The Insider | Harapan Ong

By Damian Jennings - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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He’s an Instagram celebrity. He is an amazingly talented and creative card magician. He loves books. He’s from Singapore. He’s friend of the show, Harapan Ong. Hear Harapan talk about how he built is impressive audience on Instagram, why young people struggle with books, how he approaches learning from a new book, the new home for the exciting new longer versions of his Insta series Fully Booked and his new release, Principia.

Here’s a taster of one of the tricks in his new book.

Transcript of the podcast

The Insider: Hello and welcome to Episode No. 7 of The Insider brought to you by Vanishing Inc. There may be some strange background noise today because on the line ... Where are you Harapan? Seoul?

Harapan Ong: I am in Seoul. I'm standing in a hotel lobby in Seoul in South Korea.

The Insider: So there may be some background chitter chatter from people in Seoul for which we apologize but we'll push through that because we've got Harapan on the line. How are you Harapan?

Harapan Ong: Hey, I'm good. Hi everyone. Everyone listening, hi.

The Insider: What are you doing over there?

Harapan Ong: I'm traveling around. I usually take the time off. Right now it's a school holidays in Singapore, and I'm a school teacher over here. So I try to take the time off to kind of explore the world. Meet more magicians, hang out and learn from everyone around the world. Meet more friends and that's what I'm doing. I was just in China in Shanghai in Quanzhou and now I am in Seoul and watching these amazing Korean magicians. Yeah.

The Insider: Yeah, I've seen some of your stuff on Insta. Some of them are doing crazy stuff.

Harapan Ong: Absolutely insane. I just posted some stuff from Shanghai which is crazy, crazy clips. You should go check it out.

The Insider: How can someone find you on Instagram, if they're not already following you?

Harapan Ong: Okay. So you can find me on Instagram. Go to or if you have the app. Go and download the app. You can find me at Harapanong. That's my name. Harapanong, just one single word. And you can find me, I've got quite a number of followers. You can find the clips there. Yeah.

The Insider: You have got quite a few followers.

Harapan Ong: Quite a few. More than five.

The Insider: Magical Instagram celebrity, Harapan. So let's talk about that actually, because I'm sure that we'll have people listening that would love to have the follower count that you've got. How did you grow your followers?

Harapan Ong: It's kind of a strange thing. I'm actually quite slow on Instagram in terms of, I started quite late. Actually, my friend, Kevin Ho, kind of got me into Instagram. I wasn't on any social media at the time and he just messaged me one day and said, dude you need to get with the times. Go and download Instagram and get it started. I downloaded it. I posted a photo of myself. I think it was a photo of a piece of shortbread or something like that and that was the first photo. And then I got about 18 followers from that. 18 followers.

Harapan Ong: So what happened was Kevin immediately posted something saying, "Ha ha, my friend Harapan is such a loser with only 18 followers." That actually got me a few hundred because people just want to prove Kevin wrong I think. But then I think so, I think that is what happened. So eventually I just started posting more and more magic stuff. I realized that was what I should focus on, instead of just food photos.

The Insider: Right. So cardistry rather than shortbread?

Harapan Ong: Well not cardistry. I'm not a cardist. I do magic. So mostly just card magic. My ideas or videos of my friends and from there I just started building a following. People really liked what I did and it just took off and it was insane.

The Insider: So what about the hashtag thing, because obviously my job's marketing and when I read on the social media things people always say, oh yeah hashtag, hashtag, hashtag. That's how you do it. No. With you it was just posting excellent content.

Harapan Ong: Yeah, I think if you look at the statistics on my posts, most of the views I get come from just my own followers. Which is actually something I'm quite proud of. I'm not trying to use a billion hashtags and trying to tag many people like some people do. Or begging people. Some people do that. They do beg other people to please follow me or please share my stuff. Please, hey do this for me. Share my stuff and things like that.

Harapan Ong: I'm a very passive guy. I just sit around. I post stuff that I think is good and I think there is a market for it. People like what I'm positing. It's just good solid stuff and yeah, that's how it just got there.

The Insider: There's clearly a market for it. So talk to me about the difference between creating magic for Instagram versus real people?

Harapan Ong: Oh. You know the thing about it, it's very similar to the kind of thing you would think of for TV magic. Except with TV magic obviously is usually with an episode where you can hire stooges if you like, or you can arrange or cut as much as you like.

