A Life Written in Water, Anita Mui (梅艳芳)

rain and teardrops, black and white

In Memory of Anita Mui 梅艳芳

October 10, 1963 – December 30, 2003

What is a life written in water? Meaningful or empty? If it had a melody, would it sound happy or sad, or something else?

Anita Mui sang the evocative “A Life Written in Water” in a 1984 Hong Kong movie called “Homecoming.” Anita was a superstar in Asia and millions wept when she passed away at the age of 40. The 12th anniversary of her passing was less than a month ago.


One does not need to understand the Chinese singing (Cantonese in this case) to feel the poignancy of the melody, written by Kitaro, or to imagine the tenderness of the lyrics. The song captures feelings that most people experience at least once in their lives–profound loss and a sense of being set hopelessly adrift. Read the translation and watch the video (both below) and tell me if you feel this is so.

The Lyrics for “A Life Written in Water” (似水流年)

My friend Dawn Yuan translated the lyrics literally from Chinese. She and I then “smoothed out” the words in English to capture the feeling of the original.

[For Chinese lyrics, click here.]

Weary, with no words or tears, I look at the endless sea,
Confused, I look at the endless sky
Like a small boat, my heart is tossed in waves,
I look at my days and wonder
Where am I going?
I can’t see, but I’m willing to keep on

Just who is steering this tiny boat
Struggling to stay afloat in this sea of sadness
My heart mourns
The years flow by like water
The past is gone, forever

All I have now are memories, chains and chains of memories,
I long for yesterday, but time cannot turn back
My youth is gone, all is changed
But not my love
My love will stay, forever

Singing About Her Own Life?

A Life Written in Water was composed for a movie, but it’s like Anita Mui sang about her own life. She was a versatile, talented, hard-working star (singer and actress) who blazed a well-deserved trail to the top. Success brought loyalty and adoration from millions, but it did not safeguard her from great loss—of family members and friends (including Leslie Cheung–1:54 of below video).

There is a sacredness in tears...Washington Irving


Being a female star in the male-dominated world of Hong Kong show business in the 80’s and 90’s, Anita had to develop a certain panache, a strong personality and a “leathery” hide. It was one that barely hid her heart that yearned for the love of a soulmate.

Here she is singing, not only from her heart, but also from her soul. (The melody kicks in at 24 seconds.)

Music to Heal the Heart

There’s a beauty in sharing the truth of what’s happening in your heart. It takes more strength and courage than many people believe they’re capable of. To show vulnerability takes guts! Let’s face it, the thought of having our hearts trampled in the dust is downright paralyzing. (So, be choosy who you share with, but do share!)

What I have come to realize:

Disconnection from the heart closes and hardens the heart. (Sadly, there’s so much of that in our world.) Disconnection brings a sense of emptiness, which is an unbearable, unhealthy kind of pain; that is, if you actually acknowledge that is what’s going on. I think that all of us experience or have experienced this. To fill up the hole, in order to avoid the pain, what do so many people do? Isolate, eat too much, sleep too much, do drugs, become workaholics or alcoholics or shopaholics, or any other number of things.

Connection with the heart opens and softens the heart. For me, beauty that touches deep helps a lot, and sometimes it comes with music. There’s something about A Life Written in Water that brings me to tears. When I let them flow, it’s like they wash my heart.

Beautiful Human Beings

Beauty can help us feel the pain of being human which, I believe, can be a “healthy” kind of pain, even when excruciating. This pain is a kneading (needing) of the heart. Kneading to soften and make more pliable.  Kneading to help us feel more compassion for self and others. The ego must step aside.

the wonder of beauty is that it can open your heart, Ramona McKean

A Sail Boat Approaches the Arts, painting by J.M.W. Turner, 1775-1851

Open hearts can help us all be more human beings. To be more human and humane, isn’t that what will make all the difference?



About the Author:

Ramona McKean is creating a "Bridge of Light" (aka “a Bridge of the Heart”) to promote cross-cultural appreciation and awareness. An author and speaker, she lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.


  1. Xiao January 10, 2016 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Both listening to the wonderful melody and reading the beautiful words are my enjoyable things after a long trip. Thank you for your effort, Ramona.

