It’s a Barbie World

One of the most famous names in the world now has a permanent home in Montreal. Barbie Expo is the largest permanent exhibit of Barbie dolls in the world and is open to the public for free at Les Cours Mont Royal. I had a Barbie doll when I was a kid and it was one of my favorite toys. I loved the dresses my mom made for her out of scrap material. They weren’t as fancy as Mattel couture, but I thought they were beautiful. The Barbies in this exhibit wear outfits designed by top designers such as Vera Wang, Bob Mackie, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein and Versace. With dolls that resemble Beyonce, Barbara Streisand, Jennifer Lawrence, Lucille Ball and more, the exhibit is a fascinating commentary on fashion and pop culture.

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How to Tell if You Were Raised in a Chinese-American (or Canadian) Family

Photo from iStock

Photo from iStock

Read this hilarious post by LiAnne Yu and see how many of these signs you can identify with. I can identify with every one except #7 and 10.

17 signs you were raised in a Chinese-American family

1. You speak Chinglish fluently.

You and your parents have developed your own, unique language, made up of some parts English and some parts Chinese. Every Chinese-American family has their own version of Chinglish. Some of my family favorites: “I bought hen duo (a lot) of your favorite snacks.” “It’s too mafan (troublesome).” And: “That’s so diu lian (humiliating).” When you were younger you felt embarrassed to speak Chinglish in public, but now that you’re older, you cherish having such an intimate language that you share with only a few other people in the world.  Continue reading

Fabergé: Jeweller to the Czars

The Fabulous Fabergé Eggs

I saw the exhibit on the Fabergé Eggs at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts this week and they are an excellent example of this week’s Photo Challenge: Endurance. They are stunning pieces of art and craftsmanship that have endured over time. Carl Fabergé also created other jeweled and gold encrusted items such as frames, dishes, umbrella handles, cane handles, and carvings, but it’s the famous eggs that caught my imagination.

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The Fitting Room by Cheryl Sim

Chinese Fever

Looking for some free things to do around Montreal? Head towards Chinatown and take a look at a couple of exhibits by local artists.

Cheryl Sim

Cheryl Sim

La Cabine d’Essayage (The Fitting Room) by Cheryl Sim is aptly located in a small corner of a shopping mall in Chinatown amid clothing and accessory boutiques.

Sim examines the cheongsam, which according to her, is a dress that has become an internationally recognized symbol of Chinese cultural identity. She asks Canadian-born Chinese women how they feel about the dress and if they have a desire to wear it. You get to listen to their answers through headphones and feel as if you’re a part of their conversation. Also part of the exhibit is a video-sculptural work that evokes the classic Chinese screen on which photos and videos showing the evolution of the cheongsam are displayed, and a transparent, plexi-glass fitting room which projects clips from Hollywood films onto the visitor’s body.

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Celebrate Asian Heritage Month

Asian Heritage Month 2014

 

If you have always wanted to try dim sum but never got around to it, then here’s a good reason to go: May is designated as Asian Heritage Month. The Canadian Government’s web site (where you can download the poster above) says “Asian Heritage Month is an ideal occasion for all to celebrate the beauty and wisdom of various Asian cultures.”  Of course, you can celebrate anytime of the year, but what better excuse to order Chinese take-out and indulge in a marathon of Bruce Lee or Ang Lee films?

Need some more ideas? Here are a few from my shelf of Canadian books and film:

Books

I’m currently reading A Cowherd in Paradise – From China to Canada by May Q. Wong and am loving it. It’s the story of Wong’s parents who were forced to live apart for 25 years because of Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws. It is a well-written account with family photos and it brings to life the price the Chinese paid when Canada enacted the Chinese Immigration Act. I met Wong when she came to Montreal to do a reading of her book. You can read about it here. 

The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit by J.J. Lee was a finalist for the Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction in 2012. This book deserved all the accolades it received. This memoir about a son who decides to become an apprentice to one of the last great tailors in Vancouver’s Chinatown in order to alter his father’s suit learns invaluable lessons about life instead.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy is, in my opinion, a classic. It’s the story of the children of an immigrant family living and growing up in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930s and 1940s. Continue reading

Digging for Chinese Treasure…in a Museum

Karen Tam

Karen Tam in front of Qing dynasty Alcove Bed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

When my friend Karen Tam, told me earlier this year that she was the artist-in-residence at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I asked her two questions:

1) Do the statues come to life like in the movie A Night at the Museum?
2) What was she doing there?

