Friday, September 24, 2010

On Chinese Women Two

This is a description of a beautiful Chinese woman in America in the late 30’s.  It appears in my book Tommy Babcock . It describes the particular charm of many Chinese women, and is a follow up to my earlier Blog “On Chinese Women.” The description is by the Tommy Babcock, the story’s hero. It takes place on a Hollywood set.

“Feng Feng played the daughter of an important businessman in partnership with my white friend, who was putting me up in his house on the Peak. (That’s the expensive area of Hong Kong, where everybody stoically bears “the white man’s burden”)   As parts went, it wasn’t much, but if you are an Asian woman, it was as good as it gets.  You know Hollywood; short of playing Charlie Chan’s daughter, this was the crème de la crème.  Imagine that the finest bone china had elasticity and you can picture her skin, with a natural whiteness that Chinese say only women who live along the Chiang Jiang are blessed with.  Her eyes are as large as cheaters can get. Looking into them was just like falling into the Grand Canyon.  She is five seven, weighs maybe 110 pounds at the tail end of a shower, and has  full, sensual lips that took to red lipstick like a Labrador to water.  In fact, those lips and Factor’s finest were meant to be together.  In a just world, she would have been the star and her maid would have been played by Mary Astor, but, as you know, that’s not the way it works.  We’d send missionaries to China to convert the populace to Christianity, but never tell them they shouldn’t immigrate to the missionary’s country if they believed that God, or the constitution, really made everybody equal.
She is proud and it shows.  Her bearing is that of an aristocrat, which she would really have been if the Qing dynasty hadn’t fallen like a house of cards in a windstorm.  While her features were soft, there was something that told you not to take liberties. At first I thought she didn’t know the score and imagined that the gates of Hollywood were going to open up for her, but I soon found out she was just passing time between graduation from the normal school in San Jose and teaching  at the  elementary school in Chinatown.  She knew even Franklin Roosevelt didn’t have the power to make her a star, so she never gave the casting couch a second thought.”

“Hollywood isn’t exactly known for fighting prejudice,” Ginny said. “The Jews may run the studios, but the stars all are WASPS, or look like they are.”

“She had that figured.  This part was just a way to make some money until she was happily reading stories to oval eyed children. I was sure every man who ever met her, must have dreamed of her, but then, maybe everyone didn’t have my good taste.
I was the big star, but she made me feel as if I were an understudy in summer stock on Cape Cod, waiting to smell the perfume of the female lead.  Her face was round in a way that only Asian women’s faces can be without hinting at the onset of obesity.  Luminous is a word I’ve never tried to use before, but that was the word that seemed to fit.
Her mother, who was also a knockout and a lot older than she looked, was there every day on the set to make sure nothing happened to her daughter; although Hollywood power and its ravenous need for new women is a more important force in the City of the Angels than a mother’s love. Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick made the rules there and the rest of the city went along, even the rich shagitzhim at the Los Angeles Country Club. However, one day when her mother wasn’t there, I talked her into having lunch with me in my office.  She looked like she didn’t want to be there alone, but she understood that being seen with me in the commissary would have made her a target for every narrow-minded thug on the lot. It probably seemed like the only option, short of pissing off the pushy movie star.
            “I had ordered lobster and crab legs, and a bottle of Chardonnay.  I didn’t bother to open the wine after she proclaimed she didn’t drink.
“Thanks a lot for joining me today,” I said.  “I thought it would be a good experience for me to talk to you.”
“Why?”  She looked as if I had recently had my frontal lobes cut.
“‘Because I don’t really know anything about Chinese people,” I said, fumbling.
“‘Why are you interested?”  She was being pleasant, but clearly dubious.
“‘Well, we’re making this movie about Hong Kong,” I said.
“This movie is being made in the same place they made your movie about Buenos Aires and the same place they filmed the Rocky Mountain movie,” she said.
“‘Maybe I just wanted to talk to you,” I said.
“Okay, but I still don’t quite understand it,” she said, in a way that meant she really did understand.
“‘Your mom is really beautiful.  It’s amazing how she looks as if she’s thirty,’ I said, trying to regain some footing in the conversation.
            “It’s funny how white people always say that.  Chinese women seem to have elasticity in their skin for 15 to 20 years longer than Caucasians,’ she said. ‘There is a joke about some Methodist ministers who come to China and are trying to learn Mandarin, but they don’t have a full grasp of the language. At the same time, they decide to adopt a girl they meet on the street who looks like she’s very hungry.  They take her home to the Methodist compound, but feel bad that every night the girl cries herself to sleep.  Unfortunately, their Chinese isn’t good enough to understand what she’s saying, so they ask a local woman to stay at night and tell them what words are accompanying the tears.  The woman, Mrs. Hong, comes downstairs after listening to the girl.  The missionary couple looks expectantly at her, hoping for an insight.  ‘She says she misses her grandchildren,’ Mrs. Hong reported.”
            I laughed. “Your mom didn’t come today.”
            “Did you invite me to lunch so you could get close to my mom,” she said, trying to throw off my rhythm.”
            “You figured it out, I feel so transparent,” I said
             “She’s up having sherry at UCLA,” she said.
            “It’s a university,” she said, digging meat out of a crab claw.
            “Even I know that,” I said.  “Why is she there?”    
            “They’re celebrating my dad’s new book on Kong Fu Zi,” she said, daintily cutting up some lobster.
            “Is that an important political figure?”
            “In the West they call him Confucius.  My Dad is the expert on him at UCLA.”
            “Now that is interesting?” I said.
            “Good.  I can see we have much in common,” she said, looking around the room at the collection of posters from my Broadway shows.  “Is there anything in this room that isn’t about you?”
            “Now that is interesting,” she said.

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