ONE need only look to mainland singer Ai Jing to find proof that music knows no cultural or geographical boundaries. Ai only sings in her mother tongue of Putonghua but her fans come from all walks of life and countries. Although Hong Kong audiences have yet to place her in the same league as mainland stars such as Dao Wei, Faye Wong or Tang Dynasty, Ai has taken China, Taiwan and - that Fort Knox of Asian markets - Japan, by storm. She has also performed in the former Soviet Union and received top billing at the Wan Chai Festival in Hong Kong last year. 'If you have confidence in your own performance and the ability of you and your band to transport the audience into your musical world, there is no need to worry about language problems, even when your audience is seeing you for the first time,' said the fresh-faced 26-year-old who is in the territory for a new assault on the Hong Kong market with her new album Yenfen Street Story. 'Music is a way of making friends. Whether or not your audience likes you does not depend on hearing you talk, but on listening to your songs.' For most of the time, Ai would rather her music bridge the communication gap instead of her spouting meaningless platitudes to her audiences. 'In China, you have to say so much: 'Thank you, I am happy to be here tonight . . .', 'I am not happy to be here tonight . . .',' she said, giggling at the thought. 'In Japan, for instance, I don't have to talk a lot and people can just listen to my songs. It's much better.' Not being able to converse in Japanese has not stopped her from winning a huge following. In May this year she had the distinction of being named the Most Popular Female Artist in Asia in a poll conducted by the popular Japanese magazine What's In. 'The Japanese are very serious when it comes to music. Even though I sing in Putonghua, the releases come with Japanese translations of the lyrics and my fans really take the trouble to study the lyrics to understand what I am singing,' she said. Ai, who has been called 'the Chinese Suzanne Vega', was born in Shenyang to a musical family. Her father plays many classical Chinese musical instruments and her mother was an opera singer. From an early age, she seemed destined to be a singer. 'My father was my karaoke,' Ai said, bursting into laughter. 'He would provide the music for me to sing by. After dinner, my daddy would sit outside the house and play his erhu while I would sing some classical Chinese songs. 'I was only five or six then and was very proud when all the passers-by stopped to listen to me sing.' Her parents recognised her talent and nurtured it, scraping together enough money to provide her with the luxury of private singing lessons before she joined the Oriental Dance Ensemble in Beijing as a contracted singer when she was 15. Ai spent 'a few years' there and by the time she was 18 she found herself in Guangzhou recording a solo album. She made a brief sojourn into acting, taking the lead role in a Guangdong Television drama series, and was the only mainland actress to be offered a role in the award-winning Taiwanese movie, Five Girls And A Rope. While Ai says she enjoys acting, her burgeoning singing career has left her little time to pursue this interest. 'I have to divide my time among China, Japan and Taiwan now because of my singing, so I don't see myself being able to take on more acting jobs,' she said. 'But, depending on the role and the script, I would like to do some acting work. It's an option to consider.' Although Ai has no formal training in playing any musical instrument, it seemed natural for her to pick up her father's love for a stringed instrument - in her case, a guitar - during recording sessions. And, since then, with her new-found skill, she has been composing most of her own songs. 'They are very simple,' she said. 'I just write down what I feel and think. 'The feelings are not mainly my own. I live in a society so I am no different from anyone else. Maybe other people don't like to think about such issues or have no time. So I go and think for them and write it down. 'But I am very lucky that I can use my heart and my feelings to bring out my songs even though I don't really have the technical expertise.' Some of the songs are more personal, however. The title track of her new album is about her life on Yenfen Street where she spent many happy evenings singing with her father. Ai's international success has set an example which many of her compatriots are trying to follow. 'In a sense, yes,' Ai said with mirth, 'many more people are trying to write songs these days. They are thinking: 'If Ai Jing can write such simple songs and still have so many people like them, then I should be writing songs too!' ' Ai does not like to compare herself to other songwriters. 'It is more important that I am happy doing what I am doing. I don't rate myself against any other person,' she said.