I Wonder (The Story)

“I Wonder” was inspired by a number of things.

  • The boy who carried a full-size accordion with his frail body on the railway from Naples to Pompeii.
  • The man who leaned against the wall on the floor outside of his house humming a prayer in Aswan.
  • The group of children and their breastfeeding mother who squeezed into a small cabin on the railway from Brasov to Sighisoara.
  • The friends I played music with in Kuala Lumpur.
  • The community I got to hang out with in Semporna.

I wrote “I Wonder” 6 years ago. Though performed many times, producing the song was a huge challenge. Firstly, it was not the easiest song to sing (sweat emoji); the lyrics were edited several times to portray different perspectives – “Your”, “I”, “Them”, “We”; but mostly, I wanted to make sure I had tried my best to understand the issue I was tapping into – it was a complex one after all. Thankfully, with positive feedback from audiences, plus Melina and Steven doing wonders to the arrangement, I was encouraged and motivated to complete the song.

Another struggle I had was funding the production while feeling powerless to help those in need. In the end, I decided to record, mix and master the song myself, because I figured it makes more sense to channel the funds towards organisations and activists who work directly with the community instead. I am so grateful for Melina and Steven who graciously did the arrangement and music pro bono, which allowed this song to be released, and possible revenues generated to be used more effectively.

While backpacking in Europe and the Middle East, I was often reminded about my personal safety, and especially warned about the “gypsies” (a term I learned later on that was considered insulting to the community. “Roma” would be more appropriate). Beyond the beautiful culture and development of the places I visited, one can’t help but notice the side effects of war/conflict/persecution.

Back then, I thought they were all “refugees”. It was much broader than that, now I would refer them to the marginalised community. They could be people searching for refuge, and/or culturally nomadic, and/or accidentally stateless, and/or experiencing poverty, and more. Each individual story is different, there is no one way to label them, hence no one solution for all. I know that one simple song might not mean much, but if it manage to raise a little awareness, or pique one person’s interest to look into the situation, or encourages compassion, that would fulfil the purpose for this song.

The boy with an accordion

He boarded the railway from Naples to Pompeii in Italy with an older girl who guided (pushed) him. It was pretty obvious that he could not play the accordion – it was literally weighing him down. As someone who loves musical instruments, and tend to be overly sensitive towards one’s facial expressions, that was my first time witnessing how burdensome and sorrowful it was to play music.

When they went rounds to collect donations from passengers, the boy passed by another boy around his age who were rather spoiled by his parents. The contrast. I took out one Euro, hold it in my hands, but I do not remember whether I gave it to them. I was trying to hold back my tears, while dealing with conflicting thoughts of whether or not to encourage this activity, and the implications they might face if the quota for that day was not met.

The man who prayed

The melody in the bridge “I~I~I~I Wonder” was a tune stuck in my head when I passed by the man sitting on the floor outside of his house somewhere in Aswan, Egypt. The door was open, so I could see the emptiness inside the house, which was just blocks of bricks stacked together with no proper roof or furniture. He was humming softly something in Arabic, sounded both like a prayer and music. It gave me the impression of peace amidst poverty.

The family who travelled

On the railway from Brasov to Sighisoara in Romania, I shared a four-person cabin with two locals, who expressed frustration over corruption and the Roma situation in their country. I used to think that education was the answer, but was told that though free education was offered to the community, it was rejected by many. After doing some readings, I found that some were sceptical of the system, and were concerned about preserving their culture.

Next to us, was a cabin of the same size, packed with a huge Roma family. The looks of the children scanning me from head to toe are still vivid in my mind. They no longer have innocence in their eyes.

(On the same same day I visited a lavish castle, witnessing extreme privilege and marginalisation.)

The talented musicians

This is Steven who absolutely rocks the electric guitar. The solo he did matches the song perfectly, no editing required. He is one of the many Burmese refugees living in Kuala Lumpur waiting to transit. Over the years, he taught me resilience, dedication, humility, gentleness, kindness and humour. He actively serves his community, continued to through the MCO, and has even initiated a food bank.

The joyful community

I am so thankful for Borneo Komrad, who head Sekolah Alternatif in Sabah, for welcoming me, showing me what “joy” looks like, and gave me hope on education as a tool for change. When I visited the school, I had a rough idea about collaborating with the students in the lyric video for “I Wonder”, but that was secondary or a bonus. The main intention was to observe and understand the situation concerning the stateless community.

(Students drawing the eyes)

My time with them was a life-changing one, it deserves a separate blog, I will also share more on social media in the following days. 

Till then, stay tuned!

Explore further:

Human Flow“, a documentary by Ai Weiwei on the refugee crisis.

Dream to Fly“, a short film by Putri Purnama Sugua about children living in poor conditions in Sandakan.

Malaysia’s Invisible Poor: The Stateless Community” by Wiki Impact.

The Roma in Europe: 11 things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask” by Amnesty International.

*I had conversations with all of them, and trust their works.

Thanks so much for reading!

If you enjoyed the song, feel free to purchase the mp3 via the link below.

Or add it to your playlist on Spotify

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