It’s been a while…

So the other day, a couple of days after my pal’s wedding, it occurred to me that Christmas was in a week’s time. Christmas hasn’t crept up on me like that in many years. I thought about why this year it did. And I think it was because the pace at work has been unrelenting – I have not had the space of mind to be more than who I am at work; have not had the space of mind to read like I used to; have not had the space of mind to write like this even – and because life has sucked, to use a technical term. And of course, skimming back, the sentence I just wrote appears to be nothing but excuses, even to me. I just got lazy. It happens.

Still, on my best days, I want the me who liked to write and to read back. Today happens to be one of those days, and I’ll start a streak with this first post in a while.

My pal’s wedding was last Saturday. There was a bit at the church, then a second bit at a lunch event at a hotel. The church bit was not far from what I had expected, which is to say that it was self-righteous and patriarchal, and very far from comfortable for a hardened atheist. And as I was sitting there thinking about whether the designers of this church had tried to achieve a stained-glass effect by having the church’s tall, narrow windows fitted with tessellated glass, and listening to the soothing hymns and some utterly sanctimonious preaching (to be fair, it was only from this one chap who should have kept his mouth fully shut), someone close to me who was having trouble buying an HDB flat because of who she loved and surgery she had started an angry SMS exchange with me. All in all, a surreal experience. And endurable, because my pal looked radiant in her wedding dress, and so happy.

The weekend before that, I attended the Tanya Chua concert with said pal and her beau. My conclusions: Tanya does not need bass-heavy accompaniment or light-shows which require epilepsy warnings, both of which were unfortunately present at the concert, to draw crowds; Tanya does a mean cover of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be”, while Kit Chan – who made a mildly awkward guest appearance – probably has too high a voice to do it the same justice; that the light show was unnecessary does not mean it was crap – there was an effect which somehow created a tunnel to the audience, so that we could see Tanya at the end of said tunnel, and that was quite cool; Tanya can sing – that is all.

Two weekends before that, I attended the Emi Fujita concert. It did not take long for me to realise that, seated where I was, at a booth above and slightly behind the pianist, I could see his song-list. At first, it seemed as though I would not be able to make out the exact words, but it turned out that I did not need to – the length of the words in each song title and the look of the characters in the words told me enough. Every song was at least a minor classic and familiar, and Emi Fujita sang each in her slow, slightly mispronounced way, which unexpectedly got me to focus on the lyrics, many of which then struck me as absolutely brilliant. For example, Dan Fogelberg’s Longer has “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives; though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow, I’ll be in love with you”; the entirety of Bette Midler’s The Rose; and Judy Garland’s First of May has “When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall, we used to love while others used to play; don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by, someone else moved in from far away”. Around the mid-point of the concert, Emi Fujita left the stage to her guitarist, a chap named Shun Komatsubara, who then played this tune, and opened my eyes to a different type of guitar-playing altogether – both hands close together, finer control than I thought possible. And so the concert went on, until I realised that even the songs for the encore were listed in the pianist’s song-list – which validated one of my long-time assumptions, that any pretense that encores were impromptu was mere stagecraft – and so I could leave early and beat the crowd knowing I wouldn’t be very keen on the last song.

Many months ago now, I dreamt that I swallowed a sparrow. For a long while I tried to cough it out, but it remained lodged, feathery but substantial fluttering buffeting the space between my throat and my chest. Then I woke up. Maybe I ate too much. (Story of my life.)

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The day after the Jimmy Ye concert

NB. Inspired by the many “The day after GE2015” articles on The Middle Ground, a great source of information and considered opinion and sights and sounds during the hustings.

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I had been looking forward to the Jimmy Ye concert since I knew Polling Day was set for 11 September.* At the very least the bunch of us going for the concert would have the election results to discuss at dinner before we took our seats.** One among the bunch had been so conflicted about how to vote that a powwow dinner was convened on a weekday evening the week of the elections. Another had described himself as upset and disappointed with the results. And a third had apparently taken to depressed (read: binge) eating after it was clear the non-ruling parties had not advanced. Being both almost embarrassingly pro-establishment and a firm admirer of certain Machiavellian measures*** the establishment employs, I was possibly the only one in the group who did not dislike the outcome, but I was still as surprised as heck.

