“WHERE there is water, there are the Chinese; where there are Chinese, there are Teresa Teng’s songs.” This is how people describe the popularity of the late singer, an all-time superstar from Taiwan.
At the height of Teng’s career in the 1970s and 1980s, her songs could be heard on the airwaves across the globe. And everywhere, people of Chinese descent were singing those songs.
The multi-lingual diva was a household name in Japan because she had released quite a number of albums in that country and won some of its music awards.
Even if you are too young to know Teng when she was alive, you must have heard her songs such as Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart), which Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza Taruddin has covered; and Dan Yuan Ren Chang Jiu (Wishing the People We Miss a Long Life), a must-play number during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Teng, better known in China as Deng Li Jun, died from a severe asthma attack in 1995 while holidaying in Thailand. She was 42.
Although more than two decades have passed, she remains in the heart of her fans.
On Jan 29 this year, Google paid tribute on the diva’s 65th birthday with a special Google Doodle featuring a cartoon caricature of her.
One of those who remember Teng fondly is Zheng Rongbin. So much so that he has opened a Teresa Teng-themed restaurant in Beijing.
“She was not just a singer. She was part of us, sharing every moment of our lives, be it happy or sad,” he said.
Zheng noted that Teng’s music began playing in China after the nation had reformed its economy and opened up to the outside world in the 1980s.
Her sweet voice and the beautiful melodies of her songs immediately found a place in the hearts of the people, setting off a pop music wave across the country, he added.
“Veteran singers in China have said in interviews that Teng expanded their musical world. They had not known that songs could be sung in such a way,” he pointed out, explaining that the Chinese previously had mostly only listened to Chinese opera, folk songs and the work of sopranos before the introduction to pop music via Teng’s songs.
At that time, tension between China and Taiwan was rising.
Yet, no one could stop people in China from listening to and singing Teng’s numbers.
“She represented the era. The lyrics and melodies of her songs are simple but beautiful. They touched people of all ages and from all walks of life, although she had never set foot on the mainland,” said Zheng.
“This really showed that music has no borders and goes beyond everything.”
Zheng’s restaurant, which opened seven years ago, is the one and only outlet in the world authorised by Teng’s family.
“Her brother is a friend of mine. This place is more like a gathering venue for the fans of Teng to reminisce.
“It is also a museum to introduce the legendary singer to the younger generation,” he said.
The two-storey outlet can host 500 diners.
On the ground floor is a memorial hall displaying the singer’s biography, photographs, duplicate copies of her identity documents and certificates as well as a variety of cheongsam that are replicas of those worn by Teng at her concerts.
Snapshots of Teng fill a wall along the staircase leading to the dining area on the second floor. The shop serves food that are said to be Teng’s favourites, including claypot pork knuckle, fried kangkung and prawn with pineapple, and you tiao.
“We call it the ‘Deng Li Jun private home dishes’. The recipes are from her family members. We altered them a little bit to suit the taste of the locals,” said Zheng.
While savouring the food, guests are entertained by a series of Teng’s songs performed by the Love Jun Cultural Troupe, a band set up by Zheng to groom young singers and musicians. The performance is held during lunch and dinner hours daily.
The group has produced a few “little Teresa Tengs” who have made a name for themselves in the music industry.
One of them is Vanatsaya Viseskul, a Thai teenage singer who goes by the stage name Langgalamu in China.
Three years ago, she took part in The Voice of China, a popular singing competition on TV.
She stunned the audience with her looks and voice and singing style that resembled Teng’s and gained overnight fame.
“We also organise singing competition and other cultural activities like calligraphy writing and painting of Teng portraits,” said Zheng.
His biggest satisfaction is from introducing Teng’s work to the young, especially when they end up loving those songs.
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