In recent years there has been a revival of interest in Nyonya-Baba history and the objects in Chye Hoon’s world. Alongside this renewed interest has come a growing recognition of the ‘Nyonya-Baba aesthetic’. What exactly constitutes such an aesthetic is still being debated, but in The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds there are reasons why I imbued my protagonist, Chye Hoon, with an eye for beauty. 

From the book, I hope readers have gleaned the traits that I believe were important to Nyonya-Baba self-expression:

  • Intricacy. The Nyonyas and Babas paid great attention to every aspect of their culture, be it attire, cuisine or decorative objects. Household items were crafted in fine, time-consuming detail;
  • Flamboyance. The Nyonyas loved vivid colours, striking patterns and being covered in gold (see Jewellery);
  • Cultural Mix. As members of a mixed-heritage community, the Nyonyas and Babas were not ashamed to borrow from other cultures. With the onset of British rule, some Babas became so Westernised that they were known as the King’s Men!