Mark – Faye in New York in 1991

Mark, on August 21st, 2009 said:

I am interested in Faye’s move to NYC for a year in 1991 (arriving there in Dec 1990 as you mention above). I’ve never heard anything about her stay there. Where did she live? Did she make any friends? What did she do besides taking music classes? Did she have a caucasian boyfriend at the time? Isn’t anything known about her time there? I’m sure it was a “coming of age” and “self-identity” phase for Faye. Seems an important time in her life, I’d like to know more about it :-)

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Feifan’s reply: Mark, this is a terrific question! This part of Faye’s life always intrigued me, too. In the next few days, I’ll dig up some info and append it to this article. The photos above are from one of Faye’s first MVs, “Everything,” the title track from her second album, released in June 1990 when she was 20. (Click here to see the video.) She actually left for NY in late 1991. The sentence with the 1990 date, in the article you’re referring to, was poorly written. I added a clarification.

Faye in New York – added 22 Aug. 2009

(Note: The following is made up of excerpts gathered from a document, found at Tripod.com, that seems to be an authentic autobiography written in 1994. Additional information is from her biography, A Portrait of Faye Wong (王菲画传), by Huang Xiaoyang, China Radio and Television Press, 11 Nov. 2004[?]; and from other sources. -feifan)

The third album “Still Waiting Again,” [You’re the Only One, Dec. 1990] amid their struggling, did not make the grade. I felt that singing well was useless, and must think about other things. And if things did not change, I definitely could not make the grade. Emotions rise and fall, bored without compare.

Rushing back to Beijing when I had time, leaving behind all the worrisome realities. In Beijing, knowing there were music schools in USA, was like a little flame in my mind, letting it grow. When I returned to Hong Kong, the hurried feeling did not diminish a bit. Things are often like flowers, when they are at their fullest bloom, must begin to wither. If things were to change, then I must let that little flame I planted in Beijing grow into a fire, reducing everything to ashes, forgetting all the worries.

Three years ago [end of 1991], under the . . . dawn of winter, I stepped onto the plane destined for United States, leaving behind the worries of Hong Kong life, choosing a new life: enrollment in a music school. This choice, and my decision to become a singer, release records, was a turning point in my life, but I did not realize it at the time. When my parents signed my first record contract with Cinepoly, I was only 19 years old, and there were many things I didn’t understand. I was ignorant and naive.

I decided to study in the United States. When it happened, my moodiness had a place to go, and putting down my heavy worries was very comfortable. Although there were many voices which disagreed, I had made my decision. Happily, I went the road of Unites States. The turns and corners of people’s lives, there’s no way to hold. It seemed like I should not abandon, but abandonment has changed into a new life; just very lucky I guess!

America. Freedom. Excited and relaxed, I arrived in America. Alone I see the skyscrapers higher than the clouds, the people and cars fighting for the roads, and the rich flavors of a modern city. The hurried industrial nation also has a calm side: grand parks, quiet side streets, and even the underground cities exuded freedom. I came and went alone. Curious, fresh, wandering the streets as I please, savoring every moment. Buy an ice-cream, licking the flowing melted ice-cream, sweet and salty. Sitting on the park bench, even as my eyes filled with orange and yellow falling leaves, the killing cold of winter, yet my heart was filled with excitement, no winter cold.

What is missing, is the annoying struggling of Hong Kong, not feeling I cannot burst through the cage. That caged and self-doubting feeling was swept away with one stroke. Because here, everything starts as new, I can be like a newborn infant, everything starting from the beginning.

When I first arrived in America, I stayed at my aunt’s place for a while, then went to New York, starting some short-term classes for singing, dancing, living on my own in my little apartment. [From her biography: Because Faye’s decision to enroll was made at the last minute, her understanding of what to expect was unclear. When she first arrived in New York in the fall and tried to register, she learned that the program had started in the summer. She would have to wait until the new term to enter the program. Thus, she decided to enroll in some short-term classes.]

Simple, as I please, I come and go. Although I did not have a car, but going as I please, seeing other pedestrians with self-confidence also filled me with self-confidence. Rules, enriching times, whenever I learned a new insight, a piece of self-confidence will be placed onto the jig-saw puzzle that is my heart. In the air of freedom, I dared to express the real me, without reservation.

