Chronicles Ong Fu Ying, one half of the Malaysian Mandopop duo Fuying & Sam, usually finds himself in a bustling kitchen filled with lively conversations and a mix of intoxicating aromas this time of the year.
“We spend time in the kitchen cooking together every year, ” Ong, 27, recalls his family’s Chinese New Year tradition.
“We’re a big family. There’s about 30 of us. It’s also a good way to catch up with each other.”
Meanwhile, musical partner Sam Chin Neng’s typical reunion dinner sees his family members fishing out ingredients from a bubbling pot of soup.
“Steamboat! It’s a symbol of unity for our family, ” the 30-year-old enthuses.
These moments are especially precious for them, as, for many years, the duo was based in Taiwan and the festivities afforded them a chance to meet up with their family and friends.
Needless to say, there won’t be any of that this year due to the pandemic.
Ong, who usually returns to his parents' hometown in Ayer Tawar, Perak, and Sungai Petani, Kedah, for the festivities, has arranged for a reunion dinner via video call instead.
Sam, who often visits his grandmother’s place in Puchong, will also buck tradition this time around for the safety of his loved ones.
As they ring in the Lunar New Year and begin a new chapter, Ong and Sam reflect on their musical journey so far, their friendship, and what lies ahead.
Fuying & Sam was formed in 2012. The two attended a vocal training course and were later selected to sing the theme song for local movie Kepong Gangster.
The pairing worked and their then record label decided to market them as a duo instead of solo singers.
The success of its earlier EPs and debut 2014 full-length album, Love Temperature, meant it was only a matter of time before Fuying & Sam tried its luck in Taiwan, as it’s usually the case with many Malaysian artistes, notably, Fish Leong and Gary Chaw.
In 2015, Fuying & Sam made the leap and moved to Taiwan.
“The biggest difference is, in Taiwan, we take public transport everywhere whereas in Malaysia, we have to drive to get to certain places, ” Ong recounts.
Sam chimes in with a laugh: “In Taiwan, we actually became very slim because of all that walking.”
Despite being so far away, the duo says they didn’t feel alone, thanks to some familiar faces. Sam shares that their fellow Taiwan-based Malaysian artistes are very supportive of each other.
“There’s actually a chat group for Malaysian artistes in Taiwan, ” he reveals, adding fellow countrymen Victor Wong, Penny Tai and Z-Chen have all offered words of wisdom and encouragement in their time of need.
“Things are very competitive in Taiwan. There are always new artistes coming up, ” Ong describes the Taiwanese music industry.
“We were doing quite good in the first few years there but I guess, with our second album, Close To, our competitiveness wasn’t on par with the rest of the singers.”
Ong elaborates on that difficult point in the duo's career.
“That album didn't really do well and we kind of hit rock bottom because shows were a lot lesser, interviews were a lot lesser," he reveals.
Delving into the possible reasons for the 2015 album’s lukewarm reception, he offers: “The first album was very lovey-dovey. The second one had a darker feel and wasn’t as widely accepted, although we personally loved the concept.”
Asked if the experience prompted their return to Malaysia, Ong responds they only moved back to Malaysia in 2019 after the release of their third album, The Lakeside Of Yearning.
“We decided to move back because 90% of our music is made in Malaysia anyway. We record only about 10% of our music in Taiwan.
"So all this time, we’ve been flying back to Malaysia to record and then fly to Taiwan again, which costs a lot.”
Nevertheless, their decision to head home by no means signal that Fuying & Sam has closed its doors on the Taiwan market. Fuying & Sam still has links to a Taiwanese company which helps distribute its music.
Not long after their return to Malaysia, the pandemic hit.
“This past year has been especially difficult. Travel and entertainment are one of the worst-hit industries. But with entertainment, we’re quite lucky because we can still perform online. So we’re still grateful, ” shares Ong.
Having sailed through some choppy waters in their careers before, Ong and Sam found themselves somewhat back in familiar territory when the pandemic hit.
“Back when we were going through that tough time in our careers four, five years ago, we turned it into a positive experience by signing up for classes. We learned music theory, we brushed up on our songwriting skills and practised playing our instruments.”
Similarly, when the pandemic threatened to halt their careers, they poured their energies into developing themselves.
“I actually ventured into the beauty business, ” Sam reveals while Ong tried his hands at video and music production.
Reaching the eight-year mark
Having weathered many a storm together, Ong and Sam no doubt know each other very well. They spill the beans on each other’s traits that many don’t know about.
“Sam really takes care of his health. He is very precise about what he eats, about exercise, ” Ong dishes about Sam.
“Sam is also very ‘chill’ and tends to take his time and I’m always the one rushing him, ” he continues with a laugh. Sam responds: “Yes, he stresses me out!”
But being exact opposites also mean they help balance each other out.
As Ong describes himself as a “foodie who eats everything”, Sam helps him to avoid overeating by providing tips and reminders.
This act of embracing each other’s differences instead of fighting has been key in keeping the duo together for so long.
Last December, Fuying & Sam commemorated its eighth year in the music industry with an online concert for fans.
The members were barely in their 20s when they first started. As they approach their 30s, the duo talks about evolving from its initial boyband sounds.
“It can’t be such a drastic change where there is no essence of Fuying & Sam left. Our main genre is love songs.
"So eight years ago, our songs were more simple. They’re about break-ups or falling in love, ” Ong gives fans an idea of their musical direction ahead.
“Being older now, we see that things are more complex. So with our music now, it’s still love songs but we want to talk about how communication is important in a relationship or the sacrifices that come with loving someone.”
Asked if they’ve ever gotten sick of each other after being together for so long, Ong says they try to give each other some room to breathe when they’re not working.
“We see each other a lot, even more than our own family members. And back in Taiwan, we lived together. So these days, we don’t really hang out for leisure purposes because we spend so much time together already.”
Sam candidly adds: “So yes, we do get sick of each other sometimes!”