Double Blossom xx – Week 7

Double Blossom xx

May 24, 2020

Dear Christina

Your response to my letter last week about wearing red has been at the back of my mind for the last couple of days. While I was searching through the archives to look for this week’s photo of our first sartorial adventures, I realised that your observation was spot on. I did indeed wear a lot of red when I was little, including these red patent leather go-go boots.

I remember these boots so clearly. When I was ten, we moved to Taiwan for six months because my father took a consulting job there. My parents decided that since it was only for six months, they would send us to the local school so we could learn some Chinese. As a ten year old, I found myself in the same class as my 7 year old brother who is standing beside me in this photo. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, I was teased mercilessly for being taller, probably the only time ever in my life, than everyone else.

The classroom was so large and bare, it echoed. Filled with orderly rows and rows of desks and little uniformed children. The desks sat two each and everyone had a desk partner. Because I was “tall”, I sat in the back where we could get away with a lot more; not that I did. Our Taiwanese classmates endured casual corporal punishments for minor infractions regularly. Being American endowed my brother and me with a special status and we had immunity from the corporal punishments. This didn’t necessarily always protect us.

In the mornings, we all stood in the courtyard in neat rows to listen to the head of school deliver announcements on a tannoy and then we did calisthenics. One morning, I was daydreaming and had turned my head to look at something. A teacher, unaware of my “special status”, came along and slapped me on the face hard and told me to pay attention. I remember feeling so much shame for the rest of the day I never told my parents. Discipline by fear is unforgiveable; unhealthy with many irreparable negative repercussions.

Back to the boots. My mother took me shopping one night at an open night market in Taipei. Going out without my younger brothers and sister was a real treat. She said I could buy one thing and I wanted red go-go boots. I’m trying to work out why but I can’t remember. In my forensic Google search, I found a clip of Nancy Sinatra singing and dancing to “These Boots Are Made for Walking” on Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In”, a comedy television show I remember watching with babysitters. She was wearing a mini skirt and go-go boots, of course. I like to think the burgeoning feminist in me was sympathetic to the lyrics of the song but I think I just liked the way her mini skirt looked with the boots.

Do you remember having an image in your head of something you wanted and searching and searching and not ever finding it? Since globalisation and online shopping, the hunt is easier but not nearly as satisfying. But in 1971, it seems like a miracle that I found those boots in a night market that was filled with everything from freshly killed chickens to kitchenware. December, there was a chill in the dark air, which was thick with the smell of grilled street food. I still remember turning the corner and seeing the boots hanging high above the stall-holder’s head on a rail. She had to use a long reaching hook to bring them down when I pointed at them and told her my size. I know my mother thought they were highly impractical so I’m not sure why she even let me have them. I guess the stars were aligned for me that night.

I loved those boots and wore them all the time outside of school when we had to wear a uniform. After my father’s work stint was up, we toured Australia, New Zealand and much of South East Asia for 6 weeks before going back to America. Singapore and Thailand in February were very hot and so muggy. And there was a heavy downpour every day in Singapore at lunchtime. My father explained that we were near the equator. These tropical rainforest conditions did not dissuade me in the least. I wore my patent leather go-go boots everyday as we toured around in the worst of the heat. My mother says she remembers my complaining all the time and yet I still wore them. Those go-go boots are probably the first time I suffered for fashion. I remember people looking and pointing at me. I was convinced they were looking at me in admiration of my style sense. I realise now that they were looking at me with complete bemusement.

When we got back to America, it was March. The boots were no match for the wet and snowy weather. I do remember wearing them on my first day back at school. My classmates were bemused as well, but not nearly as much as I was by their long division exercises. Having missed six months of school, I was completely lost and to this day, I still can’t do long division. Getting to wear those red go-go boots for 3 months were worth a lapse in my maths skills though and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Lots of 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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