A Word About “Good Kitsch”

25 Jun 2013
June 25, 2013

My wife and I are taking our girls back to China at the end of June. Now that they’re old enough, we think it’s important for them to see where they came from. That being said, where they came from is not what China is today. However, I have no doubt they will be amazed and, well, more amazed. This will be the first time we’ve been back since we adopted our youngest in 1999. So, many of the changes will be apparent to us. Yet, I want to experience the country through my daughters’ eyes at least part of the time. The other part of the journey will be devoted to, um, other, more idiosyncratic pursuits.

Body builder figurine from China

The epitome of good kitsch. Click on image for a larger, more amazing view.

When you go to China on a tour, as all new adoptive parents do, your guides are required to take you shopping. You know, jade, cloisonne, and souvenirs that are usually quite mediocre—what I call “bad kitsch.” Susie and I were always surprised by our co-travelers, most of whom we had known for a year as waiting parents back in the States. When we stopped, they shopped till they dropped. The strange thing was all of us had voiced our disdain for these forced shopping sprees. In fact, we had a series of clandestine “meetings” to discuss these tchotchke pit stops and when we put it to a vote, we all agreed the next time we would dissuade our tour guides from taking us to these bargain vortices. We grudging acquiesced only when we were told they could get in trouble if they didn’t stop the bus in front of these stores (for foreigners only of course). But, surprise, surprise, each time we did all of our fellow travelers didn’t hesitate to buy, buy, and more buy.

So, on our last trip to China to adopt our now 15 year old (who was 15 months at the time), I hesitated to go into a shop for our latest shopping adventure. In fact, Susie decided to stay in the bus with our daughter while I perused. I told her “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Now, I should tell you that we are the consummate kitsch spotters. But it has to be good kitsch, not bad kitsch. And we know the difference. When I walked in and spotted this partially glazed ceramic body builder figurine, suddenly I was in 7th heaven. In fact, there were many of them in all sorts of poses all in satin-lined boxes. But I only bought this one and it now proudly sits on my bookcase.

When I came back to the bus and showed my treasure to my wife, she was very excited. It was the best thing we brought back from China (excluding our daughter, of course). Yet no one else was excited for me (they were very happy with their new “authentic” Chinese swords and earrings). But I was the outlier. Purveyor of fine junk, all these years I kicked myself for not buying one of each pose.

Last week it suddenly occurred to me: I’m being given a second chance. I took this pic (with a little Photoshop “this and that”) to show both sides of my treasure. And I will bring this photo with me to China, showing every shopkeeper I am forced to confront. I’m on the prowl for this good kitsch. And now that I am on a quest, I’m getting pretty excited.

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