Thursday, July 30, 2009

DIY Seedlings: Ron's birthday gift


My husband's birthday was on July 27 (and so was my dad's... they were born on the same date!) and since this is the first birthday Ron and I are celebrating as a married couple, I wanted to give him something a little bit more special. So I took an idea I'd seen in a recent issue of "Real Simple" (I love that magazine, by the way) and gave him little hand-folded glassine envelopes with small slips of paper inside, one for each year of his life so far. On the slips of paper, I wrote either a memory I have of Ron or something that I like about him.

Here is one of the less gag-inducingly cheesy things I wrote:


The story behind this is that before we started dating, I wanted to covertly show Ron that I was all deep and stuff (har har) without looking too obvious. I happened to have a copy of "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa, an amazing work of prose poetry, in my purse and hauled it out to show to him while we were hanging out at our graduate school's happy hour. Ron said, "Oh, I've heard of that. I wanted to buy it but the book store was sold out." I was so happy that my nerdy little flirting ploy had worked out. In fact, it worked out so well that we got married two and a half months ago. Thanks, Fernando!


On the cover of the box, I wrote lyrics from "One April Day" by Stephin Merritt, which was our first dance song. We chose it because a) it's short (less than two minutes) and b) the lyrics always make me tear up a little bit. They say so much in so little time about the mysteries, frustrations, sorrows, rewards and joys of being in love. The stickers are based on Japanese paper designs and the dotty tape is actually for scrapbooking.

While I was making this gift, I wanted to make sure that many of the materials I used were recycled. The box used to hold a paper frame I purchased and the slips of paper are from a legal pad that I used at my reporting job back in NYC and then practiced Chinese characters on when I moved to Taipei and started studying Mandarin.

The original gift mentioned in the "Real Simple" article was made by a mom for her daughter. Each slip contained a childhood memory and the envelopes were placed in a jar. I think that's so sweet -- it must be so nice to read all these things about yourself that you've totally forgotten about. Here are some other ideas I thought up for this kind of present:

  • Instead of notebook paper, use paper ephemera with a sentimental meaning for you and the recipient, like a subway map from a vacation, an old syllabus from a class you took together, fliers from shows, take-out menus from your favorite restaurants, etc.
  • I think this would be a great gift for someone who is going off to school for the first time, or for your significant other or friend before a long separation. You can make envelopes for each of the days you guys have to spend apart before you are reunited. It'd be like getting a handwritten letter every day! (Ron and I had to spend a year and a half apart while he worked in Taipei and I worked in NYC. I wish I had thought of this back then, but considering that it was six months before we saw each other again for the first time, that would have been a lot of writing!)
  • In addition to writing memories or sweet things on the slips of paper, you can also write jokes, the URLs of interesting Web sites, very simple recipes or draw little sketches. Anything the recipient might like.
On a tangent... the cloth I photographed Ron's gift on is traditional Taiwanese fabric. It has many names, like A-Ma cloth (grandma cloth), peony cloth or Hakka cloth (Hakka people are a subgroup of Han Chinese that my mother's family belongs to). I love the bright colors and exuberant floral designs. Hopefully I'll make a dress out of it if I get my sewing act together!

這是我送給Ron的生日禮物. 不會太肉麻嗎?哈哈!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

7.29.2009 Legumes of the Week

"Legumes of the Week" is a list of links that I'll be posting on Wednesdays to get you through the rest of the week. Since this is my first round, some of these links are more than one week old... I'll try to keep them fresher next time around, but of course all of them are still great!

  • The Clouds Addict group on Flickr is full of soothing, dreamy photos and images.
  • Make sure to check out the two finalists in Modcloth's Terrific Transformations contest and cast your vote! Trust me, you'll be moved and inspired by the stories of these two strong and amazing women.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

7.28.2009 Henrietta


Denim jumper: Forever 21, black mesh top: Old Navy from all the way back in college, lace necklace: Tree & Kimball, bag: Queen Bee Creations, shoes: Sogo Zhongxiao's shoe department

The star of my outfit today is definitely my Henrietta necklace from Etsy store Tree & Kimball, which is run by a designer for Anthropologie. I love it to bits and the fact that she mentioned Henry Darger in its description sold me right off the bat.


