If your house looks like a truck carrying Asian art and figurines crashed into a European flea market, with a few Persian rugs and wooden African heads thrown in for good measure; if your parents’ décor looks like a traveling exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution mixed with Tokyo’s Oriental Bazaar … well you might just be a Third Culture Kid.
In my mom’s living room, there are two stacked chests from the Philippines with inlaid mother-of-pearl, which have been used as an end table for as long as I remember. There are shelves along the wall, which overflow with chachki, including a porcelain Chinese fisherman, a statuette of a Prussian soldier, an Indonesian puppet, a Murano glass clown. Sumatran batik stamps lie on the mantle, underneath framed brass rubbings from Belgium and England. (I think one of them is from the sarcophagus of Anne Boleyn’s father).
The walls are adorned with all sorts of Japanese woodblock prints, posters advertising art shows at the Tokyo American Club, and an impressionist oil painting of Hong Kong Harbor. To pass into the dining room, a visitor passes by two ornate ceramic Vietnamese elephants, and next to the table there is a Korean medicine chest, drawers askew, holding tiny birds collected from around the world. A pair of kamagong dice (Filipino wood) rests on the top, together with two Santos (wooden figures of saints) and a bronze Buddha hand, thumb and middle finger touching.
Somehow my father managed to smuggle two Pre-Columbian clay pacha vessels shaped like llamas out of Peru, not knowing that it was illegal (well the jig is up now!) There is a row of tiny delft Dutch houses above mom’s kitchen sink, with a Kentish oast house thrown in for good measure. Japanese Imari dishes live in the cabinets, one of which is mom’s favorite coffee cup. Out on the porch are two giant rattan peacock chairs that used to be in my room in Manila, and an antique ceramic stove that we picked up at the Sunday market in Brussels. In the corner, from the same market, is a turn of the century dress form (complete with tiny corseted waist) that is used as a display for tiny ceramic pins collected from a lifetime of world travels.
In mom’s bedroom are two tansu (Japanese chests of drawers). Among her toy car collection (that she never let the kids play with) are a British Morris Minor, a Jaguar and a small representation of a Filipino jeepney (festive transportation). Huge rattan baskets are lined up on the floor (didn’t that one come from Baguio?) including one giant one that is made into a lamp. And what house wouldn’t be complete without capiz placemats and hand-embroidered tablecloths from Tesoro’s department store? I’m sure that many TCKs reading this are nodding and smiling, knowing that their house is pretty much the same as ours. (The only thing missing is a giant wooden knife and fork over the sofa and a Baguio Barrel Man!)
My mom’s house is a history of our life, each item with its own history of a trip, an outing, a city, a period in time. The artifacts in our house are memories on permanent display, a reminder of a life well lived, and well traveled.