Teresa Teng was a beloved singer across the Chinese diaspora, enjoyed by millions around the world even if they didn’t speak Chinese. Pim Wangtechawat titles her debut novel, The Moon Represents My Heart, after one of Teng’s most famous songs and scatters Teng’s lyrics throughout her book, a story of time travel between Hong Kong and London, spanning this and last century.
Joshua and Lily are husband and wife and have twin children, Eva and Tommy. They live in London, where Lily’s family has lived for generations. Joshua, on the other hand, grew up in the Kowloon Walled City and excelled at school, going abroad to study in the UK. That’s where he and Lily meet.
The two connect because they both have a secret ability to time travel, but they can’t just go wherever they want. Joshua can only go to one place.
It was always Hong Kong.
He tried to visit other countries, other cities.
He’d lie in bed conjuring photographs of places like
Paris, London, Istanbul, and Quebec on sunny, rainy days.
But it was always Hong Kong he saw when he opened his eyes.
The same heavy heat, the same sun, settling on his skin:
a familiar, loving, sometimes suffocating embrace.
Lily can only travel back to certain dates in the UK. Their children have their own time travel powers: Tommy can only travel to London between 1900 and 1950 while Eva can only go back to the timelines of their immediate family members.
When the twins are eight, the family learns they can travel together if they hold hands. Joshua picks 1972 so he can meet Bruce Lee before the premier of Fist of Fury.
At around five in the evening, precisely as planned, in a narrow, secluded alley by the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kowloon, the Wangs appeared out of thin air, quiet as a breeze. Not one by one, but together, holding each other tightly by the hand.
This Hyatt would have been the one on Nathan Road and the Wang children find great delight ordering from the extensive menu as they wait for Bruce Lee to appear at the hotel. Wangtechawat writes in both verse or in traditional narrative form and doesn’t seem to have a particular system for when she uses one over the other, but perhaps for emphasis she uses the former to show the children’s excitement in Hong Kong.
Can we have ribs, Mum? asked Tommy.
Yes, the ribs! cried Eva.
And barbecued pork!
And garlic fried rice—
Also those beans with minced pork—
When their twins are twelve, Joshua and Lily disappear one day time traveling just the two of them. This mystery ends up becoming the central story.
Wangtechawat writes in her acknowledgments that her father told her stories of his visits to the Kowloon Walled City and his life in Hong Kong. Her story is a tribute to the city of her father’s youth and to London, a place that has been home to Chinese communities going back to the late 1700s, many of whom later came from Hong Kong.
Wangtechawat’s story is a little reminiscent of Timothy Mo’s novel Sour Sweet, about Hong Kong immigrants in London, and the Japanese time traveling series, Before the Coffee Gets Cold. The structure of the book is also a bit unique with the mix of traditional narrative and verse. It may seem like a hodgepodge of narrative treatments, but it works well.
This isn’t the last of this story for the book has been optioned by Gemma Chan along with Shawn Levy, the creator of the hit series, Stranger Things, and may be coming to Netflix sometime in the future.