Monday, November 30, 2009

Borrowed memories of a time long ago






I recently discovered a couple shops here in Taipei that sell vintage found photos. This topic really deserves a longer blog entry (and hopefully I'll have time to write one soon), but I find it very moving to see people who look like me doing normal things in time periods that I enjoy from a historical and aesthetic standpoint.

It's a rare thing. For example, I only recall Asian Americans being featured three times on as many seasons of "Mad Men": the "Oriental family" in Pete's office when he returned from his honeymoon, the waitress in a tight qipao and the (off-screen) Chinese driver that made Sally giggle. The series is one of my favorite TV shows, but it also reminds me that Asian Americans were marginalized (or worse) during the era it depicts. And, of course, depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in actual vintage US films are also problematic, to say the least.

I often find myself feeling very conflicted about my interest in vintage style. How can I enjoy things from an era when Asian Americans were repressed, socially and legally (as with the Japanese internment camps and the Chinese Exclusion Act), and when many Asian countries suffered sociopolitical violence that traumatized millions of people, including members of my family? But secondhand and vintage items have had an emotional resonance for me since I was very young and, though it's hard to explain, I can't imagine my life without them. This is more than a hobby for me -- it's part of my identity.

Perhaps it is a bit trivial, but when I see photos like these or watch a movie like "Stardust," it feels like a relief, or validation of a sort. I don't have access to a lot of my own family's old photos for various reasons, so these pictures are almost like an emotional surrogate for me. Here is something I can enjoy wholeheartedly and relate to on a more intimate level. I have a lot more of these photos and I am looking forward to sharing them here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

11.21.2009 Wedding banquet on it


Ha, sorry, that's the lamest post title ever. But dumb puns crack me up! Ron and I held our Taipei wedding banquet one week ago. We were married in May, but this banquet was for our relatives and friends who couldn't make it overseas to San Francisco. It was held at the Grand Hotel, a Taipei landmark.

Traditional Taiwanese wedding banquets often include 5 or more dress changes for the bride, but since our banquet was smaller and more informal (and I'm lazy), I only wore two dresses: my traditional red qipao and a vintage blue silk satin cocktail dress.

With my Dad and Mom

I had my qipao custom-made at a store in Taipei (there is an English Web site, but if you need something translated, please leave a comment). It is gorgeous and fit wonderfully, but I made the mistake of choosing a brocade that was very stiff. I only saw it on the shelf and didn't think about how it would drape on my body. On the other hand, a qipao's job is to "hold" you in and "mold" your figure. Sounds creepily like a full body cast, right? But that is supposed to accentuate your curves.

Here are some photos of my qipao in action at our May 16 wedding. I was sorta able to do the can-can with my cousins and aunts in it!

5.16.2009 Ron & Catherine

5.16.2009 Ron & Catherine

I ordered my second dress from CalendarGirlVintage on Etsy because I really wanted a vintage dress as my second outfit. Their customer service was wonderful. I didn't want to distract from its unique shelf neckline, so I wore my dress with a simple crystal necklace and earrings that I purchased from a Korean vendor in Shida night market who imports accessories from his home country.





Our banquet coordinator tried to kick us out early by making Ron and me stand by the door with a tray of candy as a cue for guests to leave, but none of them even noticed us standing there because they were still eating and talking. So Ron and I took advantage of our impromptu alone time to take dorky photos of me with my candy stash.


At this point, one of my cousins walked over and said, "What are you doing!?! We're taking family photos! Hurry up!"

Our photos don't do justice to the dress at all, so here is a picture from CalendarGirlVintage's listing.

The neckline is amazing -- almost like origami -- and there are multiple darts on the bodice and all around the waist to make sure it fit like a glove. Satin is an extremely hard fabric to work with, so I really commend the person who made this dress so many years ago.

It's been a crazy week for me. I went from the high of the banquet and my parents being in Taipei to the deep sadness of having our family's beautiful cat, MeiMei, pass away so unexpectedly. But the banquet was a truly great experience and a wonderful memory, just like our wedding last spring. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Taiwan and learn Mandarin was because I wished to have a closer relationship with my relatives. I don't get to see them often and it was a treat to have so many of them under one roof. Our San Francisco wedding and our Taiwan banquet were different in many ways, of course, but both of them felt authentic to our relationship, and the mixture of cultures that we both carry into it (and the fact that I got to wear a vintage dress was awesome, too).

Good-bye to a special little cat

Upside down cat

My family's younger cat MeiMei passed away unexpectedly a few days ago. She was only 8 years old. The bonds that can form between humans and animals truly are some of the most mysterious, precious and wonderful relationships. MeiMei gave me unconditional love and affection during a very hard time in my life; she was a constant through all the ups and downs. I miss her and I'm not sure when I'll get used to talking about her in the past tense, or knowing that she won't be there the next time I go back to California.

For more on why I called MeiMei my angel cat, please read my tribute to her on my other blog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Alice in Wonderland, a 1903 silent film

I love "Alice in Wonderland." I love silent films. Therefore, I adore this movie! I swear, I might have had a dream like this once.

