Utada Hikaru, You Were My Only Friend

utada_hikaruTook an all-expense not-paid roadtrip back to Hong Kong this morning, complete with bubble tea, dumplings, far away smoldering looks into the sky under heavy-lidded eyes, dreams of typhoons, and all that music by Utada Hikaru, who broke out in the summer of 1997. Utada—your pain! Your throaty longing! All your wild hair! Sister, you are not of Hong Kong but we loved you then and I still do.

Here’s how: Living in a dorm underneath the international flight path of Cathay Pacific means you can climb up to your roof with a copy of the South China Morning Post and all your university notebooks together with more, always more, bubble tea. Or boiled lemongrass. Or a combination of the oolong and coffee that only the best heroes of Hong Kong can and will offer you.

I miss every moment, sipping and working to make out the faces in the round plastic windows that went floating by at 500 miles per hour. The wind blew hard and sirens rose when the clouds bore down.

Up there I never worked so hard at my studies as I did on my hearing, to strain and to hear, between the whine of descending 747s, for Utada’s pop vocal stylings that wafted from neighboring apartments and all the open storefronts. We lived on top of each other then as they still do now, my neighborhood Kowloon Tong perched on the hill above the island and down below stood all those high rises, all that money and desperation, all that hot air between the city and the storm, stock still. Utada, you were the soundtrack.

During the week I took notes in class. At night and on the weekends I climbed up there to study. But I wound up staring into the plane-filled sky, beyond my notes that invariably read: “Damaging the integrity of the market is the biggest argument against insider trading.” (It seemed, at the time, a distinct if extraterrestrial possibility that I would become a banker.) The sky was more interesting.

At night I dated the banker I would not become and, if I had time or if I did not make it to class or if, perhaps, some other calamity of heart and mind prevailed, I climbed the stairs, alone, back to the roof where I studied the underside of landing gear and clouds. Utada, you were my only friend.

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