tremble clef

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kit Chan (陈洁仪), "Disturb The Peace (傷了和气)" (1993)

I was always a sucker for songs in which our narrator meets some old friend who unwittingly asks after the narrator's lover, unaware that it's all over....But I don't want to talk about it. I've said enough already.

At the beginning of "Disturb The Peace," a heartbreakingly beautiful ballad sung to an acoustic guitar and brief stabs of pizzicato strings, our narrator is standing in line for movie tickets on a Sunday morning. But her heart is not in it, and her eyes red from crying; she thinks about "traveling" -- escaping, that is -- to "faraway places." She passes a café, and hears a song that fills her with melancholy. "June-like weather, December-ish emotions," she describes her mood succinctly. "The letter I wrote you long ago never did receive a response. Friends ask after you, and I pretend not to care."

What Kit Chan -- who, until her semi-retirement in 2004, was one of the more powerhouse singers in Chinese pop circles, and for my money the best star my fair land has produced -- tells those enquiring friends becomes the chorus of this song, and gives it its title. But "disturb the peace" is a rather inadequate translation of "傷了和气": while people might actually use the Chinese expression in real life, it's hard to imagine anyone saying, "the peace between us has been disrupted," when asked to explain the status of a relationship. But, then again, the Chinese phrase "傷了和气" is in its own way awkward, and in this sense a clunky English translation does convey how unnaturally our narrator is speaking and behaving. For someone saying ""傷了和气" comes across as trying to make light of the situation, but in terms that are excruciatingly polite, measured, deliberate. (Closer English equivalents: "Oh, we're just on a break right now"? "We thought we would give each other room to breathe for a while"? Sort of -- but more so.) The narrator tries to be breezy, but because the expression is so controlled, it gives the game away. This becomes even clearer in the rest of the chorus, which trafficks in plausible denial: "We're just temporarily apart. No big deal."

As the song progresses, the chorus is repeated: "I always say, 'The peace between us has been disturbed.' Your departure is not a kind of giving up. But my love is hoping for a new plot, a new ending." Noticeably, the curious friends hardly matter anymore: our narrator now addresses her ex-lover directly, as the (unconscious?) shift into the second person ("your departure") indicates. (Perhaps those nosy friends were never real, merely hypothetical people to whom the singer feels the need to prepare a response to.) And here, even an inability to understand Chinese matters little: the second chorus keeps the same basic melody as the first, but only the first lines are identical. As the second chorus continues, Kit's voice goes higher and higher, until it is -- not exactly hysterical, but at the point of breaking. It never does. But that high point coincides with the end of the line "your departure is not a kind of giving up," and so we wonder if she might be better off if she comes around to seeing that it just might be. A kind of giving up, that is.


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