I did not expect Jimmy Ye – who turned out to be a banterer of the first order, with only a notional filter between his mouth and mind – to “politicise” the concert. He said that he had started rehearsing the previous day right after voting, and it emerged that this was until 11pm, and he still had no idea about the election results. I personally did not think that credible, but really, except for the story, he had no reason to fib. And so, not knowing how the votes had fallen, he dedicated a song to the elections – 就让你选择, which translates to “Just let you choose”. That got us to link every subsequent song to the elections in our minds, and soon after this song came one which we interpreted as the populace’s plea to the ruling party, or alternatively the PAP’s plea to the populace – 我总是听你说 (“I always listen to you”)**** – and then later he covered a song he composed the music for, which we read as a potential reaction of the alternative parties to the votes – 什么样的爱 (“What kind of love”)*****. Listen through the music videos through GE2015 filters and you’ll see what I mean :P

The concert started at 7.30pm and went on for four hours, with a 20-minute intermission, and romped through many songs. Jimmy Ye was prolific during the years he was in the industry (roughly 1994-1998), and it was only when he covered the songs some very well-known singers made hits that some of us realised he composed the music for them: e.g. Aaron Kwok’s 感情的事, Jacky Cheung’s 想和你去吹吹风, Leslie Cheung’s 左右手******, Jeff Chang’s 太想爱你.

He also sang a few songs from musicians he admired: JJ Lin’s 懂了*******, John Legend’s “All of me” and Billy Joel’s “And so it goes“. I thought he was at his best here, especially with the English songs – accompanying his lilting tenor with his own expressive and adroit piano playing; his rendition of “All of me” was spot on, and his “And so it goes” heartfelt.

*Before Polling Day was set, we all had to entertain the idea that we would have voted on the day of the concert. In that alternate reality, we would have been enjoying Jimmy Ye’s banter and falsetto (which was in fine form during the actual concert) and been spared the monotonous accuracy of the sample counts, and been struck by a dissonant world when we emerged from the 3G/4G/wireless-free concert hall.

**The concert was in the outstanding and intimate Esplanade auditorium, and our seats were in the last row upstairs, and we had a great view. I now actively entertain the notion that every seat in that auditorium is a good seat.

***Machiavellian from the perspective that the real concern of the ruling is to maintain power.

****Excerpts of lyrics, and attempted translations:

我总是听你说从不敢让你的心失落 I always listen to you, never dare to let you down

我把寂寞都放在看不见的角落 I keep my loneliness in the unseen corners

因为你说我一定有个快乐生活 Because you say I will have a happy life

我总是听你说从不去想你也许只是经过 I always listen to you, never think that you may just be passing by

有时后委屈疲倦也不敢对你说 Even when I’m put upon and tired I don’t dare to tell you

可是你还是说我让你伤心难过 But you still say I make you sad

你要我怎么做 我总是听你说 What do you want me to do, I always listen to you

可是你从来不愿意面对真正的我 But you never wished to face the real me

每次我思索 每次我疑惑 Every time I think, every time I am puzzled

到底你真正在乎的是些什么 What really matters to you

你要我怎么做 我总是听你说 What do you want me to do, I always listen to you

可是我纷乱的情绪你有没有懂过 But did you ever know my confused emotions

每次的执著 每次的失措 Every conviction, every confusion

这一次我们的眼神又在交错 This time our eyes meet again

已分不清到底是谁对谁要求那么多 Can no longer tell who is right, who is wrong, who is asking for so much

*****Excerpts of lyrics, and attempted translations:

请你别只是望着窗口 什么都不说 Please do not just look at the window and stay silent

曾经你要我付出所有 现在你却说只要自由 In the past you wanted me to give my all, and now you say you want freedom

所有的对为何变成错 伤心的我只想问 All that was right has become wrong, and saddened I only want to ask

什么样的爱 你才懂 什么样的我 才能让你感动 What kind of love would you know, what kind of me would let you be moved

我的爱难道还不够 不够让你沉溺到永久 Is my love not enough? Cannot let you stay immersed forever

什么样的爱 你才懂 什么样的我 才能圆你的梦 What kind of love would you know, what kind of me would fulfill your dreams

再也不会有人像我 像我痴心爱你不回头 There will never be someone like me, deeply in love with you with no regrets

******Hacken Lee’s version is much better, to these ears. There is more than a smidgen of Leslie in there though, I think as tribute.

