Every teenager goes through a rebellious phase, but local pianist Wang Congyu took this to a whole new level when he ran away from home and flew to Paris to enrol in a prestigious music school. All without speaking a word of French or having much money on him after using up his savings for the plane ticket.
Wang, then 16, had snagged a scholarship to the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, but his parents objected to him accepting it because they felt he was too young to go alone to France.
After mulling over the issue for a few days, Wang decided that the opportunity was too precious to pass up, and left without even sitting his O Level exams.
"I had mixed feelings at first," he recalls. "A part of me felt really bad. My friends were busy studying for their exams and there I was, trying to be a pianist and getting my parents worried. But on the other hand, I don't regret what I did, because I came from a sheltered background, and leaving home forced me to grow up."
The gamble paid off. On Tuesday, Wang, 21, was named the second Singaporean recipient of the Young Steinway Artist title, Hungarian pianist Adam Gyorgy, who is also Wang's mentor, formally awarded him the title at the Steinway Gallery in Palais Renaissance.
The first local pianist to receive the award was Abigail Sin in 2009. It provides opportunities for young talented pianists and offers them access to Steinway & Son's resources.
Wang recalls how challenging his early days in Paris were: he led an almost nomadic lifestyle during his first year there, as he had nowhere to live and little money. The scholarship covered only his school fees; he was expected to take care of his own living expenses.
"I couldn't rent an apartment as I was underaged. I had to beg people to let me stay with them," says Wang. "Nothing was easy. A few times, I even thought of going back to Singapore."
He shuttled between friends' homes before meeting a family at church. They let him live with them for the remainder of this time in Paris.
And there was another problem: finding a piano to practise on.
"Once, I was staying at a friend's home for a while and he had a piano. His French neighbours actually signed a petition to kick us out of the apartment because we were practising all day, and they didn't like it. After that incident, I didn't get to practise on a piano for a very long time," he says.
"At one point, I got so desperate that I carved piano keys on a table so I could 'practise' on them.
Having won piano competitions in Bordeux and Berlin, graduating last year with a Diplome Superieur from the Schola Cantorum de Paris - another private school he attended - and receiving the Steinway title, Wang has come a long way.
"I never thought I would make it this far. Some people call it destiny and some call it fate, but I call it God's plan," he says.
He adds that his parents were unhappy in the beginning but they grew supportive when they saw he was serious about pursuing his love of music.
Steinway Gallery Singapore's general manager Celine Goh, who had nominated Wang for the award, says his talent and determination were what convinced her that he was right for the Young Steinway Artist title.
"I was impressed by his track record and future plans. He has also won prestigious competitions, and he has both the foundation and a good personality. I feel that he is someone who can represent the Steinway brand well," she says.