>> In a Time Out London article last week about tweed, I was mentioned in passing in a paragraph about Steve, my boyfriend. Or rather, it was my doppelganger "Sophie Bubble off those satchel adverts." Let's forget about the fact that they got my name wrong and look at the latter part of that faux-pas. I'm guessing the writer was referencing the Google Chrome advert, centred around Julie Deane's Cambridge Satchel Company start-up business, in which a fellow British born-Chinese (I think…) female "blogger" is seen raving about the satchels in a YouTube haul video-esque set-up. That's where I find myself perplexed. The girl looks nothing like me, save for a swathe of black fringe and a teethy smile. This writer couldn't be bothered to quickly Google "Steve Salter's girlfriend" and find a) a different name and b) a different Chinese girl.
I seemingly have doppelgangers running all over town. Every week, someone will say "Oh I saw you on the 52 bus!" or "I saw you at Birthdays!" to which I say "Nope, that was some other Chinese girl…" It doesn't really bother me most of the time and normally I sardonically reply, "Yeah, yeah, all Chinese girls look the same – har-di-har-har!" which then normally incites an uncomfortable flustered protest of "Erm… no! I didn't mean that at all!" I'm well aware that it's a little facetious to answer back with that jerk-reponse but it's almost become an automatic reflex, as though I want to enforce feelings of guilt on their part for getting me mixed up with some other Chinese girl. Maybe I should take a leaf out of Xiao Wen Ju's book. In Paris, I was following the pixie-faced model around for a day and backstage at a show, photographers were snapping her picture, mistakenly calling her "Fei Fei!" to get her attention, despite the fact that Xiao and Fei Fei look COMPLETELY different. Does Xiao mind that she gets confused with the other Chinese model biggies? She shrugs. She says she used to get Caucasian people mixed up all the time. Tit for tat, I guess.
But you know what? I remember all y'all faces and would never make a piss-poor gaffe like that. Once in a while, I think I'm allowed to play the race card and get a little bit pissed off. There really aren't that many of us (meaning Chinese/Japanese/Korean in origin) in the fashion industry in London. More so perhaps on the designer and production side, a handful in fashion PR, but definitely scarce in the fashion media/journalist front. I remember an editor from a Chinese magazine pointing out that she found it funny that in amongst the British press block at Paris shows, I did sort of look like I've been seated in the wrong block because I was the odd one out. Therefore, when there are incidents where we (as in us scant East Asians, a definite minority in London's fashion industry) are confused, merged and painted into one single Chinese/Japanese/Korean generic persona and reduced to being say, that girl from the Cambridge Satchel ads, I can't help but feel miffed. Only slightly though. Before I then laugh it off, put it down to human mistake or sheer coincidence and go about my day.
For a rare spot of cultural assertiveness, I thought I'd pull up some of my YouTube Chinese femme heroines, who have probably never experienced a "Sophie Bubble" esque typo in their shining starry lives.
Ruan Lingyu was a brilliant Chinese silent actress in 1930s, most famous for role in The Goddess (1934 – which you can watch in its entirity online), who sadly killed herself aged only 24. Despite her short life, she built up a fantastic film repetoire to mesmerising effect, haunting you with her eyes, without a word of dialogue.
I've been having a bit of a Ge Lan aka Grace Chang moment as I vaguely remember some of her songs from her best known films such as "Mambo Girl" and "The Wild Wild Rose". It's her musical turns in these films that really hook you in, particularly her Chinese rendition of Georges Bizet's Carmen score.
I grew up thinking Anita Mui was a little like a Chinese version of Madonna with her sensual performances and wild costumes. Her uncharacteristically (for Chinese female singers) deep voice really was the soundtrack of my house, when my mum would "jive" around the kitchen and even as a seven year old, I would cringe thinking "No, mum don't dance along!"
I listened to Faye Wong's "Scenic Tour" album constantly when I was 16, despite the fact that I wasn't really that into Canto-pop. She's probably one of the few Chinese singers, who I'd actually rate as a credible artist, who encouraged any iota of individualism and authenticity, in both her image and her music.