All original artwork by Ayako Yamaguchi (website — and thanks!)

A Life Soundtrack

Hengtee Lim (Snippets)
4 min readOct 26, 2016

For a time, I listened exclusively to movie soundtracks.

I don’t know when it started, or what the first one was — I just remember thinking it was nice to choose what color my life would be on any given day.

I liked that music gave meaning to the otherwise ordinary.

And perhaps, in hindsight, I hoped it might give that to my life, too.


I lived a life of grey, mostly — wake up, eat, go to work, go home, sleep, repeat. Sometimes I saw friends, sometimes I saw a movie. Sometimes I ate in, sometimes I ate out.

On weekends, I took long walks to parts of the city I’d never been before, or local trains to quiet villages in the mountains, and towns by the sea.

Music gave depth to mood and emotion. It was the color of thought and contemplation.

Music was the warmth I found in being alone.

Erika was a client. She caught me after a meeting, and we walked to the train station. She talked her way into lunch that day.

Later, she talked her way into dinner.

In a month, she talked her way into my heart.

Erika was a color in my life that was not music.

Still, there was a rhythm to her that I enjoyed. An ebb and flow like an aurora over a lonely desert. She was excitable but quiet. Impulsive but timid. Introverted outside, extroverted within.

Erika was a beautiful whirlwind of contrast.

She was the Porco Rosso soundtrack, given female form.

I sometimes listened to the closing track of Delicatessen on my way to see her. I floated between waves of business men, walking on clouds.

On the long trek home from the station, I sometimes listened to Five Centimeters Per Second. I liked to imagine that one day Erika might help me learn the lyrics to the song One More Time, One More Chance.

The music was a reminder that someone, somewhere out there, had me in their heart.

Erika was the love of my life.

And she was hit by a car, and she died.

There is a soundtrack for this particular feeling, but it is not worth sharing.

When people pass away, there is a process.

There is shock and disbelief. There are tears. Not long after, there are preparations for a funeral and kind messages from people who want to do more but cannot.

There is a funeral. There is something like a void.

And the world spins so slowly, you think it has stopped.

I listened to Okuribito, walking along the train lines from Kichijoji towards Meidaimae.

I realized that when you fall in love, and you give someone a part of yourself and they die, you don’t get that back.

They take that with them.

That’s the risk you take when you grow close to someone.

And you either take it, or you live alone.

I stood by the windows of Shibuya Station, and listened to Bygone Days.

I watched crowds build at the lights. I watched them gather, and entangle, and disperse.

I watched them again, and again, and again.

Hundreds of people. Thousands of people.

And not a single one of them Erika.

There is a soundtrack for this feeling, too.

But it is mine, and mine alone.

One day, I stopped listening to movie soundtracks.

For a time, I didn’t listen to music at all.

Instead, I listened to the rush of passing trains at busy stations. To the rowdy conversations of the local yokocho restaurants. To children on their walks home from school.

I went to the park and listened to the lazy talk of family picnics, and lovers dreaming.

I began to feel again.

And one day, I realized that the cacophony of sounds surrounding and enveloping me was itself part of a movie. Part of a soundtrack. Part of hundreds and thousands of them, all playing at the same time.

The world itself was an orchestra.

These movies and soundtracks played and replayed each day. They rewrote themselves with new characters and new locations. New scenes and new endings.

There was romance and drama, action and comedy, and mystery and suspense.

And for some of us, tragedy.

We made the movie that told the story of our life.

And we chose the music that played with it.

And some of us simply didn’t listen to it. Some of us never heard it.

But some of us heard that music long before we knew it would thread itself into the fabric of our lives.

That particular song might be something like love.

I never met another Erika, and I don’t think I will.

The credits for that movie have long since rolled.

But still, the camera keeps rolling.

And a small part of me has started looking forward to what music might play next — to what soundtrack might color my future travels, together with that little part of her she gave me before she left.

The little part that taught me what it means to love.

— -


All original artwork by Ayako Yamaguchi (website — and thanks!)

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Thanks for reading!
— Hengtee



Hengtee Lim (Snippets)

Fragments of the everyday in Tokyo, as written by Hengtee Lim.