Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cultural Appropriation And The Chinese Dress Scandal

Only a few weeks ago a girl from Salt Lake City, UT, suffered harassment on social media for making a simple fashion choice. She decided to wear a traditional Chinese dress known as cheongsam or qipao, to her high school prom. The trouble started when a young Chinese man, Jeremy Lam, saw the girl's picture on Twitter.

You would have thought that the whole Great Wall of China fell down in an instant! The girl was accused of cultural appropriation and a serious abuse of sacred tradition. More than forty thousand people got involved in the "discussion" on Twitter. The matter was taken up online by the USA Today, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, Washington Post, and many others.

This would have been a silly, meaningless pseudo-intellectual exchange, but unfortunately, the Chinese dress outrage is a symptom of a very disturbing trend. Something is boiling in the melting pot of America and it does not smell nice.

Is the world turning upside down? I studied Chinese culture for many years and traveled to China, Hong Kong, and Singapore on monthly bases for almost three decades. Among other things, I accumulated a small collection of Chinese silk blouses that I proudly wore on many occasions. They became unique additions to my wardrobe and attracted many gazes. My very first Chinese style blouse was designed by Donna Karan. It was sold under her DKNY brand. I bought it at Marshal Fields in Chicago many years ago. In Hong Kong I had a small ritual every time I went there. On the first day, the luxury Shanghai Tang store with its Chinese 1920s flair was my first destination after a hearty dim sum breakfast at the Luk Yu Tea House. In 1997 the store opened a branch in New York City,  but unfortunately, it did not make it there.

When China began to open up to the West in late 1980s, interior designers and a few fashion designers adopted the Chinese aesthetic idiom and translated it into incredibly beautiful creations. No one was screaming or accusing anybody of cultural appropriation. In fact, the Chinese were rather proud that so many Westerners appreciated their culture. Westerners learned to love Chinese literature and cinema. Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and Wang Kar Wai, to name only a few, became household names among cinephiles.

Things changed so much. Quite recently, many American learning institutions turned into places of insanity. Political correctness, social justice, Marxist overtones, obsession with gender, and infantile lack of tolerance dominate the discourse now. Those who militantly demand tolerance for themselves, deny the freedom of speech to those whose opinions differ from their own. Totalitarian tendencies in the academia are not only annoying, they are dangerous. Once cradles of freedom and free speech, universities are becoming places of hatred and virulent intolerance. No one even considers that tolerance works both ways.

There must be something truly wrong with me because it bothers me that the appreciation of a culture is now viciously considered to be cultural appropriation. If this trend continues, good luck to all the gift store owners in every China Town across America. They may soon be saying goodbye their American Dream.

By Dominique Allmon

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Morning After The Earth Day

Each Earth Day celebration fills our hearts with hope as ordinary citizens, nature conservationists, NGOs, and businesses all over the world gather together to clean up the environment and discuss the badly needed change. Every year, countless communities and businesses do their best to implement the environment friendly solutions to minimize pollution and minimize waste of resources.

Much will be done between now and the next time we get together to celebrate the Earth Day, asses the results of our strategies, and admire the changes visible everywhere. But the change has to start with us! Unless we critically review our shopping habits and understand that our behavior has consequences, nothing will change.

The morning after. How many of you forgot to take your reusable travel mug, your reusable aluminum water bottle, or your reusable shopping tote bag with you this morning? Another plastic cup, another plastic bottle, another plastic straw, another plastic bag that could have been avoided. Well, tomorrow is another day and we can certainly do a bit better.

Those who travel learn to see the world with different eyes. Take the coffee habit in Vienna, Austria, for instance. The coffee to go found its way there as well, but the Austrians still love their traditional coffee shops where they can sit quietly, read the morning news, and enjoy every sip of their coffee, served in cups with saucers and spoons, in a less hurried manner; Visit a grocery store in Germany. Many chain supermarkets there do not use plastic bags anymore. You can buy a paper bag at checkout if you did not bring your own and you are expected to reuse and recycle it; You see recycling bins everywhere you go in Europe. In many cities you even find recycling bins in hotel rooms. Most people in most European countries recycle as much as they can and yet, even Europe cannot completely avoid the pollution and waste problem.

