27 October 2008

Krispy Kreme doughnuts since 1937...

..or in Hong Kong since 2006. Today at least two of my pop culture and education project colleagues are heartbroken at the closure of Krispy Kreme Hong Kong. No more happy scenes like these.

22 October 2008

Ofra Haza?

And here is Ofra Haza singing Deliver Us in the Cantonese version of The Prince Of Egypt. Or is it? Apparently, she sang 17 of the 21 language versions, but opinion is divided on whether she sang this one or not. The majority think not, but if they are right, who is this Cantopop diva who can fool so many people into thinking she is Ofra Haza?

In A Far Away Land

A couple of blogs ago, I wrote about Paul Robeson singing Chee Lai in Mandarin and English. Here is John Denver singing In A Far Away Land, a traditional Qinghai folk song written by Luo Bin Wang, in Mandarin at a concert in Australia. Why?

21 October 2008

Try my breast

Here is an interesting case of the politicization of language... This is Saturday's Apple Daily having great fun at the expense of Gary Chan Hak Kan. At 32, Gary is the youngest member of the HK Legislative Council elected in September on the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) ticket. And what better way to start his Legco career than tell the world that he will 'try his breast'. In fact, that is an easy enough mistake to make under pressure. There is no 'r' sound in Cantonese (a word like 'friend' becomes 'fen' in Cantonese), so Cantonese speakers tend to put them into English words where they are not really needed. But because Gary Chan is an irritating young upstart pro-China politician, who was eased into an almost guaranteed Legco seat ahead of his elders and betters, Apple Daily can still get some milk out of his English more than a month later. As a native speaker of English, I really shouldn't join in the fun. The adventurous hedgehog, on the other hand, says he deserves everything he gets.

19 October 2008

Chee Lai!

My last post was about what I believed to be the first English version of a Mandarin hit song. Today we had tea with a group of Hong Kong music fans and, thanks to Louis Lee, I now know better. In 1941, Paul Robeson made a three-disc album with the title Chee Lai! Songs Of New China. This included the song Chi Lai! (Arise!) sung first in Mandarin and then in English. Here is the English lyric.

Arise! You who refuse to be bond slaves!
Let's stand up and fight for liberty and true democracy!
All the world is facing the change of oppression!
Everyone who fights for freedom is now crying:
Arise! Arise! Arise!
All of us with one heart, with the torch of freedom, March On!
With the torch of freedom, March On! March On! March On and On!

The song may be better known as The March Of The Volunteers - tune by Nie Er and lyrics by Tian Han - written in Shanghai in 1934 and used as the theme song for the patriotic movie Sons And Daughters In A Time Of Storm. It is even better known as the national anthem of the People's Republic of China.

From what I have been able to find out, the recording came about when Liu Liangmo, director of the Shanghai YMCA, came to the USA and looked up Robeson as a likely candidate to sing some Chinese resistance songs. The album they produced had two songs by Robeson (the other being Song Of The Guerillas) and four by a Chinese chorus conducted by Liu. According to a Time review, although the songs were "not tuneful to Western ears", they were "interesting and authentic examples of China's new mass music". The album also included a booklet with an introduction by Soong Ching-ling, widow of Sun Yat-sen.

Here's an MP3 of Chee Lai! (Arise!) at the Internet Archive.

17 October 2008

Rose, Rose, I Love You

I have been digging around in lost corners of the web today to see what I can find out about Rose, Rose, I Love You, one of the most popular Hong Kong songs over the last 50 or 60 years. The original was written by Chen Gexin and recorded by Yao Lee in Mandarin on EMI-Pathe in 1941. In pinyin the title is Méigui méigui wǒ ài nǐ, which translates accurately as Rose, Rose, I Love You. The story behind the English version, published in Time, starts in 1951 with an Australian DJ, Wilfrid Thomas, picking up a copy of Yao Lee's disc in a back street in Hong Kong and bringing it to London, where it caused such a stir that Chappell Music asked him to write English lyrics to it. Thomas gave the song a topical twist, turning it into a departing British soldier's lament for the girl he must leave behind in Malaya. There is also a clever twist on the Chinese title in the line Make way, oh make way for this Eastern rose.

In 1951, it was common for new songs to be recorded by several artists and hit the charts at the same time. Frankie Laine's version won the race for Rose, Rose, I Love You, reaching #3 on Billboard, although it may well have been intended as the B-side to Jezebel, which got to #2. There also versions by Billy Morrow (#8) on RCA and Gordon Jenkins on Decca (#21). The vocal on the latter was by Cisco Houston and I found a download at www.ciscohouston.com. With all this fuss, Columbia even decided to release the Yao Lee version, although for some reason they changed her name to Hue Lee.

