A Love Song to Hong Kong: Tat Ming Pair August 18 2012
I’m really looking forward to going to the Tat Ming Pair 30th anniversary concert next week and thought I’d post this piece I wrote after going to see Tat Ming in 2012, at the height of the anti-National Education campaign. If things seemed tumultuous then, Hong Kong has been through so much more in the more than four years since then!
As the Tat Ming Pair sang 你還愛我嗎? (Do you still love me?) a huge display behind them flashed messages from fans about whether they loved Hong Kong. Most did and they listed the reasons, some tongue in cheek, some heartfelt, some defiant, some tinged with sadness.
Overall, there was an anxiety that Hong Kong was no longer Hong Kong, that it was in danger of becoming just another Chinese city.
There is no doubt this anxiety is shared by the pop duo, who mixed stomping reinventions of their classics with an unabashed political message and a call to defend Hong Kong’s values and well, Hong Kongness.
Freedom, democracy, freedom of expression, the rule of law, Li Wangyang, Chen Guangcheng were all highlighted, along with the upcoming LegCo elections and other current social and political issues, none more so than the campaign against national education. If it sounds didactic, it also managed to be fun. Agitprop mixed with camp mixed with humour.
To the question 你還愛我嗎? the crowd’s response was an emphatic “Yes” to the Tat Ming Pair, Anthony Wong now a grand dame of pop and Hong Kong voice of conscience, Tats Lau a quirky comic genius.
For this middle-aged mum, the show was a love song to Hong Kong that captured much of how I feel about this city and where it stands today.
We feel pop music most intensely when we are teenagers, when the songs seem to speak to us directly. The soundtracks of our youth are filled with songs that speak to the heartache, the confusion, the angst, the hurt and occasionally the joy of being a young person.
As a teenager, I had pretty eclectic musical tastes: from Elvis Costello to Echo and the Bunnymen, to Massive Attack to De La Soul to old school rap and R&B. But there was also Cantopop.
Cantopop was a guilty pleasure. It was a landscape filled with sugary ballads and upbeat exhortations. All the usual parameters for good musical taste were put aside, even the derivative nature of much of the genre was somehow forgiven.
There were exceptions, Beyond and Tat Ming Pair were two Canto acts I could love without being embarrassed about it.
I can still remember the first time I heard Tat Ming’s 石頭記. Via the medium of an endlessly recycled VHS video tape rented from London’s Chinatown, its haunting melody and (to me) impenetrable lyrics blew me away. Later, 禁色 would send shivers down my spine but I also loved the hormonal charge of 溜冰滾族 and the messages behind songs like 十個救火的少年 and 没有張揚的命案.
And then, there was Anthony Wong Yiu-ming – this beautiful, androgynous, otherworldly creature with the sublime voice and the flowing locks. I was besotted.
Imagine my shock then, as he appeared before me while I stood on the pavement in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, waiting for my Dad’s car. One moment, I was searching impatiently for my ride on a busy West End Street, the next I was transfixed as this ethereal being floated past me. Time stopped.
Then before I knew it, he was gone. It was if he had never been there.
After I grew up and came back to Hong Kong to work as a journalist, I would occasionally bump into Anthony Wong; on the stairs at City Hall, in the seat in front of me at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Once, I saw him at a recording studio when I went to pick up the tape of the original music local musician Veronica Lee had composed for my documentary. Vee is a long-time collaborator with Anthony’s People Mountain, People Sea collective.
Of course, I was no longer besotted but I liked the idea of coming into fleeting pseudo-contact with my former crush without ever exchanging a word. It seemed a fitting fate for a teenage fantasy.
Today, I am a parent, a journalist, an educator. As such, I fear for the things I hold most dear. We face mandatory national education, an increasingly hostile environment for the press, the continued marketisation of higher education.
I am no longer a teenager and am done with idols. As my heart thumped to the bass and Anthony sang his guts out, it felt for one moment as if he were speaking directly to me. But time didn’t stand still, he was no longer the idol, I was no longer the fan.
Today, we were fellow travellers.