Thursday, 6 July 2017

Mixed-up, Mixed Race; or, 20+ Years of Eurasian Angst

Me and my nose, Ho Chi Minh City, February 2014

"Perhaps intermarriage is the solution of the great racial problem," suggested the Professor. 
"Never," said the old administrator. "Keep the breed pure, be it white, black, or yellow. Bastard races cannot flourish. They are a waste of nature."  

-from 'Kimono' by John Paris (1921). 
Published by Penguin Books, 1947, pp.12-13

Eurasians are alternatively demonised and fetishised in colonial-era literature; and post-colonial literature continues to uphold the shaky ground upon which so-called 'half-castes' tread. Commonly depicted as being unwelcome in white and 'native' communities alike, it is only recently that the positive stereotypes - but stereotypes all the same - of Eurasians being beautiful has won out. In our current image-obsessed culture, we live out the archaic assumption that to be beautiful equals to be good, and therefore good-looking Eurasians are good things too. White communities like us because we represent the allure of the exotic, but with some familiar features that remind them of Caucasians. Asian communities like us because we are often fair-skinned, with lighter hair, and may display the strong jawline and more pointed nose which is characteristic of Westerners; basically because we have Western physical traits which they themselves find desirable. It's the timeless appeal of the Other, a type of beauty in sight but just out of grasp.

Out of grasp, that is, until beauty standards met the cosmetic surgery industry and they exploded in a huge, fast, scary way. When I spent two weeks travelling around Vietnam in 2014, it was assumed that I was North Vietnamese, and I was constantly asked if I had had my nose job done in Korea. The same thing has happened with Indonesian tourists in Bali.

People were not trying to determine if I was Eurasian, half white. I was stopped by multiple groups of adoring women who simply said to me, "You're so beautiful! Did you get your nose job done in Korea?"

The famous Nose in profile, Ho Chi Minh City, February 2014

Hanh, Nelly and me, HCMC, Feb '14. All real noses: two Vietnamese, one Eurasian


I am reminiscing about this trip, and longing to see old friends. I wrote the majority of this text two years ago, and have just found it languishing in the 'drafts' folder of this blog. I am publishing it now because I have recently come to realise that although I am constantly interested and intrigued by people's experiences of race and empire, I have done very little to interrogate my own relationships and understandings of these concepts. I hope to do more of this over the coming year, and aim to document those mental wonderings and wanderings in this space, online. I feel that this is an especially relevant activity in light of my [upcoming] PhD research methodology.

As always, I would love to hear back from any of my readers, particularly those from a multi-ethnic background. Please feel free to comment on any blog posts, or contact me at chinesefashion @


Monday, 3 July 2017

Deconstructing Fashion Podcast

Deconstructing Fashion, a podcast.
Thoughts on fashion and culture, present and past.
I have started recording a fashion history podcast together with fellow MA Fashion Cultures alumni Siân and Lindsay. We are three smart women talking about fun things, so if you're looking for new podcasts and are fans of the talk show format, do give us a listen! 

You can find us on iTunes and Soundcloud. Click here for our website, which has a list of episodes with full descriptions and show notes. 

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider giving us a review on iTunes! It would really help us improve our ratings and reach other listeners. 

Find us online at and contact us at hello[at]

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Upcoming Talk: The Samfu Suit, 1920-1979

Image copyright: Anushka Tay

I will be presenting my Masters thesis The Samfu Suit, 1920-1979. Diaspora, Identity, Representation at the Costume Society Conference on Saturday 1 July 2017.

This research proved to be a journey across both time and land, taking me deep into library archives as well as into the memories of family and friends. I carried out this research in London, Singapore and Hong Kong in summer 2016 for my dissertation for MA Fashion Cultures at the London College of Fashion (passed with distinction).

This research was supported by several grants: Costume Society Yarwood Award 2016; Pasold Textiles MA Research Grant; London College of Fashion: Fashion Matters Project Bursary.

Tickets are still available. Click here for more information & booking.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Where have you been

June 2017
Time is measured out in chords learned and scales mastered, in stitches made and socks piled up in the dresser. I ask myself constantly how I have arrived in June from January, and what do I have to show? Travel, music, conversation. Friendships strengthened and knowledge gained, and then lost. All these things are invisible yet mount up to leave indelible marks on the inside. I am trying to be a better artist, by which I mean not a painter or sculptor but a daily practitioner of creation. Sometimes when things seem too quiet it's as much as a loss as when time is too full. I am trying to return to better habits, to relearn ways of working and being that led me to better places in the past. Bear with me while I try.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Screen, paper and face

We are sitting in the window of a chain café on the edge of the Strand. We are drinking small cups of coffee with Italian names which have just been prepared using coffee beans grown somewhere in South America. We have been looking at photographs taken fifty years ago in West Africa of people running, dancing, jumping, playing. A painter told me that good paintings lift you, they give you something, you walk away feeling like you're richer. She's not keen on photography, yet I feel that this notion of being rich in spirit even when your pockets are empty can be applied to all works of human creativity. Certainly, I feel wonderful after looking at all those photographs of anonymous people in a far-away place and a far-away time. They are here and I am there.