I forgot to flick my hair out of the way in the above photo, but this one gives you a better sense of how the necklace works with my outfit. I found Tree & Kimball while searching "vintage collar" at Etsy. I have a small selection of vintage collars right now and I'm planning to do a post on how they extend my wardrobe.


I've had this jumper and this mesh top since before I moved to Taipei in 2007. I found the mesh top in Old Navy's pajama department way back in college. It's the perfect thing for layering in the summer because it's very cool, stretchy, 100% nylon and gives me the upper-arm coverage I desire (meaty, fluorescent white biceps run in my mom's family. Seriously, when the sun glints off their paleness, passersby are momentarily blinded.). I've been looking for more of these thin tops. I saw that American Apparel had a mini-dress version (link is NSFW!), but when I tried it on, the nylon felt weird, hard and plasticky -- definitely not good for summer in Taiwan. I'll continue to search, but most mesh tops I find are either a) swimsuit cover-ups, b) covered with crystal studs or c) have a spider web design, are attached to a crushed velvet bodice and sold at Hot Topic.

My denim jumper was one of my last purchases before I moved and has held up surprisingly well considering that it's from Forever 21. Well, a couple of the buttons did fall off and it took me a year to sew them back on because I am that lazy. I did go to a quilting store and buy some thread wax today, so now with the promise of more manageable thread, I might actually get some more mending/altering done!

我喜歡收集舊雷絲領子. 我決得它們可以給老衣服一個很新鮮的女孩風格.

Mad Men Yourself

If you are a fan of "Mad Men," then you'll have fun with Mad Men Yourself, an interactive dress-up game featuring illustrations by the fabulous Dyna Moe.

After punching a few buttons, this was my result:

Mad Men Me

I have to say, the results are uncannily accurate. I, too, am freakishly pale, part my hair on the left, have side-swept bangs, wear a lot of dark blue, am in love with my 1928 pen necklace, and would totally stroll into a picnic wearing pearl earrings and carrying a martini.

I was just thinking today of who my favorite "Mad Men" character is. I know a lot of people dislike her, but I really liked Betty Draper at first. The whole "still waters run deep (and crazy)" thing attracted me to her -- I always like that in fictional characters. Plus, I work from home and there are definitely times when I can sympathize with her cabin fever. Betty is no longer my favorite character (which is probably a good thing...), but I'm not sure who to root for. Joan is too retrograde, though I really love her style and looks. I'm not a big fan of any of the male characters. A few years ago, I probably would have sympathized the most with Peggy because I was a young woman trying to climb the rungs in New York City (though I work in journalism, not advertising). That speech that she made in the season two finale really got to me, because I also know on some level what it feels like to suppress or ignore a part of yourself in order to get by in a competitive industry -- and then suddenly realize one day that it's gone forever. But I think Peggy suppresses things a little to well for me to really understand her on a personal level. (And, in my case, suppressing stuff sometimes worked out for the better. For example, I take criticism a lot less personally now!)

Then again, "Mad Men" is an ensemble drama, so it's not like I need to pick and chose. I really love the show and I can't wait for it to return next month!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lace & Graffiti at Huashan Culture Park... and the Kreativ Blogger award!

Dress: Vintage from the lovely Keiko Lynn of Postlapsaria, belt & headband: Accessorize, necklace: Aldo, shoes: Sogo Zhongxiao

This photos were taken at Huashan Culture Park (華山文化園區), a very cool arts and performance complex in Taipei near Bade Rd that was converted from an old railway station and winery. I was there to cover the Taipei Toy Festival, which ran from July 9 to July 12. Yes, I am totally late in posting these photos! It's been a very busy week filled with deadlines and reporting. If you want to read more about the festival, which is the biggest event in Asia dedicated to designer toys, click here for my post on my other blog, shuflies (舒飛) or here for a video I made.


I'd only been to Huashan one time before, and this was my first time exploring the buildings. There is some really cool graffiti around by the artists on the walls of the old factories. I had fun with some of the public art after Ron took a photo of my dress.


My particular favorite was this lovely spray painted eye.