Ron and I are having a banquet in celebration of our wedding for our Taiwan relatives and friends on Saturday, so I'm skipping my Legumes of the Week this week. My parents flew in yesterday and brought my wedding qipao (the traditional Chinese dress with the high-necked collar that everyone wishes made them look like Maggie Cheung in "In the Mood for Love") over. I'm wearing that first, and then changing into a 1950s navy blue silk satin dress for the rest of the banquet. It's gorgeous, and I can't wait to show it off -- as long as the photos turn out well! As "Episode Ugly Brown Fabric" on season 5 of Project Runway showed, satin doesn't always photograph well, no matter what the dress looks like. Keep your fingers crossed for me (and my photo album)!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

11.17.2009 Heart to Heart

11.17.2009 Heart to Heart
Wood-grain headband: Accessorize, jumper with heart weave and heart buttons: random store on lower Broadway in Soho, NYC, turtleneck: Gongguan night market (公館夜市), Taipei, boots: Sogo Fuxing

Today I was thinking about how my wardrobe has "cute-i-fied" since moving to Taipei. I'm no afraid of hearts, ruffles, lace and other girly flourishes. When I pulled this jumper out of my closet this morning, I thought, "boy, is my wardrobe Taiwan-ish now!" Then I realized I didn't buy the jumper in Taipei -- I bought it in NYC! I got it after I went to Taipei to visit Ron in December 2007; I guess I missed the style I'd seen in the city's stores and night markets on that trip. My style has definitely become a lot more "feminine" in the last two years. There is definitely a culture of cute in Taiwan (as there is in much of east Asia) and grown women can get away with wearing things like this dress without looking too precious (not that there is anything wrong with looking precious!).

I paired it with an American Apparel unisex cardigan and my red Cambridge Satchel Company bag for the short walk to my cabinet.

My favorite part of the jumper is the black and white heart weave of the fabric and the two shiny red heart-shaped buttons.


I think Taroko George approves, too, because he couldn't stop sniffing around me when I took these photos! Oh, and I got my hair cut after four or five months! Thank goodness, I feel human again! My war with my bangs has come to a temporary ceasefire. Phew!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A treasure box of plastic dreams

Treasure chest from Toy Connection
Do you remember the little treasure boxes that dentists keep for children to paw through after an appointment? They were always my favorite part of each trip to the dental clinic (that, and getting out of there!). My dentist's treasure box was in a room full of file cabinets in the back. There was a mixture of things in there, ranging from bouncing balls to little tubes of toothpaste. What I loved best, however, were the cheap little plastic toys -- miniature comb and brush sets all molded out of the same pink plastic, little rings with candy-colored "gems," and tiny animals with a little hole in top to use as a pendant (though I never strung them onto anything).

Recently, I went searching on Etsy for toys that reminded me of my treats from the treasure box. A lot of these were made in the 1960s or 1970s, but they are close to the things I found in the late 1980s and early 1990s (after that, I was too old for toys... at least according to the dentist!). Click on each seller's name to go to their Etsy store.

Vintage gumball machine charms from vintagecharmsupplier

Puzzles and bird whistles from HeyYoYo

Plastic Scotties and yellow toys by Blood of Bee (coolest shop name ever!)

Vintage plastic charms from McCharmpants

Vintage skeleton hands by ManyHappyReturns

Plastic animals from Jlovesupreme

Camera-shaped water gun, combs, slot machines and ring from CovetableCuriosities

Sailboats, plastic pen knives and ice cream carton pendants from bolla74

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tough as lace

I've had Sabrina of Fox and Clover as one of my favorite Etsy sellers for a while, and I can't wait to get my hands on one of her gorgeous necklaces. All of her designs are hand-painted onto glass with glass enamels and don't scratch. I think they look amazing -- so intricate and delicate. At first I thought they were actual pieces of lace that had been sandwiched between acrylic. I can't decide which one I like best.

To keep up with Sabrina's latest designs, including her gorgeous Chinoiserie Sauvage dishware line, check out her blog.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Legumes of the Week #9

Mural and motorcycles
Mopeds and goldfish near Shida Rd.

  • Dear Golden's home office is located on her sun porch and is AMAZING.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My school sisters


I rediscovered some photos-of-photos I have of Sarah Lawrence College's yearbook from... actually, I forget the exact year. Drat it! I think the year was 1965, but I could be wrong. We had an amazing archive at the college library and I spent a lot of time in there, flipping through old school publications. I'm almost embarrassed to share these because they are just snapshots and not actual scans, but my school sisters look so fabulous that I can't resist.


In the 1960s and 1970s, my college had a professional photographer who took all of the photos in each yearbook. Sarah Lawrence was female only until they went co-ed in the late 1970s. My college has a strong tradition of social activism and a forward-thinking pedagogy and curriculum (they were the first to offer a graduate degree in the field of women's history). I first heard of Sarah Lawrence when I was 15 and from then on my entire high school career was dedicated to getting in. I'm very proud of my alma mater and what it represents in higher education.






And as you can see from this final photo, there have always been some cool cats at SLC! (I know, I know, har har har).