Back to the present, and suddenly we hear a burst of shouting and calling. A group of people are passing by waving placards, and I remember the notice that I'd seen tied to a traffic light at a pedestrian crossing advertising a march to show support immigrant workers. I'd also seen it advertised online, and suddenly here it is in front of me. I am at leisure, sitting here in the middle of the day philosophising, because my four grandparents migrated to London to study, to work, to seek refuge from persecution. They found jobs, then each other; they renounced their former citizenships to settle and stay; they raised children. They paid taxes. They never claimed social benefits. Why would they?

There is a problem in this country called race, and people who do not have peach skin, deep eye sockets, straight hair and thin lips are ceaselessly made to feel unwelcome. I can't be proud of a country whose people constantly question my birthplace. It is always assumed that I, and others who resemble me, come from somewhere else. The location is abstract, and foreign, and far away. When migrants are demonised by the media and by politicians, as they currently are, I wonder what is the desired alternative. Nationalism in England has a nasty undercurrent of racism and fascism. Currently, new migrants and religious minorities are scapegoated for the nation's problems; whilst descendants of old migrants are constantly made to feel unwelcome, like we're not part of the country. I guess that I don't always want to be British, but I am, and there's no where else for me to go. This is the home that I come from, and I have no choice but to stay.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House

We finally made it to the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House; it was absolutely wonderful, in so many ways.  It closes on the 26th February, so I am typing like the wind in order that any readers might have time to catch it in the next 5 days!

Malick Sidibé was a Malian photographer, who took iconic portrait photographs in Mali following independence  from French colonialisation in 1960. I had previously seen his photographs hung in group exhibitions, and this is the first solo show in the UK. The exhibition was divided into three sections according to their topics and style, and framed photographs were hung in three beautiful high-ceilinged rooms in Somerset House. Nightlife in the capital Bamako depicted snappily-dressed groups of men and women dancing the twist and showing off their record collections. Daytime by the river Niger showed groups of teenagers posing, playing, swimming. The last room displayed a selection of studio portraits, some of which were certainly more posed than the location photography, but all were equally energetic. Sidibé's subjects are notable for their charismatic style, whether clothed in a three-piece checked suit with polished loafers and pork-pie hat, or standing topless wearing a sarong or old jeans. His photography is utterly fresh; you can almost hear the peals of laughter, shouts or cries ringing out. The atmosphere of the exhibition was kept equally upbeat with a varied soundtrack designed by DJ Rita Ray, which I felt was really successful.

All photographs were black-and-white, and were heavily textured from darkroom processing. The crinkly photographic paper was hung loose in white frames, which really gave an additional layer of tactility to the show. We are in the age of images which exist only onscreen, and I can honestly say that the curatorial choice to emphasise the physicality of photographs made it a very special show. I look forward to more like it in the future, and really encourage you to go before it closes!

Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali. Somerset House, till 26 February. 
Free entry!
Click here for more information.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Thinking back over 2016...

I just cast an eye over last year's New Year's Eve post, where I sound very sensible and gave myself some equally logical advice: that life's a work in progress. I'd forgotten last year's resolutions, but reviewing them now.

My 2016 plans were:

+ To get up earlier: A complete and utter failure. I have come to accept that I am an 'afternoon person'. I get up at 10am, go to bed at 2am, and my peak hours of productivity are between 1 and 5pm. I have been trying to skew my schedule to fit around this, and as such, my teaching hours are afternoons and evenings, with the odd horrible early morning (working before noon- gasp!) for marking, lesson prep and admin. I still haven't managed to shake off the sense of guilt that I get when I compare my alarm clock to friends with an office job; but in actual fact, I get 8 hours sleep and approximately a 7 hour work day + breaks + commuting time, which seems fair.

+ To stop wearing red and purple together: A success. I've been introducing more neutral colours into my wardrobe (browns and greys), and keeping jewel tones separate from each other. I'm starting to look less mad, just mildly eccentric. Next step: to stop wearing pink and yellow together...

+ To get my Masters! A rip roaring success! I haven't made much of an announcement, but you are currently reading the blog of a Master of Arts, Distinction.

Oh alright then, so this is the announcement. I'm pretty chuffed. I've lined up a few academic opportunities which start immediately in the new year, and. I will also be preparing some essays to submit to academic journals. I want to keep treading the balance between Diaspora Studies, Cultural Studies, and the Histories of Fashion & Performance Costume.

Small starts, small steps, so do wish me luck.