*******Basically a re-lyricised version of A-mei’s 记得, which JJ Lin also covered. Found the latter overwrought, with too many heartstrings-tugging tricks.

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To me, the most significant reaction to the GE2015 results was surprise.

Why did we* not expect the results? The notion of the content silent majority – who do not trumpet their views, which are therefore not taken into account in the assessment of voters’ sentiments – has been raised. I’m personally not sure this silent majority** exists; I’d say we are not even taking into account the right data – for example, what if we took posts of good food and happy babies doing cute stuff as indicators of contentment? I also think our ability to forecast the results is hampered by our homophilic tendencies, which have ensconced us in our individual echo chambers, so that any result outside of our expectations (and those of our in-group) would seem unreal.***

The results definitely seemed unreal to those who had worked so hard in anticipation of a different outcome – see particularly Kenneth Jeyaratnam’s comparison of the voting margins to those in North Korea and China**** and Tan Jee Say’s observation that the results were different from feedback that SingFirst had heard from the ground.

While I did not expect the results, the election outcome made sense. I thought the incumbent addressed all the negative feedback they got and neutralised any hot-button issues before these could escalate in a decisive, high-profile manner. The electorate – those whom they could sway at all – could hardly respond in another way in the absence of markedly superior alternatives. The margin of the swing still boggles the mind though. I hope the spirit of public engagement that has arguably driven the swing continues now that the fresh mandate is in hand.

*Referring to the general “we” – no party, no media, no analyst, no individual seems to have predicted such results.

**There is definitely a majority who do not attend rallies. That’s not going to stop folks from taking rally attendance as an indicator of voter sentiments though.

***Feeling that results are unreal is OK, unless of course the unrealness prompts one to take what could seem to be a reasonable next step in logic, and start theorising that the election process is not entirely aboveboard or even rigged. And complacent ol’ me thought few if any would entertain such conspiracy theories, until a couple of friends said their circles were propounding exactly these theories. We thinking folks should be disciplinedly broad in our consumption of media, so that we have a more accurate sense of the world.

****Transcript of the relevant part of the interview below. The comparison to China and North Korea, while not appropriate to my mind, has I think been a little sensationalised, so I leave the exact words here for folks to make up their own mind.

CNA reporter: Mr Jeyaratnam, now that the sample count has been out for quite a few of the constituencies, your thoughts on the sample count?

Kenneth Jeyaratnam: Well, obviously, you know, we were aware from the beginning that… we saw this coming, because we didn’t get the big influx of volunteers and helpers coming forward that we got in 2011. In fact it was very quiet… and we saw basically… we put this down to the novelty wearing off , of the new party, but now I see it’s absolutely nationwide. There’s been a huge swing to the PAP. We weren’t helped by the fact that we lost Clementi, a ward in which we scored particularly highly in the last election. What I can say is that this is not a, as far as I’m concerned, this is not a mandate for the PAP’s economic policies. We had a better manifesto, a better economic plan. All this is, is a mandate for authoritarianism and brainwashing. It shows what you do when you control everybody’s housing, you control their savings, you control their jobs because you’re the major employer, you control all the media, and there’s no independent elections department. So all I see is similar margins in North Korea and China, just like the Chinese Communist Party. You know, I guess Singaporeans get the government they deserve, so I don’t want to hear any more complaints. Yup.

CNA reporter: Thank you very much, Mr Jeyaratnam.

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By the way, aren’t the name of this academic paper and its three-word abstract just winning? :) Must say I agree with the attitude, if not necessarily the point and that only because I don’t know enough about the context. Definitely worth a read.