Harapan Ong: I think for Instagram it's a very solo activity. Usually you have to be delicate with the camera. It has to be visual. Last time it used to be 15 seconds, which was insane. An insane time limit and now this is one minute. In a way the time limit is annoying, but at the same time, it's kind of like something to squeeze out your creativity, I feel. To make sure your magic has to fit within that one minute or back then it was 15 seconds, because it immediately selects for you what kind of methods, what kind of effect you can do, and what you cannot.

Harapan Ong: And so creating magic for Instagram it usually has to be very visual, very quick and I realized that the biggest thing that gets the most likes that gets the most views, is novelty. That's the one thing. So if it's things that people usually have seen before, that usually gets no traction whatsoever. But if it's something weird, even if it's not very, very falling, if it's something very new, people will really respond really well to that. Yeah.

The Insider: So you're talking about plot or method?

Harapan Ong: Both. Well usually plots are kind of hard to handle because in one minute you're not going to be...

The Insider: Okay, okay. Effect, effect, effect rather than plot then.

Harapan Ong: Yeah. Either one. If you're a cardist, for example, like a new mechanic when you're during a cut or doing a flourish, always gets the most attention. It's always about a novelty. Because it isn't off like scrolling feeds system like Instagram has, where people just scrolling down. Anything that is eye catching that catches their attention, because it's new. It's something they've never seen before, will always do much better than something it seems like they've seen before. So that's why something that catches their eye is always very important.

The Insider: Interesting. Now one of the series that you do on Instagram in the Fully Booked stuff, where you talk about tricks that you like in books. Now we can break some news, I think, about how you might be helping us with that.

Harapan Ong: Yeah, sure. So I started Fully Booked last year, actually. Actually about a year ago. It was a bit of a gamble because I was running out of content to begin with. I was kind of tired. For a while I was doing a lot of black art and visual stuff, like pulling cards out of thin air using black art kind of thing. And I started getting tired of that. Plus I think my viewers were getting tired of that and the response was getting worse and worse. So I started thinking that maybe I would use this platform for something good and something I'm actually passionate about. Which is magic books. I really like magic books.

Harapan Ong: I started learning magic actually from books and not from videos many, many years ago. And I realized I have quite a big collection and I wanted to share my love for magic books with the community. Mainly because in Singapore when I'm talking to younger magicians and I ask them, "Hey why aren't you reading books?" They always say oh firstly it's expensive. I don't know whether I should invest in a certain book because I don't whether it's good. I don't know whether it's for me. And so on and so forth.

Harapan Ong: So living in Asia there's always that shipping of books is almost more expensive than the book itself. So I started to do this series for my friends in Singapore, but also actually around the world. People who are thinking of whether they want to get a particular book. I talk about it. It's a bit of gamble, because it's one minute trick and one minute review. And the tricks are not very visual. I mean usually most magic books don't contain incredibly visual tricks.

Harapan Ong: So, initially the response was a little bit slow on those videos. They weren't my most popular videos. But eventually it gained a lot of traction. It started getting a really steady following. It was getting a lot of likes and a lot of comments. People started messaging me a lot saying that they wished that ... Firstly they liked the content on Fully Booked and also they wished that I would go into more detail with each book. But- [crosstalk 00:08:27]

The Insider: How could you possibly go into more detail?

Harapan Ong: Thank you very much for that absolutely natural segue into that...

Harapan Ong: Yeah following Dai Vernon's work is often natural. Very smooth transitions.

Harapan Ong: Yeah so I realized that Instagram is a great platform for kids. It's a one minute thing. They can watch a trick for one minute. Watch the review for one minute and that's it. But to go into more detail, it is limiting. There are a lot of books I want to do that cannot fit that one minute mark, right. Any asconial book or any Dai Vernon artist book or many, many other books, their routines just don't fit in one minute.

Harapan Ong: So Vanishing Inc. contacted me and said that, "Hey, maybe you should find a more permanent home for this thing." And so I'm announcing that I'm gonna be doing Fully Booked for the Vanishing Inc. blog. So it will be a blog post. I think once every two weeks. Two fort nightly. I'm going to be going into more detail with each book. I can do probably more performances, longer performances. At least two tricks per book. So yeah, I'm very excited about the opportunities that this platform provide me.

The Insider: And you're not limited to one minute with the video bits either.

