Apparently there's a term for this thing I do when I listen to radio stations from other parts of the world: "radio tourism". Leave it to the cool kids to devise an implicitly derisive name for something that other people enjoy doing, no matter how weird it initially sounds.
Sure, who actually takes the time to listen to radio stations from elsewhere, especially if those places don't speak English? What pleasure does one get from it? But then, those questions remind me of how people scoffed when I began getting into K-pop, only for them to really get into it when it became cool and/or convenient and/or profitable for them. And then they say they've been there first?
But I digress, extremely. "Radio tourism". That's my starting point. Apart from potentially discovering music - that's how I powered a music blog - it allows me to live vicariously, somewhat. I can't leave this island for the foreseeable future, so listening to radio stations from elsewhere is the next best thing, never mind that I haven't been to a lot of places. Right now I'm listening to a station broadcasting from Los Angeles, and there's honestly no chance of me going to the United States. (Not that I dream of going there now.)
What I've been listening to frequently - and I've written about this a lot in the past few months - is radio from Hong Kong. I'll say it's mostly because my annual trips to the city have been cut short, initially by the protests, and then by the pandemic. That's three years in a row this year.
I love the place. If there's a place I'd choose to go back to for a week-long, nothing-planned visit, it's Hong Kong. I still have the offline maps downloaded on my phone, although I doubt my Octopus card is still working.
The funny thing is, listening to their radio stations - RTHK Radio 3, in this case, as it's the one in English - brings me back more than any station from any other country I've been to. Take their automated programming at five in the morning. No matter what I'm doing, my head would somehow go back to a specific set of consolidated memories: me waking up earlier than I should, me looking out the hotel window, me realizing it's still dark out, me liking the cold anyway.
I'm pretty sure I'm thinking of my first ever visit to the city. It's my first ever foreign trip, actually, thirteen years ago. The family was staying at a hotel in the Mongkok area. There we were, walking on an empty pedestrian walkway, looking for a McDonald's branch. (The free breakfast we got with the package tour amounted to coupons at the fast food chain.) I look ahead, and I see sidewalk vendors set up their stalls for the day. I look at my hands, covered up in winter outfits - well, close enough to it, but definitely beyond what one would usually bring to Baguio - for the first time in my life. I was trying to get a good enough reception on my phone. Yes, I was listening to the radio, on good old FM, or at least trying to. There it was. Static, and then, a particularly tasty and credible mix of classic pop. That's what I imagine every time I return, and every time I tune in, really.
I can't say the same for Singapore. It was my favorite place, until I realized at some point in the past decade - perhaps around the time I wrote this, seven years ago - that it was really a boring place. I have listened to their radio stations, more so back when Lush 99.5 was still around, but the specific set of consolidated memories that comes up is less... tantalizing.
It's at the beginning of one of those week-long work trips. I get out of the airport - it's around eleven in the morning - and I get in a cab to the hotel. The driver is listening to Kiss 92, a radio station that (geek alert!) was licensed as one about women's interests, which is broad enough to allow it to become just another pop station, albeit a very successful one. The music isn't offensive - it's the sort of pop I wouldn't deliberately listen to, but wouldn't shy away from. What I remember more is the traffic report, with the presenter talking about the PIE and the AYE and the ECP (where I incidentally am). I look out the window and it starts to rain, for some reason. The cab driver asks me about where I am from and, upon learning I'm from the Philippines, asks me about what I think of Noynoy Aquino. "He seems like a good man," he said, before shifting his attention towards the pandas that just arrived at the Singapore Zoo.
Wait. I think I already wrote about all that. No wonder I remember it. But, I mean, it's not really that, er, romantic compared to what I conjure when I'm in Hong Kong. I can't explain it. Several visits to the little red dot, and all I have are memories of walking sidewalks and train stations, and that one time when I was caught in the rain, and that one time when I lost my umbrella at the National Library, which I was visiting with Malia, for some reason. I guess I really had a reputation for being geeky and/or boring.
"Why would you go back to Singapore?" Shalla asked me several times in the past few weeks, and the more she asks, the more I realize, yeah, why would I? The place is nice and everything works, but it never feels like anything to me several years away from it. (And it's not that many years.) Also, when I listen to their radio stations, I feel sticky, like they're sending their humidity and unpredictable weather my way. If only they could send their orderliness, but then, I don't think I want to live in a boring country, either.
So I stick to Hong Kong radio. I was in the carwash over the weekend and found myself listening to that same tasty and credible mix of classic pop, until an extended news bulletin came on, which talked about the upcoming elections there. There was talk of how Hong Kong citizens should vote to thwart "foreign forces" from influencing their affairs, about how only "patriots" should lead the city. It feels so sinister, somehow. And then, a perhaps-not-so-disconnected thought: will I ever be back there?