Tag Archives: South Africa

My Brush with Celebrity: Miss South Africa 1984

I was going to title this “Photographic Proof of My Total Lack of Fashion Sense,” and it is most definitely that.  But it is also an interesting historic artifact.

I lived and worked in Taiwan for three years in the early 1980s.  For two of those years, I was a translator at Lee & Li one of a handful of local law firms serving the international business community.

This was the Lee & Li translation staff ca. 1985.   As a 20-something with a regular, almost professional, job, I was in a bit of social limbo in Taipei:  neither scruffy world-traveling student nor privileged post-colonial white businessperson.  This social limbo may have been related to my tendency to see the rest of the world in mildly disparaging, internally-amusing, and completely accurate stereotypes, though I ultimately found an excellent group of limbo-dwelling judgmental 20-somethings — Chinese and Waiguo — to hang with.  By day we all had jobs; by night we hung out or explored Taipei’s unbelievably wonderful cheap restaurants.  Though many of the young lawyers at Lee & Li were friends, it was a huge place, and the senior partners barely knew we were there.

Until Molly.  Molly joined the Lee & Li staff as an editor in the summer of 1984.  She was sweet, hilarious, fun to hang with, and drop-dead gorgeous.  The senior partners suddenly noticed the hitherto motley now much cuter collection of gringo students who provided language services to the firm.  This was the state of play when the island was graced by a visit from Miss South Africa 1984.

Anyone remember 1984?  South Africa was not as, um, respected as it is now.  In fact, I’m thinking the number of countries Miss South Africa could visit that year was probably fairly limited.  We joked that she was in town for the Miss Pariah Nations finals.

Based I suppose on their fairly prominent position in the international social scene in Taipei, a couple of senior partners arranged to have dinner with Miss South Africa.  And — I’m speculating here — enjoying the idea of meeting MSA with another gorgeous blond on their collective arms, they invited Molly to attend.  And then, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, but perhaps to avoid dissension in the American student ranks of Lee & Li, they invited me.  I thought this was hilarious in precisely the way a cynical post-apartheid-protest Swarthmore grad would.  I would go, but I would go ironically.  Access to a truly incredible, free, Chinese banquet was of course farthest from my mind.

But I still had to find something to wear.  I wish I could tell you that I wore the outfit below in some sort of ironic protest against the depredations of apartheid and objectification of women that Miss South Africa represented, but I can’t.  It was all I had.  I wore casual cotton dresses or skirts to work because of Taiwan’s intense heat.  (See photo above.)  And I guess some part of my brain said, I’m being taken out to dinner by senior lawyers, I should dress like a proto-lawyer.  I have no clue, but this was the result:

I’m not even going to caption this, because you know exactly who’s who.