Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Search of a Paint Brush

Mrs. Hau was in Hang Zhou desperately trying to buy a paint brush. It was late and New Year’s eve, and most of the cities traditional shops seemed to be closed. She walked endlessly looking for a simple Wen Ju Dian selling school supplies.

Exhausted with throbbing legs and an aching back, the visiting Mrs. Hau stopped at the New Goods Shop near the famous Western Lake district to inquire one last time if anyone knew of an open stationary store.  The shop keeper was in the back eating dinner with her parents and two little dogs, but she jumped up wiping  her mouth on her sleeve  and cheerfully came out to assist this strange customer who clearly was not going to buy vegetables this late at night.

“No, I don’t think there are any shops that sell stationary supplies or things  like that nearby.” She answered after a thoughtful pause.  “What do you need exactly?”

“I need a brush to paint with.” Mrs. Hau sighed.

“Mmm, I am sorry I don’t sell supplies like that but if you give me a minute and I will find something for you that may help.”

She rustled about and came back with a brush for cleaning vegetables and Mrs. Hau instantly liked the look of it. It was well made with a handsome wooden handle and a leather cord to hang it.  It had hard straight golden hog hair bristles. It was a quality vegetable cleaning brush the likes of which Mrs. Hau had never seen before. It would not work for painting any great works of art, but for touching up a spot of paint here and there it could work just fine.

 “It's beautiful. I'll take it". Mrs. Hau declared as she picked out half  a Yuan from her coin purse. "What’s your name?” 

“Yo Jen, and yours?”

“You are very pretty Yo Jen and speak excellent English.” Mrs. Hau told her truthfully. “And you have been so friendly and helpful. This brush will work splendidly.  Thank you.”

“Mei wen ti.  Please come again.  You are always welcome in my New Goods Shop. I like to stock things for my customers that are high quality but handmade,”  She said  pointing to the artfully arranged vegetables, cutlery and rice bowls.  Mrs. Hau  admired all the little treasures within, then clutching her  brush, she stepped out to the street zipping up her coat against the wind which had suddenly come up off the lake. She looked back one more time at New Goods Shop of the Westlake District in Hang Zhou to make sure she would remember how to get back to it someday.

“Hau Tai Tai!  Yo Jen called out as her customer was about to step into a taxi.  “I forgot to wish you a Happy New Year!”

“And may you have a Happy New Year too!” Mrs. Hau chirped back.

~And so, in case you haven’t guessed, I am posting from Hang Zhou, here to set up the very first  store for Bunnies By The Bay in China. The brush will work perfectly to touch up the knicks and dings sustained on our first day of business.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dim Sum and Tea

"A lot can change in an evening", thought Miss Han as she looked over at her lover. In one long dinner she had laid out on the table all her thoughts, desires, hopes and dreams, like hot steamy baskets of assorted dim sum to be sampled.  Her parents carefully tasted each juicy offering from her heart and offered advice and comments over each dumpling. In some cases the wrapper was too hard, and with some too soft, but always the filling was mouth-watering  delicious.

 But it was when her lover finally joined them that the meal suddenly turned spicy. Despite all her fears and doubts, everyone could see how Miss Han glowed when her lover took his seat at her family's table and when he too bravely offered all his thoughts, desires, hopes and dreams in front of her parents as if laying out an assortment of teas.

It was Miss Han’s Mother who saw clearly the feast that would lie before her daughter in the future.“My daughter,” she thought to herself as she poured tea, “is like a spicy dim sum dumpling; one bite and it bursts with flavor.  But this boy reminds me of these bitter shriveled tea leaves, swelling when you pour hot water over them, unfurling a gentle warm flavor, a comforting and soothing drink.”

A lot can change in one meal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Miss Han's Lover

Miss Han sat cool as a cucumber all through her brother’s wedding feast never letting on that her heart raged like hot and sour soup.  She was waiting for her lover to arrive and present himself and yes, even claim her.  But by the time the table had been cleared and fruits passed around to all the guests, Miss Han did not need to bite into chilly pears to know her boyfriend had cold feet and there would be an empty chair at this dinner and perhaps, all dinners to come.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Love Come, At Last

 Da Jie had been troubled for some time.  Her Uncle Tu’s, beloved song bird, Exceeding Joy had flown away a year ago and it seemed that sightings of this free and cheeky bird had been far and few between. It had not flown so far away, say like to the southern provinces, as to be completely out of mind, but far enough away that the daily routine of cheerfulness was silent and this had left a sore spot deep in the heart of Da Jei’s  un-tuned heart. It was not until a brief alighting at her window sill made her realize that if Exceeding Joy made even a small peep; just one tiny sound to remind her that love was still fluttering around her, it was enough to make her rise again.

