‘Where the hell’s the rice?’: Hongkonger’s ‘Torn’ parody mines laughs from coronavirus anxieties

Hongkonger-Kiwi marketer/performer Kathy Mak. Photo via Kathy Mak.
Hongkonger-Kiwi marketer/performer Kathy Mak. Photo via Kathy Mak.

With fears over the ongoing coronavirus seemingly spiraling further and further out of control, it can sometimes feel like you’re lying naked on the floor, and the perfect sky is torn.

For those of you too young to remember MTV’s Total Request Live (or radios, for that matter), the above is not merely a flight of rank melodrama, but rather a reference to Aussie-British singer-songwriter Natalie Imbruglia’s once-inescapable ‘90s earworm, Torn, which went on to become the anthem of an angsty generation.

Now, Kiwi-Hongkonger Kathy Mak has taken Imbruglia’s modern classic and transformed it into the (hilarious) anthem of our virus-addled times. Performed over the weekend at a local pub during a fundraising event for the Australian bushfires, Mak’s cover evoking the anxieties of trying to live one’s life amid a swirling cloud of pathogens has struck an undeniable chord among Hong Kong residents, racking up more than 60,000 views since it was posted online a few days ago.

The parody opens with the words, “So I am kind of scared of being here / There’s lots of talking, lots of singing without protective gear,” before going on to unpack the indignities of grocery shopping, riding the MTR, and even touching a door handle in a city where (if the panicked coverage is to be believed) every surface is teeming with deadly germs.

“I sterilize, I sanitize, my hands are always freaking dry / There are just so many things I can’t touch, I’m torn,” Mak sings.

“When I get the train / I’ll stand using my core / Because I don’t know who the hell has touched that pole before.”

In one of her funniest verses, Mak touches on the panic-buying that has left supermarket shelves bare in recent days, singing, “There’s nothing left at the grocery store / I can’t find bok choy no more / There are just white people things, like pasta, cheese, and corn / Where the hell’s the rice?”

Speaking with Coconuts Hong Kong via Facebook Messenger, Mak — a digital marketer in her day job — said that she wrote the lyrics over a period of a few days.

“Laughter is the best medicine… It’s proven to cure viruses, right,” she said.

“I think humor helps to keep people in a positive state of mind, and hopefully an optimistic attitude towards solving a problem… I feel like everyone in the city is going through a tough time, myself included, so I was just hoping that I can make people laugh with this parody at least.”

Mak said she believes the song has resonated because it speaks to universal questions going through all Hongkongers’ heads, “like, ‘where on earth did all the rice go while certain things remain untouched?’”

She added that Torn was a natural choice for the parody, not only because it was a favorite of hers, but also because its connection to Australia lent itself to the bushfire fundraiser.

“Although it is a slightly angsty breakup song, it was also perfect to divert that energy towards the lack of daily commodities for an absurd parody song,” Mak said.

She also didn’t rule out the possibility of more to come.

“I haven’t thought about it yet… but it’s possible that I may translate it. I’m even thinking about doing more new parody songs,” Mak said. “So stay tuned.”

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