My Mother’s Song: Inspired by a true story



When the Taiwanese tourist landed in Cape Town, he did not know in twenty minutes’ time he would help a stranger end a lifelong search. After all, this was the first time the tourist travelled overseas. This was his first encounter of the brave new world.

Carrying only a backpack, he quickly found a taxi. The inky dark-skinned driver opened the car door with a friendly smile and said, in fluent English, “Welcome to South Africa!” Wow, his English is way better than mine, the tourist reflected. Shyly he handed over a note with an address written on it. “Thank you. Please take me to this hotel.”

As the taxi got onto the busy freeway, the driver started humming a tune. “Do you know this melody?” he asked.

Just to be polite, the tourist listened. Among the roar of cars speeding pass and the aging taxi’s thundering engine, as well as the sound of his own impatient heartbeat, the tune sounded vaguely familiar. Unconsciously he leaned toward the driver, as if trying to grasp a distant memory. In the bright blue afternoon sky he could almost see the shadow of a bird.

Sensing the tourist’s interest, the driver hummed a bit louder. On his sincere broad face was an expression of longing, an almost invisible sense of sorrow, a glimpse of hope. Such mixture of emotions somehow reminded the tourist of his hometown Taipei, although he just left there the previous night. Some words slowly took shape in his mind:

That pair of shiny black eyes and tender smile —

I can never forget how much your face has changed.

The past, light as a feather, slips out of my hands.

So many years have gone by when I finally gaze back.

The tourist suddenly had a hunch. Using his mobile phone, he started searching on YouTube for a Chinese song that he had heard some twenty years ago. Back then he as a high school student was too busy enjoying life to care much about the song. The writer/singer was not even young, but a thirty-something who looked too old to be leading in any fashion, not to mention popular music.

It was only until several years ago, after his business had failed and, depressed, he started contemplating the idea of realising his childhood dream of seeing the world, that the tourist recalled this song. The re-make of the song by a young pretty singer helped, of course, but her girly voice somehow could not fully convey the sense of deep melancholy and yearning expressed through the original guy’s voice, something the tourist could now appreciate:

Perhaps tomorrow when the sun goes down and all the tired birds are home,

You will already have embarked on that journey back to me.

In this life it is hard to find another who knows me so well,

But how can I give up such blue, blue sky with white clouds.

He found the YouTube video and showed it to the driver. “Is this it?” he asked. It was Taiwanese singer Luo Dayou’s renowned “Love Song 1990”.

The black man listened with his eyes remaining on the road… then tears started streaming down his cheeks. “Yes, Yes! That’s it,” he parked the taxi and murmured. “That’s my mother’s song!”

Some twenty years ago, the taxi driver as a boy was living in Zaire with his mother. The two of them used to visit a local fruit-and-vegetable shop owned by a Chinese migrant, who loved broadcasting all sorts of “home music” through a cassette tape player behind the counter. Seeing how much the fatherless boy enjoyed this Chinese song, the shop owner gave him the tape as a gift. The boy would then play the melody at home as mother and son struggled to survive as poor peasants.

Then, following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, two million exiled Rwandan Hutus caused much violence in surrounding countries such as Zaire, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda. In response to this, Rwandan and Ugandan forces invaded Zaire in 1996, and the boy and his mother fled the country with other refugees. They eventually settled in South Africa, but the cassette tape was somehow lost along the way. Later she died, too, so whenever the boy missed his mother he would think of this Chinese melody.

The boundless road to the world’s edge is your wandering.

These everlasting footsteps are my desire to be with you.

I can still feel your tender love beside my pillow in the dark.

In the morning when I rise, only my sorrow is left.

With the story told, for a long time both were quiet. When the tourist finally broke the silence and translated the Chinese lyrics into English, the diver insisted the words “pair of shiny black eyes and tender smile” were referring to his mother. He said he went to Congo (formerly Zaire) as a grown man ten years ago, trying to locate his old home and that Chinese shop, but both had long disappeared as a result of decades of political turmoil. Since then, whenever he saw a Chinese-looking person, male or female, he would hum the melody and ask if they recognise it. After ten long years and thousands of inquiries, he finally found the song as a permanent mark of his mother’s life.

The Taiwanese tourist helped the South African driver download the YouTube video onto the latter’s mobile phone. The Chinese melody kept playing in the taxi until the tourist was dropped off at his hotel. The two exchanged contact details and later friended each other on Facebook. It just shows how memories of a mother’s love can last forever, reaching across barriers of languages, cultures and time.

Outside my window are claps of thunder and rain.

I can never forget how much life has changed since you left.

Beyond my lonely shadow remains an everlasting forlornness.

Without regret, my eyes will forever be searching for you.


Image thanks to: (Chinese). Please click HERE to watch the musical video “Love Song 1990”. Lyrics translated by Christine Sun.



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