If Alex To Tak-wai had to find a word to describe his feelings when he ventured into Taiwan's music market six years ago, it might be 'annoyed'. But this unwelcome task was a blessing in disguise and gave To a spate of Mandarin and English albums that made him the heart-throb of Taiwanese fans. 'Capital Artists [his label at the time] lined me up to go to Taiwan but I didn't want to because I didn't think I could extend my career there while I was not satisfied with what I'd done in Hong Kong,' he said. 'I thought it was annoying. But fate had it that I put out my first Mandarin album there [Love Talk] and I started to realise how wonderful it was working with the Taiwan label [Rock Records]. After that, I fell in love with working in Taiwan.' Although his record sales in Taiwan have overshadowed Hong Kong, the 34-year-old said there was more to it than numbers when it comes to music. 'There are two ways you can gauge success: figures and feelings. Hong Kong is my home, and the effort I made, the experience and the feelings I have [in Hong Kong] have given me another sense of success,' he said. The difference between working across the straits and in Hong Kong, he believes, is that he has a stronger team of strategic planners, music producers, promoters and assistants, taking care of his every move: from plotting his music direction, filming music videos and television shows, down to his outfits and the things he should say to the press. 'In Hong Kong, I have to find my own way around town. I was like a blind-folded fly. Most of the local labels don't have thorough planning, forcing local singers to depend on themselves,' To said, speaking from Taipei. In Taiwan to finish his eighth Mandarin album - due to be released there on August 9 - To said he found it hard adapting to life away from home. 'I don't really like staying in Taiwan because I miss Hong Kong too much. My mother, elder brother [Orlando To Tak-chi] and my puppy are in Hong Kong. Even though my father works in south Taiwan, I don't get to see him much,' he said. To still considers himself a 'musician' rather than a star. However, star or not, he should know how it feels to be in the business. After all, he has been around for more than a decade. Born in Hong Kong but educated in Canada, To returned home to work in an advertising agency before he tried his luck in the 1985 TVB New Talent Singing Contest. After topping the event with a rendition of Lionel Richie's Hello, he was signed to Capital Artists. His debut album, Only Wish I Could Stay and the follow-up Waiting For Dawn - both released in 1987 - quickly established him on the Canto-pop map. He joined Warner Music in 1992 and then jumped to Rock Records several years ago. Along the way, he made 10 Cantonese, seven Mandarin and three English albums. He also tried acting in eight movies, including his interpretation of an indecent surgeon in Mack the Knife (1995) and a gigolo in Tonight Nobody Goes Home this year. For him, however, music is where he belongs. 'I am always glad that I can make a living out of music. But I told myself a long time ago that if I ever feel that pressure from work is taking over pleasure, I would retire. But I am not there yet.' Critics and friends have said that To - as a singer, dancer and songwriter - is too Westernised to make it big in the territory. His Western, particularly black influence, stemmed from his college days in Vancouver. 'I never wanted to pursue only singing black music, like jazz or R&B. I like it but that doesn't mean I have to sing it,' he said. 'And I never thought there was anything wrong with Canto-pop either, only that if local music-makers all opt to feed the public with karaoke-like songs, it would be a pity.' With Rock Records, he made three all-English albums [Cherish, All for You and Best Love], getting readyfor the bumpy ride he will take when he launches an English album aimed at the international music scene. 'The three previous albums were targeted for Taiwan only and were very commercial. The album will be my first attempt at entering the international market. I will be using musicians and songwriters from Taiwan and Los Angeles. On top of that, I want to polish my songwriting.' As a testing ground for his international aims, he took up the risky task of singing the title track of the Cantonese and Mandarin versions of the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The original is sung by a cappella R&B group All-4-One. 'At first, I thought it was impossible to do it. The music background is the same as the one used by All-4-One and the range was so wide,' he said. 'But it turned out to be very good.' Another new challenge is a three-month refresher programme in Los Angeles. 'My singing and performance calibre at the moment can't get me where I want to go. I need to stop in order to go further,' To said.