Yes, I’ve heard her calling herself an old lady not once but quite a few times during her concerts in Singapore. Her self-deprecating comments are always followed by laughter from the full house with adoring shouts of ‘we still love you’ and ‘you are still beautiful’.
And she is indeed still beautiful, in fact even more beautiful than when she just began singing decades ago.
Yes, she is on the wrong side of 50, an old lady as she herself claims. Then why do I catch every one of Cai Qin’s concerts since her first at the new esplanade many years ago? Her most recent concert, entitled Good Omen（好预兆）, was held just 2 weeks ago at the Star Theatre. The reason is that she has become my model for successful ageing.
Cai Qin (蔡琴) or Tsai Chin, started her career when she was still in university. It was the height of the local folk song craze in Taiwan and many university students, many carrying just their guitars, began singing in local folk restaurants民歌餐厅, Taiwan’s local version of pubs. Cai Qin, bespectacled and really geeky looking began singing ‘just for fun’ as she confesses.
Her song, Like Your Tenderness (恰似你的温柔) made her a household name in the 70s. Then followed many other songs like Forgotten Time (被遗忘的时光), Deep Courtyard (庭院深深) and Reading You (读你).
At the height of her popularity, she decided to marry famous late Taiwanese director Yang Dechang (杨德昌) in a high profile marriage which was followed by the equally high profile divorce from him.
Subsequently, she found her second spring with the beautifully moving movie theme song The Last Night (最后一夜) from the Last Night of Mama King (金大班的最后一夜), the film adaptation of famous Taiwanese author Bai Xianyong（白先勇）’s novella of the same name.
This was not the last dramatic event in her life which parallels the melodrama in Chinese movies. She had a health scare and she recalled her feelings as she battled the depression and anxiety that came from the trial.
She survived everything and began to rebuild her career and ventured into new areas like her foray into musicals. Her low sonorous vocals combined with her strong emotive renditions of old Chinese pop classics gave her the title of queen of the evergreens and won her fans and supporters throughout Asia and the West, in fact anywhere we can find Chinese people.
Cai Qin is a successful model of ageing in 5 ways.
- She is a survivor. Although she was affected by her childless divorce from her straying husband and her health scare, she not only survived but bounced back with a vengeance. Instead of letting such circumstances destroy her, she freely shares these experiences with her receptive audience whose hearts she warms each time she puts herself up as a reassuring testimony to the fact that we can survive just as she did and continues to.
- She is able to defeat depression. Is she just one of those happy-go-lucky people who are just always cheerful? From her sharing, we know that she is a normal average person who is as susceptible to depression and negativity as everyone else. What is different is that after a bout of depression, she is able to get up again. Perhaps it is her faith in God; perhaps it is her resilience in spirit. Whether we believe in the power of prayer or not, she shows us that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…..it does get better.
- She is able to reinvent herself. At an age when many of her contemporaries would have become passe, she has not only managed to stay afloat but has even performed at sell out concerts each time, not just in her native Taiwan or in Singapore but all over China. The thing about her performances is that instead of trying to fight with the fickle changing flavours of the pop scene, she reinvents herself. Instead of trying to compete with the young ones like Jay Chou (周杰伦), Show Luo (罗志祥) and Jolin Tsai (蔡依林) who incidentally is holding her concert in Singapore this week, she creates her own show. In fact, she readily admits that she is no Chou, Luo or Tsai, well not in terms of energetic dance moves (Luo, the dancing king of Asian pop has displayed nifty footwork on stage to the screams of his adoring teeny bopper fans), number of costume changes (Tsai has been known to change more than 10 costumes within a medley of her own personal hits) and technological magic (Chou recently sang duets with the late Teresa Teng through a hologram of the pop idol who has been dead for more than 10 years https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TixHYua3XCI). However, in terms of charm and infectious rapport with the audience, she is in no way second to them. The way she teases her audience and jokes with them like an old friend and even gets away with jibes at them put her in a class of her own among performers.
- She has created her own rules to the game. Cai Qin, I believe, will be the first to admit that she cannot play by the rules of the game set down by others. At a time when international performers normally invites guest singers to draw a larger crowd, Cai Qin has managed without any guests. She sings and banters for more than 2 hours occasionally disappearing for a costume change or to take a sip of water placed on stage “just like a big star” (I believe she was referring to Barbra Streisand). Her wit and stage presence are always enough to enthral and engage her audience and the 2 hours fly past effortlessly. She is also known to manage the whole programme herself with perhaps just her long time collaborator, music director Zhang Linjiang overseeing the musical arrangements and her small ensemble of musicians. But it is her old world charm which wins the day. She has played according to her own rules and won because she has always been wise enough to play on her own home ground.
- She has a story to tell. A lot of her old world charm comes from….well, the old world. Having the years of life experiences behind her, she is able to create a narrative that the youngsters can hardly match. Her concerts are always laced with stories of her family life, stories of her ups and downs, stories of her battle scars and victories, stories of her fears and her faith, stories of her tears and her smiles. These all form her personal narrative which she shares freely with her audiences who realise that this is not just a performer, this is also a human being just like them and she is their familiar friend. Yes, it is nostalgia but it is the stabilizing anchor and temporary solace for all of her audience who are facing the challenges of a constantly changing and unstable new world.
So why do I attend every one of Cai Qin’s concert? During her concerts of more than 2 hours, I find myself going into a safer world that provides a temporary shelter from the dangerously dazzling world which I live in, the dizzy MTV world of a visual frame a second. Not only do I get to listen to her familiar, mellifluous and sonorous voice, I get to relive the old world where unhurried charm, classy elegance and ritzy glamour rule.
So will I attend more of Cai Qin’s concerts? You bet I will. I also want to age successfully.
See a recording of her 海上良宵 concert 2010 in Hong Kong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB3Rnt5Nw04