Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
The Umbrella Man
He sets off in search of his dearest
And has still not returned today
The first two lines of “Ka Ming” (家明), a Cantopop song sung by Kay Tse On-kei released in 2014, the year of the Umbrella Movement, introduce us to the story of an ordinary man, named Ka Ming, who is devotedly looking for his beloved. In face of impediments, his aspiration for love never dwindles. Appearing to be a romantic narrative, when read more closely, Ka Ming’s love story, in fact, carries a metaphorical meaning.
誰願意 為美麗信念 坦克也震開
Who is willing, for the sake of their graceful beliefs,
To even smash open the tanks?
‘Tanks’ is a bold reference to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which Ka Ming, an activist, took part. Accordingly, the dedicatedly pursued ‘love’ of Ka Ming can be interpreted as his adherence to democracy, justice, or whatever values engraved in his mind that, despite in peril, he never forgoes.
Whether you love him or not,
You can still bring the courage home
Inevitably, his ardour is not universally welcomed. Some, having been disappointed before, are sceptical about his potential to bring about the slightest change, believing it only happens in films and novels. However, regardless of our points of view towards his devotion, the constancy is essentially inspiring during the decaying epoch, be it in 1989 or in 2014. Even if we may not be able to lend a helping hand, we are urged not to discourage Ka Ming and those who are like him. Faith, however thwarted by a gloomy outlook, will one day bring us a glimmer of hope.
The meaning he leaves behind
Depends on how the archive is written
Ka Ming, as a name, naturally reminds us of the character who is of the same name in the 2011 TVB drama When Heaven Burns (天與地). Trapped by a snowstorm in a mountain, Ka Ming is slaughtered by his three friends and is eventually eaten by them, who cannot endure the extreme hunger anymore. Ka Ming, then, is devoured just to fill the stomachs of the three, sacrificed in desperate times. Dramatic the plot may seem, but if we were the three friends, would we abandon Ka Ming in exchange for another gnawing breath of life? Or would we hold onto each other, even though the path in front of us appears hopelessly bleak? It is our choice to make, and either way, we decide what Ka Ming leaves for us.
Janet Lau is a graduate of the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2016). [Click here to read all entries by Janet.]