I've been inspired by Aya of Strawberry Koi's occasional Japanese writing at the bottom of her posts and I'd like to try and do the same thing. Here goes (my Chinese isn't perfect, but it can only get better with practice, right?): "這些照片都是在華山文化園區拍的.我跟我的老公都很喜歡華山文化園區 .我上上個禮拜有去參加那裡舉辦的"台北創作玩具大展." 我有採訪好幾個玩具設計師. 太過癮"!

In other news, Eunice of fancy pants gave me the Kreativ Blogger award! That's very exciting for me because this blog is a new thing for me and it's really great to get support from other style bloggers.

Here are the seven interesting tidbits I am supposed to list about myself as part of the award:

1) I have 12 Blythe dolls. Some people think they are completely weird and creepy, but I've met a lot of awesome people through my hobby, back in New York City and here in Taipei as well.

2) I am watching "Dorothy L. Sayers Mysteries: Featuring Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane" right now. (The end of the series always makes me melt.) I was a huge fan of "Mystery!" (and its theme music and Edward Gorey illustrated credits) when I was growing up.

3) Even though I really love period films, I've also noticed that some of my favorite movies are crazy, hyper-violent gorefests, like "Scarface" and "300." I love "300."

4) I used to wear a lot of black (I was known as "that chick who always wears black") until I moved to Taipei. The hot, humid summer weather has pretty much turned me off darker colors, but I'm looking forward to getting back into them once fall and winter arrive.

5) One of the things I miss most about living in New York City is being able to watch Balanchine ballets danced by the NYC Ballet.

6) When I was little, I used to hide under the dining room table and draw things like this on its bottom:

My 10-year-old handiwork

7) I used to get teased a lot for being a "weirdo" because I dressed "funny" and read a lot when I was a teenager. I can understand now why other kids thought I was weird when I look at my school photos...


... but you know what? I might have hated being teased, but I was always more miserable when I tried to fit in. I'm proud of the preteen I was! Rock that crazy bow and those barrettes, little Catherine (though not the braces... ugh, I hated having braces!)! Boy, I wish I still had that vest. It was very pretty, in a Tyrolean sort of way.

I'm passing the award onto (but no pressure... and sorry if you have already been tagged before!):

Nominee Rules: • Thank the person who nominated you for the award• Copy the logo and place it on your blog• Link to the person who nominated you for this award• List seven things about yourself that people might find interesting• Nominate and post links to the seven Kreativ Bloggers you nominate• Leave a comment on each of the blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

Thanks for reading!

Modcloth Transformations: Two Kinds of Lessons

(To the left: My brother and me on a trip to Taipei, 1985)

In my first post on this blog, I wrote:

“Fashion does not serve as an armor for me -- it is a compass. Clothing is a way of locating myself in a sea of competing personalities. It is a way of weaving a self-narrative when I feel rootless, a blank page with a pencil permanently poised above it but no lines written.”

Modcloth is having an essay contest about “Terrific Transformations,” so I figured this would be a good opportunity to elaborate on what I meant when I wrote that I sometimes feel rootless.

Two years ago, I moved to Taipei to be with my fiancé and study Mandarin. I had just finished an intensive language course when a taxi driver asked me if I was Japanese or Korean. I replied that I was American. He asked me “Are you Han Chinese?” I said yes. And with a derisive tone in his voice, he said, “You’d better start working harder on your Chinese. I’ve met white people who can speak better than you.”

I was shocked and hurt – but this wasn’t the first time something like this had ever happened to me. My Mandarin skills have always been intertwined with issues of race and self-identity, in a way that is sometimes unsettling.

I was the first of my family to be born and raised in America, and my parents never forced my younger brother or me to speak Mandarin at home. Recently, I asked my mother why and she told me it was partly because when we started kindergarten, my brother and I were so shy that our teachers told her to encourage us to speak English at home so we’d feel more comfortable with our mostly white classmates.

Nightmare before Christmas
Scared out of my wits by our principal dressed as Santa Claus in kindergarten -- who wouldn't be?

It worked and my brother and I became more outgoing and started making friends. But the trade-off was that as English overtook Mandarin as our “first” language, we became increasingly distanced from our family and the large but closely-knit Taiwanese American community in our city.

