Saturday, August 06, 2005

Music and memories

I was listening to Faye's 天空 (Sky) the other day. That album never fails to bring back past memories. So does 許茹芸's first album, 討好 (Getting into good books?). I bought them at around the same time, in 1995. 1995 for me was a year teetering on the edge of depression and boredom.

The following episode took place during my NS in the Navy. I remember the branch I was posted to, being an administrative one, took in mostly regulars who were either going to ROD or have been downgraded due to some service or non-service acquired injuries. Because of that, some of the guys I met then weren't exactly computer literate.

The two sergeants who left the deepest impressions were both completely computer illiterate when they joined us. But by the time they left the branch, we've been able to coach them to a reasonable level of computer literacy such that they could type out simple letters in Wordperfect and play a decent game of Minesweeper. The latter acquired skill, was mostly my work (I used to be a pretty mean player at Minesweeper, having worn down a few mouses both at home and at work. Think my record for the largest sized sweep was around 3 minutes).

One of these sergeants was Chinese, the other Indian. I can't remember their names very well now, but I think the Chinese's surname was Tan and the Indian's name was Pete. Tan was waiting for his ROD whilst Pete had been downgraded. That from a football injury!

Anyway, there was once when I was peppering away at my keyboard, and Tan was working on the terminal just next to mine. I started feeling the need to soothe my deadline jangled nerves with music. So I flipped open my disc pouch and picked Faye's 天空 (Sky). We've brought speakers and adaptors for my discman, so it became like a public kind of music system.

Some time later, as I was still tapping at my keyboard, I heard some background singing accompanying Faye's angelic voice. I raised my head to investigate. It was Tan singing, albeit not too loudly. He was singing to the song, 影子 (Shadow). It wasn't one of my preferred tracks then. But heck, he was singing it with some conviction, voice croaking a little. His hands were off the keyboard, his eyes were closed with concentration and head slightly raised. A bit like a conductor just before his symphony starts playing. I was a little surprised by this but went back to work quickly. Deadline to meet! And weirdly enough, from that day onwards, I started liking that song as well.

Pete's taste for music was English pop. I remember him bringing in a dubbed tape of English songs. He was a seaman through and through. Having been overseas for many years, he had earned his salt. His tape got as much air time as my chinese CDs.

I recall via idle talk one day, I mentioned to him about my interest in collecting keychains. He looked up from his stack of papers and motioned to me to come over. He fished out a metallic keychain from his overalls (Man, one of the "perks" of being in the Navy was the overalls. Very comfy! I wore them even in office when I could get away with it.) and showed it to me. He got it whilst he was in Thailand, he told me. It was a crudely made movable keychain of... two people having sex. I guess I do not have to explain what the "moving" parts are about. I said,"Cool!" And he offered to give it to me. An offer I couldn't refuse. So he started removing his keys from the keychain. But he was clumsy and broke the keychain, exactly at the joint which allowed for the er... movement. And so, the couple was no longer having sex.

It was a quirky moment. Both of us, and later the entire branch (not very big), were roaring in laughter. In the background, his dubbed tape was playing. My personal favourite from that collection was on. It was Cliff Richard's "Some People". I still think of Pete and that keychain when I hear the song at some shopping centres.

Later on in my NS, I was posted somewhere else. In this new camp, I met some of the nicest non-NSF people there is in SAF (I thought a dying breed). With respect to music, there is one fellow NSF by the name of Dan who also left me a lasting memory. During many of our multitudes of tea breaks in the canteens (life there seems to revolve around tea breaks and how much food you can gorge yourself with), he would repeatedly tell us his dream... that of driving a white jeep along the roads whilst listening to the harmonica version of Faye's 天空 (Sky). So often, I think some of us stopped listening to his ramblings.

But sure enough, just some months before his ROD, he got himself a jeep, and it was white as snow. I decided to play my part in his excitement, and promptly bought him his copy of Faye's album for his coming birthday. Boy, he was grinning from ear to ear as he clutched the CD.

Some weeks later, the department went out for a ROD lunch for some of the personnel. I took Dan's jeep. And there he was, driving his jeep down a main road, windows rolled down, wind flowing, right hand bent and leaning on the right ledge, and Faye's harmonica version of 天空 (Sky) spluttering out from his audio system. Total bliss, he said.

Moving back in time a little more, I recall lying on an army bed for the first time on the night 16th December 1993. Enlistment day. I just couldn't get myself to sleep, but excitement isn't exactly the word to use to describe my feelings that evening. More like apprehension. Also, there was this dumb light outside the bunk's window that was shining straight into my face. It was to stare at me for the rest of BMT. Why place a big floodlight opposite 60 recruits' bunk? I never found out.