Harapan Ong: Exactly. So many routines, I would pick up a book that I think is very good. Let's say Stewart James' book. And Stewart James' tricks, if you know, are very self working, very clever, mathematical, but then the tricks last for ... the performance lasts for like five minutes. There's no way it can fit on that. So in the end, I have to choose like a very what I think is an okay trick only that can fit in one minute. So it ends up being quite annoying. A lot of the tricks end up being packet tricks that are visual color changes, when actually there's a much better routine I could have featured.

The Insider: Right, right.

Harapan Ong: So I think the Vanishing blog will provide me with many new opportunities to showcase what each book really, really will provide for the reader, if you choose to buy the book.

The Insider: Well we very much look forward to having you start doing it. Why do you think obviously within Asia particularly and the shipping costs, you covered that one, but why do you think generally younger magicians have kind of eschewed, eschewing, shunning books and picking videos instead.

Harapan Ong: Okay. So let me just make it clear. I think I've said this on somewhere else before, but I'm actually, despite my love for magic books, I'm not actually someone who is like, oh, magic books are the only way to go. Screw videos. Don't watch videos. There's nothing good in those videos. Just keep reading Dai Vernon and you know that kind of thing. Obviously that's absolutely untrue. And whenever an older magician tells me that or tells a younger magician I just roll my eyes, because that's obviously just nonsense.

The Insider: Of course.

Harapan Ong: But why I think young people are shunning books, firstly, is they're not used to reading and learning magic from books. It's not an easy thing. I'll be honest. And when beginners say they find it hard to read from books, I say, "Yeah, exactly."

Harapan Ong: But to me it's like you're working out for a body. If you want a muscular body, if you want a good looking body, you're first few reps with the dumbbells or the barbells, whatever it is, is gonna be painful. It's gonna be difficult, right. If you give up at that moment, and they say ah, you know what, my biceps are hurting now. I'm just gonna put the weights down and not do it. Then you'll never have the body you want.

Harapan Ong: But if you keep on with it you'll realize that actually reading from books is a muscle you have to train. You have to learn how to read from it and eventually you'll get good at it.

Harapan Ong: I think the second reason why a lot of young people are shunning books, besides the unfamiliarity with learning from text, is that it's expensive. A lot of young people don't have their own income and honestly I think it's sad to say, a lot of young people are used to getting free magic. Right. They're used to like, oh, let me just search Google for this particular thing. Oh it's here on a torrent or is already uploaded on some cloud and is free to download somewhere. So a lot of the DVDs, a lot of the instant downloads are unfortunately being pirated and just being downloaded for free online. So when it comes to a book, you know, the Dai Vernon Book of Magic or Ed Marlo's Revolutionary Card Technique, if that's not available online, they will say what, I have to pay 80 US dollars for that book plus shipping, then why not I just download something from another website that has a cool trailer that I can see immediately what it is. Right.

Harapan Ong: So it's a combination of that kind of unfortunate, I mean it sounds bad, but kind of entitlement if you, like I want free stuff. You're used to getting free stuff. And second is the unfamiliarity. If I buy this Ed Marlow book, I don't know what it's like. I can't see it a trailer of the snap change or something like that, that's in the book or whatever it is. So they don't feel a particular need to do that. They just want to buy something that they can see and immediately know and they snap their fingers and they have it on their computer.

The Insider: So how do you approach a new book? So that the people listening that may be younger that are into learning from video hopefully from legitimate sources. So you get a new book. Comes in the post. What's your approach?

Harapan Ong: Okay so my approach is definitely, I kind of look at actually the intro. It's something that not many people read, but I think the introduction often provides ideas about how to offer things and kind of magic you can expect. It also gives you an idea on how easy the book is going to read. How easy the book is to read from. So I often start with the introduction.

Harapan Ong: I look at the content page to see what kind of tricks are gonna come up. Usually the content page will give you ideas on the chapters. You know when you look at the chapter names and so on, it gives you an idea of what to expect.

Harapan Ong: And usually I don't read immediately from cover to cover. Very often I kind of flip through the book at first just to see if there are any interesting pictures or photos that immediately catch my eye.

Harapan Ong: Which is kind of a weird thing. Most people say that's kind of a weird thing. Tell me that's a weird way to read a book. But I usually start from flipping through the book and see if there is anything that catches my eye. Maybe it's a trick name, maybe it's a picture of some hands holding the cards in a weird way that catch my eye. I go, oh, that looks interesting. I'm gonna learn that trick first.

