Well, after ten hours of traveling by feet, pickup-taxi (a pickup with bench seats in the back), ferry, bus, and skytrain, I’m back in Bangkok, enjoying the dubious pleasures of exhaust fumes, traffic, and tuktuk drivers. I must admit, I’m grumpy: I wanted a few more days in Ko Chang, hanging out on the beach. 🙂
I carved myself a set of size 3 double-pointed knitting needles out of bamboo yesterday–they’re actually quite nice. Bamboo turns out to be remarkably cooperative for making long thin objects: it splits readily and evenly, and is soft enough to carve easily, yet very tough/flexible. Perfect, in fact, for knitting needles.
I split one piece of bamboo into six pieces (one didn’t work out, so I have five dpns), shaped the pieces to be round and about the right size, then tied a loop of string around my size 3 circular needles (for sizing) and carved the needles down to fit precisely through the loop, thus getting exact sizing. The finished needles are very serviceable, and I actually like them better than commercial needles–I made mine with thin points instead of the conventional fat ones, which makes knitting silk much easier. I took along another piece of bamboo, and am tempted to make myself another set, and ditch the “bought” needles entirely.
Having carved myself a set of knitting needles and spun some yarn, I’ve now started knitting my lace shawl. It’s in blue/purple/turquoise silk, and so far I’m knitting it in a simple, eight-armed spiral pattern. I’ve got a 4″ diameter circle already and it is just beautiful–delicate and open, with just a bit of silk shimmer. (Yes, I’ll try to get a photo.)
Later today I’m going to sit down and design the rest of the shawl–I think it will just be a series of spirals, emanating from the center. Simple, pretty, and easy to remember, which is important since I expect I’ll do most of my knitting on a lurching ferry in the pouring rain (yesterday), or sitting on my pack by the side of the road waiting for a pickup-taxi to fly by (also yesterday). Complex, hard-to-remember patterns and traveling don’t really mix.
I also made a friend on the way back! I was sitting in the bus station at Trat, spinning while waiting for the 2pm bus, when a middle-aged Thai woman pointed at the spindle and asked (using gestures) what it was for. I demoed spinning silk thread on it, then pulled out the partially-knitted shawl and showed her the lace pattern. She loved the lace, but was absolutely fascinated by the spindle–so I pulled out my spare whorl, pulled off a little bit of silk, and taught her to spin! It was a little interesting because we had no language in common (she didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Thai), but it’s amazing what you can communicate with gestures. She picked it up very quickly. (Much faster than I did, truth be told.) I was impressed–silk is not the easiest fiber to learn spinning on, but she was doing great.
Anyway, I showed her how to spin singles and ply them together into a finished yarn, and made a gift of my spare spindle whorl. (This leaves me with only one whorl, which is a little worrisome, but I figure I can always carve or make another. I’d rather teach a new spinner than lug around an extra whorl, anyway.) We traded addresses–I’m not sure how we’re going to correspond since we don’t have a common language, but I’m sure I can dig up someone who speaks Thai, back in the States, and if not I’m sure she knows someone who speaks English. I gave her the URL for some American spinning suppliers, and will send her some of the acrylic and wool fibers that Mr. Wu gave me when touring the spinning factory. I figure that should give her enough to practice on for now–once I get to Chiang Mai perhaps I can dig up some silkweavers, and connect her up to them.
Anyway, I’m quite happy both about having met her and having finally “mastered” the art of communicating in gestures. It’s not hard, but it requires a totally different mindset–instead of thinking (and communicating) complex concepts, you have to limit yourself to a much simpler mental vocabulary, and accept that there are some things you’re just never going to know. (For example, buying batteries is easy, but asking “What are the cultural underpinnings behind a three-headed elephant?” is right out.)
I’m also happy to have found the right “medium” for starting conversations, i.e. the drop spindle. It’s interesting to watch people’s reactions to it–it definitely breaks a boundary. Instead of another faceless foreign backpacker, you’re suddenly someone!–a person who’s doing something interesting. And drop spindles are endlessly fascinating because of their deceptive simplicity–it’s just a little disc impaled on a stick, that spins suspended in midair, and magically turns loose fiber into thread. It’s so deceptively simple that almost everyone wants to try it.
So, last night when I got in, I asked the guesthouse keeper (who speaks fluent English) if she can find a woodworker to make me five or six extra whorls–that way I can teach people and give away spindles as I go. I think it, and the lace shawl, will also stand me in excellent stead once I get to Chiang Mai and the weavers–they’re used to foreign tourists, certainly, but even the most jaded craftsperson will be excited by the prospect of a new craft (trust me on this 😉 ). And knitting is not at all common in Thailand, nor is handspinning. So I think it will make an excellent conversation-starter.
Shifting gears, I’m now worrying a bit about malaria. Despite the advice of a travel doc that I’d be OK until Chiang Mai, I just read in the guidebook that Ko Chang is considered a malarial area of Thailand, so i should have been taking antimalarials. Oops. I’ve fired off an email to the guy asking him to check the latest report. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll probably start takign doxycycline, just in case. I didn’t have huge problems with mosquitoes while I was in Ko Chang, but I did get bitten pretty liberally at dawn/dusk. If I’d known, I would have used Deet. Oh well. I think I’ll be OK as long as I start taking antimalarials now, but there’s not much I can do post facto. (Terri-san: any suggestions?)
That’s all for now–today I’m going to run some errands, and tonight I’m going to the expat party, to try talking the body painter into a studio session. 🙂 Not sure about the next few days–maybe the old capital, maybe investigate Bangkok a little, depends what turns up (and who I meet) at the party.
Towards the end of the month I’m going south, for a ten-day meditation retreat at Wat Suon Mok, a temple in southern Thailand. Tentatively, I’ll be flying into Myanmar/Burma Nov 15 for a ten-day guided tour (which will include their Festival of Balloons–seems roughly akin to the Rose Parade but with hot air balloons)–but I haven’t gotten a full quote from the travel agent yet, so I may change my plans depending on what they’re asking. There are, after all, still Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to see, not to mention India and the rest of Thailand. 🙂