Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Samfoo and the Cheong Sam

The samfoo is actually a blouse and a pair of loose pants. "Sam" in Cantonese means blouse and "foo" in the same dialect is trousers. The Foochows called them "koo ran", or trousers and blouse. The best samfoo was worn by Michele Yeoh in the film," Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon". She made the once forgotten samfoo a very wearable fashion at the end of the 20th Century. When the film was shown throughout the world, almost all women of Chinese descent had a sam foo made in different styles for that Chinese New Year.

And the cheongsam? It has always been a beautiful outfit for Chinese and non Chinese women. the most famous cheongsam wearing Asian woman was Suzie Wong or Nancy Kwan. Who can forget the way she walks in the film, "The World of Suzie Wong"? Again "cheong sam" is in Cantonese. It means a long blouse. The Ao Dai of the Vietnmese has the cheong sam part, with an added loose pair of long pants.

When the Foochows first arrived in Sibu, most of the women were wearing their loose samfoo, very much the provincial wear of the Manchu Dynasty. Most of the Christian women wore white cotton loose samfoo blouses. Silk was not for them as they were poor farming people.

Later, very much later, when the more educated Foochow women came out from China as Bible Women, teachers or new wives of the now prosperous Foochows, they wore cheongsam made from different kinds of materials.

My aunts wore samfoos when they went to school in Sibu in the early 1900's. When they went for their further studies in Singapore, they started to wear cheongsams as can be seen in the photos in this posting.

My mother and her friends wore samfoos until the 1960's. When the fashion went out in the 1970's only the older, very senior members of the clan, in the seventies, wore the Foochow samfoos. I myself never had a chance to wear samfoos, although later I managed to buy China made festive Samfoo tops for my Chinese New year. The red samfoos are now becoming fashionable, but only for festive seasons and special celebrations.

In the early days of Sibu, when visiting each other, or travelling , most Foochow women then wore the more presentable cheongsam. The cheongsam was elegant, smart and beautiful. Most Chinese men , and Foochow men , therefore, loved to see their women wearing cheongsam. There is a special mysterious element in the attire.

One of my male friends told me that the sexiest part of a Chinese woman lies in her nape. Therefore the collar of the cheongsam must be very well made to show off that particular spot of a woman. But I did remember that Confucius once said that a man should not look at a Chinese woman who is not his wife in the eye. So I suppose most Chinese men, who are Confucian in outlook, would just shyly glance at the nape of a Chinese woman. I am just wondering if Chinese men are really that shy today. :) :)

This particular reference is made in the film, "In the Mood for Love" and Maggie Cheong is an excellent example of a cheongsam wearing Chinese lady. In the movie, she wears some marvellous, and out of this world designs. Oh , yes, with excellent collars.

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