As a boy growing up in Shenyang, China, I practiced the piano six hours a day. I loved the instrument. My mother, Xiu-lan Zhou, taught me to read notes, and my father, Guo-ren Lang, concertmaster（首席小提琴手） of a local folk orchestra（管弦乐队）, showed me how to control the keys. At first I played on clunky（难听的） Chinese keyboards -- cheap, but the best we could afford. Later my parents bought me a Swedish piano, but I broke half the strings on it playing Tchaikovsky（柴可夫斯基）. That's when my parents and my teacher decided I was too much for such an instrument -- and for our hometown. To be a serious musician, I would have to move to Beijing, one of our cultural capitals. I was just eight years old.
My father, who played the erhu, a two-stringed instrument, knew that life wouldn't be easy. Millions of pianists in China were vying（竞争） for fame. You need fortune, my father said. If you don't work, no fortune comes. But music is still music, he added, and it exists to make us happy.
To relocate to Beijing with me, he made a great sacrifice. He quit his concertmaster's job, which he loved, and my mother stayed behind in Shenyang to keep working at her job at the science institute to support us. They both warned me, "Being a pianist is hard. Can you live without your mother?" I said, "I want my mother!" But I knew I needed to be in Beijing. In America, people often move and start over. But not in China, not in those days.
Suddenly my father and I were newcomers -- outsiders. To the others around us, we spoke with funny northern accents. The only apartment we could find for the money we had was in an unheated building, with five families sharing one bathroom. My father cooked, cleaned and looked after me. He became a housewife, basically.
We lived far from my school, and since the bus was too expensive, my father would "drive" me on his bicycle every day. It was an hour-and-a-half trip each way, and I was a heavy boy, much heavier than I am as an adult. He did this in winter too. Imagine! During the coldest nights, while I practiced piano, my father would lie in my bed so it would be warm when I was tired.
I was miserable, but not from the poverty or pressure. My new teacher in Beijing didn't like me. "You have no talent," she often told me. "You will never be a pianist." And one day, she "fired" me.
I was just nine years old. I was devastated. I didn't want to be a pianist anymore, I decided. I wanted to go home to my mother. For the next two weeks I didn't touch the piano. Wisely, my father didn't push. He just waited.
Sure enough, the day came at school when my teacher asked me to play some holiday songs. I didn't want to, but as I placed my fingers on the piano's keys, I realized I could show other people that I had talent after all.
That day I told my father what he'd been waiting to hear -- that I wanted to study with a new teacher. From that point on, everything turned around.