[From a 1998 interview: When asked why she went to New York, Faye said, “There’s lots of reason why I went to New york. First is I wanted to be myself, to know what I want.” Faye remembered clearly that one day she was sitting at a coffee shop watching people on the streets running around, very busy, not knowing what they wanted or what they were doing. Faye asked herself why she should be like them. Why did she become like that? She wanted to be herself again. Faye said, “I should be what I want to be. If the audience doesn’t accept me, I cannot do anything. I cannot change my true self just because they cannot accept the real me, doing something I don’t like.”]

[From another interview about her experiences in New York: “I wandered around, visited museums and sat at cafes,” she recalls. “There were so many strange, confident-looking people. They didn’t care what other people thought of them. I felt I was originally like that too, independent and a little rebellious. But in Hong Kong I lost myself. I was shaped by others and became like a machine, a dress hanger. I had no personality and no sense of direction.”]

[From her biography: She left her aunt’s home to move out alone into New York’s Chinatown. From then on, Faye Wong was truly alone to face her life. When she first arrived in New York, everything was so new, soaring skyscrapers, huge advertising posters, the endless flow of people. While the streets were busy, the leisure parks were relatively quiet, elegant. The people here were very independent, not so many disputes, not so many conflicts. She was therefore in a very cheerful mood. Coming to the United States, she suddenly realized that her character was not suitable for Beijing, not suitable for Hong Kong. The most suitable place for her was the United States. The United States encouraged a free personality and a free society. In both Beijing and Hong Kong, her personality was incompatible with the mainstream society, often conflicting with others. But the United States provided unlimited space to live as an independent person.]

There were also times of loneliness. I remember Chinese New Year’s Eve [13 Feb. 1991] I was sick. Fever brought difficulty breathing, dizziness, and I stayed home. [From her biography: Soon in the United States the first Spring Festival approached. She went out on that day (12 Feb. 1991) when the morning sky was still good, and did not expect the New York day would become cold with snow fall. The temperature suddenly dropped. That night, she was feeling unwell, and the next day’s Eve, she was knocked down by flu.]

That big night, I stayed home my lonely self. Especially, I missed old Beijing, the cold new year breeze being called away by the neighbor’s loud fire-crackers. Little children wearing big red coats, getting lucky money from their parents. Family gather for hot soup, eat dumplings, running from one alleyway through to another, knocking on doors, getting lucking money. I really miss the home village. Lying on my bed, popping of fire-crackers sounding from the nearby Chinatown, filling my sentimental heart. Whispering to the quiet empty apartment one phrase, “Happy New Year to everybody!” Those days when I was ill, I knew must tend to my health, and must not deteriorate. Although I did not know how to cook, I made sandwiches, and willed myself eat it. I was really growing up, and must take care of myself. Those American days made me more independent, more self-confident. Certainly it affected me, changed me, not in a this that fashion, but many cracks I had between people and things, gluing them together, making the person that is me today. The American days were a shelter on this long road.

As I have said, life is not to experience one thing. One person’s influence is walking hundreds of thousands of streets, occasionally discovering a piece, pieces intricately flow together to form a whole. Realizing my American spirit, undoubtedly added to my self-confidence; but other than those days, there were also people who gave me that feeling. . . .

[From her biography: While she was in New York, a vicious rumor was started in the Hong Kong press, implying that Faye didn’t go to New York to study but to get an abortion. This was the first time Faye experienced such an attack from the press, and journalist’s even harassed her parents. Her mother was opposed to her going to New York and felt that her worry was justified. She called Faye, and they quarreled over the phone. In tears, Faye hung up. Later, she called her mother and apologized. Her mother wasn’t used to hearing apologies from Faye so she was moved. At this moment, the ten years of tension between them suddenly fell away, and they became close.]

Returning to Hong Kong to release records, my feelings were simply to complete the record contract. At the time, I did not drop out of school, but wrote a letter saying I want to postpone my education temporarily. I was prepared to finish the record, then return to school. But the album “Coming Home” [Aug. 1992] changed my situation, especially the song “Fragile Woman.” It made me widely recognized, and the popular notion was “She’s Hot!” But the person in the middle of all this, me, had another feeling. Actually I did not feel any different. Without question, this song gave me much hoopla, but I did not echo that feeling. And that many people started to like me, that feeling was not immediate, but came very slowly, trickling into my life.

From that rose the question, should I go [back to New York] or stay, go or not go? Emotional instability! Go, I could finish what I wanted, nurturing myself, and learn what I felt to be insufficient music knowledge. Stay, I would miss my chance to study, but I could try what I wanted to do.

