In the video below, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi tells the story of her great-grandmother that inspired her to write Bound Feet Blues.
The show was only one hour long so I made certain artistic choices in portraying my great-grandmother in the theatre performance. Her story is incomplete in the show because I wanted the audience to stay with the moment of transformation rather than seeing how her story ends.
The book of Bound Feet Blues takes great-grandma’s story and extends and deepens it at the more leisurely pace that a long read can offer. So for those of you who Continue reading
Bound Feet Blues is a solo theatre performance – but on an epic scale. Writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi takes the audience across continents from Asia to Europe and Australia. We’ll be sharing with you the landscapes of Bound Feet Blues here on this blog over the next few weeks. Today, the vast desert scenery of the Australian Outback.
In Bound Feet Blues, the open skies and vast desert of Australia gives Yang-May’s younger self a freedom she never had in the narrower landscapes of London and Oxford…
Bound Feet Blues tells stories from my family’s past as passed down the generations by the women – my mum, my great-grandmother, my auntie. In researching these stories for the show – and also the book that I am currently working on – I looked through my personal photo albums and also asked my mum to send me photos from hers. It was fascinating to watch my family and I evolve, grow up and grow old over the years.
So when I came across this photo project of four sisters photographed every year for forty years by Nicholas Nixon, I was captivated. The forty photos are intimate, moving, poignant.
Susan Minot in this NY Times article says:
“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.”
Do go over to the NY Times article and look at all 40 photos.
In Bound Feet Blues, the show, I recount the story of how my parents met – as told to us by my mother when we were kids. On stage, I become my mother as we all curl up in bed and she tells the romantic story of meeting the man who would become her husband.
“How we first met” is a genre of the oral storytelling tradition within families – and also among circles of friends. We all want to know where we come from – even, or especially, as young children. We are trying to figure out who we are and what being alive means. Hearing how our parents met gives us the context and if we’re lucky, it tells us we were born from love.
My grandparents (R) met and fell in love. My parents (L) met and fell in love. So here I am (baby in the middle)
In my story performance, I can only tell the one story ie about how my mother met my father. But there are a number of “how we met” stories in my family. The show is only one hour long – which amounts to 25 pages of text. In the book Bound Feet Blues: The Stories behind the Story that I am currently writing, I have more room to tell those other stories as well.
Here is an extract, telling the love story of my grandparents, my mother’s mum and dad:
“It was funny to think of Grandma and Grandpa – well, before they became Grandma and Grandpa. We loved leafing through their photo album and seeing them so young and fresh-faced, Grandpa in those baggy ‘30s style trousers and Grandma in pretty cheongsams and chunky high heels of that time. It was odd to see them in our minds as two young medical students, hanging out with their pals and horsing around in such a scandalous way. It was odd to see a photo of Grandpa playing rugby and running in a race, looking hunky and sweaty, his Brylcreemed hair flying in the wind.
“I would go and watch him play matches-lah,” Grandma said coyly. “And then he notice me always there and he Continue reading
Where do we come from? WHO do we come from? Our family history can give us our identity, shape how we view ourselves and our place in the world.
I am so grateful to my 13 year old self. Because in 1976, I asked my Grandpa to tell me about our family history and I recorded it on a tape recorder. In that recording, he tells the story of how his grand-father, my great-great grandfather, came to Malaya (now Malaysia) from China. He died the following year. It is the only family recording we have of Grandpa’s voice and it is the official account of the story of our family (on my mother’s side).
You can listen to the recording via the player below. (The recording was first published on my previous blog Fusion View)
My Grandpa carrying me
In addition to this recording I have recordings of my Grandma and also reams of notes of stories and conversations with other aged relations, collected over time.
Now I am 51+ – about the same age as my Grandpa was in the photo above. My fascination with my family heritage has led me to create Bound Feet Blues, the story performance. I am also writing a book telling the Stories Behind the Story of the show – which will include the story about the Bandit Boy that Grandpa refers to in the recording. Not only has my interest in my family history sparked my creativity, it has also given me a sense of who I am and my place in the world.
Audiences for Bound Feet Blues seem fascinated by the family stories portrayed in the show – and I think this is as much because it prompts them to reflect on their own family and their relationship with their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents as it is to do with any particular interest in the specifics of my family. Many people have said to me that they wish they knew more about their own family history.
If you are interested in your family history, Continue reading
How does a woman with bound feet “run away” from her family?
This is the question that has haunted me ever since I was a child when I heard the story of my great-grandmother who had bound feet.
Here is the story that has been passed down in my family, which I pieced together from different family members:
Great-grandfather was a hospital orderly in Taiping (a small town in Perak in Malaysia) when he came across a young woman with bound feet who Continue reading
I was fascinated by the stories she told in between her songs about travelling the Mississipi Delta exploring the roots of the Cash family. The songs tell stories from that meditative journey – about her grandmother who
picked cotton in the Sunken Lands and her ancestors who lived and died during the Civil War.
As I’ve been finding in my current project Bound Feet Blues, discovering and retelling stories from your roots/ heritage can be profoundly life-changing. In connecting the past with the present, it gives us direction for the future.
Find out more about her album:
The River & The Thread – Rosanne Cash.
About Yang-May Ooi, Writer & Performer – Bound Feet Blues
Yang-May Ooi is a mixed media author & story performer. Her work explores the power of personal narrative to enchant, inspire and transform. Bound Feet Blues is her first full length solo story performance.
This photo hangs on the wall in my study. It reminds me of my freedom to walk where I choose, to stride through my life, to stand on my own two feet