~My month long trip to Asia ends tonight.  I am on my way home to my waiting family who suffer much with my long weeks away.  I missed Thanksgiving, but I am thankful for them and free countries who allow you to blog.  Most of my time away, I have been unable to access Wu Fung Road and the visitors who join me there.  Some of you have tracked me down no matter where I am.  Thank you.  You have no idea how much that helps.
It has been a hard trip.  Mostly it has been mind numbing and constant work , but along the way,  at critical moments and always when I least expect it,  Exceeding Joy  would alight on my window sill too.
~For Tamara, my sister and champion

Monday, November 8, 2010

Traveling South

Ah Tzen had always admired the judgments of her husband, but recently she had begun to have her doubts.  Perhaps it was Fung’s lack of planning.  When they arrived in the south to begin their new jobs,  it was only then she  discovered that he had not thought about a nanny for Little Kite.

~and so I too, head South, home to Taiwan.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ah Mei's Apple

When Little Sister eventually grew up and left the farm, she became an accountant for a large electronics factory in Hsin Chu. It would be revealed much later that this plant actually made parts for Apple IPhone. Her family were very proud and would often comment at reunions that even in the care of chickens and the gathering of their eggs, she had shown great management skill at a young age.

"No!" She would protest ineffectively, "I only counted them, I had nothing to do with how many eggs our hen laid". But as far as the Chen family was concerned, Ah Mei was solely responsible for the brilliance of the Apple company and the increase in their stock. And if they were disappointed that she was helpless in programing their fancy phones, they never showed it to her face.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who Is It?

Yue Li had been in the back courtyard peeling carrots when she heard knocking at the front gate.  She knew that her mistress was sleeping and would not want to be disturbed, but the maid had been taught to answer every call, so she carefully opened the gate and whispered to the gentleman at the door, “What do you want?”

~I am Home, back from Japan. 

Before I left, I participated in Whidbey Island's wonderful Studio Tour and the first painting that sold was this screen.  I laugh, because it was an old screen I had in my possession for 30 some years and I had grown tired of the faded lotus blossoms on it.  The screen was falling apart and so on a whim I re-plastered it and made this quick painting. It is almost 4 feet wide, so it has been hard to get a good photo of it.  As I made last minute preparations for my show I realized I was short and so threw this old thing up on the wall to fill the space.  The first people who walked through the door bought it.  I didn't have a price and indeed, tried to talk them out of buying it for is was barely hanging together.  But they did. And I am glad.  They were the cutest couple.  They returned the last day as promised and told me they had made themselves a Chinese feast from scratch to welcome Yue Li to her new courtyard.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Su Chen Becomes a Monk

Su Chen Becomes a Monk

~still in Nagoya

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Li Li's Daughter

“Wa!” Li Li thought as she stepped into the warm sunny morning,
 “My daughter is as lively as a New Year’s firecracker."

~for My Uncle Al's 70th birthday

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dr. Esther Chin

Ok, so I agree this is not the type of art you usually expect from me.  A few years back when I was going through Menopause, I created this little character called Dr. Esther Chin, a dispenser of cures for HAREMONES. She gives out advice.  So if you asked the good doctor  what to do about  mood swings, she would prescribe a Gin and Tonic.  I  "doctored" this sketch as she used to be a rabbit. But once I removed her ears, I realized she is really a self portrait.

I am feeling light hearted.  I am once again in Nagoya and in a few minutes will join the magnificent Juli Johnson, a designer who works at Bunnies By The Bay, and she and I will ride shot gun in the back of truck with our hand made displays and little tins of touch up paint to install our first Bunnies By The Bay Hare Couture Boutique inside the Mitsukoshi Department Store here in Japan.  We hope to be back to our rooms by dawn.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yoli's Army Of Three

In the days before Mrs. Chu settled down, she was a strong warrior specializing in the nimble handling of swords. It was therefore no surprise to those who knew 有力, that she would put down her blade and become a brave mother, raising her children with sharp wisdom. Her heart swelled with pride for her little army now playing by her side. They were her whole world and she had retrieved each one with the perseverance and patience worthy of heroic generals in battle. But, her three little soldiers had conquered her heart.