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A friend does qualitative research: focus groups, ethnography, in-depth interviews. My humble opinion is that she does them very competently. One bedevilment researchers like her have to face is stubborn or just ostensibly opinion-less/insight-less interview subjects. The researcher has to know how to ask questions, the right questions to ask, and, when the subject looks like he/she is remaining clammed up or just has no insight to offer, whether to probe further. The qualitative researcher friend compared such interviews to excavating a durian. Those of us who still excavate durians know that the segments of durian where the flesh resides are not always obvious. It is possible to pry open a split chunk of durian and discover no segment, or a segment too small to contain flesh, or a sizeable enough segment that nonetheless does not contain flesh, but when one cuts into the thick thorny rind and the incision sinks smoothly into a natural seam, and the levering of the knife opens a hitherto unreachable nugget of creamy goodness, one shares the same sense of accomplishment with the interviewer who probed persistently and finally, fruitfully.

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I also watched December Rains during its run late last month. I had been worried it was going to be indulgent and light on plot and substance, with shrill singing, which was how I remembered its previous staging in 2010. I enjoyed this year’s staging much more.

This year’s Ming Li – the third protagonist and one could argue the ultimate antagonist as his one act drove the plot – was a more vulnerable version: the actor playing him was of a smaller stature than the other male lead and competing love interest Ying Xiong, and hence easier to see as a passive victim of his unrequited sentiments, whereas in the 2010 staging the two male leads were more equal. I also thought both male leads this year sung spectacularly well.

I found the friendship between the three female leads more moving this time around. Reunited after many years, the materialistic one had married and divorced a rich man and become the owner of a restaurant; the romantic one had become embittered because of a perceived betrayal of her love and clenched her heart shut all these years; and the revolutionary one had sailed from Singapore to China to take part in the Cultural Revolution, but was now with a drama troupe, her zeal much tempered.

The years had not eroded their friendship. That’s an ideal one can aspire to.

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On the 30th of May, I was in Starbucks, on my usual coffee run, except this was a Saturday and I had to be at work for some reason. There was a lady ahead of me in the queue, and she had on a shoulderless long-sleeved top and jeans, and in between was warm milk chocolate. Burnished with bronze. But maybe that is not what I meant; I didn’t mean metallic, but more a healthy inner glow, like the best sort of tan.

I’m trying to fix that colour in my memory. In a year, I wonder what colour I will remember it as, and whether it will be as ineffable, and whether that will matter.

Kit Chan and emptying out my “to be blogged about” folder

I watched Kit Chan sing last Saturday, and there are seven things I remember from the concert.

1. She started with a slightly trancey version of 担心, which was highly unsatisfactory, since that song is in the top three of my favourite Kit Chan songs when sung like it was originally sung.

2. She sang both the Chinese and English versions of Home, and the arrangement managed to be more soothing than emotional, and maybe it was also because it was sort of at the unremarkable two-third (?) point of the concert, but my friend who said that she would cry at the concert and think of Mr Lee if Kit Chan sang Home did not. The bits of white lights studded throughout the sellout crowd waving along as she sang made a real spectacle though. There was to be no real climax during the whole concert.

3. She was super-comfortable with the audience, chill and relaxed, never more than when she sang Marilyn Monroe’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy, which, Kit Chan recounted, her secondary school teacher persuaded her and her fellow songstresses from school to perform (with the appropriate moves apparently) at a fundraising event in front of many older guys. She thought it was a little off.

4. She sang 是谁在敲打我窗 是谁在撩动琴弦 (I can’t remember now if she sang more than this, but definitely at least these two lines). At the next interval (the concert was peppered with banter, very enjoyable), she explained that after watching the scene in which Tony Leung and Andy Lau share a *moment* listening to these two lines, she had been wanting to sing just these two lines at her concert someday.

5. She also sang 天冷就回来; Leslie Cheung’s 左右手 and ; Stefanie Sun’s 尚好的青春; Jacky Cheung’s 原来只要共你活一天. And once the usual concert issues like over-loud instruments wore off and her voice warmed up, she sang so well.

