The Cabinet of Miss Ma

 

A few days ago I managed to meet with Miss Ma. She is a tailor who makes costumes for the costume players who live around Communication University of Beijing. We were hoarded into a dark alley by one of her young mates and customers, named Woody. The smell upon entering the cabinet was fantastic and I could only imagine what Miss Ma had been up to.  There was a huge tree growing through her tiny shop where she also housed her morobike and various machineries for sewing together immensely complex outfits.  We started a conversation and I noticed that she likes to talk. She told me that she was happy with her line of work but just wanted more business–as the cosplay fad has dimmed a little. We were all glued to her lips during our short visit, at the end of which Miss Ma pulled out her magical scroll.  Hundreds of drawings and photos of people’s favorite animation characters which she had tied together with a string.  People had brought her all these drawings and sketches, knowing that Miss Ma would turn them into a great outfit. We talked about our common friend Atom who likes to do male characters. She showed Atom’s golden brown kimono waiting to picked up. The visit to Miss Ma was short and sweet. I will surely remember it as an unusual afternoon–when time slows down and we feel teary stepping out of the grind.  

Schizoid with Vocaloid

I continue   my search for people’s virtual characters and end up following cosplay photographer Francesca. We meet at the old communist factory-turned-art-district “798” where they have also preserved one of the old Chinese coal trains. Francesca uses this setting to take photos of her good friend Phoenix.  Phoenix here is doing the  girl character of the virtual singers from the voice synthizer software Vocaloid.  People can submit their DIY songs to the Vocaloid site which are then interpreted and sung by a family of virtual singers.  Phoenix was inspired by a song about a cute girl who is a train conductor from the Japanese war era. To her the girl with green ponytails and green uniform represents an element of nostalgia and fantasy in times of darkness.

Beware:::Belgian New World Coffee

 Nee, Nonkel Jos–Nobody around here knows how to brew your coffee.  This strange faux antique ‘Belgian New World Coffee’ machine keeps popping up in restaurants near Renmin  University. It is bogus and pricey and takes one hour to brew. It makes a small quantity of coffee but will give you a good laugh for sure (which is what Belgians are for after all).

Earthy and Dirty

I just arrived in Beijing at Renmin University where I will give a talk about animation fans and how they use alter egos and virtual siblings, or even entire imagined clans and families. I want to find out how and why they fantasize about alternative families and how they deal with pressures of the bio-family.

But what are the first impressions of Beijing coming from Hong Kong? Beijing is earthy and dirty. Hong Kong seems to have lost its sweat glands and body odors. Maybe it is just a cliche that in Beijing one smells wafts of urine everywhere (comparable to those in Paris and Brussels.) But certainly it is true and brings relief to see that people look more relaxed and “healthy”, grubby and chubby, moist and tanned.

Then I also brought with me my pale Hermina, who is is named after the sister of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.  She came with an electric guitar and I also got her a skate board. The doll brand is named Pullip and is made in South Korea as a competitor to the much bigger Japanese companyVolks or SD (Superdollfie) The CEO of Volks  (A Japanese man taking on German features) launched the fad of ball-jointed dolls as virtual siblings about a decade ago. When assembling and buying a “daughter” from Volks, one can go pick her up in Kyoto and she will be handed over to you in a Christian-like ritual of baptism. Yes, these strange fashions are the spiritual and chaste version of the sex doll. Actually, one can see that many of those daughters live  out the fetish dreams of their owners but the adult here is supposed to shut up and play.

So here she she is … my mean little Hermina. Yes, she does have an esoteric personality and those piercing blue eyes–that would a swift Korean business ideal.

Love My Others

Eureka, Summer of Love, by Hybridre

Excerpt about love from my previous interview with Beijing costume player Francesa. Francesa’s photographs can be found at hybridre.deviantart.com/gallery

F=Francesca, or Hybridre, Cosplayer and Photographer

K=Katrien, Interviewer

C=Carol, Translator/Interviewer

C: Can I ask a question? Assuming that you and your lover are both cosplayers, when you cosplay two characters in love with each other, would you feel that you two are actually in love?

F: Actually I can’t completely split the real love from the love in fiction. Sometimes you feel that the character you are going to cosplay is so similar to yourself. And your partner is also cosplaying a character that is very similar to him. When you two are cosplaying, maybe you will feel that you are performing real life. It’s convincing.

K: If you and your partner can both accept the characters, it will be very powerful. For instance, when my current partner first met me, I was actually dressed up like the character Libidot (not  a cosplay character)  I was so worried that he would not like me as my real self, but it turned out to be ok. He just really liked me dressed up like that. If you two can accept each other’s characters and love each other, it can be very powerful.

F: I often wonder whether you like the person or you just like the character. It’s hard to say. The experience of playing roles is also influence by our relationship.

K: Maybe you start with cosplaying together, and then it moves into other things, and then everything. That’s life.

C: If your favorite character is cosplayed by someone that you don’t like, could you become very annoyed?

F: Of course. I can’t understand why you would cosplay that character if you are not so good. But we should at least respect them if they love the character too.