An illiterate 84-year-old woman from Hualien County can finally sing her heart out with her family at karaoke, thanks to her daughter who has translated the lyrics of popular Taiwanese songs into hand-drawn pictures and symbols that her mother can easily recognize. The elderly songstress, Hsu Lin Ah-mu, can now sing 30 songs using this novel system.
The symbols in these unconventional songbooks look a lot like the doodles made by school children, but Hsu has diligently memorized them and their corresponding sounds and can now express her feelings through singing despite the handicap of being unable to read.
The daughter, Hsu Yu-sheng, says that she and her sister used to take their mother to karaoke, but she just sat to one side and listened as other people sang. One time Hsu happened to ask her mother why she never participated, to which she said: “I would really love to sing, but I can’t read and I can’t pronounce the lyrics.”
About nine years ago, the elder Hsu was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and became withdrawn. Faced with this depressing situation, her daughter came up with the idea of teaching her to sing, as a ruse to cheer her up.
The younger Hsu said: “My mother knows a little Japanese, and although I could spell out a few words with katakana the method was ultimately ineffective.” Having failed with katakana she came up with the idea of drawing symbols to teach her mother to sing.
By day the younger Hsu sells green onion pancakes and uses her free time in the evening to draw the lyrics. It can sometimes take a lot of thinking to come up with an appropriate picture and each song takes three to four days to fully translate into symbols.
The drawings are infused with childhood fun, and outsiders would most likely take them as a child’s doodles. Each sign represents a syllable, and they form a whole sentence when combined together. For instance, pictures of a grapefruit and a palm represent the word “sorrow.” A picture of a cup represents “flying,” an egg represents the number two, while a combination of a needle and a spoon represents the word “temporary.” Such creativity usually puts a smile on the face of those who see it.
(LIBERTY TIMES, TRANSLATED BY TAIJING WU)
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