Back in 1983, our Chinese doll maker Lee Ming Yang, also known as Michael Lee, then 74 years old and unmarried, would tell us he had children all over the world. A small group of ladies worked with Mr. Lee cutting and sewing the doll clothes, stuffing them with cotton and then painting wide smiles on their faces. Lots of love and care went into hand-crafting those cloth dolls. Every couple of weeks or so, Mr. Lee, looking like a Chinese Santa Claus, would come to our store with a big cloth bag full of his dolls which we named Sampan Sally after a colorful local Hong Kong character and Hang On Hannah who carried an infant son on her back. Thanks to our mail order catalog customers and visitors to our Amazing Grace stores in Hong Kong over the years, Mr. Lee’s ‘children’ travelled widely and put even wider smiles than those painted on his dolls onto the faces of hundreds and thousands of children all over the world. Unlike Santa Claus, Michael Lee does not live on but his dolls certainly do and are now sought after by doll collectors.
Smiles that reach across borders introduce children to different cultures. To expedite the process, many of the dolls in the Amazing Grace airport stores in Hong Kong and Singapore and at our website www.chinesebabydolls.com come with passports tied to their arms, ready to make the journey. Passport dolls usually travel in pairs as sisters or mother and daughter with a smaller, baby doll tied onto the back of the larger doll. They both wear matching satin cheongsams and have pigtails tied with ribbons. The baby dolls may also be purchased separately.
On our buying trips to China, we often encounter American couples who are in the process of completing the adoption of a Chinese child and are in the final stage of arranging a passport for the new member of their family at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou. It is hard to describe the look of delight on their faces as they push their child on a newly-purchased stroller, perhaps for the first time, on the sidewalks in the historic district of Shamien Island near the consulate.
For a look at some of the happiest parents you will ever see, go for breakfast at the White Swan hotel where the joy they experience sharing the table with their new two-year-old is harder to translate than the word for cereal. The connection in this narrative between the baby dolls that are made for us in China and the adopted children we see on our trips is the happiness both can bring. When laughter is the language, it seems, communication is not a problem, or ‘mei yo wen tee’ as it is said in Chinese.
Borders also disappear with national minority dolls from Amazing Grace representing hill tribe cultures living mostly in the mountainous region straddling the Thai, Lao, Chinese and Burmese borders but even from Mongolia as well. Among the better known of these ethnic groups are the Naxi, Lisu, Yao, Miao, Zhuang, Laha and Blang. Dressed in homespun black cotton jackets and trousers or colorful skirts trimmed with embroidery, they wear their wealth in the form of silver necklaces, bangles, beads and other accessories. Their colorful attire and jewelry make them popular photographic subjects in areas frequented by tourists in these countries. In addition to dolls, artists have translated these figures into keychain, backpack and purse dangles made of clay with hand-painted faces and moveable arms, also available at Amazing Grace. As dangles, play and display dolls, all promise to open your child’s eyes to another world.