Happy Birthday, Teresa Teng!

Today is Teresa Teng’s Birthday. I was alerted to this by the good folks at Google, who created this lovely illustration to commemorate the day.

I won’t go into a lengthy biography here, as many fine words about the Taiwanese singer have already been written by better writers than myself. You can get the basics from her  Wikipedia page  to understand how important Teresa Teng is to Taiwan, and why to this day, 18 years after her death, the sound her voice still moves many in Taiwan to tears.  She sung like an angel and left this world far too early.

Last year, my partner Stephanie and I wrote a book called Formosa Moon (Things Asian Press), which will be published sometime this spring. One of the book’s chapters is called The Moon Represents My Heart after the song of the same name, a song not written by Ms. Teng, but arguably made famous by her.

In addition to being the only song in Mandarin I can actually sing, the lyrics to The Moon Represents My Heart speak (in part, at least) to my feelings and experience in Taiwan.

In honor of Ms. Teng’s birthday, I’ve excerpted part of the chapter The Moon Represents My Heart from Formosa Moon below:

The Moon Represents My Heart

I know many songs in Chinese, but few by heart and only one that’s appropriate for a mixed-group Karaoke setting. Though I’ve long claimed to find Karaoke odious, I’d secretly longed for the chance to sing this song on stage in front of an audience.

The assembled group consisted mostly of strangers, and while some of these saw me as “a writer who has written books about Taiwan,” by and large most saw me as a curiosity, someone who appeared to have a reasonable grasp of Mandarin and chopstick usage, but otherwise as an outsider to Taiwanese society.

The truth is, after four years of feeling out of place in Portland, I was deeply happy to be back in Taiwan, and not because I feel any less out of place here. In America, no matter where I wind up, I feel like I should fit in, but inevitably never do. This was all the more pronounced in Portland, a city that prides itself on its weirdness bona fides (“Keep Portland Weird” is it’s unofficial motto, though in my mind I always added the caveat “as long as it’s our kind of weird”). But in Taiwan, I’m not expected to fit in. Indeed, as a foreigner, I’m expected to exist in a perpetual realm of otherness, which makes the moments in which I actually manage to achieve something approaching cultural rapport with those around me all the more poignant.

This was what I was feeling as I sang the following, with heartfelt sincerity that I hoped would make up for any mistakes in tone or pronunciation, to the assembled group at the Weiya hosted by Trust Lin and the East Coast Scenic Area:

Ni wen wo ai ni you duo shen

Wo ai ni you ji fen

Wo de qing ye zhen

wo de ai ye zhen

Yueliang daibiao wo de xin

It’s a karaoke staple, and the lyrics are, on the surface at least, typical love song fare.

You ask me how deeply I love you,

To what degree is my love

My heart is genuine

My love is genuine

The moon represents my heart

Perhaps because of my own early mishearing of later verses, which continue along standard love song narrative (“A gentle kiss is enough to move my heart”) or maybe because of cynicism, I’ve chosen to read deeper into the song, perhaps in ways that the late Teresa Teng did not intend.

In my own version of The Moon Represents My Heart, I consider the nature of the moon itself, at least as we view it. Sometimes it’s big, overwhelmingly bright and impossible to miss. Sometimes it’s a barely perceptible sliver in the sky. Then there are times that we don’t see it at all, perhaps taking it for granted for long stretches of time.

My love for Taiwan is like that sometimes. Once it drew me into its gravity, this strange and alien land I’ve chosen to call home for long stretches has been the one true constant in my life. Taiwan has granted me a near constant reprieve from my most feared nemesis, boredom, but at times she’s driven me half-mad. Taiwan has been my muse, the source of inspiration for much of my creative output as a writer, while at the same time never quite letting me forget that the language in which I write is not the lingua franca of the place about which I write. I have loved Taiwan for nearly all of my adult life. At times this love has shone as brilliantly as the moon over Kenting during the mid-autumn festival, at others far less brightly, like a crescent moon during the long rainy season in Taipei, barely able to filter through the clouds and pollution (light and otherwise).

So when I sang The Moon Represent My Heart, it was this love for Taiwan, waxing and waning (but always present) that I felt.

“The Moon Represents My Heart” (the song) lyrics by Sun Yi / Music composed by Weng Ching-hsi (翁清溪).

“The Moon Represents My Heart” (the chapter) excerpted from From Formosa Moon by Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman, Things Asian Press, 2018.

Read also:
Friday the Thirteenth in Taiwan
Lord of Formosa: A Traveler’s Review
The Taipei Tai Chi Experience