More on Double Happiness: Detour This Way by Nancy Tam

Double Happiness: Detour This Way starts in the middle, as did the research that inspired the production. In non-linear fashion, Robyn and I encountered our familial histories in documents, artifacts, and anecdotes passed down from knowledge keepers and elders over tea and zoom calls. Sometimes details within these stories are changed, corrected, clarified, and sometimes they become fuzzier, murkier, multitudinous with many beginnings and no endings.  

Robyn and I met professionally in fall 2017 and became fast friends. With Only A Visitor’s record Technicolour Education, Robyn documented her thoughts, feelings, and journey of learning about her maternal ancestry. Her great-grandfather had paid the head tax, and her mom (Elaine Tseng) moved to the Pacific Northwest in the ‘60s. The stories intrigued me, and I resonated with Elaine’s childhood experience of immigrating to Canada. The nuances and complexities of our shared experience of being part of the Chinese diaspora transcends generational gaps between Elaine, Robyn, and me. I wonder how many others resonate with these stories too.  

The research for Double Happiness also inspired my eight-song album Twinned Spirits in which I document my family’s experience of taking part in the mass exodus out of Hong Kong in the 90s. Throughout the creation process, I asked questions about my own family history. How, when, why did my paternal and maternal families move from China to Hong Kong? Whilst Robyn found documents, photographs, and stories passed down from family members, I did not have the same fortune. Stories were not passed down; they were forgotten between escaping wars and revolutions. But how could I blame my ancestors for their forgetting? Who would want to remember painful details of starvation? Losing six sons? Sleeping 13 people in a 300 sq. ft.  apartment? And in such dire circumstances, who has time to remember the sunlight beaming through willow trees? 

We continue to collect what we can, and we are still piecing together details. We are figuring out where each of our stories begin, where they have been, and where they are going. For each of us, this work feels big and small, everything and nothing, shared and forgotten; because learning and carrying these histories is hard (heart) work, but putting a foot-stop on our stories trivializes details we do not, and may not ever, know. From here, as we have been from the inception of Double Happiness: Detour This Way, we are facing forward looking back.  

Nancy Tam. October 2022. Vancouver, BC.

Tickets & concert info: Double Happiness: Detour This Way – November 3- 12, 2022 at Left of Main.

Support for The Composer Essay Project is generously provided by SOCAN Foundation.