Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Farewell in Seattle

FAREWELL - Curated by Byron Au Yong
Opening Reception Sat. January 23rd 5pm-8pm
January 20th - March 7th
Columbia City Gallery - 4864 Rainier Avenue South - Seattle, WA 98118
Passing Down 2010
Paper & white thread
26"W X 20"H

Byron invited me to be apart of this show, when I read about his ideas on Farewell I was immediately connected with what he had to say.  When my family (me, mom, dad and grandma) immigrated to the US we had to say a lot of goodbyes, some of those were permanent goodbyes.

We flew from Vietnam to a camp in Thailand for our physical and mental evaluations.  The US government didn't want to bring people with TB or other diseases into the country... they also wanted to know that we were mentally stable and not communists.  I have to say, looking back it's a really absurd thing and the process was very dehumanizing.  There were very few translators and almost none one spoke English.  There was a mix of Thai, Laotian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodians refugees at the camp in Thailand.  To speed up the processing we were all given numbers and an ID card, sometimes they were pinned to our clothing.  I remember a lot of lines and doctors and nurses.  We were given shots.  I know now that this was done for our benefit, but at the time it just felt like you were poked, prodded and herded like cattle.  The experience of being processed is unforgettable, there is a great deal of fear and vulnerability involved.

We stayed in the camp in Thailand for about a week.  My grandmother had received the OK to fly directly to Seattle, but my parents and I were routed to the Philippines for further testing.  Our family was once again further separated.  My mother had taken care of an aunt with TB when she was younger and tested positive for TB antibodies...  We were sent to live in the Philippines Refugee Processing Center for about 8 or 10 months until they can conclude that we weren't contagious.  It was incredibly hard for a 6 year old to say goodbye to her grandmother.  As depressing as that might sound I had some of the best experiences in my life at the PRPC in Bataan.  But that's a story for another time...
Me and My dad
Me and dad walking along one of the main roads at the camp.  I was 6 or 7 here... dad's carrying a bag of biscuit tins.  He wanted to show our family in the US that we were well fed and had lots to eat.  But the tins were empty.  It was a very large place with many "villages", each village had about a dozen long houses.  These houses were essentially long metal shelters/sheds that divided into 10 living units.  Each unit was about 10' or 12' wide by 15' long???  Inside the living unit was a large main room and a ladder to a smaller loft space.  Depending on how big your family was you can occupy a single unit or share a unit with another family.  We were a small family and always shared our space.  There were no doors, just curtains and the washing/bathroom facility was in a separate building.  The lights/power was shut off at around 8pm and there was no running water in the living quarters.  You had to fetch your water in the morning from the washing/bathroom building.  Each unit had a stove, a large wooden slat bed and tables and chairs.  It was intimate and not having a door wasn't a big problem since there wasn't anything to steal!  LOL
I recently found this photo on Alan Dejecacion's Flickr stream.  Thanks for uploading Alan!
Our unit looked 99% like the one in the photo.  It's amazing to see a bit of your past you thought you'd lost.  Alan was there in 1989 visiting a friend.  He told me he was on site only for a few hours, but got to meet a few family and residents.

A part of you never leaves.
My mother and I returned to Vietnam in 2001, our first time back since 1986.  It was an amazing trip and I wish we can make that trip more often.  The maroon shirt above belonged to me when I was a baby.  I believe my mother made it.  When we left all of our things were given away or sold.  This was passed on to one of my aunts (mom's sister).  My aunt showed this to me when we were visiting along with a few of my baby photos.  She said after I wore it all of my girl cousins wore it too.  The shirt traveled from family to family until now.  She said because of the "One Child" law, something similar to what China has, no one will be having children anytime soon.  I asked for the shirt back and she gladly handed it back to me.  This shirt has become the symbol of our bond.

For the show I recreated the shirt with white embroidery on white paper (photo at top).  I feel it's a gesture that captures ideas behind Farewell.  Although we are far apart and travel in different paths our bond remains.  It might be unseen, but it is enduring.

Below are Byron's thoughts, read more about it here:
"A farewell is necessary before you can meet again."
Richard Bach

Thinking about personal moments of leave-taking, I invite six artists + an artist duo to reflect with me on the meanings of good-bye. How do sounds and objects represent farewell? What are the everyday and magical feelings associated with departure? Where does imagination meet reality when we embark on a journey?

The elegant and playful works of MalPina Chan, Diem Chau, Paul Kikuchi, Annie Han + Daniel Mihalyo: LEAD PENCIL STUDIO, Tiffany Lin, June Sekiguchi, and Ying Zhou surprise and comfort me as I feel Winter become Spring. Go ahead. Linger here awhile before you depart, knowing you can always return.

Byron Au Yong
Guest Curator
January 2010


Jennifer McNeely said...

This is an amazing post, really heartfelt and interesting. I can t wait to see the show!

Diem Chau said...

Thanks Jen :)

smallestforest said...

In Tagalog it's PAALAM. But then you maybe know that.
When I was maybe 11 or 12 I remember walking with my dad to the top of a hill near our house, and looking out over the urban sprawl that was Manila at the time, and asking him what that island (okay, it was a peninsula, I thought it was an island)in Manila Bay was, and he told me it was Bataan, and how "the boat people" were arriving there from Vietnam. Many years later I visited the PRPC, and also what was left of the centers in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. By then so many had gone on, like your family, to countries with stronger Puerto Princesa, the Vietnamese who stayed on have integrated with the locals, and more often than not are running successful businesses. It's become a great place, PPC, for Pho and french bread!
I have always loved your delicate, subtle pieces, and find it poignant to discover that, for a while, you lived so near, and yet were so far.

Diem Chau said...

I didn't know it was called Paalam and I also didn't know that many of the refugees stayed as well! Thanks for sharing :)

I loved the Philippines, it was so beautiful! We were mostly contained in the camps, but it's a huge facility with it's own market. Locals would come by to sell meat and produce as well as cigarettes and toys. It was a bustling place.

Leililaloo said...

What a story.... I am so happy/thankfull you shared it. Very inspiring to know your art, which i love, originates from that life.