On November 23rd, 2004, the legendary Hong Kong lyricist, writer and comedian Jim Wong died. The lung cancer got the better of him after years of struggle. My girlfriend was preparing dinner when I saw the brief news online in a tiny New York City apartment. “I can’t believe he is gone as well.” I whispered. Out of nowhere, a sense of nostalgia overwhelmed me.
I had seen my fair share of Hong Kong celebrity death in recent years. Singer Anita Mui died of breast cancer in December 2003. Actor Leslie Cheung committed suicide earlier that year in April. Those sad memories were still fresh when Jim’s death hit the wire. That was just too much. I was like a clumsy boxer who barely survived the first one-two punch, unexpectedly got hit by the third blow. I was knocked out.
These were the people I associated my adolescence with. Anita was the super diva back then, famous for her outrageous stage costumes and electrifying dancing style. Her choreography was taped and imitated among my classmates. Her concert posters were also hot collector’s items in the boys’ circle.
Leslie’s handsome bad boy image in Days of Being Wild fascinated me. As a bad-boy-wannabe, I was willing to lose an arm just to be half as cool as him. His Farewell My Concubine was the movie to watch in 1993. I didn’t fully understand the movie at the time, but I discussed it with my buddies nonetheless, especially about Leslie’ sexual orientation. It was the biggest mystery and we could argue for hours.
Jim Wong, or “Uncle Jim” as we used to call him, was the lyricist for all latest TV drama theme songs. TV dramas came and went, but his songs stayed. I even weaved some of his lyrics into my class writing assignments. His off-color jokes in his columns and talk shows also spread around like wild fires despite public criticism. I was one of his supporters, evident by my tireless imitations.
But then they were all dead! I was crushed by the glimpse of reality – “I am aging”. “Growing” and “aging” might be technically similar, but I used to draw a sharp line between them: I was growing and my parents were aging. It had been that way for as long as I could remember, but somehow I crossed the line without knowing. Familiar people were disappearing. Strangers started showing up on TV. The world that I knew of was fading. I couldn't do a thing about it. I pictured myself dying alone in an strange apartment, sitting in a dark corner watching clouds passing by the broken window.
“Dinner is almost ready.” My girlfriend’s voice came through the kitchen. I came back to reality and hurried into the kitchen. She was finishing up. I noticed the tiny sweat on her forehead. Her eyes were glittering from the fire on the stove. I suddenly felt the warmth inside of me. Maybe I will not die alone. Maybe aging is not that bad, as long as someone is aging with me. Maybe I can find other people to identify myself with in the future.
A lot of things I didn’t know at that moment, but what I did know was that I had to set up the dinner table and the food smelled delicious.