So maybe my imagination is fueled by movies including Indiana Jones and more recently, Monument Men, and maybe I was disappointed that the answer to my first question was “no,” but I found Karen’s project to be very intriguing.

I met her again on the last day of her residency, this time at the museum, to find out exactly what she was working on. She had spent six weeks exploring their archives and learning about the history of the museum’s collection of Chinese art and artefacts. It was late Friday morning, and we sat on a vinyl bench on the third floor where only a handful of people were perusing the display cases.

Many of the objects she examined came from antique dealers in New York, Boston and London, two of who obtained valuable artefacts because of major historical events. Goods belonging to Japanese-Americans who were interned during the Second World War wound up in the hands of Yamanaka Sadajirô and his company Yamanaka & Co which dealt in government confiscated goods. The other one was C.T. Loo.  Treasures that once belonged to the Chinese Imperial Family fell into his hands as they sold what they could in order to flee China before the fall of the Last Emperor and the Japanese invasion. Accused of being a thief and looter of China’s national treasures, Loo defended himself by saying he was actually saving the art by selling them to collectors.

It seems that the museum also played a small part in history. In the 1940s, the museum held three exhibits by Chinese artists of which one was to raise money for China’s Nationalist Party and another for China’s Communist Party. However, all three exhibits were held when Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act (which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the country from 1923-1947 )was still in force. Canadian society, while appreciating the art and culture of the Far East, did not hold the same appreciation for the people who created it.

The museum’s Chinese collection holds many stories, but as Karen’s residency ends her interest does not. She is holding talks with the museum about the possibility of holding an exhibit based on her discoveries. In the meantime, her next installation will be at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon as part of the exhibition “Convoluted Beauty: In the Company of Emily Carr,” at the end of June. Her subject will be Lee Nam, a Chinese immigrant to British Columbia, who was a painter and a friend of Emily Carr. In collaboration with Montreal-based painter, Lui Luk Chun, a senior artist in his seventies, she will re-imagine what Lee Nam’s studio looked like in the 1930s.

You can read more about her experience as artist-in-residence at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on her blog Pumpkin Sauce. Check out her portfolio at http://www.karentam.ca.

Click on the link to learn about the artist’s residency at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Lion Heads waiting to welcome 2014

Enter the Lions – Welcoming the New Year Chinese Style

The pounding beat of a drum, the clash of cymbals and the sound of firecrackers rang through Montreal’s Chinatown Sunday afternoon to scare away evil demons. The lions had arrived to celebrate the New Year. The lions are members of The Montreal Chinese Lions Dance Club, a martial arts and lions dance club. Dressed in colourful, shimmering costumes, they visit stores, restaurants and tong associations in Chinatown to wish them luck and prosperity in the New Year.

Thank goodness the deep, freezing cold temperatures broke this weekend. It was a balmy -1 Celsius. The snow was turning to slush. A small cloud of smoke billowed as firecrackers exploded in Sun Yat-Sen Square. The lions bowed and pranced in front of guests of honour, each of whom dangled a head of lettuce and a red envelope from a pole.  According to tradition, the lion eats the lettuce and the envelope. Then, it tosses the pieces of lettuce in the air to wish the person and the establishment prosperity in the coming year.

The crowd followed the lions up Clark Street to their first stop. Someone on the second floor dangled a head of lettuce and a red envelope from a pole high over the sidewalk. The lions leaped and danced and successfully grabbed both items.

Le Cristal was packed with customers having dim sum when the lions made their entrance into the restaurant located on the sixth floor. Cameras and cell phones snapped photos as the lions wound their way around the tables and headed towards the far end. The owners hung the lettuce and red envelope from the ceiling which was more of a challenge since it was so high. Customers cheered as the lions made several attempts and then burst into applause when they succeeded.

For the next three hours, the lions made their way into shopping centers and stores. They stopped at doorways marked by a head of lettuce and a red envelope hanging from the top, or where someone waited with a pole. The crowd grew as the small parade made its way along La Gauchetière Street, chasing away evil spirits to ensure the community a happy and prosperous new year.

The Red Envelope – Guidelines on giving Lai See

When I was a kid, one of the best things about Chinese New Year was the red envelopes my parents and their friends gave me. Tucked inside the small decorated envelopes was one or two dollars or maybe even five (a fortune in those days). Now as an adult, I’m expected to give out red envelopes. The rule, as my parents had explained back then, was to give money to children and anyone who was unmarried, (usually to someone no older than 25). Society has undergone a huge shift since then and the rules have become blurred, but thanks to Molalacompany.com this guideline makes everything perfectly clear.

Guidelines on Giving Lai See on Chinese New Year