Its been a long time since I have added any new writers (see the Guest Writers page for more) – but during this strange time it somehow has spurred me to reignite certain aspects of my life, my blog being one of the things. maybe its something about getting older (and wiser), but I feel more confident to do all those things that I would never have done a few years ago, post selfies, write, try out new and different things – maybe its because I am realising that life is getting shorter…… anyhow, a friend asked me to collaborate with her on a project that looks at our lives, narrating our feelings and thoughts about our upbringing and lives as Chinese women brought up in a western world. Strangely we are similar age and are called Christine and Christina – we met 22 years ago, when our sons were at the same nursery, but lost contact and then remet a few years ago through our creativity. anyhow, here is post number one from both of us – we are chatting to each other, revealing our inner thoughts, worries and criticisms…..
Here I am at the age of somewhere around one.
My parents used to love to tell me the story of when my mother took me shopping at Lord & Taylor’s, our local posh department store. She lifted me, nestled in a baby seat, onto the checkout counter while she searched for her wallet to pay. I was quiet and very still. No one noticed me until I sneezed a little baby “atchoo”, which gave all the shop ladies a fright because up until then, they thought I was a baby doll.
The Chinese have a word, “gwai”, that means well behaved and obedient. When I was little, I would beam with pride when my parents told the story. I took pride in the fact that I was “gwai”, the ultimate in being the perfect Chinese daughter.
Now, when I play this story back to myself, I think, “How strange? Would the shop ladies have thought I was a doll had I been a white baby?” Hartford, Connecticut, 1962. I think I might have been the first Chinese baby the city had ever seen. My parents were part of the early wave of immigration into areas of the US outside its major cities. Just a few years before, my father had been told he couldn’t rent an apartment because he was Chinese.
And so you see, I think this feeling of objectification, experienced my whole life, has very early beginnings. By objectification, I mean a sense of feeling “other”. Did I always feel this? Is it an inherent part of my personality or did I absorb it through my skin because others felt it of me. My guess is that like all things, the answer lies somewhere in between.
So I realise now that my whole life, I have always been walking this fine line of trying to accept me for myself but then not really knowing who I myself was. Even at the age of one, I was watching, always watching. As if I knew even then that I wasn’t like the others; not quite fitting in while trying to work out what was required of me to fit in. Fifty-eight years later, I wonder if I was always as serious as this photo suggests I would be. I certainly have very few memories of experiencing pure, unrestrained joy. Whatever I was doing or thinking, I was always wondering if it was “right”. I look at this photo with my own objective eyes, and TBH, if I don’t mind saying so myself, I was pretty darn cute. That little bowl haircut with those chubby, chipmunk cheeks, anyone could be forgiven for thinking I look like a doll. With love, Xtine
Dearest Christine many years ago, I found this cute photograph rummaging around my mothers’ few personal trinkets, which consisted of a green vanity case and an old oxo tin full of photos.
There are not many photographs of myself as a baby, but I fortunately have this one, mounted on card and obviously been hand tinted. I am sitting on a sideboard with flowers in vases – I am positive that this is not my mother’s house, as she has never shown any passion for fresh flowers, vases nor decorative cloths – her own life consisted of practical and basic necessities. I can only presume that this is my paternal great aunt’s house in Yorkshire, which I did visit as a child and I have distant memories of her lace doilies and ornaments. My aunt Elizabeth apparently brought up my father, though I have no real true story as to why this happened, sadly all the relatives on his side have passed away and only a distant cousin has a few stories to tell. I only discovered recently that my father Donald was in Borstal by the age of 15, and his way to escape this problematic life was to join the army. He was stationed in Hong Kong, which is where he met my mother Ying, and brought her back to England – married and bearing myself. I was born in Ryhl, which was an army station. Moving from base to base was the pattern of our lives for the next few years.
My mother was originally from Guangdong (formerly Canton)in mainland China, but as a result of the 1949 revolution when my grandparents’ thriving tailoring business was taken away, she was sent to Hong Kong to study and hence met my father.
Sadly my parents separated when I was 5 years old and it was not amicable. My mother spent over 12 hours a day working to support us 3 children, and so I never really saw much of her, especially as I moved to London at 19. It’s a far cry from the close relationships that I have with my own children – but life then was definitely harder. My mother never really wanted to speak about my father so I have learned very little about him. Fortunately I only have memories of a happy if not colourful childhood. I cherish this only photograph of myself as I look so happy and content in my lovely clean white dress – I look so poised and oblivious to whatever was going on around me, ready to take on the world and its challenges.Love Xtinaxx
if you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram Doubleblossomxx