6. She sang 我真的爱错 perfectly, and I rediscovered that I love the song, the lilting tenor bits accompanied by the sad lonely guitar strums. My friend smiled so widely when she announced it was her next song, and sat back to enjoy it.

7. So, even though she has many more-than-listenable songs and even I’d say more outstanding covers, one of her songs stays in my brain, partly because it’s so dramatic and partly because the lyrics conjure an image of someone luxuriating in the emptiness of her lost love (drama right?). And at this point somewhere in the middle of her concert, she started talking about a type of song called 芭喇歌, which are essentially ballads, and there is a type of song which is essentially a ballad, but with tightly packed words sung in a 洒狗血 (spray dog blood, literally) fashion. So I took this type of song to mean a power ballad basically overflowing with drama, which was why I was not so surprised when that turned out to be the preamble for my favourite Kit Chan song 炫耀. And she sang it the way I wanted it to be sung.

Not about the Kit Chan concert

I really enjoyed how 江美琪’s fans made her cry/sing/shine in this video.

A couple more songs from the senseless score of my life, plucked from my half-awake mind as I zombie-lurch to the bathroom at 6am:

4 December 2014 – 龙卷风

26 March 2015 – 春娇与志明

And one day in April, on the 7th to be exact, my dad made for our dining pleasure some soup with duck and salted vegetables and tomatoes which was yummy, and a potato and sliced pork stir-fried in brown gravy which he had been improving. I am a very fortunate son.

I’ve amassed quite a few tumblers in my time at work, some I bought, some colleagues gave. I don’t use them, preferring to use a CNA mug. That’s a quite a few – which, surprise surprise, means the same as quite a lot – of tumblers I don’t use i.e. vessels I don’t fill, which immediately got me thinking about how substanceless I maybe am.

web pages that recently entertained me

Spectacular new species [National Geographic]

The surprising realities behind what motivates us, in cartoons [Lifehacker]

A cool blog for a cool bookshop (which I hope to visit someday) [BooksActually]

And something else which recently entertained me was this “Power Women” concert I went to with my pal and her sister and her former work neighbour.  A great review of the concert is here (in Chinese).*  I think the new business model for the popular music industry – generating revenue mainly from concerts – is great for us fans, who can now see our favourites perform “live” more often than we ever dreamed possible.  One can only hope that the increased frequency of what used to be rare events motivates the powers that be to improve the sound fidelity of large venues or to shift some concerts, for certain singers, to more suitable environs (I recommend the Esplanade).

*Although I am too lazy to write a complete review of the concert, I wanted to just say that, while I was looking forward to 万芳’s songs the most (I know them and love them best), the most entertaining part of the concert for me was 黄小琥’s banter with us.  I liked how she said in mock proper English, “My name is Yellow Little Tiger” and earlier in the piece announced her next song as “昨天玩什么” (i.e. “Yesterday once more”). 

some thoughts and a disappointment

A few days ago a couple of friends and I were talking about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (I understand the proper title of the song is “Over the Rainbow”) and someone mentioned that her favourite version is Eva Cassidy’s.  I said that I hadn’t heard of her, and this other friend then offered to bring a couple of her CDs.  He did, and in the CD sleeve notes I read that she had died young.  Curious, I searched for more information on Wikipedia, and found that she died at my age of melanoma.  Digesting this while listening to her CDs, I had some thoughts.

She had an amazing voice.  Powerful, expressive, versatile.  Achingly beautiful in spots.  Her version of “Fields of Gold” got my attention.  I prefer Izzy’s version of “Over the Rainbow” though.

My cousin, who was born six days after me, also had cancer.  Hers was a relatively treatable sort of leukaemia, I understand, and she’s back at work now.  We met recently and she seemed like her old self, though she wears a cap now.  We talked about reading and books and relatives and relived childhood incidents and exchanged gifts and had dinner and coffee and talked some more about her illness and what it had wrought – it’s brought her closer with her in-laws, she said, and she now was carried around a bottle of stuff meant to disinfect her hands – and how the Internet has enabled support groups to form comprising people all over the world and how such support groups include a very specific category of people going back to work and how she found those useful.  I’m thrilled she is okay; that evening with her may have made my month :) 

I wonder if I will get cancer some time too.  Probably, right?  That seems to be how most people die.  I remember I dramatically plopped onto my bed reading my cousin’s SMS about her diagnosis – maybe that’s a good rehearsal.

