Column: Shoi's Pick
Step into Life's Little Pleasures
During those early years as a newly-wed living in the UK, a favorite weekend jaunt was exploring the little antique shops and stalls in London's Camden Town and Portobello Road Market.
Soon, English bric-a-brac, together with my collection of Asian knick-knacks, all found their own special niche in the tiny Kensington basement flat that was our "home away from home" Vintage Poirot postcards cascaded down a bedroom door. Extravagantly-colored antique papier mache boxes became trusted keepers of jewelry, keys, old coins and daily whatnots. 19th century hand-embroidered Nyonya slippers replaced their furry counterparts to keep my toes warm indoors.
The legacy of the Baba Nyonya
A distinctive Chinese community of merchants and traders evolved in Peninsular Malaya in the 18th & 19th centuries, and flourished in the former British Colonies along the Straits of Malacca. Called the Straits Chinese or Baba Nyonya, their customs and traditions are a colorful blend of influences derived from Chinese and Malay cultures.
By the turn of the 20th century, ensconced as society's elites with their wealth and public/political position, the Baba Nyonya further distinguished themselves in the development of a highly refined culture One with exacting lifestyle standards that dictated even their cuisine, their crockery and their embroidery must conform to the era's concept of "refinement" or halus.
To cater to their taste for all things refined, Nyonyaware (also known as "Straits Chinese porcelain") was created by artisans in China and exported over. The firing process of the ceramics, resulting in the vibrant, distinctive hues of green, blue, yellow, pink and even lilac or mauve, entailed much technical finesse.
Predominant motifs used in Nyonyaware include luxuriant blossoming peonies, often flanked by pairs of phoenix. Border patterns are typically derived from Buddhist art. The symbols inherant in most of these wares relate to marriage, fertility, the South, peace and prosperity.
Although the product of a bygone era, these objects reflect the rich legacy of the vanishing Baba Nyonya culture of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
For me, to have a humble sandwich served on these beautiful, precious plates allows me to share and experience, in a real way, a little piece of history.
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