For the past 14 months, Hong Kong-born singer Eric Suen Yiu-wai has been kept out of his home arena because of contractual problems. However, with that sorted out, a new record deal and a new Cantonese album of new-plus-old hits out, Hits Sixteen released last month, Suen is fighting fit and raring to get back in the ring. And, it probably reflects on his album cover which shows him in various pugilistic poses. Suen laughs self-consciously when this is mentioned, even though it is obvious that he is fit and trim from regular workouts. 'Well, the image director [Joey Chu] initially thought like everyone else: that I should wear nice clothes, and look handsome and nice. Then he saw that I was also very active and energetic, and he felt that was the side of me that would be better portrayed,' Suen said. Although he has not been able to do much singing work in Hong Kong in the past year, the singer has been very active in Taiwan where he first launched his career in 1993. Besides releasing a Mandarin album, Surely , and an English album, he also represented Taiwan in the Asian Music Festival in Japan and made his first Taiwanese movie. But most special to Suen is the 2.5 months' 'holiday' his recording and management company gave him to go to the United States. Suen spent October to December of 1996 in Los Angeles, where he recorded an English album and also took singing lessons under Jodi Sellards, who has taught stars such as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. 'I had never taken singing lessons before. I mean, I had the basic ability to sing but I never had the chance to take lessons,' said the singer, who was plucked from the Chinese University by Taiwanese recording company, Golden Point, even before he graduated. 'But in the past, I had the chance to do some of the recording for my albums in the US and got to know some musicians who introduced me to Jodi. I was very happy when she took me on as a pupil because she doesn't teach everyone who approaches her. I guess it is affinity. We got along quite well when we met the first few times.' Besides singing, Suen also signed up for dancing lessons, joining a class where the students were mainly black and had a natural feel for rhythm. Initially, he found it difficult to keep up with them but his classmates helped by giving him some pointers. 'I felt that I wasn't good enough to warrant a one-on-one class, so I just signed up for a basic class. It was kind of like an aerobics class and I took it also as a form of exercise. But the other students were so good because they just had a natural rhythm,' he said. The 10 weeks he spent in Los Angeles helped him relax and gain a new perspective. For the first time since he became a singer, Suen had the luxury of being incognito in a place where he could just hang loose. 'You can just feel the tension drain away. It was bliss being somewhere where I could just relax. Even though I was studying and doing things, I didn't have to worry about interviews and what I looked like. I could just get in my rented car and drive wherever I wanted to,' he said, with a smile of satisfaction. 'I think I have become calmer and am a lot clearer about my future direction after that break. I am still reliving those moments.' After having tasted that, Suen now hopes that he can take a couple of months off every year or so to recharge but realises that it may sound easier than it would be. 'Maybe every two years or so,' he conceded. So far, Suen says he has not been able to put much of what he has learned under Sellards into his Chinese records, especially Hits Sixteen, because a lot of the techniques he learnt were more suited to the R&B genre. 'I learnt a lot of new techniques. There are some parts where you can ad-lib for English songs, but if you do that for a Cantonese song, it sounds like you are singing Chinese opera,' he laughed. 'The new album has only two new songs anyway, so there has not been much opportunity to practise what I have learned, except maybe in Fly, the second track. But I am recording my [Putonghua] album and plan to have another Cantonese album out soon. I am quite sure, then it will be more evident. 'But other things that I have learned are already helping me. I now understand better how to convey emotions in my songs and which 'parts' to sing from so that I won't tire as easily. I used to get tired after singing three or four songs, now I can sing a whole night.' After having been kept away from his home market for so long, Suen naturally hopes that this year he will be able to spend more time here. 'I don't want to sit around and regret the past, but I hope that I can balance my time between Taiwan and Hong Kong. My management is in Taiwan so naturally they would give it priority but if I can take care of both these markets, I will be very happy.'