Code: Mi Lan’s Sewing Machine

1990s / 128' / China / In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles / Teen Film / Colour

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N for Novel

Mi Lans Sewing Machine

Author: Ancient Ice

Have you heard of a sewing machine that sings?

Mi Lan is my neighbor. She lives alone. The rattling sound of her Singer sewing machine can be heard faintly in my apartment. I place my ear against the wall, trying to differentiate the sounds of the sewing head, conveyor belt and treadle. My imagination begins from her ankles creating a V shape together on the treadle, her pale and soft legs, the slender hand skillfully managing the pulley, and her wrists advancing and retreating between the machine, cloths and threads with grace.

People in the community talk about Mi Lan. She is in her early thirties. She studied abroad and once took part in a singing competition on television in the adjacent city. Afterwards, she became a junior high school English teacher. She has been discussed as a singer for years because of the competition. Her singer-teacher identity has thrown many teenagers into obsession. Some said her western name comes from a relationship with an Italian lover.

During summer holiday in July and August, Mi Lan was almost home every day. At three o’clock in the afternoon, she started her sewing machine punctually. Tut tut tut tut tut… …the annoying rattling gradually changed its tone into a soothing song that embraced me in tenderness.

A wave of desire spread over me. We live on the second floor with our balconies facing to a quiet park. One Wednesday afternoon, I opened our modern aluminium window on the balcony and mustered up my courage. I leapt into the banyan tree that sat 2 meters outside my balcony. I held the trunk tight and tried to pull myself together. Then I jumped over and landed on the roof under Mi Lan’s apartment. Bang! I crouched immediately fearing being seen. The rusty roof under my feet was shaking. After a while, I stood up slowly and looked through her balcony and living room. I could hear the water splashing from the bathroom. I climbed into her balcony through the window that was left unlocked. With one leg on the balcony window, I looked into the bathroom through the opened transom window. Mi Lan’s bare upper back and slender neck were framed in the window. But I could not see her body from below, which seemed to be within a double-layered wall of mosaics through the locked windows. I swallowed deeply, taking in all my courage, and stretched a broom into the transom and took away a light blue t-shirt from a rack. When I tried to take the t-shirt, the broom fell onto the edge of the transom and made a noise. Fortunately, Mi Lan did not notice it because of the fizzing water. I held my breath and the t-shirt tightly.

Mi Lan dried herself after the shower and looked for her clothes lazily. She put on her white knickers and walked to her bedroom slowly. I followed her on tiptoes and stopped at the bedroom door. She dried her towel on a rack, topless, and then put on a white vest rummaged from the wardrobe. With her back to the door, she sat down at her sewing machine and started her work. There are a few screw holes lining up on the window handle, the window was half open with the middle hole hooked on a small pole. Mi Lan was working, head down, unfussed about being revealing to those who lived in the opposite building. The cream-colored curtain of her window floated with the breeze that caressed Mi Lan’s sweaty face. The sunshine flooded in and discovered her body in an aura of sublimity.

I walked closely to Mi Lan with my hands in my bosom. A sewing machine was gaining in substance inside my body, its rattling was getting faster and louder than my footsteps. It was trying to storm out of my thin body and rattled along with Mi Lan’s sewing machine.

Tut tut tut tut tut tut… …Mi Lan’s pale feet operating the treadle seemed like a raft drifting in the water. I could feel a sense of cool oozing out of those feet. Stitches are densely made on a piece of light pink cloth. With her hair down on her thin shoulders, Mi Lan was whirling the pulley with her right arm. The sunshine burnished her soft skin with gold, and a mild scent started to drift and fill the air of the room miraculously. The sewing machine and her lightly-bended body seemed to blend into a piece of imported artwork, covered by a piece of pink cloth.

When I was about to leap on her, a tortoiseshell cat jumped onto her work-table. I was terrified and found myself running out of the bedroom. Mi Lan discovered the intruder and screamed. I ran to the balcony, jumped through the window and accidentally slid into a small pool in the park. There was not a soul around. I was soaked and stealthily walked back home.

I got changed and lay in bed. I clutched the light blue t-shirt in my bosom. The sewing machine started again…tut tut tut…it was getting closer and louder. The afternoon sunshine started its lazy descent, getting blurry and blurry. A pair of scissors penetrated and cut it in half. Like a singer in the old days, the sewing machine sang an old western song. Tut tut tut tut tut tut… …the foot presser sewed the light blue t-shirt into my soaked skin. After all, the t-shirt and me…no, Mi Lan and me, became one.

I opened my eyes. Dawn was breaking, the sewing machine had stopped singing. I lowered my stiff neck and found my pants wet.

* Text taken from the Surprise Film Festival brochure.

* Pre-screening talk with guest speaker 
  Speaker: Joyce Yang (A member of Hong Kong Film Critics Society)

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