    • Ramona January 10, 2016 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Welcome back from China, Xiao. I hope you had a wonderful time! I’m glad you enjoyed my blog.

  2. Dawn January 13, 2016 at 2:26 am - Reply

    Dear 明心(Ramona):

    Thank you so much for sharing! It touches my heart.

    Dawn 袁野

    • Ramona January 13, 2016 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      Dawn, I am so glad. I hope you like the last changes I made to the translation.

  3. Xin January 13, 2016 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Hi Ramona, thank you for this great blog entry paying tribute to the top Cantonese diva of all time. I listened to quite a few of her songs, but this is the first time that I listened to this song, which is so beautiful and yet sad. Thank you for sharing it. And you guys did a great job in translating the lyrics into English. truly capturing the feelings that the song evokes.

    I agree with you that great music can help heal wounded hearts. As you know, I like Chinese oldies a lot, and they do help me have a better mood when I feel down. 🙂


    • Ramona January 13, 2016 at 10:59 pm - Reply

      Xin, I am delighted that you like this blog. I’m also happy to have been able to introduce you to this beautiful song! May music continue to do your heart a world of good! Me too. 😉

  4. Songhe January 20, 2016 at 11:02 am - Reply

    A few months ago, I sent Ramona the Chinese song Nu Ren Hua by Anita Mui ( in English it is “You Don’t Live Here Any More). I just wanted to share what I love with her, but it happened that she had known Anita Mui. To my surprise, she knows about the late singing star very well.

    Today reading Ramona’s blog on Anita Mui, I was moved to tears. Mui’s songs once connected hundreds of thousands of hearts. That is why people still remember her and her music. Now Ramona’s blog on her has connected her soul to our hearts and souls again.

    Yes, “Connection with the heart opens and softens the heart.” It makes pain and suffering less while it makes hearts closer.

    Thanks, my dear friend Ramona for your beautiful writing and the thought-provoking message of CONNECTION.


    • Ramona February 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm - Reply

      Dear Songhe,
      I am always touched when you read and comment on my blogs. I do believe we are kindred souls, very much connected. (xo)

      I have just returned from Zanzibar, a little spice island off the coast of Tanzania, where it is hot and humid. (Hence the delay in my responding to your comment.) I returned to sunshine clearing the clouds away and 13 degrees Celsius. Really wonderful. When I consider that you are in Harbin, I recall winter there, bitterly cold with icy winds from Siberia. Oh my! I hope you are keeping warm and safe.


  5. Tommy January 21, 2016 at 7:34 am - Reply

    Many famous singers have sung the song “A Life Written in Water” (似水流年), but Anita Mui expressed it in a way that every word of the song touches your heart.

    I don’t know why you translate the name of the song as “A Life Written in Water.” Actually, in Chinese, it means the years elapse so quickly that they can make us very emotional.

    Anita Mui was a great artist, but left us too early. It’s a pity.

    • Ramona February 13, 2016 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Tommy, you’re right. The song is literally not called “A Life Written in Water.” Someone else translated it that way and I liked how it captured poetically the feeling of the lyrics. “A life written in water” also reminds me of a favourite English poet of mine, John Keats, who died in 1821, at the early age of 25. His writing is sensitive, brilliant and exquisite. Many years ago, I visited his grave in the protestant cemetery in Rome. On the tombstone, at his request, his name is omitted. Rather, there are the words he’d written and requested be used: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” So poignant. Anita’s singing is poignant (heart-rending) as well. Thank you that you’ve shared how it touches your heart. It does mine too.

  6. Gino April 11, 2016 at 11:42 am - Reply

    What a beautifully written piece. So amazing to see how you can create lyrics and words in an artistic manner like Mui did. A remarkable lady, thanks for writing and sharing this piece.

    • Ramona McKean April 11, 2016 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      It took a fair bit of work to capture in English what I felt was the original lyrics’ essence. So thank you, Gino, for your comment.

  7. Marquita Herald April 11, 2016 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    How beautiful! This is all new to me, but I am so glad to have the opportunity to discover such amazing lyrics and poetry. Thank you Ramona.

