Browsing through music in Spotify — unsatisfied by a racing Mendelssohn piano piece — I find my way to a playlist of Chinese EXO songs (inspired to search for by Riku having Jay Chou in his top songs of the year). My Chinese isn’t good enough to understand the lyrics unaided, so I Google song lyrics quickly and follow along with occasional songs.
Quickly I find lines that thrill me: “走向谁都未知的那个明天” in El Dorado is one of them I sent to a group chat in excitement. It’s the little flairs with language — “那个明天” — that are so exciting, at once familiar and new. The language is the one I grew up speaking, but it contains the lyricism and beauty of language that I’ve only associated with English, exposed only to the textbook and homey spoken Chinese that I was.
Other songs excite me in different ways. Tempo, the first Chinese EXO song I looked up the lyrics for, was just fun and exciting, mildly badass: “I said don’t mess up my tempo / 这是我偷心的武器 / 别乱了我节奏 独一无二的 One two three…”
Sing For You caught me off guard with a feeling not just of excitement, but also of nostalgia. At some point in our lives, our music taste is shaped more by nostalgia for what we grew up listening to rather than the thrill of new discoveries, a friend once told me. I had never heard this song before. The lyrics are comparatively straightforward and un-flowery. But its warmth and softness, the vulnerability in the lyrics…it’s a flavor of Chinese I haven’t experienced since early, early childhood, when Chinese was my only language and thus the capsule for the full extent of my self and emotion, before a rift opened between my family and the world around me, the past and the future, my heritage and my life. 1
Some of my favorite books from last summer were Liu Cixin’s Three Body trilogy, which I read in translated English. Multiple friends of mine — some international, one ABC like me — read it, and speak about it, in Chinese. It’s a strange feeling being so close to Chinese culture — I’m much luckier than the countless ABCs who struggle to even speak in Chinese — and yet so far from being able to truly take it in or be a part of it. This is only exacerbated by my father being a published Chinese sci-fi author 😛 My relationship with my Chinese heritage and identity is one I’ve yet to really process and understand… ↩