Flowers in vases and on canvas

The most fragrant of arts

I already told you that I like making ikebanas. The grace of a flower is one of the most beautiful things on earth. Their splendid colors, their mesmerizing geometry, their magical aroma… I can spend hours looking into a flower bud. Many people perceive ikebana as a sort of handmade, much like appliqué or clay modeling, something you can idly knock together without interrupting your favorite TV series. For me, though, it’s a true art. One has to concentrate, get into the right mood. Ikebana is about harmony and balance, so your mind should be at peace. There should be no distractions. When I’m about to craft another ikebana, I go to my room, close the door so that nobody disturbs me, light up some scented candles, turn on relaxing music… And just let my hands do the job. Sometimes I make ikebanas together with my sister, but we don’t chat, don’t look at each other’s work. The secret is to let go of your superficial thoughts and bring out what’s deep inside you. I guess the same can be said about any creative process. What do you think?

A cherry tree from the past

I always wanted to learn painting. My brother Cheng used to paint a bit, but now he is too busy at the restaurant. We hanged some of his paintings in our LA apartment – they look cute and touching. It’s like a piece of childhood, a piece of our old home. Most of all, I like his painting of cherry blossom. He made it back in China. I remember him painting it in front of the window. This one hangs in my room, my and Juan’s. Whenever I look at it, I go back in time, into that beautiful sunny day, and see that cherry branch trembling in the wind – behind the glass and in my brother’s painting.

Painted petals in bloom

But that’s not the only flower picture decorating our house. There is yet another person whose flower paintings in oil touched a string in my soul once I saw them. His name is Leonid Afremov. He has nothing to do with China, but I feel strangely in tune with his works. He uses a rather quirky technique and, with a manner like that, you would expect a certain degree of sophistication. Yet his still lifes are very simple, take this painting called ‘Morning Flowers’ here for example:

  • A bunch of flowers in a vase
  • A pair of glasses filled with wine
  • A pile of books in the background
  • A musical instrument, usually violin

Nothing much. Somehow, though, this obviousness only adds more warmth and charm to his canvases. The color are vibrant yet soft; the paintings seem to sparkle. There are no clearly defined outlines; flower petals blend in with multihued strokes forming the background. It’s like one big fragrant colorful cloud! Although these flowers are simply painted on the canvas, you can feel their tenderness, their freshness and their smell. They are in full bloom! Check out Leonid Afremov’s still lifes and you’ll definitely find a bunch of morning flowers for you! 🙂


Meet the Lees!

You know, I believe making beautiful things with our hands is one of the most important achievements of the human race. After all, that’s how we became humans in the first place. Aside form cooking secrets and family recipes, the youngest generation the Lees also inherited a handicraft talent. That one came mostly from our grandma who used to make pots and clay figurines. Every member of our family has their own range of creative expertise. My sister, for instance, makes amazing Chinese dolls – they decorate our restaurant alongside my ikebanas. I’ve been persuading her to sell her works somewhere on, but she is too shy to put them on sale. Hope she gains more confidence when she grows up! She’s only 17 now. My elder brother, Cheng, paints in oil and in ink. You know, those traditional Chinese paintings on rice paper and bamboo scrolls. Sure thing, he paints on usual paper or canvas instead. But his pictures are so nostalgic… When I look at them, I travel back to Changzhou in my mind and it seems to me that, if I turn around, I’ll see our old wooden house instead of the modern LA apartment… Of course, life in China wasn’t that easy, I still remember the bad times we had. But I was just a kid and hardly cared about paying the bills and buying a new car. But I could walk out into our garden and put my face into a bunch of camellias… Here we have no garden. We live on the eighth floor. And although I can observe the scattering of neon lights at night instead, I’ll never forget the quiet charm of the home I grew up in…


Ni Hao!

My name is Amy Lee, and yes, I’m half-Chinese in case you wonder 🙂 My family moved to LA ten years ago. Here we settled down and opened our own restaurant my parents always dreamed of. We all work there; I make awesome spring rolls and Gong Bao chicken 🙂 I also take care of table setout and interior design. No Chinese restaurant can do without a bit of Feng Shui 🙂 The ikebanas standing on each table are all crafted by me and my sister Juan. Although we are not supposed to do that, I like working with my hands. Ikebana is my hobby. It’s also a way to preserve our roots, remember where we came from. I like living in LA, but I’ll never forget our old house in Changzhou! I haven’t been there for years, but whenever I think back to those times it feels like we moved just yesterday 🙂 Home is home. And I’m glad I have two of them 🙂

Beale Street