Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop
Scripted Asian Dreams (SAD LTD)
March 4 until April 1, 2017
See available items at the shop website.
Opening reception is Friday, March 3 at 8:00 PM. Admission is free and all are welcome.
Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop is a store where you buy Asian guilt with your forgiveness. In the reality of global cultural intertwining, there is a struggle with defining personal identities. This struggle forms from the differences of expectations and social conditions, between the lived experience and what everything else tells us what we ought to be. Many are questioned of who they are (what kind are you, where are you really from, do you speak your mother tongue, go back home), bringing doubts as to how one can belong in a society that still struggles with understanding its own differences. Asian guilt could be found in this conflict: the fear of abandonment from being too different; retribution from wanting to please our various expected selves. This gift shop is an attempt at creating a culture we want to belong in, but one that is a space formed for exploring conflicting ideals rather than discarding them. The shop is open for cultural clarity and conversations, and we ask that visitors take insecurities, failings, traumas and sufferings with kindness and give back understanding and acceptance. Visitors are welcome to buy the products available in the store. Products come in the form of DVDs, books, keychains, lucky charms, clothing, lapel pins, various food cans, and more. Items in the store cater to and carry different styles, based on what someone is capable of giving.
Vaguely Familiar, Strangely Foreign
My memories of Chinatown are mostly from childhood, when my sisters and I attended Chinese school there every Sunday afternoon. I envied my English school classmates who had the whole weekend to play, while I was forced to spend mine learning something my dad told us was important. It was a difficult experience learning Mandarin. I couldn’t write my own essays, so I had to write them in English and have my dad translate them into Chinese. I would write out the Chinese characters phonetically using the English alphabet, so I could recite the poems in Cantonese.
My dad was my translator and guide. When we would visit the shops in Chinatown, I would pick up a product with Chinese characters and ask my dad to translate or ask what it was for. I no longer visit these shops, or if I do, rarely without my parents. I feel like an outsider. I don’t have my dad with me to navigate this foreign territory.
My favourite part of going to Chinese school was waiting to be picked up. It was the window of opportunity to visit the gift shop that was below the classrooms in the Chinese Cultural Centre. The store was full of “cultural goods,” mostly filled with kitschy knickknacks and whatever was popular in Asia at the time that didn’t feel fully genuine. I guess it was part of the whole cultural centre facade, but students like me were too enamoured by the latest anime merchandise to care.
Most of the products were made in China, some inscribed with terrible poems in English that were lost in translation, incorporating words that they just thought were beautiful like “flowers,” “rain,” or “love.” I was told that English is a harder language to learn than Chinese. I forget how astonishing it is that my mom, whose first language is Vietnamese, learned Cantonese from my dad and English from moving to Canada. Now, years later, her Vietnamese is fading, she can’t read or write Chinese but can speak Cantonese fluently enough, while her English is rudimentary at best . I can’t imagine knowing three languages but not able to fully communicate with any of them.
The Perfect Memory: Authentic Gift Shop brings me back to these pseudo-cultural shops. It’s not quite East Asian, yet not quite Canadian—just lost in-between, an identity that, like my mom, I struggle with from time to time. When I visit Asia, the locals recognize me as their own until I start speaking. Even in my own city, when I’m asked where I am from and I say I was born here, they rebuttal with “Where are you really from?”, like that’s not a legitimate answer for someone with my skin colour.
There is a sense of nostalgia and familiarity with the goods that are displayed, but this time, I can navigate on my own. I become the translator and guide for my parents, as they were to me. They will not understand the system of how it works, nor will I be able to explain it to them in terms they would understand. The gallery is a familiar workspace to me, but an unfamiliar territory for my parents. They will never truly understand what I do in the art community, nor will I truly understand the language that they’ve brought me up with, but we’ve accepted each other for who we are, and that’s all we can really ask for.
SAD LTD, Scripted Asian Dreams Limited, produces high quality goods developed by qualified Asian-Canadians. We aim to provide precious gifts for our customers for themselves or to give to others. Locally assembled in a global context, all of our products pass through genuine quality and content control. Through our product offering, we ensure that we contribute to vibrant and thriving communities by unburdening our customers. We believe in making the world a better place through soft memories and inspiring tender dreams. We are based and operate in Calgary, Canada.
Vicki Chau was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and of Chinese-Vietnamese descent. She is currently the Programming Director at EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society.