A distinct hometown memory 另一種鄉愁: Hometown roads

元宵 Fifteenth Day of the CNY

[Saw a string of 天灯-sky lanterns some people had lit and set off from the top of a hill, float up like a string of burnished amber pearls toward the bright full moon in the night sky. Nice.]

Maybe it was thinking about the chinese new years of the wonder years spent at father’s upcountry hometown in Malaysia; maybe its the indirect prodding and jiggling at almost forgotten grey memories long shrouded behind the fog of time… One such sliver of time-frozen memory crystallized and revealed itself from the murky mists of my mind, and finally put a name and title to an old song and wisps of lyrics and melody which had been teasing at the edges of my mind for almost 30 years now.

雲樹路哭雨露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)
cloud tree road cry rain mist/dew

Driving north upcountry into Father’s hometown in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia for the First Day of CNY had been an annual pilgrimage my family will make ever since I could remember. I didn’t particularly enjoy the trips and visiting my extended family on the paternal side in Malaysia; after all, I hardly meet them save for CNY, Qing Ming (to go 拜山-pray to the hill or ‘tomb-sweeping’ at the elaborate family and clan grave tombs, usu located at hillside cemeteries), and some other notable dates and occasions. At that young time, I resented the fact that I would be missing out on the First Day of CNY and meeting my cousins and family from Mum’s side of the family in Spore.

Still, there was a certain thrill and mystery to these upcountry drives. This was before the second causeway link at Tuas and the pan-state Malaysian North-South expressway were built; we took the old back roads which were then the only way to drive up north from town to town. These were narrow two way/two lane roads which sometimes backed up for miles if you were caught behind an overladen lumber or oil palm truck with an especially anal driver who refused to let the cars behind him pass. These roads can be a little intimidating and dangerous; but Father knew these back roads like the back of his hand and know every tricky turn and gaping pothole and could even drive on them at full speed in the dark, as he had done so many times in the old days when he had to drive right across Msia overnight on some urgent business and the road lamps were often out, leaving some inter-town roads in total darkness.
[I remember some of these overnight drives with me sitting shotgun next to father. I accompanied father on a few of these business road trips, both the good ones (during the good fortune times when all was hunky-dory with father’s businesses and we traveled around Msia as he went to inspect his businesses in the various states, feted by his business partners to good food -山猪肉/wild boar meat!-, drink, and luxurious villa stays at the highlands), and especially the bad ones (during the bad years when these same business partners almost held father’s business ransom with the huge bad debts they owed from the credit and stock father had extended to them. ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’ was something father had to do during those bad years. Dancing with the devils, was what Mum grimly called it then).]

Father made sure we set off on our 3-hour drive early in the morning hours, usually before 4am, to beat the holiday traffic and to ensure we arrive at grandfather’s house before the roosters (yes, there was a chicken coop beside the house!) start crowing at daybreak. There is something about long drives into a different country in the early morning hours that is always exciting and filled with anticipation and hope for a little adventure. Especially when you are seven or eight. There would be at least one, usually two stops along the way, not at those grey drab and flood-lights lit rest-stops you now have along the new expressways, far away from all the interesting little villages and towns. I remember we would always stop at Father’s favourite little breakfast stall somewhere in Skudai (or was it Kulai?), pulling up and stopping almost by the roadside at a little corner coffeeshop, serving simple but the best early morning piping hot char-siew buns and steaming siew mai and har gow.

And previously off another tangent elsewhere,  I have described these our long drives upcountry to Father’s hometown:


Your post above on long drives upcountry and memories of loved ones struck a deep chord.

I am transported back into Dad’s sedan as we drive north upcountry on our yearly pilgrimage back to his hometown in north Johor, Malaysia. Setting off at sleepy 4am to beat the traffic, playing silly ‘scary’ games with the dark shadows that looms towards and zooms away with each passing street-lamp…but finding security in the comforting silhouettes of Mum and Dad in the front seats. Then, rolling the windows down and hanging my head out to watch the creepy but so beautiful dark figures of trees in the rubber and oil-palm plantations whizzing by, and smelling that acrid but immensely clarifying scent that is found only in the woods – of early-morning bracken, moss and dew. All these to the magical melody of Enya’s Orinoco Flow playing on the stereo (I insisted, they acquiesced).

