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A Childhood Memory: Sound to Temperature Synaesthesia

The East is red
The Sun rises
From China arises Mao Zedong …

Red sun, red sun, the warmth spreads over the great land of China …

I was hearing those songs playing again and again, from winter to spring, from summer to autumn, during my kindergarten years. The emotion towards Chairman Mao was none, but the increase of my body temperature was noticeable. It was not really uncomfortable especially on a cold winter day, but I wished the kindergarten could stop playing those songs on a hot day.

I always wondered why I have such a good memory about temperature. People usually talk about it, but don’t recall the temperature on the day when a big event happened especially happened a long time ago.

The day that Mao Zedong died, children at my kindergarden were told to come back the next day with white shirts and black pants. There was a large memorial gathering at the local stadium. Thousands of people attended. One girl from my kindergarten wore a white shirt with a little pink embroidered flower. Teachers were horrified as pink or red in the Chinese culture was for celebration. They fanatically searched for a spare white shirt.

It was a warm day, but was not unbearably hot. The walk from the kindergarden to the stadium was very quick. Being so young, I only half understood what had happened. When we were reaching the stadium, I was wondering what would happen now with the Red Sun dead. Would those songs still be played often?

The memorial started with the funeral music. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear much cry that day, and I remembered very clearly. “The East is Red” was played at the end. The colours and temperature I noticed on the day helped me to remember all the details of this event.

I didn’t realise that what I had was Sound to Temperature Synaesthesia until yesterday after a conversation with Skye. He told me that he always felt cold when listening to a song called “Hot and Cold”, but he felt he was on the border of Malaysia at the same time.

The sound of dragonfly summer insects makes him feel hot, then cold. A particular piece of music from the game of Mario Brothers makes him feel freezing as the music is played with a background of ice land in the game. His body temperature goes up when Summer from the Four Seasons is on.

It was a nice and pleasant discovery of my own childhood synaesthesia. After the death of Mao Zedong, the regular play of the red sun style of music lasted a bit longer. The Chinese Cultural Revolution ended in that year, i.e., year 1976.

My father was released from his seven-year hard labour in 1977, and returned to his old position at a college. Although later on, he became the principal of a technical college and was in that position for many years before migrating to Australia to be with me and my brother, his golden years were wasted. He could have had achieved so much more with his extraordinary mind. Now he enjoys the peaceful life in Australia and spends a lot of time with my children.

China is a changed place. It has certainly come a long way. My brother and his family returned China 10 years ago after my brother took up a senior position at a Chinese university. He received his full professorship not long after and is now heading one of the university’s main campuses. He is following my father’s footstep in the academic field, and I am proud of him. He calls both Australia and China home.

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