The Insider: Right.

Harapan Ong: Somehow that eases me into the book and once I learn a few tricks I realize, you know what, this book is really good. I'm gonna read it cover to cover. And I read it cover to cover. That's how I read it.

The Insider: That's really interesting. That's really interesting. Talking of books, I understand you may have one coming out soon.

Harapan Ong: Yes, I do have a book coming out soon with Vanishing Inc.

The Insider: Ah.

Harapan Ong: Ah. Wow.

The Insider: Another amazing smooth segue.

Harapan Ong: Very, very smooth segue.

The Insider: Principia? How do you pronounce that?

Harapan Ong: Principia. It is pronounced Principia.

The Insider: Okay. Not bad, not bad.

Harapan Ong: Very good. Most people think it's Principia, right.

The Insider: Yeah that's what it looks like.

Harapan Ong: It looks like Principia. So the title of the book is Principia. It is Latin for principles. It is actually named after Sir Issac Newton's book on gravity and the laws of motion that was published in the 1600s, if I'm not wrong. The reason for that is because I studied physics in London at Cambridge, which that is how I knew David by the way.

The Insider: Yes that's how we first met.

Harapan Ong: I wasn't just there to party for four years. Yeah. So Principia. I'm very inspired by physics and the whole book is formatted around a theme of physics. So that's why the book is named as such.

The Insider: Okay. So what's in the book?

Harapan Ong: Not much, you shouldn't buy it. Just kidding.

The Insider: You haven't got the idea of this at all, Harapan. Come on.

Harapan Ong: Okay. Principia is a book on card magic. There's nothing but card magic in the book. Alright. So if you're a lover of card magic, if you are interested in my work on cards, you should definitely check out this book, because this is the book I've always wanted to share with everyone. It has pretty much all my work to date. Besides the culling stuff that was Close Culls, which is also another book that Vanishing Inc. produces. You should check it out.

Harapan Ong: Hey a nice segue there as well, so hey, hey.

The Insider: That's good. That's good. What teamwork.

Harapan Ong: I learned that smooth work from iseiconia I think.

Harapan Ong: So besides my culling stuff, basically all my other card stuff I've ever come up with that I think is good is in this book. It's resulted in a really big, hefty 250 pages with more than 50 tricks in the book. So it's a really, really big book.

The Insider: Why did you write it?

Harapan Ong: Why did I write it? That's a good question. Firstly I was afraid I was gonna forget a lot of things, because I'm one of those guys that jump from idea to idea. I don't work on one act. I know there are some magicians out there who maybe they say they are interested in competitions. You'll work on one act 10 years, right?

The Insider: Sure.

Harapan Ong: And that takes dedication.

The Insider: Goshman does one act for his whole life.

Harapan Ong: Yeah, but that's for a different reason. Actually I have no idea what the reason is. But for me I'm the kind of person who likes to jump from idea to idea. I like being creative. I like inventing new things. I'm always all about what's the latest idea I've had. So I just wanted to collect everything and a lot of people just asking me, "Hey Harapan, what other ideas do you have beside the cull? Besides culling ideas, what other ideas do you have." So this book is my answer.

Harapan Ong: It has everything I've ever had. It has all sorts of weird things. It has classic plots taken in strange directions. It has new plots that I think will really interest anyone who is interested in card magic. We hope it will really inspire you I think. Yeah, so much stuff. If you are interested in self-working stuff, there is stuff in there that is self-working. There's tricks with easy sleight of hand. Difficult sleight of hand with gaff playing cards. Gaff decks. And even some gaffs that are quite intricate that you have to make them yourself. So it's really, really all kinds of stuff that I think will ... if you're interested in card magic, you much get this book.

The Insider: So how hard is the hard stuff in there? How knuckle busting are we talking?

Harapan Ong: I've gone to the hospital a few times to get my knuckles replaced.

The Insider: That's pretty hard.

Harapan Ong: It is very, very hard.

The Insider: What's a couple of your favorite? I'm interested in the wrinkles on classic plots, so can you talk about one of those maybe?

Harapan Ong: Oh okay I've got one. There's one you should definitely check out. It's a weird take on a sandwich plot. The trick is called Sandwich-ception.

The Insider: Okay.

Harapan Ong: It's named after the movie Inception, if you've watched it before.