Apologies for my flight of fancy. But thank you.

The referenced Enya song in that 2009 description and memory clearly marked it as a memory from my teen years. But I actually remember these long upcountry drives from much earlier in my childhood, and there was another song I especially associated these hometown drives with, but which I have since almost forgotten. In the decades and years since, there were moments (perhaps prompts from a similar familiar sound or tune or words or smell or emotions…) when little snippets and wisps of this old song and its lyrics and melody will stir up within me, and I’ll have scenes of those familiar old roads/路 and forests/plantations/樹 whizzing by appear in my head, and that ‘acrid but immensely clarifying scent that is found only in the woods – of early-morning bracken, moss and dew/露’ almost palpable in my nose…

雲樹路哭雨露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)
cloud tree road cry rain mist/dew

I will almost remember this old song and have its title at the tip of my tongue…but just as quickly, these moments and wisps of memory will fade, and I will be left with that wretched restless and unsatiatied feeling and frustration, of an elusive and taunting memory that remains fleeting and at large…

I know the lyrics to the song contain the words 樹/tree and 路/road and maybe 露/dew. But these are rather generic words and did not give any useful clue towards solving this frustrating riddle and puzzle in my head all these years.

A few days ago, almost like magic, the other words in the lyrics surfaced and crystallized in my head, and more importantly, this time, the song melody played and remained long enough in my head for these crucial keywords to fall into place, and to finally reveal the song for the first time in many long years…

雲…樹…路…哭…雨…露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)

另一種鄉愁 A distinct hometown memory (by 鳳飛飛 Feng Fei Fei – 1981):

1981年,改編日本歌曲《昴(すばる)》(by 谷村新司)






A distinct hometown memory

A distinct flavour/emotion without tears, that distinctive nostalgia for your hometown etched into your bones and imprinted within your heart
Only if you had deeply felt that kind of feeling, will you understand just why it fillls your heart so

Ah! You only have to be alone, watching sunrises or sunsets, to feel these surges of emotions
Ah! That distinct flavour (of emotion), a furious raging torrent, how to confess/confide

Those clouds and trees, do not shroud and cover these hometown roads
But I did not cry, only blaming the rain and the mist/dew

That distinct flavour/emotion when you close your eyes, that distinctive nostalgia for your hometown etched into your bones and imprinted within your heart
Those unending slow steps (on this old hometown road) before your (mind’s) eyes, filling your heart once again upon opening your eyes

I didn’t even know its actual title then, I used to just call it the ‘路-Road’ song. But now that this old song is firmly in my mind once again, I remember that I used to hum and sing it all the time. I simply loved the ethos and silent sadness evoked by the lines:

Those clouds and trees, do not shroud and cover these hometown roads
But I did not cry, only blaming the rain and the mist/dew

and they were always on my mind during the long drives back to Father’s hometown, on those winding roads lined with stretching plantations and endless trees, sometimes shrouded with early morning mist and dew…

Here is another video of the song, this time someone with apparently similar sentimentalities have set it to images of his/her hometown, seemingly a small Malaysian town too:

[I remember at that early age in primary school, while my friends and peers were going on about the various flashy and immensely popular idols like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or Sam Hui, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung; I was too embarrassed to share my favorite song then, this old-fashioned sounding Mandarin song with such old-fashioned lyrics…]


One thought on “A distinct hometown memory 另一種鄉愁: Hometown roads

  1. A very good video of the song, with a well-edited montage of 鳳飛飛 Feng Fei Fei’s many different performances of the song, including some amazing shots of her as a very young and fresh-faced singer (and hatless!), and of course, of her many different hats as well…

    Another good video of the same song, with comparative performances by 鳳飛飛 Feng Fei Fei and Teresa Teng. Fantastic ‘haloed’ stage presence first in 鳳飛飛 Feng Fei Fei’s performance, and a seamless rendition by Teresa Teng, in Japanese, hearkening back to the original Japanese version and melody, as well as the (slightly over grandiloquent and hackneyed) Cantonese version.

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