‘What are you doing, my puppet?’ the woman asks the little girl with blonde hair.
‘Making my eyes Chinese,’ the blonde girl replies as she pulls up the corners of her eyes towards the back of her ears.
The woman who has dark brown hair looks on as the little blonde girl continues to make herself look Chinese.
‘Why is that so important, my darling?’ the woman wants to know. ‘Mummy doesn’t have eyes like that, does she?’
The little blonde girl looks away from the mirror, she is four years old but very wise, and takes a long look at the woman with dark brown hair. She frowns a little and then looks back at herself in the mirror.
‘No, she doesn’t,’ the little blonde girl answers slowly. ‘But I want to look a little Chinese, because I’m half Chinese.’
The little blonde girl, her name is Heather, is serious and light hearted all at the same time. She asks existential questions like ‘Where will I go when I die, Mummy?’ and ‘Where do butterflies go to die?’
Her mother, the lady with dark brown hair, her name is Evelyn, is young and ancient all at the same time. She is Chinese from around the world. Her ancestors are known as Peranakans who lived a hybrid life that incorporated Chinese, Malay and European cultures. Evelyn’s eyes were double lidded, big and coloured brown.
Heather was born bald as an eagle. Her eyes were blue at birth but they soon turned light brown. Evelyn was all alone when she gave birth; her English boyfriend had abandoned her long ago. She was exotic until the day the baby was born.
Evelyn was young. just a month past 24. Sex had been an exploratory journey of hunger, urgency and loss. She was still a virgin when she met Steve; he was charmed by her innocence but couldn’t contain her yearning for love and her appetite for touch.
She couldn’t fathom that she was pregnant even though all the signs pointed out the pregnancy so blatantly. Her breasts were tender, her nipples hurt and she felt like throwing up for months. She kept telling herself that it was the flu. The weather was turning and winter was approaching. She just needed a padded bra so that the cold wind won’t hurt her nipples; maybe a thicker coat. The bulge in her tummy was due to too much beer. They say that beer is fattening.
Beer was Steve’s favourite drink; a pint didn’t cost much in those days. There were discounts at the Union House, perks of being a Phd student.
Dusk was nearing that Sunday when Evelyn felt a dull ache at the base of her cervix. She still had a week to go, so she wasn’t worried about the Braxton Hicks contractions she was feeling. The train was approaching the platform and they were still at the top of the stairs.
‘Let’s make a run for it,’ Steve shouted out as he ran down the stairway. A day at the local pub had lifted his melancholy. He wants to fly like the wind; with arms stretched out like an aeroplane, he flew down the concrete stairs.
Evelyn hobbled down holding the base of her rotund tummy, this comes naturally to pregnant women. Steve held the train door open, forcing the train to be stationed for longer than its intended duration. The station master shouted in irritation and blew his whistle. Evelyn finally made it down the stairs, panting, breathless and in need of a seat. Her tummy hurt and she could feel the last swirl of dinner percolating at the base of her throat.
A kind gentleman gave up his seat for her. She plonked herself down gratefully. She could feel the acid ride up her throat and she gagged to keep the contents in. She would have to wait for the next stop to throw up, she thought. Confucius had taught that it is wise to be mindful of others; the carriage just wasn’t the right place to puke. Steven shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking around him nervously.
The embarrassment of wetting yourself in public is a conditioned fear. Toddlers happily pee in the sand pit or in the swimming pool. Part of socialising children is to stop them from this natural inclination to mark their spot or to relax and let go. Evelyn’s waters broke just as she heaved herself up to leave the train. She left behind a trail of water as she exited and a pile of vomit on the platform as the train pulled away. Walking home was memorable; Steve had decided not to disembark with her.
Evelyn was in the throes of another contraction when the taxi arrived at the hospital. She had to wait for the contractions to stop before she could leave the cab. Another round of contractions started as she shuffled her way to the maternity ward. Her bald baby was born an hour later.
Who would have thought that genetics could skip a generation or two? How did an Asian girl become the mother of a blonde angel?
Jari Tangah Benar, Dani “King” Heriyanto, oil on canvas, undated, 160 x 140 cm. Photo taken at The Art Stage, Singapore 2017.
Dani “King” Heriyanto is a visual artist known for his stylised female faces. He says that female beauty inspires him.. Heriyanto’s work consists of female portraits that combine qualities of pop art with a personal touch of stylised realism incorporating unique elements of Asian ethereality. The portrait pictured is entitled ‘right middle finger’ in Malay. Choosing to name this undated portrait in his mother tongue removes the banality of its English equivalent. A phrase spoken in a foreign language makes the most insipid expressions exotic.
Our faces are visual expressions of identity; in the perception of ourselves lies how others see us. The Asian beauty is always imbued with a sense of the mystic and a sense of the exotic. To Western beholders, the shape of our Asian eyes and Asian noses distinguish us (as Others) from the (Western) norm.
Tidbit to Take Away:
Heriyanto has been accused of plagiarism by a Korean contemporary artist. The lines between plagiarism and inspiration are quite unclear in the Arts. In a globalised world where social media plays a huge part in the dissemination of information, intertextuality has become interwoven into the fabric of our contemporary lives; social media does complicate notions of privacy and ownership.