As the first person on both sides of my family to be more fluent in English than in Mandarin, I sometimes felt like a curiosity – the strange American cousin/niece who could only express very basic concepts in Mandarin and, as such, was often left out of conversations and feeling very awkward at gatherings. Because of that, a chip landed on my shoulder that began to grow and grow. Of course, there were other second-generation Asian American kids in my situation, but my blinders were on and I didn't seek them out to commiserate.

On a beach in 1995
At about 13 years old

When I went to college in New York state, it was the first time in my life that I had been separated from my family and our community. I missed my parents very much -- and, too my surprise, I also missed the other Taiwanese American families I’d grown up around. One day I heard two foreign exchange students speaking Mandarin on campus. Their accent was different from that of my parents and their friends, but it was enough to bring tears of homesickness to my eyes. I often felt out of place back home, but it was my home nonetheless. When my paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather passed away, I was struck each time by the knowledge that I'd never really gotten to know them because we simply had not been able to have real conversations -- and the realization filled me with regret.

A few years after college, I met my fiancé, who had lived and worked in Taiwan for five years before going back to the United States for graduate school, where we met. When he told me a year after we started dating that he had been offered a job in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, and planned to move back in a month, I was surprised and upset. But then Ron suggested I move to Taipei, too.

“What is there for me to do in Taiwan?” I wailed.

“You told me you always wanted to learn Mandarin. You said it’s really, really important to you,” he replied.

“My entire life is in New York City,” I snapped back at him. And I was scared of what I’d encounter in Taipei. Would people dismiss me just because I could barely speak Mandarin? Would my “American-ness” prevent people from seeing me as an individual, just as my “Asian-ness” sometimes made me the target of stereotypes in the United States?

But the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Eighteen months later, I followed Ron to Taipei, armed with a Mandarin scholarship I’d won from the Taiwanese government.

Ron and me
Reunited with Ron on a trip to Taipei, late 2006

Studying Mandarin was one of the most challenging, frustrating and amazing experiences of my life. It was wonderful to slowly open my personal door to the Chinese language wider and wider each week. By the end of the school year, I went from not being able to say things like "I didn't do it on purpose" (a very useful phrase) to carrying on relatively sophisticated (if somewhat halting) conversations about topics like ballet choreographer George Balanchine, suicidal ideation and secondhand fashion. I could write short letters to my relatives, and chat easily with them (they tell me all kinds of funny stories about my parents). For fun, I picked up copies of “Twilight” and "Little Women" in Chinese and started reading them with my electronic dictionary by my side. I made new friends here and started a job as a features reporter at an English language newspaper, where I conduct most of my interviews in Mandarin. I was – and am -- very happy.

Me and my three Hakka branches
With genealogy cards representing three branches of my lineage at a Hakka museum near Kaohsiung in the south of Taiwan. For more information about this part of my heritage, click here.

But then things would happen like my encounter with the taxi driver and I would feel diminished. Once again, I felt like I’d been called out: “You’re lazy because you speak Mandarin with an accent.” “You’re a traitor to your race and culture.” “You are neither Taiwanese enough nor American enough. You don't belong.”

As irrational as those feelings were, they were hard to push away.

Then one day my mother wrote me an e-mail. She’d read a blog entry I’d written about the taxi driver and sent me a Chinese saying -- 禍福相依 -- that means when something bad happens not everything that comes out of it is negative, and when good things happen it doesn't mean it will bring all positives.

“The reason we meet people like that is to remind us not to be like them,” she added.

I realized that what I’d been looking for all these years was not acceptance from other people, but a sense of acceptance from within myself. If you already know who you are, then how can you get hurt when narrow-minded people try to force you into a box?