And on that slightly morbid note, I just want to relate that, one, “14 Blades” was a so-so kungfu flick, fun to watch but not engaging emotionally and, two, on the day I watched “14 Blades” I saw Stefanie Sun’s concert at Resorts World and while she was in good form the attendance was disappointing and perhaps because of that there was no encore.  That stunned me.  I have been to a few concerts, and this was the first time there wasn’t one.  Very disappointing.

Lee Guitars concert

When I heard about it from a tall, long-legged friend, my jaw dropped. All these artistes, on the stage, together, at the same event? She had to be kidding me, right? Because here’s who she mentioned, not in order, because I lost track when I had to look away for a while to pick up my jaw: Jonathan Lee 李宗盛 (one of the most prolific, popular and evocative lyricists of the past couple of decades); Emil Chau 周华健 (singer of many singalong hits, mostly in the 1990s, and a supremely charismatic onstage presence); Mayday 五月天 (by my reckoning the most popular Chinese band in the world, and by all appearances a bunch of amazingly down-to-earth, airless blokes); Cheer Chen 陈绮贞 (stunningly talented Taiwanese singer-songwriter, with a magnetic voice); Tanya Chua 蔡健雅 (criminally under-appreciated Singapore singer – she has to have a solo concert here soon!); A-Yue 张震岳 (I don’t quite care for him :p).

And later, looking for it on Sistic, I found out that the concert was billed as the Lee Guitars All-Star Concert Singapore, and owed its name to 李宗盛, who after many years of composing, producing, singing and writing lyrics for music decided to craft instruments of music – guitars, to be specific – and set up a guitar-crafting business called Lee Guitars. The concert was meant to be a celebration of the relationship between these artistes and their guitars, and the stories of how the guitars gave them their voice, to share with the rest of the world.

So I did the only thing I could and bought a ticket and went to watch the concert this past Saturday night. Some observations:

  • The first thing I noticed was that the audience was diverse, age-wise. Itty bitty teenyboppers were there, and folks just slightly younger than my parents, and those in-between. It was interesting to see Mayday go mad on stage, and the teenyboppers bop bop bop in the crowd, and among them, the older folks in their seats, relaxed, a little puzzled at the attraction of the noise, then smiling at the remembrance.
  • During the recorded voice-over introduction to the concert, the artistes were announced one by one, and the chap who did the list must have had some sort of applause modulator, because the audience’s reactions to the names, in order, were like this: 李宗盛 (cheers); 周华健 (cheers, loud); 张震岳 (louder); Tanya (loudeR); 陈绮贞 (very loud, high-pitched); 五月天 (high-pitched, ear-piercing, prolonged mangling of vocal chords).
  • But the loudest, most sustained applause of the entire night (three-plus solid hours; worth it!), by far, was for a guitar solo by an accompanying guitarist. He was phenomenal! I forgot his name – shame! – and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he was playing! So many seemed to know, but I didn’t. Darned. But he was electrifying – so psyched up, so in the flow, and then, after he finished, so pumped that he did it perfectly, that we were pumped for him too.
  • All the singers were better ‘live’ than on the CD, 李宗盛 and 周华健 because of their stage presence, the former earnest and likeable, the latter charming and witty; 五月天 because of their energy and chemistry with one another and the audience; 张震岳 because he is really a shy git unless he’s onstage, where he becomes a sly and mouthy mix of brash hip-hop and sensitive R&B; 陈绮贞 because of her talent and her incredible intensity – she gets so lost in her performances; Tanya because she was just absolutely born to sing on a small stage, with acoustic instruments and a small, attentive audience.  It was not that sort of venue, and we were not that sort of audience, but there was this point when Tanya appeared on stage, at the back, and the lights came on a bit early so we caught the last few seconds of the elevator lifting the platform she was on, and she chuckled, nervously, and then started a rendition of 记念, and – you know how sometimes at concerts you get disappointed by renditions of your favourite songs because the artiste insists on singing it in a creative i.e. different way, with a creative i.e. stupid rendition of your favourite part? Tanya sang 记念 differently too, but it was an intoxicating and bracing sort of difference – a bit of jazz improvisation. You had to hear it. You think what you hear on the radio, from her CDs, on YouTube is amazing? Wait till you hear her ‘live’. Just wait. Which is why she needs to have a solo concert, or several, on the double chop chop.
  • 五月天 are amazingly popular, and they seem like such fundamentally decent people that you don’t grudge them that at all. When lead singer 阿信 went into the chorus of 温柔, he sang a bit, and, sensing that many many of the teenyboppers present (and some older folks, ahem) were champing at the bit to show that they of course knew the lyrics by heart, happily obliged and played the part of acoustic guitarist. What a simple but effective way of engaging the audience.
  • The best way to get a cab after a full-house concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium is to walk across the bridge over to Tanjong Rhu Road, where there are many blocks of condominiums, and, at that time, many people returning to their blocks of condominiums in cabs, one of which you can then grab :)

