Ear Candies

When I find a tune I fancy, I put it on repeat mode. I can listen and re-listen to the same song over and over for hundreds of times till I remember every syllable of the lyrics, every inch of background music, and even to the extent of knowing exactly when my iPod will start the song again when it ends. And after a while it becomes a comforting background tune that resonates among the corners of my mind.

And because I tend to listen to music while doing something, many of my die-hard favourites have over time become associated with particular events and stories and feelings and emotions.

Here’s 10 songs that bring back specific, emotion-packed memories.

1. Gone / Daughtry

This was from one of my first English albums that I listened to. I was in Junior College when I bought my first MP3 player – a Creative Zen Nano in lime green. It had a tiny horizontal screen that displayed the song being played like a ticker tape, all in gray scale. And that was like the coolest gadget to possess then.

I spent a lot of after class hours hanging out at our very own CCA room. Getting that club room was a huge piece of pride and freedom for all of us in the Exco and it took us a crazy amount of effort to get it from the school — I shall leave that whole story for another time to tell — anyway, we used to spend countless hours after school in our CCA room fighting with overdue tutorials and conducting early morning emergency meetings before assembly. We had an outing to IKEA to buy furniture and accessories to beautify our room and I remember that we took a silly video introducing our newest hangout being revamped. And for some reason I remember that this song was playing out loud on speakers from my Creative Zen Nano while we were being crazy on video.

2. It’s Not Over / Daughtry + 痛快 / S.H.E

Obviously being distracted school kids with short attention span, we weren’t always concentrating on lecture notes and homework when we were supposed to. Because we would do even less when we got home, and there was something slightly more motivating to study with friends, we would have late night mugging at our CCA room. Our school administrative staff (aka our favourite admin aunty) was the most awesome person in the world because she would take dinner orders from students staying back in school and get them delivered right to our general office for us to collect. And so we would order our favourite salted fish fried rice for dinner and (try) to mug and clear unlimited volumes of tutorials till we lose our sanity – which happened very often actually. During one of those episodes when we sort of lost our minds trying to solve integration problems at 10pm, we started changing lyrics of songs that we were playing on speakers. These two songs were the sad victims of our insanity, but all in the name of good fun. I still laugh over it now. On hindsight, I conclude that we should never become lyricists or songwriters, though to be fair we were (and still are) pretty talented at making a mockery out of anything, ourselves included.

3. How You Remind Me / Nickelback

Junior College was particularly awesome because we had East Coast Park at our backyard and I used to pay it a visit several times a week for a run to kick off some heat. There were many times then when the going got really tough and I struggled to stay abreast. Sometimes things got over my mental and emotional threshold. Running was always my best solution to turn to. Running kept my spirit alive and my sanity in place, while channeling all the bad energy into good physical maintenance.

Music is a great companion when running because it acts as a great distraction from the physical tiredness. This song was my all-time favourite song that I would always listen to on repeat mode when I went for my runs. Its slow, steady rhythm was great for pacing my speed for a long distance. It became my audio stopwatch and my breathing cue because it was always the same song, same distance, same route.

4. 你最进还好吗 / S.H.E

Of all the songs that I got hooked on to, this one was probably the most long-lasting – easily for several months I was listening to this very same song on an infinite loop. Even till now I still like this song, and I still like it very much.

I got glued to this song when I was in year two of university, I think.

That semester I remember doing Software Engineering as one of my classes. SE was the notorious module of my course that seniors would tell freshmen about expecting many, many sleepless nights being spent to survive the class. In the end, I didn’t really have sleepless nights but I had lots of sleepy afternoons and long nights of coding. I still remember that my team met from 7pm to 10pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in order to make consistent progress. Often it ran past the timing till 11 or midnight, running off to catch my last bus while still in a daze of an overheated brain.

I survived that semester thanks to power naps that I would take in the library every afternoon. I had my favourite spot on the second floor that I’d claim my territory where I took naps in multiples of 20 minutes in order to stay moderately functional for the rest of the day/night. And I would always listen to this song on repeat when I took my naps. I listened to it so many times that it became a soothing lullaby that accompanied me through those tired afternoons.

5. Just A Dream (Cover) / Sam Tsui and Christina Grimmie

I got hooked to this rendition of Just A Dream during my first year studying in the states. And I stumbled upon this cover on YouTube, before I even heard the original by Nelly. For the record, I have always liked this cover version over the original.