For my guardian, YoLi

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Heaven On Earth

There was nothing the old stone mason loved more than to have his family gathered under the eaves of his house. When the joys of his screeching grandchildren, the assistance of his capable children and the warm home created by his long-suffering wife, became too much to bear, Mr. Bao would step out into the cool evening night and watch over the heaven he had carved on earth.

For my cousins in Sarasota

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cousins Make Me Feel Smug

Annie in my glasses

My cousin Annie Brantingham, a professor in Wu Han, took this photo of me in front of a painting I did called Jye Jye Whispers which I painted for yet another cousin, who lives in Shanghai. It is a portrait of my dearest Melanie and her three children. It hangs in her house where many scattered family gather frequently to spend holidays and long weekends. I am especially close to this family because her children are being raised like I was; on the streets and lanes of Chinese villages and not in foreign compounds. Her children, Isabelle, Sophia and Jonas speak fluent Mandarin and are agile in both cultures. We have that in common.

I usually hate photos of myself, but I think I look smug and happy in this one.  Maybe it is because Annie, the photographer makes me laugh and of course, I love her.  At one family reunion  Annie and I entertained  our cousins when we were sent to the kitchen to fix a simple lunch of hot dogs. We soon donned chef hats made out of paper towels and prepared the whole meal as if doing a Chinese cooking show.  We did excessive amounts of chopping and using the word
C O N D O M ...E N T S in every sentence.  It was Julia Childs meets John Belushi's The Samurai. We did our Taiwanese, Cantonese Chinglish accents and laughed ourselves silly.  I have a fear that someday that routine will end up on utube.  

All my cousins are funny and witty so when we are together we have a grand time. I will see Annie soon for we gather in Florida this weekend.  We have had another death in the family.  Three since May, including my Mother.  This time it is our cousin Steve. This photo was taken the evening before my Mother's funeral.  It is of my brother and I laughing our heads off at some story Steve is telling.  He had this unique way of making you feel special, as if you were the only relative he cared about.   I have no doubt that each of us who gather to remember him will think, "I was his favorite cousin." And we will each be right.  We will all feel smug.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I am in Nagoya, Japan working, but an early morning walk through the streets was delightful as I discovered these manhole covers.  Only in Japan would utility covers be works of art!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Joyful Return

The youngest Bao brother had a vision. Perhaps he would have a son, born at the tail end of the year of the Tiger but just before the Rabbit. Maybe he would be a strong and powerful boy with just a hint of tenderness.  It is upon this insight, that Exceeding Joy, Uncle Tu's often escaping song bird, decided to return. 

~Posting from Taipei after a long journey

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A New Table Is Set

Ah Pu’s auntie gave him only one piece of advice on his wedding night and that was to make sure his new bride never went hungry. This would help them to have a long life together.

 For Phillip and Jennifer

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Time To Go Home

After many months on the road and a journey that had many twists and turns,
the time had come to return home.

Monday, May 31, 2010

My Mama

My Mother was raised in India.  She went to school in the Himilayan Mountains. She was exotic and strange to me because I was raised in provinces of China.  We were of different cultures.  I spoke Mandarin and street Taiwanese, she Hindi and English with a slight hint of a British Accent.

Most of my life, in fact perhaps clear up until a few months ago, I didn't understand my mother and we had difficulty between us.  When I came to take care of her back in January, that changed.

My youngest brother Timothy is a wordsmith and the night she died he said it best...he had been flying through the night to reach me and my mother and while enroute was amazed as he looked down through his airplane window at how beautiful the Eastern seaboard is from 10,000 feet above.  He had always thought my Mother's life tragic and sad and that in recent years, things had not gone well for her, but then he saw her from 10,000 feet and saw everything about her differently and with a panoramic perspective.

Most of my life I saw my mother from her alleys, back doors, kitchens, septic systems and wiring panels, from a view so close as to render her landscape nothing but miswirings and faulty pipes.  It was only as she died, that I got that 10,000 foot aerial persepctive and saw for the first time what every single other person around her saw; her majesty, eloquence, wit, beauty and ability to tell the best story about the most mundane thing. It was right under my nose all the time.

Her memorial is tomorrow. My brothers, daughter and sisters- in -law have gathered beside me at my mother's old home in Williamsburg to make arrangments.  We have put right her house, sorted photos, written and cooked a good deal of food.  I have done everything but paint.

I also realized today, that every single record of paintings I have done, I have posted.  I am dry.  This is my last painting until I can start new.  I have so many planned and half done, but not a day at home in my studio in months.