Anyway, I fished out my walkman and listened to whatever tape I had left in it. It was a dubbed version of Alan Tam's 1993 cantonese album (from my own CD), 笑看人生. It took some time before I eventually dozed off. But the memory of listening to Alan, in completely new and strange surroundings with 59 other new recruits, some snoring, a bright light glaring angrily at me, and I squinting back, stuck with me. It was to be the only night in my entire BMT that I listened to any music. Sleeping was never a problem again, bright light or no bright light, because it was going to be in such short supply.

In my first university year, I got to know a guy called Ric and we became quite good chums soon after. He owned a very exquisitely designed T-shirt that I remember seeing him wear only twice. The T-shirt had a warning about not swimming in shark-infested waters. The thing that made it so special was that one chunk of the T-shirt was missing. It was the lower right portion of the shirt. And the sides were printed bright red.

For both the times I've seen him wearing that T-shirt, he was mercilessly teased by fellow classmates (including myself) about it, for it was showing part of his somewhat flabby mid-rift. Some days before he wore the T-shirt for the second time, I noticed that he was not feeling cheery. I had guessed (correctly) he was going through a tough period, so I bought a copy of Faye's 浮躁 (Impatience) and left it in our shared locker.

On the day I told him about the CD, he was wearing that shark T-shirt. And we were walking down a long corridor flanked one side by many grey looking tutorial room doors. The image of me and my futile efforts to cheer him up, then the lapsing into an uneasy silence (other than the sashays of his sandals), the awkward swaying of his shark T-shirt (due to unequal weight distribution of cloth!) never left me.

He thanked me all the same for the CD. I myself like to listen to this CD whenever I feel a little frustrated, but it obviously doesn't work for everyone. Still, that image of us strolling down that corridor still pops up when I listen to that album.

Then there was the time when a close actuarial classmate of mine, affectionately called Ah Gee by us pals, queued up with me at Tiong Bahru for more than one and a half hours for a CD. It happened in the second year of my Bachelor's.

It was a good thing he agreed to accompany me that day, or I would have died of boredom waiting in that long queue. It was the launch of Faye's first album, self titled 王菲, after jumping ship from Polygram to EMI.

The event was downright silly, on hindsight. For one thing, the singer herself was not there. The company hired a radio station DJ, and he had been instructed to play songs and show MTVs from that new album only. Her past songs now belonged to Polygram and they were probably still bickering over the rights.

When we reached there, the queue was already going strong. We had no idea where the tail of it was but we sure know where it started. The DJ was already asking for song requests from the crowd. It sure was ridiculous asking for song requests and following that request up with the statement,"You only have 10 choices."

So it went, we heard the songs over and over again, until I started wondering why I bothered buying the album (but it was a good buy, based on the hindsight of many years of listening to it). We did manage to find the tail of the queue; It had snaked all round the building! The tail was actually not far from the head of the queue, a little like a Mobius strip, or a self swallowing snake.

Eventually, I got my CD, and we all got to go home. The first thing I did when Ah Gee left, was to pop in that new CD into my discman. I often wonder who was the greater sucker that day, I, bothering to get the first edition coupon and queueing for the CD when it would be out anyway in a couple of days, or he, bothering to accompany me, the sucker for Faye Wong music.

The last incident earning a mention here, was my introduction to New Age music. For over a decade, I had been blissfully contented with Chinese and Cantonese pop and had no intention of looking beyond.

This was on my XXth birthday (I cannot recall which one). I spent it with a girl whom I had grown to really admire for a number of years. Across the table in a restaurant, she presented me with a well-wrapped present. It was obviously a CD. Somehow, I recalled seeing this ad on TV and blurted out,"Hmm... It couldn't be Inspirational Moments II, could it?" Her jaws dropped a little, and then she winced a little,"Ai yeh, it's not fun that you can guess it so easily!"

What else could I do but give an innocuous shrug (maybe that's why Acey didn't get the girl in the end... :P). But that evening proceeded well enough, and we both enjoyed each other's company. At the back of my mind, I actually had no intention of listening to it. Some gifts from pals remain just that, gifts. They spent the rest of their useful lives in a dark corner of my shelf, unused, untouched. I thought this CD would end up that way too.

Anyway, I sent her home, and was at the bus stop, still feeling a high whilst waiting gleefully for my bus. Then for no reason (if there was a reason, maybe it was because it was from her!), I decided to pop the CD in. It turned out that the CD was rather enjoyable. And the bus trip home, all 50 minutes of it, was as appreciated as the evening I've spent with this girl. I went to bed that night still with earphones plugged in.

Since then, I have bought Parts I and III to supplement new budding interest in New Age. Somehow, these two, and some others I bought later, just don't measure up to my first New Age CD. The reason should be plain to see!

Akan Datang: Observations of the Australian way of life

237 days to go.

P.S. A short update on Le Tissier. He seems to be doing ok. Second round of treatment next Friday.


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