This was the first time I heard about Sam Tsui and Christina Grimmie, two now very popular YouTube artists who have grown to become rather famous for their original approach to doing covers. I think this cover skyrocketed their popularity in the music space. And it is because of this cover that I became quite a fan of Sam Tsui’s covers.

Somebody once told me that if I ruled a country, I would get Sam Tsui to compose and sing the national anthem. I remember having a good laugh, because that implies an obsession with his vocals and music talent, and because till now I refuse to admit that I hold that level of obsession. He does have awesome vocals and I like the way he frowns when he sings, but he has done a few so-so covers so I do indeed still apply fair judgment in his performance. Not blind obsession OK.

6. Stereo Hearts ft. Adam Levine / Gym Class Heroes

The epitome of my Maroon 5 addiction. I was first introduced to this song by a senior of mine, and I searched for it on Spotify. I remember I searched for Stereo Love instead and got the one by Edward Maya (which is another great song by the way), and was waiting for Adam Levine’s voice to show up but never did within the first 5 seconds and thus concluded I must have gotten the wrong song. Levine’s vocals are just too distinct to be mistaken.

It was also shortly after stumbling upon Stereo Hearts when I got the chance to watch Maroon 5 live. They did a gig in Lycoming College in Pennsylvannia, and a few of us hit the roads for a few hour drive to this town called Williamsport. It’s so funny because while we were so excited to see Maroon 5 live, none of us actually knew all their names and I remember that we were frantically Googling their band’s bio while in the queue to enter the concert premises. Of course by the time we hit the standing area (there were no chairs) of the concert hall, we were contented knowing that our dear lead singer’s called Adam Levine and that he’s damn awesome.

Post-concert syndrome kicked in immediately upon leaving the concert hall – blasting Maroon 5’s songs over and over on our trip back to Pittsburgh and singing out loud with the car windows down.

And it never ended there. For I think the next few months, Stereo Hearts was on eternal replay during my waking hours and it was so bad that I successfully incepted every other person living in my house. They either heard Stereo Hearts from my phone, laptop, or from my poor imitation of Adam Levine’s pitchy voice – enough to get it stuck in their heads till everyone was humming Stereo Hearts at home. Awesome, isn’t it? I still put it on replay once in a while to put a little beat into my day.

7. Tom’s Diner / Suzanne Vega

This song will forever be associated with Ireland.

We went to Europe during Spring Break when we had a week off school and Dublin was our first stop. We were on a cab that took us from the city’s airport to our accommodation and this was the last song we heard on that cab’s radio before we bid the driver goodbye. It was the first time I heard this song and I was so captivated by its chillax beat that I was determined to find out the name of the song. Most unfortunately, by the end of the day I forgot how the song went like and I felt so lousy because I wanted to make a video of the trip (which I still have yet to work on) and put that song in it. It was my Ireland song.

About a month (I think?) after our trip, I was listening to Spotify radio and I randomly, awesomely, stumbled upon that song. I remember being so excited that I was jumping and running around the house announcing to the whole world of my victorious achievement. Tom’s Diner – then and forever my Ireland song.

8. Moves Like Jagger (Cover) / Tyler Ward and Katy McAllister

I discovered this cover on YouTube just before I left for a 6 hour bus ride to Toronto to look for a friend. And I loved this cover so much that I immediately bought it on iTunes, plugged it into my iPod nano and put it on repeat for the full 144-minute bus ride to Toronto.

I remember that when I arrived at the bus terminal 6 hours later in middle of the night, that was one of those times which I actually feared of freezing, literally, because it was so incredibly cold when I got off the bus. I waited for my friend for what seemed like eternity and she arrived clad in just two miserable layers of hoodies. I stared at her thinking she must be crazy wearing so little when temperatures were at freezing point. Till today, I can’t quite forget how it felt like that night to be so cold beyond physical tolerance.

9. Ass Back Home / Gym Class Heroes ft. Neon Hitch

Neon Hitch has outstandingly beautiful vocals. I don’t even know how to describe her voice.

