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Chinese singer Chet Lam isn't hiding his sexuality and no one seems to care.

There is no Elton John, Melissa Etheridge, Erasure, or even Lance Bass in Hong Kong, but there is Chet Lam. He's penned songs for mainstream Cantonese pop artists, opened for kd lang, won awards, written collections of writing, and even starred in a couple of Chinese queer indie films. In a country and culture that still prefers its media icons closeted, Lam's sexuality doesn't seem to be ruffling any feathers. Even when he's performing the male-pronoun specific, "When He Sings" (from the 2006 all-English cover album Camping) or romantic ditties about, well, Bert and Ernie.

"They are the most ambiguous gay couple in TV history, that's for sure," says Lam. Sitting in Manhattan's Joe's Cafe, a queer coffee spot appropriately positioned on the corner of Gay Street and Waverly, the 31-year-old Lam cuts a slight, almost schoolboy figure in a striped button-down shirt and tie. "They tell everyone they're best friends," he continues. "Their pictures hang on a wall in the same bedroom. And one of their songs is called, 'When Bert's Not Here,' sung by Ernie. That is one of the most touching love songs I've ever heard." Lam performed the song during an arts festival appearance, an Ernie puppet literally on hand.

Hopelessly stricken with wanderlust and frequently mixing Cantonese and English in his songs, Lam visited New York to finish writing his next album, catch some concerts (including Damien Rice), and have a sit-down with The Advocate.

When did you come out publicly, and what was the response? I came out in the very first interview I did five years ago in Hong Kong because I didn't want to make it a big deal. Hong Kong people and Chinese media like playing games with you and can be really mean. But when you lay yourself out in front of them, with no hidden agenda or anything, they will just stop asking. And that's what I wanted to do. No more questions asked.

When did you come out as a person? I never came out because I was never in.

Travel and relationships play a big part in your songs. Travelogue, Too's "CL411" deals with both. What's the story behind it? I grew up -- not poor, in Hong Kong you can't be too poor -- but we didn't have money at all, in a public housing estate less than 500 meters from the airport and my dad was working as a maintenance guy in the engine department. I was watching the planes go up and down every day, and I really liked them and wanted to go away. Later it became a habit, like getting away from things, from relationships. I wrote "CL411" on the plane to San Francisco in 2003. My debut album had come out and was quite well received, and suddenly I got some money so I could do what I wanted. So I was trying to escape from someone...and I realized maybe I'm the one whom I've been trying to escape.

And "Two Toothbrushes"? You know Bright Eyes? It was inspired by his work "The First Day of My Life." I was so touched I wanted my own version! Two toothbrushes in the same glass in a bathroom together is bliss -- it's happiness, and I'm really content when I look at them. This is a symbol, and I like using real symbols and objects in my songs to make people understand what I'm talking about.

While the Chinese media doesn't ask about your sexuality anymore, do they still touch on the issue when discussing these relationship songs? They don't pay attention to the words at all. Camping, the English cover album I did for fun (which includes ABBA and Madonna tunes) -- it's really gay right? They just don't care about words. There's no room for music criticism. It's all about entertainment, melody, and beat, but I'm a guy of words. What I've been doing is out of the mainstream.

Your sister, who's a bit of a tomboy, is in a group called at 17. Is she also gay? Well, their business I don't want to talk about, but I can tell you I'm close to my sister. I always call them the Hong Kong version of the Indigo Girls -- or more like Tegan and Sara.

You do realize those artists are queer, right? Are they? Oops! Well, you can judge for yourself.

There's a clip of you performing a cover of Kylie Minogue's "In Your Eyes" on YouTube, from your Camping live show. You bring quite a weight to the song. Yeah, it is heavy. Those songs [for Camping], they speak something to me. When I was choosing the songs, I really had to look at the lyrics and retell the stories. But they don't care about [most of] the words I sing in Hong Kong -- only the clever ones.

You use English words in a lot of your songs. Why? That's how I grew up. There was English taught in my school. We are supposed to be all bilingual -- trilingual with Mandarin, Cantonese ,and English -- but it really helps when you listen to a lot of English songs and read the materials. Janice Ian's song "Light to Light" opened my world -- the line: "There's wisdom in the teaching of the old familiar songs, and there's sorrow in repeating the old familiar wrongs." When I started to listen to the record, it started to grow inside me. That's what inspires me to focus on words first and maybe why English words are thrown in here and there.

Have you ever been approached or pressured to sign with a major label and go mainstream Cantopop--complete with the glitzy costumes and live shows? I cross over with those artists when I write songs for them and sometimes we perform together. But I never let them sign me. Even this year, right before I came here, someone was asking me. But I always make my own stand because people don't like me doing mainstream stuff like that by myself.

What is your love life like these days? My position is, "Don't go to find them, they will find you." Here and there they find me, but I really have to concentrate on my career because I am a one-man band. I have my own label, and I have to take care of so many things."

Being a traveler, you could have a ship in every port, so to speak. No! Oh, no. Wow. I wish. Not the case. It's too time-consuming.

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