Double Blossom xx – Week 6

Double Blossom xx

May 17, 2020

Dear Christina

There are so many things about this photo that I love. I imagine that the art director of Mad Men would have as well; my outfit, the paneled kitchen with the red formica, metal trimmed countertops, the wallpaper. Yes, everything except the clown. Judging by the expression on my face, I was clearly less than sure about him. In fact, I remember having nightmares about him. My mistrust of creepy clowns probably started here.

Never mind. The brilliant thing about the clown is that he is completely coordinated with my red dress and shoes and my 1960’s high chair; all gleaming with its light blue vinyl and silver metal parts, like a car.

In the elements of Chinese culture, red is for fire and the colour symbolizes luck, joy and happiness. Also representing celebration, vitality and fertility, it’s the traditional colour worn by Chinese brides. Swipe right and you can see my mother on her wedding day wearing a red cheong sam as she leaves the reception.

On that basis, I feel like I should wear much more red than I do. Do you wear red? I look through photos of myself when I was younger, and I wore a lot of red all the way up to my teens. I even had a pair of red lace up, patent leather “go go” boots when I was ten. With my Westernised eyes though, red became too loud and I couldn’t disassociate it from the décor found in every Chinese restaurant in the America of my childhood; in other words, too obviously Chinese.

I recently heard an interview with the Vietnamese American writer Ocean Vuong who was talking about being a second-generation immigrant. If you don’t know him, I would highly recommend reading his book, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” While growing up, his first-generation immigrant mother used to say to him, “Remember child, don’t get noticed, you’re already Vietnamese.”

I too remember a quiet pressure in our household to work hard and keep our heads down. The safest way to get noticed, if that’s what we wanted, was by making a valuable contribution to society through our success. It was never about noticed for just being.

And then my training in architecture allowed me to hide in blacks, whites and neutrals. I told myself that being subtle was not about hiding; it was a badge of design honour.

Red seeps back into my life slowly and that makes me happy, joyful even. In our garden, we have two red Butterfly chairs. I debated and debated over getting the red or neutral canvas. I decided if red worked for Mondrian, it could work for me too. And does it ever; a beautiful contrast to all the surrounding greenery. In December, I bought a red velvet dress for Christmas. That was a huge moment for me, and what fun it was to wear. But it is now back in the wardrobe until next season. For daily wear, I tied a red string around my wrist two years ago, which never comes off. It is a quiet but constant nod to my ancestors. Like a tattoo, it is always here as part of me. I have since learned that there is a Jewish folk custom, which involves wearing a thin scarlet or crimson string on your wrist as a type of talisman to ward off the “evil eye”. That creepy clown knows now to stay away!

With love, Xtine

The above post is part of Double Blossom xx, an Instagram project I started with photographer Christina Wilson Elms during lockdown. Each week we post a photo of ourselves and write a letter to the other on an agreed theme. If you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram at Double Blossom xx  — Two London sistas share stories about being Chinese in the UK and the US. Same age, same name; almost. 

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