This was my solo backpacking song. The song that accompanied me for three weeks of adventure that stood between just me and the world. It was set to replay mode on my iPod, and I never changed it throughout my trip. The same song on every coach, bus, train, plane, street car, or cab that I took. I love listening to music when I travel because it’s as if I can actually control the mood of my journey and this song made every mile I covered an upbeat.

The only exception was when I was in Vegas and Treasure Island was so awesome because their hotel rooms came with an iPod dock, and I decided to put Stereo Hearts (again) on replay – just for two nights, and two nights only.

10. Safe and Sound (Cover) / Megan Nicole and Tiffany Alvord

The symbol of Hunger Games, one of the most heart-wrenching and morbid story plots I have ever come across. Gorgeous song, beautifully written and covered. I grew attachment to this tune because it somehow provided refuge from the tsunami of events that I was failing to cope with then. They say that tough times don’t last but tough people do. That was one of those tough times that lasted much longer than I could. Murphy was trying to test my thresholds and did successfully capsized every bit of stability I possessed.

But it did blew over, eventually.

Deep in the meadow, under the willow,
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head ,and close your sleepy eyes
And when again they open, the sun will rise.

Here its safe, here its warm
Here the daisies guard you from every harm
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you


Your Move

Moving on is a mandatory component of growing up.

Every year before Chinese New Year comes, I would spring clean. It’s amazing how much possessions you’d collect over just a year. Space is limited, so something somewhere needs to go because new things will always coming in, whether you like it or not.

I think that we are engineered to like new things. Maybe because there’s a sense of novelty, a tinge of freshness. Or hope. Hope that something new will provision us in a way that meets or even exceeds our expectations. Hope that this could be a worthy replacement of something we already own, or used to own. Hope that we could possibly possess something that fills a gap, a hollow. We are always so conflicted, because even though we ask for steadiness and security, we want adventure, we want surprises and we want little silver parachutes to brighten our days.

But even if new things descend upon us infinitely, we can really only open our doors to a finite number of them. We need to be selective, we need to be prudent. For things that we welcome with both arms, there are also things that we need to let go. It’s not necessarily one-for-one exchange, but there’s only that much we can possess at one go at any one time, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Letting go is a big part of growing up. There are things that we used to hold on to as kids but have to give up as we enter adulthood. I realized that there’s an expiry to everything in life. And it’s not about recognizing that they have a fixed expiry date. It is about recognizing that we set expiry dates on everything we possess and we have the autonomy to rule their expiry. In our hearts and minds, only we can govern when we choose to possess or hold on to something, and in the same way, we are the ones who decide when to truly let go of something – first physically, then mentally and emotionally.

Growing up can be hard, but it’s only as hard as we make it for ourselves.

Tearin’ Up My Heart

By the end of this very week, I will be on another long haul, 13-hour flight back home. So quick, so much anticipation, yet so much mixed feelings.

I have been rather nomadic over the past two years, been hopping about from city to city traveling, studying and now working. I probably have not stayed put in a place for more than six months continuously, and so when people ask me if I’m looking forward to going back home, I don’t really know the answer.

This will probably be my last long haul flight, at least for quite a while. I know for sure that I will miss this limitless freedom to travel, going wherever my soul pleases and feet take me. I know for sure I will miss exploring new places, getting lost in new cities with complex urban plans, and stumbling upon special zen spots by accident which I will claim to be my secret hideout for that city. And I will miss running to my secret hideouts or favourite quiet spots to ponder about the world at large. Traveling has changed me a million times over, in any and every way. It gives you so much adventure, and so many reasons why life is worth living.

So on one hand it is really hard to part with the hands of a nomad and return home where life feels stable, routine and grounded. It is honestly upsetting when I begin wondering when will be the next time I get to backpack to somewhere foreign again and let this world amaze me with its awesomeness. And somewhere deep inside I fear that for some reason, I may not even get to travel like this ever again.

On the other hand, I have been away from home quite long enough – I must admit. Home sickness does loom over you when you’ve been gone for too long. Never ever underestimate the power of home. People who will stand by you no matter where you are and what you do. Things that you’d deem so familiar that its merely second nature to you. Being home always makes me feel like I’ve got a new boost of strength and energy, ready to take life’s challenges ahead regardless what they might be. And so yes, I do yearn to feel grounded in some place I have known for as long as I can remember and indulge in the comfort of familiarity.

The bottom line is that my heart is torn into two — dying to stay yet begging to leave.