Interview with Mr Bottle on The Linking Ring
The following interview first appeared on The Linking Ring, the official publication of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Sep 2015. Amazingly, the editor placed Mr Bottle’s picture on the cover of the magazine. Mr Bottle is probably the first children magician from Asia to be on cover.
Mr BottleWee Kien Meng is a magician from Singapore who has made quite a name for himself across the globe. If the name Kien doesn’t sound familiar perhaps you know him by his stage name, “Mr. Bottle.” I.B.M. members may also know of Kien from his first One Man Parade in The Linking Ring back in 2003 or from numerous reports and articles over the years about Singapore’s Ring 115. He is one of the world’s premier children’s magicians so before you dive into this latest Parade, here is some background information that will give you greater insight into what inspires and motivates this innovative performer and thinker.
Kien’s beginnings in magic can be traced back to when he was a mere five years old. His father was the source of his inspiration doing simple yet amazing tricks for his son. His dad was not a professional magician by any means but Kien vividly remembers these seminal moments. He recalls discovering his first magic book at the local library, a text that was written entirely in Chinese. “I had to get my mum to translate it.” But as a result he was able to learn and do a few simple tricks including one using a matchbox that he performed silently for his class at age seven. Part of the reason he performed without patter was that Kien was painfully shy as a young man. “In school my teachers would write in my report book that I was too quiet in class.”
Nonetheless, Kien’s passion for magic continued unabated. Since he was coming of age in a time before the Internet, he notes that there were few resources that he was aware of in Singapore for an aspiring magician. One of his ways for compensating for this lack of information was by videotaping David Copperfield specials and watching them over and over. He also recalls discovering books by James W. Baker at his local library; books that he copied word-for-word and even picture-for-picture so that he could study them long after they had to be returned. Many years later when he published his first Parade in The Linking Ring, Kien acknowledged Baker’s influence on his burgeoning love of magic and then to his delight, received an email from the author. “He was like a hero to me as a kid so that was pretty amazing!”The turning point in Kien’s development in magic came about as a result of his involvement with I.B.M. Ring 115. But finding and joining the Ring was not that simple. Again this was at a time before the Internet and as Kien puts it, he had “no clue on how to find this elusive and secret society!” It turned out that his first introduction to Ring members came when he was seventeen and bumped into a few during a visit to a joke and novelty shop. Kien joined immediately and from that moment moving forward Ring members provided him with the resources he had longed for as a kid, generously sharing their knowledge, effects, books, videos, and love for magic in general.
Through the I.B.M. Kien started performing not only at Ring meetings but doing charity events as well. He remembers performing at a public family show, which he got a referral from a charity show, and getting paid for the first time. But in Singapore the largest market for magicians was in shows for children, so Kien naturally gravitated toward this type of venue. He also admits that he thought children’s magic would be easy, “But I was wrong!” Still, he loved it, the kids’ laughter was rewarding in and of itself and he invested the money he earned in books and props. Coincidentally, one of the first magic books and VHS tapes he purchased on the topic of performing kid shows was authored by none other than our very own editor, Sammy Smith.
“Doing children birthday parties was great and the businessman in me reacted to the demands of the market,” Kien notes.”I was getting requests for other related services like balloon sculpting, face painting, and games, so I started to get part time staff to do those and partner up with peers in industry. I was probably one of the first to provide one-stop entertainment services in our market and it was very successful.” Kien also created Mr. Bottle’s Kids Party (www.kidsparty.com.sg) and was the first in Singapore to produce Science Shows that infused magic into the content.
The origin of the name “Mr. Bottle” comes from a story that Kien tells about a very shy child who is given a bottle by his father that purportedly holds a magic potion. That potion, the boy is told, makes one brave and strong. Over time the boy learns that the bottle is actually empty and that it was his belief in himself that allowed him to overcome his fears. Thus, the persona of Mr. Bottle is not just a magician, but as Kien tells it, “someone who will inspire kids to do something big in life!” Kien is aware that children are often in awe of him as a magician and thus he views it as his responsibility to teach and motivate kids. “I want Mr. Bottle to inspire kids to invent, to create, and to change the world for the better because I believe kids have the potential to do so with their limitless imagination!”
Kien feels very fortunate to have pursued his career in magic and in addition to finding it financially rewarding, magic has also given Kien so many other things. Kien met his wife May at a magic show (they were married in 2010) and because of the opportunity magic has given him to travel, he has made friends all over the globe. He was invited to judge the close-up competition at the 2006 S.A.M. Convention, working along side of Al Schneider and other talented individuals. “I gained a lot of insights” from this experience, “and will forever be grateful for the opportunity.”
Over the years Kien studied psychology, theatre, and entrepreneurship but it is magic that continues to provide the most in the way of an education. Kien is multi-lingual and speaks of the challenges of performing in Chinese in particular. He tells a very funny story about performing in Shanghai when he and Huang Junjie, a friend from Taiwan, decided on the spur of the moment to perform each other’s acts. Huang did a silent version of the Snowstorm but when Kien performed it he accompanied the routine with patter. “I asked what is the term for tissue paper in Chinese but it was a big mistake because Taiwan’s vocabulary is slightly different from Chinese. ” To Kien’s shock, it turned out that the translation for tissue paper was “sanitary pad,” an innocent though hilarious mistake he only learned about later that evening. “My Chinese has improved a lot since then!”
Kien Meng is one of the shining stars of magic; a man who is as humble as he is talented. There are obvious parallels between the boy in the bottle story and the man who performs under the name Mr. Bottle. Once so shy his teachers were concerned about him, Kien is now an international star and a highly successful entrepreneur, and all because he believes that through magic, anything is possible. It turns out his four year old daughter Renee is somewhat shy herself and so Mr. Bottle has been sharing some of his magic potion with her. “I tried to teach Renee at eleven months the wand to flower in a flower pot trick. I figured she could do that without much problem, but the most amazing thing was how she learned how to reset the trick all by herself when she saw me doing it a few times. That’s when I realized the potential of toddlers to learn!” Kien points out that Renee is now four years old and has learned a lot more tricks. But like her father was when he was of a similar age, “she is still a little shy and doing magic mostly for friends and relatives.” But you can believe that with such an inspirational father, a man who himself received the magic potion; she too will grow up to be brave, strong, and successful.
Dr. Steven Schlanger