李香兰

The last time I saw 张学友 sing ‘live’, I was with the girl I liked. It was a disaster: Some time into the concert, my seat actually snapped off its moorings. You know how an L-shaped piece of plastic can be joined to a stadium step by its horizontal part and it then becomes a chair? Well, this one must have been poorly joined, because it broke right off. (I’m fat, but not that fat.) And then, she had to leave early, before the encore. As we walked out of the stadium, I could hear 张学友 singing one of my favourite songs – I’ve totally forgotten which now.

Exactly ten days ago, I saw 张学友 sing ‘live’ again. This was much more enjoyable. The man’s 46, and his local fans must have realised that they probably would not have a chance to see him perform ‘live’ again, and so the concert sold out like mad. Or rather, it went like this: First, he was to sing only one night. Then the tickets for that must have sold out or vanished into thin air, and so it was decided he would sing for two nights. Then tickets for the second night ran out too, and so a rare third night (on a Sunday, which led to him joking with the audience that they had to work tomorrow and he’d better end early) was added.

Then they had to add 500 seats for each night. (!!)

The seats we got weren’t very good – they were perpendicular to the stage, and given the tight spacing, one had to turn almost the full 90 degrees to get an unobstructed view – and the sound system favoured the percussion instruments and bass, but his performance made up for all that. Some highlights:

  • He sang songs he composed or wrote the lyrics for: 给朋友 (in memory of three good friends who died the year before); 摇瑶 (which he composed for his daughter) and 讲你知 (which, he joked, he knew he had to write for his wife after he wrote something for his daughter). I love 讲你知’s lyrics:

看你背面我身体欠自然
看你正面两手失控在颤
看你笑脸我开心数夜数天
与你说话我哑口会无言
与你碰面我体温会乱变
与你贴面一世的经典
若你肯再拥抱紧一点
我愿意用我十年
去换我共你十天
要讲你知你的意义
每当我的心肝跳一次
没法子难制止
你是血液渗于我每一处
要讲你知我的故事
这一秒即使心再不跳
在记忆潜意识
爱是已在心中永世不变