~the Four Children of Mrs. Bao gathered at the old family home. A new dynasty had begun and everything would be different.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Mother Arrived

             Barbara Cattell Brantingham
              10 Dec 1935         25 May 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Stop Along The Way

For several weeks now, my Mother has been talking about a trip she started some months ago. She has worried about her suitcase, whether the bus has enough gasoline in the tank and shown a good deal of anxiety as to whether or not she was at the right bus stop. Some days, she surveys a tall mountain and wonders aloud if a proper lorry can be secured to help her make the journey up the mountain to a place she calls Home. As I sit by her bedside, I have listened to these wild adventurous tales and thought she was hallucinating until a kindly Hospice nurse and Mother's wise Doctor informed me yesterday that this is her way of saying she is ready to make her greatest and most wonderful trip ever. To Heaven. So I got her ready.

My mother loves words and metaphors and she has been using them concisely and eloquently these past weeks, even in the midst of unbelievable, unbearable, and unmerciful pain.

And so this is to say, her ticket is bought, she is packed, and yesterday afternoon she let us know she was ready to board the bus for a journey that will take her through the plains of India, the majestic Himalayan peaks, the simple meeting houses of Ohio, over the lush verdant rice paddies of Taiwan, and on to the Purple Mountains of Nanking. Mother always said that the most dangerous and rutted roads lead through the most beautiful scenery. How long this trip will take, I can not be sure. But I guess it won't be long. The rest of this journey is up to my Mother and the Driver.

This is my send off.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Come Home

Eldest Sister sent  a message to her brothers and their children, "It is time to come home."

~posting from at my mother's bedside. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Something Fishy

Shiao Wang took his fish to the Bei Tou Market and rented a small stall next to three ladies from the Chen family who had opened a shop selling knitting supplies and teaching housewives how to knit. They scolded him demanding that he move down a few stalls so that the odor of his trade would not scare off their customers.

~I am posting from Taiwan.  I have spent a restful and much needed relaxing weekend here with my brother and sister-in-law.  Yesterday Tamra and I explored the market in their new neighborhood where I bought knitting yarn for the long airplane ride home and a watermelon.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Travels of Little Bean

Shaio Dou Dou obediently chased  all of Granny Huang’s chicks safely to her gate. In truth it was not Granny’s chick’s that needed herding, but her grandson.  Ah Ma knew very well that  Little Bean would never come home in time for dinner unless given some impossibly difficult job to complete.

Many decades later, it surprised no one to see Dou Dou happily employed by the Forever Fortune Lotus Travel Agency as a tour guide leading gold toothed veterans and farmer’s wives with freshly permed hair through the coastal airports of Mainland China.

~ writing from Nagoya, Japan and passing through numerous  airports.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lighting Candles

The youngest son of the Hau Family lit ancestral candles in the main hall to welcome home his Da Jye. He kept vigil late into the night, listening for some sound of her on the long winding road to their gate. When his older sister was home, all would be well.

~and this is true for our family too.  My daughter Leigh is home.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tea Leaves

When Mrs. Wu called for her maid to come and refresh her tea, Liu Liu thought this might be a waste of hot water and time. It had been several months now that Wu Tai Tai’s hopes and dreams had been sinking like the wrung out and over-brewed leaves that sank to the bottom of her tea cup every morning . But Liu Liu poured more hot water for Mrs. Wu, knowing that after lunch when she cleaned her mistress’s brewing pots she would scoop out soggy handfuls of tea leaves to heap around the roots of her little persimmon tree in the back courtyard, encouraging and willing it to grow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fish Soup

Shaio Ge thought he could make himself a hearty and fragrant soup if he used only the smallest fish he had caught. The rest of his catch he would sell in the afternoon market.

~Back home

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Calligraphy-Rededicated To Shaista

Many scrolls of calligraphy hung in Uncle Tu’s main halls. His maid, Deng Zi Mei, wondered how she could learn the meaning behind the beautiful lines and considered it a dream if someday she could surprise the kindly Uncle Tu by reciting all his poems as soulfully as he had written them.

~~Sometimes I paint something long ago and then I see it in a new light, under new circumstances, or through a new lens of experience.   I completed this painting over three years ago at a time when Deng Zi Mei, a real woman had inspired me.  She is a lowly clerk who works in the factory that produces my goods. She is dedicated to the smallest detail.  She does accounting not in yuans, but in tenths of yuans, in threads, in snaps, crumbs, loose grams of stuffing fuzz.  The smallest and most insignificant thing does not escape her eye in my factory.  It used to drive me crazy when she would ask if I preferred a new kind of thread because she thought she might be able to save me .0025 RMB per day in floss cost.

