Telenovelas and cassette tapes

Talking about other things I’ve recently become addicted to. Well it’s retro: there’s a Hong Kong telenovela (they’re not quite soap operas in the American sense that go on for ten or twenty years, but 30 to 50 one-hour segments of a complete story) on KTSF called “Love in a Miracle,” and it’s on Monday through Friday at 8 PM. Set in the early 20th century, a poor man marries daughter of a rich family and takes on wife’s last name in order to perpetuate the family, which would otherwise die out . . .

The familiarity factor helped: I recognized Lee Heung Kum, who seems to have a monopoly on the devious tai-tai/matriarchal role in every movie, TV and play in HK. She’s been a hard-working actress for a very long time: I remember seeing her in early 1960’s black and white movies in roles like the heroine’s devious sister that would be on the early afternoon TV lineup, before the cartoons went on at 3:30 PM (after school let out).

I also recognized Chan Sau Man (Amy Chan), who was on a couple of telenovelas as the young romantic interest, in the early 1980’s. Twenty years later here in “Love in a Miracle”, she’s also cast as an ingénue, which is a little weird. Make-up and lighting can do wonders.

I casually started watching, just to practice listening to Cantonese. This production doesn’t seem half bad, compared some of the other telenovelas which I watched for 2 minutes and hit the channel button on the remote. The guy who plays the hero has a rather wooden demeanor, and the ‘rich daughter’ looks a bit like Vienna Teng.

I’m lucky: TVB’s golden age of telenovelas was in the late 70’s/early 80’s, which were shown in Bangkok when I was living there (dubbed in Thai.) If I had been living in the US during that time I don’t think I would have watched them. Some of them were so good, like the ones based on Louis Cha’s (Gum Yung) martial arts novels, they were traffic calming. During the hours they were broadcast, the streets were pretty uncongested as people would have hurried home to watch them. (Remember, back then, few people had VCRs!)

Many of the famous Hong Kong movie actors/actresses got their start in TVB telenovelas They had a training program for new actors and actresses , which must have been top notch, because stars like Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Leslie Cheung, Simon Yam, emerged from those shows.

The music was also very good: a lot of the theme songs for those shows were also big hits, like Francis Yip’s “Shanghai Tan” from “The Bund”. You couldn’t go to a Chinese restaurant without hearing the muzak versions of those TV shows playing. (It was almost like Bollywood music, where theme songs from movies would become inescapable hits.) You heard them every where.

Another retro thing: I have started listening to cassette tapes again, and really enjoying the memories they bring back. Yeah, remember those things, a length of magnetic tape on two reels in a plastic case that you would have to flip over from side A to side B? I was cleaning up, and found several Thai music tapes (Coco Jazz and Suntharaporn), of which I do not have the CD versions. Their music is timelessly good.

I also unearthed the mix tapes Joe and I made for each other when we were first dating. What memories it brought back! We made them, not just for affection, but so that we’d have something to listen to during the hourly drives we had to take to see one another, instead of the same old songs and more of the same old commercials on the radio. Besides, a person’s taste in music reflects a lot about them.

Making mix tapes was hard, as you couldn’t always fit songs without leaving a blank hissing space on one side or the other. It was also laborious. You had to listen to the dubbing of each song, so that you hit the pause button right after the song ended, before the next song began. And the fiddling with the volumes, etc. CD burning and ripping technology has made personal compilations so terribly easy.

I also found the second annual lagniappe tape I made, in 1996, and listened to that again.
The 1996 lagniappe was unique because I had recorded friends reading poetry in different languages (microphone plugged into boom box) onto it. There was Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, French, and Spanish poetry. I’d just gone to the library and picked up bilingual poetry books and picked out poems at random. The French one was the funniest, because not only did David and his friend read the poem in French, they also read the English version in a heavy exaggerated French accent, you can hear them barely able to hold in their laughter on the tape.

I just realized as I was writing this, that I was such a xenophile, I didn’t include any poetry in English! Well, I’m not sure what poem or whom I would have picked to read.

I’ll have to figure out how to copy that cassette tape to upload those poetry readings to computer so I can burn them onto CD. I think it would be a nice surprise for those readers (5 of 6 with whom I’m still in contact !). They probably don’t even remember humoring my odd request of them to record those poetry readings ten years ago!

Coincidentally, when I was at the Goodwill store a couple of weeks ago, I saw someone diligently sifting through the record (vinyl) bin. This man had quite a stack of records he’d picked out. “Do you spin?” I asked. “No, I actually like listening to records while I’m doing things around the house. I mean, the iPod is fine for when you go jogging or driving, but I prefer records. Oh look, “he said excitedly, “This one’s in mono! I like the mono sound even better than stereo!”


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