光阴可以瞬间转数十年
生死起跌也知不会幸免
当中只有爱的感觉未曾变

  • He sang others’ songs: 周华健’s 明天我要嫁给你; 孙燕姿’s 天黑黑 and 张信哲’s 爱如潮水 – which used to be my favourite song, maybe 15 years ago – the memory of my singing this song to myself and marvelling at how catchy it was just flashed through my brain, vividly vividly; I am outside the science labs, in the dark corridor, behind the pale yellow double doors. When did I outgrow it? (Funny word, “outgrow” – makes it sound as if the song grew with me, and I grew with it, and eventually, I just grew faster and left it behind…)
  • He sang songs he called his 经典 – his classics, one for each dialect: among his Cantonese songs, he sang 每天爱你多一些 (completely completely disagree that, among all his Cantonese songs, this one should be rated as the classic – can think of at least five others more suitable, one of which (只想一生跟你走) he had sung earlier in the concert *beam*, and one he sang during the 13-song encore *double beam*); among his Mandarin songs, he sang 吻别 (no real argument there – his career was okay before this, but this song essentially launched it into orbit)
  • The biggest surprise of the night came when he said that he hadn’t sung this next song the previous two nights, and then sang 她来听我的演唱会. I mean, you are seriously telling me that he did not sing this song the previous two nights, and that the fans actually went home without hearing it? He has to sing that song in every single one of his concerts, without exception. Just ridique that he did not. I don’t believe it. (The song title can be translated as “She Came to My Concert”, and talks about the way his singing intersects with the lives of his fans.)
  • Think my third favourite part of the night was when he sang 离开以后. Reminded me of a CD I gave her, which she said was her favourite 张学友 CD.
  • Think my second favourite part of the night was when he sang 只想一生跟你走. This was one of my favourite songs when I was 17 or 18. Always happy to hear this song.
  • My favourite part of the night came late, when he sang this one song. The person I was with and I both feel this is probably his best song, and that our night would be complete only if he sang it. The thing is, this song is actually not as super-famous as some; in other words, given the fact that he has over 20 years of hits, it was conceivable that he would not sing this song. In fact, it was all too conceivable, so conceivable that we were on edge from the moment we entered the concert venue and throughout the concert, waiting. The concert actually started off with an instrumental riff that sounded like the beginning of that song, and when it morphed into a fast number and he came onstage, we actually felt a little disappointed. Our hopes dimmed more when he mentioned he would sing a classic, and sang 每天爱你多一些. Then came the encore. Having found out from a review of Friday’s concert that the encore had lasted 12 songs, I started counting down. The first song came, and then the first three went, then half of the 12. Nothing doing. He was now in “warm down” mode, thanking the audience and making us all feel special. He was now so hungry he started munching on an apple while he sang. I vaguely thought about chanting the title of the song, and wondered who else would chant with me. He finished his apple, and continued holding the core. He took a swig of water from a mineral bottle. And he turned around and sang 李香兰. He sang it without any warning, he knew we were waiting for it and would recognise its distinctive lead-in, he knew we were unsure whether to expect it or not so near the end, he knew it, and he deliberately strung us out and led us on, and because he sang it, and he sang it with his trademark effort and intensity and stunning virtuosity, we all cheered like mad bonkers :)

Almost over you by… 林忆莲??

So Sheena Easton’s “Almost over you” is one of my favourite songs. I am just terrifically fond of that song.

A couple of Saturdays back, as the final bit in her bravura concert that left fans clapping and stomping for a second encore long after the band instruments had been dismantled, 林忆莲 sang an English medley, starting with All-4-One’s “I swear” and ending with a faithful rendition of that same “Almost over you”.

And that really was the cherry on the icing on the cake for me.

I really, really enjoyed the concert. Put aside the costumes (which were alternately uninspired and interesting) and the multi-guised dancers (mere gimmicks). Put aside even the band and backup singers (who were brilliant and stars of the show in their own right; during a break for one of Sandy’s many costume changes, the music director even got the crowd to entertain itself – he played the first few strains of the 林忆莲-李宗盛 duet 当爱已成往事 and encouraged the audience to sing along with enthusiastic swings of his arms, and the audience did zestily sing along, even if we were a little unsure of the lyrics; at the end of the song, the audience seemed satisfied at our own performance and there was a smattering of applause). Put aside the fact that 林忆莲 put up a great show, showcasing her versatility and proving to be equally adept at rock tunes and ballads. (I always thought of her as a balladeer primarily, but her rendition of 爱上一个不回家的人 – reworked as a near-rock anthem – was nothing short of stunning.) All that was well and good.

The reason I enjoyed the concert so much was that, before her encore, I knew for certain she was coming back out. You see, she hadn’t sung my favourite song of hers^ yet.

I’m really glad I went to that concert *beam*

^That would be 听说爱情回来过 :)