Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chinese Dreams

Last year we embarked on our second adoption trip to China. In total, we have now traveled to Hong Kong (twice), Guangzhou (twice), Chongqing, Beijing, and Zhengzhou. It is fascinating to visit a country in such a rapid state of flux 5 years apart; the old China disappears a little more each time in the breath taking change. The Chinese people remain the same, for the most part. The men with their tame birds riding on their shoulders, the battling badminton couples dueling in the parks each night, the dancers and martial arts enthusiasts congregating in communal exercise each morning or evening. The sultry, slow-churning Pearl River is the site of my family's post-supper stroll each evening. We watch the light show and musical parade of floating banquet boats trolling the river. We have only visited China in July and always under threat of a typhoon. It is a vibrant and often stunningly beautiful place, though sometimes it is terribly squalid and sad. It seems to me that the Chinese do everything we do, only a more so! I am always grateful to China for our two youngest children. They are a blessing to us and the most wonderful gift we could ever receive. And I strive to understand the Chinese culture, both of the past and of today, so we can provide our children with a sense of their magnificent cultural heredity.

In Guangzhou this past summer I found an amazing silk dress in a children's shop. This store was a little off the beaten path, next to a Thai restaurant we really enjoyed called The Cow and Bridge. I bought a melon and cream version of the dress for our daughter, though it came in pink, purple, yellow, green, etc. Each color had unique embroidery. What attracted me to the dress was its apparently wide range of cultural influence. It looked America, Chinese, Korean, all at once. I thought it was the perfect reflection of modern China. On our previous trip I had purchased several different Mandarin-style traditional Chinese dresses for my daughter and a few kung-fu suits for my sons from the tourist shops, but this time I wanted to get a different one. A dress a Chinese girl might pick for a special occasion. The dress is a big hit and suits my daughter's dusky Sichuan coloring perfectly. I was inspired to create a tiny version of my own.

I also wanted a reflection of my memories of Guangzhou. I think if I lived in China I would want to reside on Shamian Island. It is just so weirdly beautiful, with its age-blackened European townhouses slowly decaying in the mist, its leathery tropical trees and flowers a dripping, shadowed canopy, its statues slick with humidity, all directly adjacent to the neon high-rise futuristic city of the mainland. It reminds me of the South I came to as a girl here in America, the languid, thick-aired, vegetation-choked universe that has all but succumbed to strip malls and highways. The Chinese designers must find Shamian as attractive as I; in Guangzhou, you regularly see models posing in front of the lovely French Colonial architecture.

My Chinese modern dress

The original dress, which was my inspiration, is shown in the background.

I tried to create a Chinese amulet.

Mandaline in Beijing, touching the double happiness character meant to ensure nuptial bliss.

A misty Shamian Island wedding.
I designed my "modern" Chinese ensemble for the vintage Sasha and My Friend dolls. Both the brunette Sasha and the Fisher Price My Friend Jenny can look quite Asian if dressed in a Chinese style. I like to try out my fashion designs on dolls first, since I don't waste as much fabric if I mess a new pattern up! I designed the patterns myself and used lime green bridal satin and gold organdy for the top and skirt. The outfit is embellished with sequins and wired gold iridescent ribbon, wired in copper to make the sleeves stand out. I wove the little macrame-style amulet with metallic elastic and sewed tiny bells to it. This was the closest I could get to the tiny amulets you see everywhere in China. I think I'd have to take a class to really capture the artistry in these miniature weavings. I really feel pleased with the result of this outfit. I do feel like I really was able to capture the eclectic Chinese fashion scene, especially that of Guangzhou.

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