The Insider: Indeed.

Harapan Ong: Christopher Nolan's movie Inception is about dreaming within dream. A dream within a dream. So my fried Kevin Ho had an idea of a sandwich within a sandwich. Right. So imagine this, you do a standard sandwich effect, let's say two red aces trapping one card. Right. You pull out the card in the middle and when you turn it over, it's another sandwich. There's two black queens entrapping another card. You turn it over, it's another sandwich and eventually it leads you to a mini-card sandwich. You pull it out and you see three mini-cards trapping a single mini-card in the middle.

The Insider: Oh my gosh.

Harapan Ong: All right. And then imagine this ending here where I pull out the mini-card from the middle and the moment I pull it out, the mini-card grows into a real poker sized card, which is their selection. So it's a very visual ending, where a mini-card visually grows into a poker sized card.

The Insider: I need to insert that mind blown GIF here, but I can't because it's a video pod-cast. But that sounds crazy man.

Harapan Ong: Thank you. Let's make the sound. Yeah so that Sandwich-ception. Yeah, Kevin Ho had the idea of a sandwich within a sandwich, the ending over there with the growing thing was my idea. So we collaborated on that trick and it's in the book.

The Insider: Oh wow. That sounds amazing.

Harapan Ong: That's a pretty insane trick. Yeah. Thank you.

The Insider: Well I can't wait to ... Oh the photographs, the photographs, the illustrations in the book are quite interesting aren't they?

Harapan Ong: Yes because the whole book I wanted to format it around the theme of physics and science, like I said. So each trick in the book is actually formatted as if it's a published scientific research paper. So it's not just an effect method and then conclusion or whatever. It's not just effecting method.

Harapan Ong: It's an abstract at the start to give you an idea how the trick works. An introduction to lead you into the history of the trick. And then the method, the results which is how the trick is supposed to be performed. And what I like about it is at the end there is an analysis and conclusion section where I talk about what I think is good about this trick. What I think it has improved on from the classic plot and as well, what I think it has failed. It is interesting.

Harapan Ong: I've chosen to purposely speak what I think it has failed to achieve yet.

The Insider: That honesty is unusual.

Harapan Ong: Yeah, because I feel like magic is a collaborative thing. Just like science. Like no scientist in the world can do everything. Even Einstein was wrong on certain things.

The Insider: Sure.

Harapan Ong: So it's take other scientists to build on Einstein's work for example, to continue developing science and progress.

The Insider: Oh man.

Harapan Ong: So to me magic is the same thing. So I purposely state what I think is still through the trick has failed to achieve yet. In other words, the weaknesses of each trick and then I challenge the readers or I suggest to the readers-

The Insider: Fix it.

Harapan Ong: Where I think this trick can be taken. I don't have the solutions yet or I can't think of one. If I did, I would have put it in the book.

The Insider: Yeah.

Harapan Ong: But I can't think of a solution for it.

The Insider: So it's like putting something out there encouraging the audience to not fix but grow.

Harapan Ong: Yeah it is. I think it is. I think magic is an enterprise. People are just ... I mean in spite of science too, it's like a scientific enterprise where no one scientist can ever be all end all of all science. It's always ... You can work on something as much as you can, to the extent of your knowledge, you publish it. This is what I discovered. This is what I found. And then someone else is interested in it, takes it and brings it further.

The Insider: That's a beautiful way of approaching and thinking about magic. It's almost a creative commorancy kind of here's something, what can you do with it. You know, it's amazing. Beautiful.

Harapan Ong: Thank you.

The Insider: Well as the noise has got crazy and we're at half an hour, I think we might wrap it up. Apart from Instagram, where else can people find out more about you Harapan?

Harapan Ong: For now, I think Instagram is all, but I think for next year onwards you can find me more present on Vanishing Inc.'s blog. You can find me more doing Fully Booked and all that. If not, I think Instagram is the best way. I hardly use Facebook nowadays.

The Insider: Instagram's the best.

Harapan Ong: So you can find me on Instagram and drop me a message. Yeah, drop me a message.

The Insider: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your holiday to talk to us Harapan. I really appreciate your time.

Harapan Ong: No problem at all. No problem at all.

The Insider: I hope to see you soon.

Harapan Ong: It's been a pleasure.

The Insider: Take care man.

Harapan Ong: Okay. Bye Damian.

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