Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
Chengdu, China has a population of over 14,000,000 inhabitants and is the communist nation's fourth most populous city but I had never heard of it prior to 2007. That spring, I stumbled upon a travel guide while strolling through my favourite bookstore and discovered that the city was home to a research centre for panda breeding, a site where visitors could actually interact with the creatures. I want to go there, I thought to myself. I want to do that. And a few months later, there I was somehow having talked my father into backpacking around the country with me; our adventure reaching its zenith at this gateway to Tibet.
Chengdu lacks the sex of Hong Kong, the ambition of Shanghai and the history of Beijing but in itself represents perhaps the most honest portrait of modern China. It is a working class city where, despite numerous temptations brought about by economic virility, family and tradition remain life's top priorities. My father and I witnessed the essence of this one afternoon when we took a stroll through a local park. Younger children marvelled at the koi ponds while their adolescent siblings excitedly lined up to ride the most archaic (and seemingly unsafe) roller coaster I'd ever seen. Grandparents and other extended family members rounded out most groups that were out simply enjoying the company of each other without distraction. This life had become foreign to me. Before I could ponder it too long though, I overheard something that captured my attention. Something distinctly Western being piped through the loud speakers bestrewed throughout the area:
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place. Such a lovely face.
It was so absurd to me at the time, this 70s AM radio staple about excesses of the high life being played here of all places. My father noted it as well. It made him laugh and was something he continued to reminisce about in conversation for years to follow.
If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true
Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried
Still I look to find a reason to believe
It was an awkward weekend. There's always a shift, sometimes just barely perceptible, when a relationship changes. Of course there's the initial increased heart palpitations of being around someone you fancy, as well as the inability to maintain eye contact or to formulate intelligent speech after friendship turns to lust. These graceless transformations of resolve normally signal something positive though; that one's heart is open to the risk of rejection. This weekend, they signalled its closing.
There had been problems. Some that were obvious and others that I just suspected. Over the course of these two days, at an acquaintance's wedding in a city far from home, I would be brought to light. My intuition gratified. Angry at the situation and moreso at myself, I flipped through endless television channels on Sunday morning trying to find something that would speak to me. Something that could aid in my spirit rising above the bullshit of modern romance. I came across Rod Stewart's Unplugged set (this was still an era when MTV actually played music). At that exact moment, Rod was singing the lyrics above from his classic "Reason to Believe". Whether fate or pure chance, I found the strength I was looking for delivered by a pietist with a mullet.
Music is such an important part of my life. I could go forever without watching another film or reading another book but losing the feeling of becoming enraptured in rhythm and lyric would be the end of me. Music provides a soundtrack, sparking memories and enhancing future ones that you may not yet realize the significance of. It is a conduit towards understanding the human condition. Counsel, gospel and friend in symphonic form. I still feel that I owe Rod Stewart a fruit basket or something as thanks.
To this day, whenever I hear "Hotel California" I am instantly transported to Chengdu. It gets me thinking about my past and present self. About the journey one takes through life and the people who help them get there. Recently I considered playing this song at my father's funeral as it's oddly come to represent family and the importance of prioritizing those relationships. I decided against it as I felt the context would be misunderstood. I instead picked my own favourite song. One whose memory I forever want linked with the person that has meant the most to me in life:
There are places I remember
In my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one that compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more