A Material Obsession

I have come to realise that, when it comes to obsessive collecting, I am my father’s daughter. But now that I know where that trait has come from, I’ve taken steps to consciously put the brakes on my compulsion to accumulate stuff. I don’t need more clutter than I already have in my life.

Today I’d like to share with you my father’s obsession with Blue & White porcelain. Thankfully, my own obsessions do not run to these, instead my passion lies in collecting vintage teacups and saucers. But I can see where the collecting bug comes from in my family.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, oh okay around 35 years ago when I was a sweet little girl, we lived in Malacca, in Malaysia. Now, Malacca, or Melaka to give it its Malay spelling, was a cultural hotpot for many centuries, with a rich and diverse history that encompasses the traditions, religions and culture of India, China, Portugal, The Netherlands and England.

On the outskirts of Malacca was a hill called Bukit Cina (Chinese Hill), where the Chinese immigrants buried their dead. Now, as the Chinese had been long settled in Malacca since the 1500s, the Bukit Cina cemetery was, as you can imagine, rather crowded.

Anyway, as a young girl then, all this history was unknown to me at this time. What I remember though, and very clearly too, is that my father loved collecting antiques and already had quite an extensive collection. But one day he came back with a flatbed truck…and on the back of this truck was a gigantic lump of fused stone/sand/concrete…and embedded within this massive lump were shards of blue and white Chinese porcelain.

I reckon my dear father had done a bit of grave-digging. Either that, or he’d gotten wind that someone had dug up a whole lot of ancient ceramics and reburied them in a hole, which was then filled in with concrete or sand and stone. And that he’d hired a guy with a truck to help him steal the large “rock” and bring it home.

Whatever the case, there was now this big yellow lump of rock in our garden, with porcelain pieces embedded in it.

You’re probably wondering what my dear parent had in store for that lump of rock. Well, the next day, and for weeks after that, after work he would sit patiently by that rock with a hammer and chisel, and chip away at it until he managed to release a complete piece of ceramic, such as a bowl or a plate. Now, my father was a dental specialist, so he had all the tools and expertise required for precision chiselling, such as it were.

True story, this. To this day, I know my father still has many of these salvaged pieces in his collection. In his house, there is a room with at least 18 wooden chests, all filled with priceless Ming Dynasty Blue & White porcelain, antique chime clocks, and silver jewellery.

My father has no intention of selling any of his antiques. My brother and I live too far away to be carting away pieces every time we visit our folks back home. Having said that, my brother has already managed to get his hands on the colourful Peranakan Porcelain, which I had expressed an interest in very early on, so my guess is that most of it will go to my brother when the old man passes on.

No matter. Once upon a time I might have minded that my brother, being older and male, would be our parents’ main heir. But now, I truly understand the meaning of “You can’t take anything with you when you die”. So, instead of waiting around to enjoy something that I might never receive anyway, I’ve found a way of enjoying such things right now.

Yes, right now and at no cost. And guess what, you won’t even need to make room in your house to accommodate them.

Yes, it’s all in my head. And in yours too. I’m talking about our ability today, to curate entire collections of “Stuff” online. I blame and thank Pinterest for this.

So, I’ll leave you now with some images of Ming Dynasty Blue & White porcelain, that are similar to the ones my father has. There are thousands of wonderful pieces out there, with vibrant, bright colours, but the ones you’ll see below are the type my father used to collect, which may be more muted in colour.

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