I am nine years old, and my Girl Scout troop has planned a talent show. Wearing a neighbor's blond wig, spiked heels, and my mother's slinky pink nightie and matching translucent cover-up, I dance with six other girls and lip synch to "I Enjoy Being a Girl," a catchy but sexist show tune from the '60s musical Flower Drum Song: "I'm strictly a female female, and my future I hope will be/ in the home of a brave and free male/ who'll enjoy being a guy, having a girl...like me." We wobble -- mustering all of our available girlishness -- in carefully choreographed femininity, ending with a dramatic kickline á là The Rockettes. For days before opening night, I had primped in front of my bedroom mirror and practiced batting my eyelashes. It's hard work, but I -- like the singer of the song -- am determined to be the "perfect girl."
Two years later, I see Flower Drum Song for the first time in all of its glory. There on the television screen is Hong Kong-born Nancy Ka Shen Kwan, daughter of a Chinese architect and an English fashion model, educated in England and trained as a dancer by the Royal Ballet, made up to look more Asian than usual (Hide the freckles! Accentuate the tilt of the eyes!). As producer Ray Stark declared in the Saturday Evening Post, "Nancy is many girls of many nations, packaged on one body. She certainly doesn't look Chinese." But she's singing my song, with her long black hair and slim dancer's legs, hips truly "swively and swervy" (just like in the song), high cheekbones under flawless skin. No wonder why she enjoys being a girl, I think. She's perfect. I look at myself -- my stringy hair, oily skin, chunky body with no noticeable hips or bust -- and make a mental beeline back to the comforting images on the screen. Here, nobody lingers in an "in-between stage," that awkward transition from ugly duckling to swan, which I pray will happen to me overnight. In movie musicals, even sadness can have a romantic allure.
Watching Flower Drum Song, I see for the first time Asian-American actors playing realistic roles -- as parents, children, lovers -- with familiar San Francisco as the backdrop (or, at least, a $310,000 replica of it), instead of far-off Hong Kong or China. As an eleven-year-old searching for a place to belong, Flower Drum Song isn't perfect, but it's a beginning.
When I reach high school, I am introduced -- via Sunday afternoon TV -- to The World of Suzie Wong (1960). Seeing this movie reminds me of an earlier time of my life -- when I was a toddler and my father dressed like William Holden, when movies were Technicolor and larger than life. Here is Nancy Kwan again, and now I am a young woman like she is, with my own concerns about sex and virginity. I admire the character of Suzie Wong (who sells her body, but not her heart, to support her baby) -- not only for her beauty, but for her stubborn belief in herself and the way she makes the world bend to her will. But I also think of my non-Asian boyfriend, who sings David Bowie's "China Girl" to me as a serenade, and of the older white men who ask me if I am Chinese or Japanese -- then tell me it doesn't matter, they like all Oriental girls.
In the years that follow, I suffer from frequent twinges of desire to be Nancy Kwan as I always imagined her to be -- a showstopper, never at a loss for words or a dramatic gesture; to be someone who turns all heads in her direction as she sweeps by, oblivious to her public. Until I go to college, "woman" is a word I reserve for my mother's friends, teachers, and females over 40 with kids or a paying job -- until then, I am proud to be a girl, to label myself and my friends as such. Weak in the femininity department even as a teen, I can't help but continue to envy Nancy Kwan's perfect girlhood. But this admiration gradually takes a back seat to anger and betrayal -- research in college (as well as friends' experiences and my own) makes me consciously aware of how Asian women are promoted as a target of men's sexual fantasies. For the first time, I feel manipulated and exposed. I wonder how many chauvinistic daydreams I've unwittingly immersed myself in, propaganda disguised as a romantic comedy or an old musical. At the same time, I try to separate Nancy Kwan from all this -- It's not her fault, I repeat, aware that she acted in a time when roles for Asian Americans were rare and often stereotypical, and "breaks" few and far between. Over the years sympathy softens my anger, but I can't divorce the actress from the role. I still enjoy her movies and see them often, guilty pleasures though they be. Like it or not, she is a ghost in my life, part of my growing up.
Two years out of college and working in New York City, I read a newspaper article. It tells me that Nancy continues to act, but is turning towards a new career behind the scenes, producing and writing her own projects. Out of curiosity, I call her agency and talk to someone who, to my utter amazement, labels me a "crazed fan" determined to "track her down at all costs." This phone call leaves me shaken and insulted, but unwilling to surrender. I turn to the library, determined to flesh out my two-dimensional memories of this childhood idol. A thorough search yields Nancy in a yellow cheong-sam on the cover of Life, some cheesecake photos, and a few articles as substantial as marshmallow fluff. The Saturday Evening Post article gleams like a string of pearls hidden away and forgotten -- an unexpected find. But is this Nancy today? Is it fair for me to think of her as if thirty years haven't changed anything -- to assume that things she said when she was twenty-two ("Every man wants to be stronger than his girl, and he should be. I think it right that man should feel superior.") still hold true? The television once again provides an answer, in the form of low-budget late-night commercials for a beauty product called "Oriental Pearl Cream." Here is Nancy again, older, but somehow ageless. Now that proclamations like "Her exciting looks herald a great future" (Variety) have long faded, perhaps this is all there is: well-preserved Nancy holding tightly onto the remains of her girlishness. And perhaps pearls "crushed into a fine, lustrous, gossamer-like powder and combined with exotic ingredients" are the key to her beauty -- but somehow, I don't think she'll tell. Like all us girls, Nancy has her secrets.
Проектиране и дизайн интерьера кухни.