  8. William Rusho April 13, 2016 at 7:27 am - Reply

    What a wonderful poem.
    I often wonder, no matter how we try, if changing from one language to another has any impact on the beauty of the poem. We (English) do not have the words that have an impact that they do on another language, or them to us. “A rose is still a rose by any other name”- was what Shakespeare said, but does the beauty of the words describing it change by how we perceive it. Just putting that thought out there.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Ramona McKean April 13, 2016 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      William, you wrote: “I often wonder, no matter how we try, if changing from one language to another has any impact on the beauty of the poem.” In my view, YES, very much. The straight literal translation of the above song lyrics sounded pretty awful in English. I worked carefully with my Chinese friend to understand the feeling and meaning in the original Chinese. It’s a delicate business translating works of beauty from one language to another.

  9. Phoenicia April 13, 2016 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Beautiful poem – clearly written from the heart.

    I clearly believe the deepest poems are written when the poet is in some form of emotional pain.

  10. Krystyna Lagowski April 13, 2016 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Oh, that’s a lovely song and the words are beautiful. How tragic that Anita passed away so young. Music really does transcend everything, it can lift your spirits and take you to a place far from your every day stresses. I have a few favourite songs that I listen to, many of them classical pieces that remind me of my mother, that I’ll play when I’m feeling down. It’s like the music has a life of its own!

    • Ramona McKean April 13, 2016 at 9:32 pm - Reply

      “Music really does transcend everything (yes); it can lift your spirits and take you to a place far from your every day stresses.” Your words are beautiful and so true, Krystyna. Music can heal souls, and if there are words in a different language, it matters not Music is a universal language and it does have a life of its own. Thank you for your sensitive response.

  11. Jeannette Paladino April 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Ramona — I wasn’t familiar with Anita Mui but you wrote a beautiful tribute to her. The poem and her singing touched me because it brought back memories of my beloved, who passed away almost seven years ago. But it is true that “My love with stay forever.”

    • Ramona McKean April 13, 2016 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      Oh, Jeannette, this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. lenie April 14, 2016 at 3:45 am - Reply

    Ramona, both song and poetry do have the power to strengthen you in times of trouble, although at any time they have the power to relax you. This was so beautiful.
    What a wonderful thing you did here – paying tribute to Anita Mui – an artist most of us haven’t heard about here but are so very glad you introduced her now.
    The translation you did kept the power of the verse. Great post.

    • Ramona McKean April 14, 2016 at 10:14 am - Reply

      Thank you, Lenie. The “power to relax you”–such lovely and true seeming contradiction. 🙂

  13. Donna Janke April 14, 2016 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    I was not familiar with Anita Mui. Her singing is beautiful. The translated “smoothed-out” lyrics of A life Written in Water are haunting and touching, I read it over and over again – it really spoke to me.

    • Ramona McKean April 14, 2016 at 11:43 pm - Reply

      Donna, you’re such a dear. Thanks for what you wrote.

  14. Catarina April 15, 2016 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Beautiful poem by Anita Mui, who I have never even heard of. Makes me think of late loved ones that I will always love.

  15. Erica April 16, 2016 at 7:36 am - Reply

    I had never heard of Anita Mui. I think living here in the U.S., we don’t often here about stars from other countries which is unfortunate. It is true that feeling lost is a universal experience and her song is touching. So sad that she passed away when she did. It is always interesting to wonder what people would have done if they’d had more time.

    • Ramona McKean April 16, 2016 at 11:03 am - Reply

      Same in Canada too, Erica. We don’t hear of many other countries’ stars.

  16. L. L. Reynolds May 2, 2016 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Just beautiful, Ramona! Of course, I’d never heard this song before, but it is lovely! Heart connections are so important!

    • Ramona McKean May 2, 2016 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you liked this song. Heart connections is what it’s all really about, isn’t it?

  17. Ty Lim August 20, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I’m a Chinese American born in Cambodia. Although I don’t understand Cantonese or Mandarin, I do very much enjoy older Chinese music and Anita Mui is among my favorite artists and this song is among my favorites. So happy to have found your blog and your heart warming translation and poetry. Reading it and the many comments brought me to tears. Thank you Ramona.

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