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Naomi Sumner Chan

The Tiger Baby That Never Was...

Naomi Sumner Chan

The Tiger Baby That Never Was... by Naomi Sumner Chan Click image for a larger view

Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Accession number: 1989.16.7 | 1989.16.7.a

I said, I told them,
“I don’t want to go digging up the past.
The 1980s is as far back as I’ll go –
What I want to see,
What I want to touch
Is what could easily have been mine in another life.”
If I was a boy,
Number one child,
Number one son…
Then - would they (my first family) have crowned me with red silk,
Embroidered with flowers, adorned with silver charms,
And the blessings of 88 Buddhas?
Displaying for all to see, their happiness, good luck, success, their fertility,
The time of my birth particularly auspicious falling on the lunar new year.
Their little tiger baby enrobed in the colour of fire,
Animal ears carefully sewn to fool the spirits,
Disguising who and what was underneath,
My name left unspoken until the day of my 7th birthday.
I was a girl.
And a year after my birth the fates decided my given name was not to be spoken again.
The following new year it wasn’t Nian, the half bull, lion headed monster who stole me from my village and my people,
But White, round eyed ghosts who carried me away across the seas
And made me into one of their own.
Red thread broken,
Never tied around the spout or handle of a pewter teapot
And presented to my Apoh to fill with wine in celebration.
What was there for her to toast?

If I had a label it would say, “Made in Hong Kong”
A Product of capitalism, colonialism and Christianity.
Made for export.
No returns.