I think I needed to be in Taiwan in order for that lesson to truly crystallize in my head. As an expatriate, my time here is, by definition, limited. If I let silly little comments or my own baggage get to me, there will come a day when I look back on what should have been a wonderful adventure abroad learning about my heritage – and regret all the time I wasted feeling sorry for myself and angry at other people. I will regret the connections I could have made, but didn't because I was too busy rejecting people before they could reject me. For years I’d carried that chip on my shoulder – and I have to admit that I still do, even though it's smaller now. But I’m sick of letting negativity affect my life, whether it comes from other people or from within myself.
My many, many relatives
With my parents and members of my extended family here in Taipei at a lunch celebrating my engagement to Ron

I’m glad I’m American, but I’m also happy I am of Taiwanese descent and that I can lay claim to two cultures at once, even if I am a minority in both of them. I'm closer to my relatives now (especially my wonderful maternal grandmother); I know they love me for the similarities and differences we have. I used to be embarrassed by my American-accented Mandarin, but now I don’t really care. It’s part of my history, like every happy memory and every bad moment, every achievement and every regret. All these things make me who I am, and I have the benefits of gifts from two cultures. For the first time in my life, I feel at home in the world – and I hope that I always will, no matter where I am, no matter what language I am speaking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Secondhand Treasures: Pig Newton


A couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon a secondhand store near where I live in the Zhongzheng District (中正區) of Taipei. I wandered in and found this darling piggy bank on a shelf of ceramic tchotchkes. It was only a few US dollars, so of course I adopted her.

It just so happens that I have a Re-ment miniature that looks identical to Pig Newton, which was part of the charm for me. I started collecting Re-ment as accessories for my Blythe dolls, but I really enjoy them for their own sake. The miniatures, many of which are hand-painted, are based on items found in Japanese culture and everyday life. Taiwan is a former colony of Japan and there are still a lot of old Japanese buildings here from before World War II. A lot of items found in secondhand/vintage shops are also from the colonial era, but I think my pig is a newer import. I'm not sure, however, exactly how old she is.

I love how my Re-ment miniature and Pig Newton look like they were always meant to be together.


There have been a couple (minor) earthquakes in Taipei recently, so Pig Newton is living on a shelf in our bedroom, cemented down with tack putty for her own protection.


I keep Little Pig Newton with her new big sister... they like to whisper secrets to one another.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rainbow flowers


Dress: Oasis, cardigan: French Connection, shoes: Aldo, pencil necklace: 1928

This is my favorite go-to outfit for hot days when I still have to look somewhat professional. Almost everything was on sale when I bought it, including the dress and the cardigan, which I purchased on our honeymoon in Union Square, San Francisco. You can't see it in this photo, but there are pintucks near the hem of the dress, and pintucks and lace inset detailing on the cardigan as well. I love the shoes, which I got on sale from Aldo here in Taipei. I bought them in another colorway as well. They remind me a bit of the 1920s reproduction shoes from Remix Vintage Shoes and are pretty comfortable. The heat, humidity and frequent showers in Taiwan has not been good for my vintage items and so I've been looking for new clothing with a vintage flair. I'm sad because I brought quite a few nice vintage sundresses over with me when I moved here, but now I'm afraid to wear them unless I know that I'll be indoors all day with access to air conditioning. Alas.

I wore this to go have lunch at El Toro in Xinyi District (read my review of it here). I highly recommend it -- it's world-class, modern Spanish food updated with molecular gastronomy techniques and served in a very relaxed and casual atmosphere.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Part doily, part witch


Dress: Net, tank top: Hanes, cardigan: Ann Taylor, gigantic satchel of doom: Domke, shoes: Sensei 1991, beaded necklace: Aldo, pen necklace: 1928

I call this my part doily, part witch outfit because it looks like an antimacassar that's been sewn onto a black, witch-y skirt. I bought this dress from Net, which is more or less Taiwan's answer to H&M (we don't have H&M here, even though a bunch of other Asian countries do. Boohoo.). My husband Ron, who has live in Taipei for a total of almost eight years at this point, says that Net's quality has gone down precipitously since he first arrived here. He still has a couple shirts bought from Net five years ago or so that have held up pretty well, but their latest men's shirts are made of lousy fabric with buttons poorly sewn on.

