… do an American folk song and a millennia-old Chinese tradition mix.
I’m talking about the Chinese New Year song “齊齊賀下你 (Let us all wish you)”. I bet few Hong Kongers who grew up hearing the song every spring realize that the lyrics were written to the tune of Oh Susannah, an American folk song commonly associated with the California Gold Rush in the 1840-50s.
While the light and fast tune is suitable for a happy occasion like the new year, the original lyrics are much less auspicious – they tell a rather sad story:
I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee,
I’m going to Louisiana, my true love for to see
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
The sun so hot I froze to death; Susanna, don’t you cry.
Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry for me
I come from Alabama,
With my banjo on my knee.
How did Oh Susannah end up as a Chinese New Year song is a mystery. Some may find it a strange combination; I say this is a fine example of Hong Kong’s cultural adaptability.
In any case, it is a pleasant piece of music to listen to.
Except when it is blasted into your ears repeatedly at deafening volume by every loudspeaker in the Chinese restaurant amid all the clatter of crockery and chatter of diners – exactly the ordeal I had to go through yesterday evening.