Hikers and skiers in the Alps or the High Tatra dump tones of plastic bottles, bags, and containers every year. And every year around the Earth Day or during the so called Plastic Free July, volunteers gather to clean up the mess. Many forests, beaches, and cities all over the world go the same way. It makes you wonder, do tourists even care for the places they visit?

Many communities in the US have implemented ambitious recycling programs. The situation varies from state to state and from community to community. Much has to be done, but there is hope. Yet recycling alone is not enough. The packaging industry will most probably not disappear like the once popular horse and carriage, but it definitely has to change its ways. New bio-degradable packaging materials must replace plastic. But unless consumers demand such change, no much will happen. If customers collectively refused to buy anything packaged in plastic containers, the industry would have no choice but to adapt. Not that long ago milk, for instance, came in glass bottles. Why cannot we go back to bottling milk again?

Old habits die hard, but with a little patience and determination, we can learn new ones and change the ways we live our daily lives. And the best thing is, we will see the change next time we gather to celebrate the Earth Day.

By Dominique Allmon

Friday, March 30, 2018

Naturally Dyed Tiffany Blue Easter Eggs

If you are still looking for an Easter Egg Hunt ideas, this article will inspire you to try something new. All you need is eggs, white vinegar, and purple cabbage. The whole project takes less than 12 hours. The outcome is more than amazing.

I used white free range organic eggs and an organic purple cabbage to minimize exposure to chemicals in our already over polluted world. This is especially important if you want to eat the eggs after the Sunday egg hunt.

For twelve eggs you will need a large head of purple cabbage, large pot, and twelve small Mason jars or small drinking glasses to dye each egg individually. You can dye the eggs in bulk, of course, but if you dye them individually, the eggs will be covered more thoroughly. 

  • Wash and chop up the cabbage. Toss it into a large pot, pour enough water to completely cover the cabbage, and bring it to boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and boil until cabbage is soft. 
  • Once the cabbage is ready, allow it to cool off. Strain the liquid and toss away the cabbage. Add 4 Tbsp of vinegar and mix well.
  • Boil the eggs. Put the eggs in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from heat and cover it with a lid. Leave the eggs in hot water for 12-15 minutes. Remove the eggs from the pot and put them into a bowl of ice cold water. 
  • Place each egg in an individual jar or a glass. Pour the purple cabbage juice over the eggs completely covering each one, and allow eggs to take color for at least three hours. The color intensity depends on the time the eggs spend in the purple cabbage dye. To add some variation, let some of the eggs stay in the dye for a bit longer. For a more dramatic effect, leave them in dye overnight.
  • Remove the eggs from the dye and place them on a baking cooling rack. Allow the dye to dry out completely. The little flaws in paint are more than welcome. They truly make the eggs prettier.
  • Once the dye dried out completely you can place them in an Easter basket, on a decorative platter, or in your backyard. 

 Eggs in purple cabbage juice

This is the first time I used purple cabbage to dye the eggs. They turned out beautifully. No egg looks the same. I used a little 24ct confectioners gold leaf to add a little sparkle to them. You can use edible gold paint if you prefer, or simply leave them the way they are.

I hope this little project woke up your own creativity. You can use different plants to make the most beautiful Easter eggs ever. My mother used onion peel to create various shades of golden yellow and brown color. Purple cabbage gives various shades of aquamarine, Tiffany blue and turquoise. You can use beets to make your eggs pink, turmeric root to make them bright yellow, dried chokeberries (Aronia) to make them pink, or blueberries and blackberries to make them indigo blue. You can mix the plants to create different nuances. Also, using brown eggs instead of white will produce a much different color effect. Experiment! It's fun.

~ Wishing everyone peaceful Easter Holidays and happy Easter Egg Hunt! ~

Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon@2018