challenge for me. Heck, the reason I’m even writing this is so it’s ‘on proverbial paper’ in a public realm to keep me accountable and not give up on myself before I’ve even started. The easy and safe option would be to just start applying and enquiring for corporate work from now and send my CV to some agencies. That’s the option I’m trying to avoid.

I can’t say I have any regrets, as I’ve met the most amazing people in my life, many of whom I consider great friends. However, I’m so looking forward to journeying into the unknown, starting from scratch, working hard and having heaps of fun along the way!

Until I have given it my 100% I won’t be able to be satisfied. If I fail, I fail, but at least I can say I’ve given it a legit go! The corporate career will always be there. I have my qualifications and a strong resume – that won’t disappear. In the meantime this is my chance to show the world (or anyone who wants to listen) what I’ve got to offer. How will I do all this you ask? I don’t know quite yet…

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

– Ant

PS. Enough of this serious talk, it makes me uncomfortable! Let’s lighten up the mood with one of those Talent Quest entries I was talking about – a duo act with one of those great friends!