Back in London, a different English version with the title May Kway (lyrics by John Turner) came out as a Petula Clark songsheet and reached #16 on the British songsheet charts. (Record charts didn't start until 1952). Petula Clark also recorded May Kway on Polygon, as did Billy Cotton on Fontana.

The Time article finished up by saying that Chappell were holding on to royalties for Miss Hue Lee "the song's unknown writers, now presumably somewhere in Red China". Well, Yao Lee and Chen Gexin were not exactly unknown, although Chen had used his pen name, Lin Mei, on the Shanghai recording. By 1951, they were both working in Hong Kong with Great Wall records along with many other musicians from pre-revolution Shanghai. But two years after the 1949 revolution, these were confusing times. Hong Kong audiences, it seems, were better informed about Western music and it wasn't long before they had taken both the Mandarin and English versions of the song to their hearts.

Frankie Laine, Yao Lee and Hue Lee scans from Wong Kee Chee's The Age of Shanghainese Pops. Gordon Jenkins from www.ciscohouston.com. Petula Clark from www.petulaclark.net.

12 October 2008

First celebrity brand...

This is Alice blogging...
Last time, it was mentioned that I found some bilingual advertisements from the 1920s...here is the proof.

This is a print ad in 'An illustrated family magazine' from 1929 Hong Kong.

'Watch Mei Lan Fong opera, please smoke Mei Lan Fong cigarette'

Mei Lan Fong 梅蘭芳 (1894-1961) was possibly the most famous Peking Opera star ever. He was so famous that he actually got his own cigarette brand! This may well be the first celebrity brand. I found this ad fascinating. The packaging was in English and the picture shows Mei Lan Fong in his stage costume. The picture was not just another beautiful lady, it was Mei in full costume: the decorative headpiece, the period costume and also the stage setting. Mei was even shown with his artistic feminine gesture.

09 October 2008

'If you like a good drink...

...just say Carlsberg', or 'Ga si ba' if you prefer Cantonese. This is another ad from the Ritz Ballroom Souvenir Booklet, 1951. I was thinking that this must be a pretty early example of bilingual advertising in Hong Kong, but now Alice tells me she is turning up similar ads from the 1920s.

What I love about this ad, though, is the way the guy can point at the English and Chinese names and never miss a beat on the dancefloor.

08 October 2008

20th Century Boys

Last Sunday morning, instead of doing something healthy in the open air, Kaz and I spent 142 minutes at the cinema watching 20th Century Boys. It is the first part of a trilogy and covers the first 5 books of Naoki Urasawa's 22 book manga series. It is also one of the biggest budget films ever made in Japan. When we came out, we agreed that it was a good movie but that there was rather a lot going on plot-wise, which was nice because, after all, he's 12 and I'm 53. Where we differed, maybe, is that he was probably a lot less interested in, and puzzled by, the T-Rex references than I was.

In brief, a gang of kids in sixties Japan build a 'secret base' in an abandoned field and write 'a book of prophecy', in which Tokyo is threatened by destruction by the evil genius 'Friend'. Years later, the prophecy starts comes true, just as it has been written, and the now middle-aged gang have no option but to avert the disaster, but not before Haneda Airport and the National Diet get blown up. Rock music squeezes its way into the plot through the leader of the gang, Kenji, who has been in a rock band, but now helps out in his family's convenience store. It's an excuse for a pretty good soundtrack as well as a couple of rock-mediated turning points - like the scene where Kenji picks up a guitar, unleashes a god-of-rock solo and decides that it's time for action.

Now the puzzle for me is really in the title, 20th Century Boys, which is based on an old T-Rex song, 20th Century Boy. Back in the secret base, the kids are tuned in to Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone on the transistor radio, which makes good sense if this is a movie about getting back the lost ideals of sixties rock. But T-Rex were not a sixties rock band and they seem just a little out of place here to me. For me, and I guess for a lot of people of my age, T-Rex was a disappointingly successful attempt to cash in on the talent that was going to waste commercially on Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tyrranosaurus Rex good: T-Rex bad. But maybe not in Japan. In another pivotal scene, Kenji storms into a performance by a Japanese post-glam rock band and screams 'This is not rock!'. Fine, I thought, except that the band look and sound a lot like T-Rex - at least to my eyes and ears.

And is this connected? A 1997 tribute album to Marc Bolan by 14 Japanese bands - all singing in English and most better than the originals in my prejudiced opinion. 20th Century Boy is track 3 and done by The Willard.