Naked bodies

IMG_1666Shortly after I began collecting hashioki in Hong Kong the Staff Restaurant at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology began setting their tables at dinner with this blue and white chopstick rest.

I have to admit that I thought it was strange that an educational institution would decorate its dining tables with a bare-assed little boy. But the child’s happy grin indicated he wasn’t at all embarrassed to be lollng around almost naked under the tips of diners’ chopsticks.

It turns out that this hashioki was probably a nod to a Chinese tradition. Babies, particularly plump and healthy babies, are historically a popular design motif inNaked bodies China. When China’s economy was based on agriculture lots of healthy babies meant a supply of workers for the farm, plus descendants to carry on the family name. And until recently many Chinese babies didn’t wear diapers or training pants while they were awake, but instead learned to eliminate when their parent or caregiver made a particular sound.

Of course it’s possible that the bare-assed chopstick rest from HKUST was not meant to evoke Chinese traditions, babies, or wild behavior. Maybe their presence at the Staff Restaurant was a simple indication of traditional Chinese thrift, as I purchased the same chopstick rest at China Arts and Crafts in the Tsimshatsui district of Hong Kong for the equivalent of two US dollars, which was pretty cheap even for a chopstick rest.

IMG_1667

Over the years I’ve encountered other versions of these Chinese babies. This pair of twin girls with the gold decoration — they must be twins because they were sold as a pair — I found at the giftshop of the Tao Restaurant and Nightclub at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
IMG_1669This pair, purchased on eBay in 2013, are more finely rendered. Like the HKUST example above, the girl baby is wearing a stomach protector, an embroidered piece of fabric that is the traditional Chinese first line of defense in protecting the digestive system.  The boy baby is wearing a cape IMG_1671made from a lotus leaf, as is the girl hashioki featured on the left;  if you look closely, you can see the faint suggestion of the big leaf’s veins.

The most provocative chopstick rests in my collection are a set of 10 naked women in a variety of poses. The set was purchased by a friend as a gift for my collection at an antique market in Beijing in 1995. They arrived in a box with a black brocade cover. Although I IMG_1673consider these chopstick rests to be more risqué than pornographic, I still have trouble imagining a meal where I would use them to set my table. To me they suggest the nightclubs and dance halls of Shanghai in the 1930s, the kind of decadent pleasure dens portrayed in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I’m not sure if they should be used as a resting place for chopsticks, or as a prop for swizzle sticks.

IMG_1670Just to prove that the Chinese don’t have a monopoly on naked chopstick rests, I purchased this hashioki of showing a woman’s naked posterior in a Kyoto department store in August 2014.

Even if I haven’t used naked body chopstick rests at my dining table, I appreciate the spice they add to my collection.

Hashioki from down under

When I go on vacation I have a somewhat different mindset than most travelers.

Sure, I want to have a good time. I want to relax, see some interesting sites, eat some great food, and so on. But when I’m traveling a question is always nagging me: will I be able to find some new hashioki for my collection?

For the record, I’ve been pretty successful. I’ve purchased hashioki on trips to Amsterdam, London, Boston, Dallas, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Las Vegas, New York, and other places. So I had high hopes for adding to my collection on my trip to Australia this month.

I was moderately successful; I found five new pieces. But the story of my quest for hashioki in Australia provides some insight into what it’s like to be an obsessive collector.

Shortly after my arrival in Melbourne my daughter told me about a local shop called Made in Japan that had some hashioki posted on their website. We made a trip to their branch at Queen Victoria Market, which is a wonderful collection of food and merchandise stalls, on my first day in town. But when we got to the market that particular stall was closed.

So I emailed them.   They wrote back, and told me their Queen Victoria Market stall was only open on weekends. So when Saturday came I returned to the market… and the nice guy manning the stall told me this satellite location carried only a limited inventory, meaning no chopstick rests.

So I emailed the manager of Made in Japan’s main store in South Melbourne to confirm that they stocked hashioki there, and we made a trip there. Bingo! I bought four charming rests, including a gourd with a textured surface, a dark indented pebble shape with the subtle cherry blossom deign, and a turquoise Fukurokujin, or god for happiness, with his high forehead and staff in his hand, and a thumbprint with a matte surface and splash of shiny green glaze.

 

I also purchased this blue and white hashioki at Melbourne’s Chinese Museum, a wonderful museum that documents the history of Chinese immigration to Australia. The IMG_2334only problem is: I’m not sure what this hashioki portrays. The man in the museum shop didn’t know either. I would like to think that it represents a platypus, the duck-billed mammal that is native to Australia. But the tail looks too skinny, and doesn’t remotely resemble the broad paddle tail of a platypus. So I suspect this piece is meant to represent a boar, one of the signs of the Chinese zodiac. Since hashioki are generally created as “casual art,” the animal or flower or object they are supposed to represent is often frustratingly murky.

I am sorry to say I could not find a kangaroo hashioki while I was in Australia. But maybe that’s appropriate, because although we were told that Australia was “overrun” with kangaroos, we only saw them once during the three weeks we were there, and those kangaroos were sleeping behind a bush in an animal preserve. They didn’t look like they were interested in modeling for chopstick rests, or at all anxious for the cameras of a visiting tourists either.