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Part of Me That Lives in the Past

My friend Tony and I were talking about how our mentality, values, and subtle things like music preference were inexorably ingrained in us during childhood. It’s almost like learning a language most effectively in an enforced language environment. We were so used to the choices that were automatically made for us when we were kids. Born and raised in Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to the embrace of the great motherland in 1997, I moved to California for almost 18 years and Tony, an ABC (American Born Chinese), is amazed that I still adhere to my Cantopop (Cantonese pop from Hong Kong) music. I told him a part of me still lives in the past and longs for that fragment of the past that shaped my values. Music embodies the power to take me back to an identifiable fragment of the past. For example, I develop a sense of nostalgia of my mother ironing my school uniform every time I hear All I Have to Do is Dream. She had the habit to listen to the radio during house chores. So I unconsciously cling on to certain music, tunes, and writing in order to preserve the part of my life that only lives in memories, which will be bleached colorless as time goes by. I remember the summer when We Are the World came out and immediately became a smashed bit that bombarded everyone’s radio. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now brought out the repressed libido of young lovers who felt not as qualmed kissing in the public.

Current music scenes other than Van Morrison and other easy listening artists don’t have such a tight grip on me. Most of the tunes are like one-hit wonders that don’t even register in me because they lack that mindful association to my life experience. All the fantastical places of my childhood and the high times would be suddenly brought before me in the most extraordinary reality as soon as I click on the CD player or my iPod. Back to the Cantopop music that Tony thought I should have long ago dropped, it was a niche that rooted in me from the age at which the very first cornerstone of one’s personality is laid and cemented. Sandy Lam is a Chinese artist whose music I had listened to since she made her debut in 1985. Yeah the nostalgic golden 80s! Sandy recently had a concert in Hong Kong that commemorates her 20th anniversary of her career. Anyway the point I try to make is to long something from the best part of one’s heart simply becomes a part of me. It’s a beautiful thing to spend years in pursuit of her CDs, her music, and rare editions. Her tunes always cater to my thoughts and my emotions, whether I’m sad, love-sick, melancholy, joyful or lost. I might walk around the streets of Hong Kong being mistaken for an American boy in my Gap cap but I listen to Cantopop!

2 Responses

  1. I find that songs bring bac more memories for me–sights, sounds, smells, textures, etc.–than photographs do. I can still hear Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and it takes me back to the summer between my Junior and Senior years of high school. Of course, Christmas music is the most potent of all. My mother has these cheesey Christmas records from the 60’s that she plays each year, and it’s just not Christmas unless I hear that music. Funny, huh?

  2. First, thank you for this blog! I have just discovered it and love it. I must share this quote with you…about music sparking memories like nothing else; it is from Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips (my personal fave, but the quote is right on):

    “Music does something none of the other arts can do…Your life is like a movie, and music is this great soundtrack that you associate with certain scenes. You could be driving from work in your car, and nothing really great has happened to you today, but the right song comes on, and suddenly your driving from work becomes an epic moment in this movie. The thoughts that go through your head, and the way that song stretches your life, there is something mystical and epic and magical about it. When you’re reading a novel or watching a movie, you kind of disappear into it. The art takes over your brain. But music, it’s like you and that song are in there together. You’re living your life, and the people playing the song are living it with you.”

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