I've had bad luck with their dresses as well. I bought two jersey dresses and both of them developed the dreaded butt sag (you know, when you sit down for a couple of hours, stand up and realized that you now have a balloon of fabric dangling from your rear end) the first day I wore them. This is totally a tangent, but the first time one of my jersey dresses developed butt sag (it was from H&M), I thought "whoa, is my butt really that lethal?" But I've seen saggy dresses on really skinny women (not to mention saggy elbows, saggy knees...), so it's clearly an indication of quality (not that that's any comfort when I'm stuck trying to covertly grab fabric with my hands in order to make it look like my dress still fits me). This is one of the reasons I've stopped shopping at stores like Net for the most part, but I do pop in from time to time and I find that it's a good way to experiment with styles that usually wouldn't find their way into my closet. Like this dress for instance. At first I thought it was too casual and the fact that it needs to be worn with a tank top kind of put me off (I don't really understand the point of summer clothing that needs to be worn with layers). But I liked the crochet bodice and lightness of the skirt fabric enough to buy it and I'm glad I did. It's as comfortable as a nightdress but still dressy enough to wear out and not feel like I am totally slumming.

The gigantic satchel is my Domke camera bag. I take it out when I go reporting because I can stuff an SLR camera body, two lens, a recorder and my notebook, along with my wallet, keys, folding hair brush, compact, lipstick, Nars multiple stick, oil absorbing sheets, Chinese-English electronic dictionary and all the other junk I can't leave the house without into it. Sigh. I really need to learn how to streamline my life.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wednesday Adams via the Shida night market


Dress: Store in Shida night market that sells imported girly clothing from South Korea, collar: same store, mesh top (worn underneath): Old Navy from years and years ago, pen necklace: 1928, satchel: The Cambridge Satchel Company, shoes: Aldo

I found the dress and collar while browsing around Shida night market. There are a lot of vendors and stores there right now that sell imported clothing from South Korea, most of it extremely feminine, with a vintage twist (a lot of the looks remind me of vintage nighties and lingerie from the 1920s or so because of the pintucks and lace detailing). Unfortunately, the clothing is supposed to be one-size-fits-all, so a lot of it looks like maternity gear. It's basically smocks, smocks and more smocks. Sometimes the smocks have a rudimentary empire waist or something. Sigh. My waist is by far the thinnest part of my body so when I wear something that obscures it, I look like a barrel. No joke! I've been thinking of buying outfits with little details that are especially pretty and altering them. The jewelry, however, is awesome. I need to do a post about all the pretty pendants and earrings I've picked up.

I ordered my satchel from the Cambridge Satchel Company. It's handmade and was relatively inexpensive. It might be because I'm not looking hard enough, but I've found in Taiwan that if you are bag shopping, you are either stuck with cheap purses that cost only NT$1,000 (about US$33) or so, but fall apart rapidly, or designer bags that start at NT$10,000 for a small satchel. The selection in-between is pretty slim (though if I am wrong, of course, someone please tell me!). I'm very happy with my Cambridge Satchel bags (I also have a smaller version in red)... they are obviously hardy and sturdily-made and will put up well with my rampant abuse.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I'm on Bloglovin' now

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6.29.2009 in Xinyi District

dress -- Clever Nettle, shoes -- Sogo... I forget which brand, belt (in left picture) -- eBay, necklaces -- Shida night market, headband -- Accessorize

Ron and I went to Xinyi district on Monday, which is where we usually venture on our days off if it is raining. The shopping district might be a mess of overpriced brand names and sales people who practically hurl themselves at you if you even so much as peep in their store's general direction, but there is a covered walkway that goes from Taipei 101 all the way to the end of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi and connects Page One, and English-language book store, the Warner Vieshow movie theater (that is it's old name... people in Taipei don't really call it by it's new name) and Eslite, another book store with a huge selection of English and Japanese books and magazines. It's a nice alternative to staying in the house or sitting in a cafe when it's pouring.

I ordered my 1950s dress from Clever Nettle when we were back in the States for our wedding. My comfy shoes are from Sogo Zhongxiao. Shoe departments in many Taiwanese department stores are arranged by brand, and each brand is staffed by its own salespeople. It can get stressful after a while, because you might be looking at one shelf, getting pressure from one salesperson, turn around to look at another shelf, and all of the sudden two new salespeople descend upon you. The good thing about it is that they offer really good service as a result... and, frankly, the annoyance is a pretty good incentive to stay away from shoe shopping. You can't see it very well in the photo, but I'm also wearing a necklace I bought from Shida flea market. There are currently a lot of vendors there who sell these adorable, girly, vintage-inspired pendants from Korea.