In my younger and more red-cheeked years, my mama gave me some advice to run the nights away with: Let them judge. Make'em jealous. And don't ever apologize, unless everyone knows you don't mean it anyway.
I was queen of the nightlife in Shanghai in the 1930s, the Vegas, Paris, New York and Madrid of Asia all wrapped up into one, wrapped up like the little red and black chipao men would buy me every afternoon. The richest mafia leaders would follow me like little boys, watching me as I tried on every weijin and qiánbao in the expensive department stores that had only a few years left before the lights went out for decades – not that we knew it at the time. For the rest of their lives my image – their little baobei – would reappear again and again over their shoulders whenever they looked in the mirror. There’s me, twenty years old, tilting the hat up and down, puckering at my reflection, shifting my weight, flexing my knees, every inch of me so young and expensive and perfect and then yes, I’ll take this mao zi, and that qun zi and thank you so much you’re such a darling. And they would buy it for me, their xiao tian xin, take me out to dinner, to the hottest nightclubs in the concessions and I’d dance with other men until sunrise hours, from Belgian tea monarchs to Ningpo sailors without leaving so much as a peck on the cheek for the money they spent on the drinks and clothes I would misplace.
I was welcome in the backroom of every opium den and underground gambling parlor, the only person in a room full of muscle allowed to tell a king of narcotics just where he could shove his cigar while lighting my cigarettes on his dirty money, all the while untouchable to any Kompo kidnapping ring or their brothels. And all the champagne, rings, and furs couldn't buy me.
I was friends with top Mingxing and Xinhua film producers, and their silly little friends who could never stop begging me to play in their Beijing operas, waiting all week to dance with me on the roof of the Cathay Hotel, or searching for me in evenings in Little Moscow.
And so many years later, when they approach the mirror and my reflection materializes so unfailingly, they only remember with infatuation a knockout young girl in her absolute apex, an intricate machine in the loudest jazz club that could register and rule a heartbreak from the other side of the Bund.
Mademoiselle Mao is an antique-style mirror with an LCD screen embedded in the wooden frame behind glass. When the viewer approaches, an IR sensor is triggered and a woman trying on clothes appears from within. [Pete Bradt]