Then I learned this frugalness and thrift was her love language to me and the kindly Uncle Tu who owns the factory and for whom she tries so hard to please.  I have always sensed  hidden greatness in her.  It would not surpirze me to learn she had millions of dollars stashed away under her mats or had written an epic novel under a pen name or is the party secretary of our province. I have seen her single handedly take on government officials and customs bureaucrats to win some insignificant concession  for me. It is this spirit in her that reminds me of Shaista, my friend who fights Lupus and who brings forth from her long and surely tedious days the most amazing efficient poetry. Tiny and sparse words, like Miss Deng's pennies and loose threads, that knitted together are mighty and grand.

Now, during the Chinese New Year holiday, our factory is closed.  Only Miss Deng stops by daily to check that the gates are locked, and that the spent red fire cracker paper is swept up, and that no lights have been left on to burn wastefully.  She does this while she waits as the sole resident of our workshop for the return of Uncle Tu, our workers, and me at the end of our holidays. I have no doubt that as I write this post, she has written in her beautiful calligraphy, spring couplets on two strips of chalky red paper and pasted them on the doors to our factory. Her poetry, like Shaista's is short and to the point.  It will say something like, Hark! A New Year! Spring Comes. Work hard. Blessings Here.

And so it will be true.

Lupus In Flight---fly there now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon

Lin Shaio Lan was running out of time. The Year of the Tiger was about to pounce upon her and still no baby.  Next year would be The Rabbit.  She was a Rabbit, timid to decide, but darting out of danger at the last possible moment. After that would be the year of the Dragon.  Shaio Lan thought, that at last a Dragon Baby would shut everyone up.   Maybe she should accept the standing offer to marry Mr. Wu. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mother Sees

Friday, January 29, 2010

Knit Together With Red Thread

For me, this is a piece of art.  My blind Mother knit this. Since her blindness settled in for good, she has not been able to complete a single knitting project.  It's been five or six years now. She took up knitting again 10 months ago but she has not successfully knitted more than three rows.  Her fingers would feel some small hole or mistake and she would rip it all out and re cast to begin over.  She could not sit and speak with you without picking up her needles and a few minutes later unraveling what she had done.  It was as if her own thoughts were unraveling. Her days were unwinding.  Her life was becoming a big knot. Knitting  symbolized her current life. 

I have been taking care of my mother for almost a month  marching steadily towards decline, ill health, and all kinds of trials and tribulations that make her blindness in comparison seem a small and trite thing. I have been pushing her to finish more than three rows and it was with great ceremony that last night we cast off this knitting.   This piece has much symbolism for me. Sure, there are holes.  At places, it is inside out.  It grows. It has many flaws.  Isn't this true of us all? I know it is of me.  But this is knit by my mother and so am I,  knit together with her hands and all her hopes. 

After I took a photo of this and told her I was about to share it with my scattered brothers in Asia, she lifted her head away from my voice and asked, "Do you have any thicker yarn in brighter colors?"
We cast a new piece tonight.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Quick Bite

Li Li was very busy taking care of her Ah Ma.  Granny was blind and bedridden so all she could afford was a quick bite.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Visit to Reconsider

Lee Yu Ming had been working in the big city for several years when word reached her that her mother was weak and cried out to see her daughter every night.  Reluctantly she rushed home, pulling her only son out of school. It would be her duty to step in and take over the care of her  mother and the management of her old courtyards. As soon as Yu-Ming stepped over the threshold the same confidence that had driven her from it doors ten years ago now flooded back. It dawned on her in that moment that she had only been a mediocre business woman while in the city and that her son had not thrived as she had imagined he would. Some small glimmer of hope came over her.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dao's Daughter

Dao's daughter had many dreams for her future.  First, all cabbages needed to be cleaned and wrapped for market.  Then her brother's bicycle needed to be repaired. Finally, she must help her mother clean the Farang's house.  After that she might dream about school.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Washing Up The New Year

After Dao was certain that the family she now worked for had departed for their long journey home, the newly hired maid sighed with relief, happy to be alone in the house once again. She looked forward to the long and sunny days ahead where she would wash all the linens and clean up after the Blue Moon New Year. By the time her mistress returned, it would be time for the Chinese Lunar New Year. Dao wondered how many new years a family needed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Blue Moon Over Pong Yaeng

Happy New Year!