Finally, perhaps as fate had planned, I stayed, and became what I am today. That day, the most important reason for me to stay was that I be involved with the creation of the music. Feeling I could express what I thought and felt, gave me a kind of exuberance. I very much wished I could express more, contribute more. These years, everything was successful. The popular exterior, in the depth of my heart, sometimes regret that day when I chose not to leave.

In the paths of my life, Buddhist philosophies have enlightened me, and reaching them are an occasional opportunity. Those times in United States, strolling the Chinatown streets and bookstores, I saw books concerning Buddhist teachings. I bought them and read about the sorrows of the Buddhist people. The concept of reincarnation gave me a better comprehension of compassion. It gives everyone the opportunity to change and pacify their hearts. Today’s every tragedy, previous life’s every cause. Understand human goodness and evil. These thoughts help me face difficulties, disappointments, and from the roots, look at the world. Although many people see me today, and feel that I am not bad, but I know I am still inadequate. I still want to improve my music. I know I will finally one day return overseas.

8 Responses

  1. I remember very clearly that she once said: the time she spent away from HK was very important for her – it could have been any where, she said, did not have to be New York; it was the being away from HK that mattered, not NYC in particular.

    Also, I remember she said she didn’t really do much when she was in NYC.

  2. Being the kind of international and strong willed woman she is, I find it hard to believe that she did nothing worthwhile while she was in NYC (I live in the middle of nyc, btw). If anything, I would go as far as to believe that saying less about her “pilgrimage” worked better for her public image than discussing the details…

    especially is she was at all naughty.

  3. feifan, this is very interesting so thanks again for your hard work. Could you put up the link to the autobiography because I would love to read it all (or alternatively just load it to the site if that is legal), Thanks and best wishes, Nick.

  4. Nick, I didn’t think it would still be up but it is. I added the link to the updated portion of the article. The print is very small, but you can enlarge it with your browser. I’d suggest copying the entire text into a file that you can save on your PC. I find all of it fascinating! You can almost hear the real Faye Wong, as a 24-25 year old, talking about her career. You can see the intelligence, the confidence, the enlightenment, the philosophical and artistic bent, the will power, the strong ideas that make her so unique and guide her. You can see the soul that she puts into her songs. Ultimately, though, you can see the raw honesty, the determination to be as genuine and as close to the real self as possible. I think this is the quality we’re drawn to. With faye, we get a real human being who’s trying to share with us what she’s really feeling. The autobio seems to ramble, but I think it’s a reflection of Faye’s mindset. She’s a nonlinear thinker. She moves in and out of ideas in a way that mixes past with present in a stream of consciousness. I think this is like a lot of her songs and music. They appear to be simple, but they’re complex, and meanings have to be gathered outside standard chronological time.

  5. Feifan, just downloaded. What a pleasure. Thanks so much. All fans should read this. Pity it is only six pages! Still, six is more than I expected! Maybe it would worth listing interviews and other written documents as Faye is always interesting and always herself. All the best, Nick.

  6. Good idea, Nick! I guess I’ve hesitated because (1) I haven’t always been sure about the actual source so I wasn’t sure who to credit, (2) the English translations vary in quality, and (3) I wasn’t sure how much editing I ought to do to make them readable.

    But you’ve convinced me that some of these sources ought to be archived regardless of concerns 1 and 2 above.

    Over the years, I’ve accumulated documents such as the autobiography, and I’ll see if I can’t create an index for them on FWT. We’re running out of tab room at the top of the page so I may have to create a link in one of the sidebars, pointing to the documents. These are English transcripts from interviews as well as translations from her biography.

    It may take a while to get it all done, but I’ll take a first step with the autobiography.

    Thanks for the idea!

  7. Feifan,
    Thanks for responding to my question so quickly and so thoroughly! You have a lot of interesting facts from that time (which, I guess ran from Dec 1991 to July or August 1992 so not quite a year) and it makes it more clear that it was a “clearing” for Faye or a way for her to get her head straight after an authoritarian run with Cinepoly. Made her decide she wanted to be herself regardless of the consequences. Luckily, it worked out well.

    Thanks again for addressing my question so completely. You also make me want to hear the song “Fragile Woman” from Coming Home as I don’t think I’m familiar with that one :-)

  8. You’re welcome, Mark. Faye’s NY days is a subject that fascinates me, too. For a quick background on Fragile Woman, click here. We can see how young yet gifted Faye was. This was still only about a year, more or less, after she returned from NY.

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