Today was relatively uneventful. I met with the 63-year-old Chinese guy, who turns out to be a troubleshooter/plant technical expert for a yarn factory. After a Chinese buffet lunch in which he stuffed me unmercifully (I had forgotten that Chinese hospitality involves feeding your guests more than they can eat), I showed him how to spin on a bottom-whorl drop spindle, a top-whorl drop spindle, and a supported spindle (I made myself a spindle that converts to all three, it’s not hard).
It turns out the guy is an inventor, is planning on retiring in the next year or two, and is trying to think of cool new machines to invent for handspinners. I suggested a couple of innovations I’d like to see, and a couple places where I thought there was market potential; he and I are going to correspond periodically, and I’m also introducing him to Nels Wiberg, maker of the Babe Fiber Starter (a spinning wheel made of PVC pipe (!)).
I know Nels mainly because, a year or two ago, I tinkered extensively with his spinning wheel (it taught me more physics than three years at Caltech), and sent him a long list of suggestions. He’s quite a character; unfortunately he lives in Michigan, so I’ve never had a chance to meet him. Maybe someday, if I make it by there on my perambulations. At any rate, I think he’d get along with another mad scientist, so I’m introducing them. It should be neat to see what happens. 😉
Mr. Wu also took me off to his spinning factory in the southern suburbs of Bangkok–now *that* was neat. They have a series of giant machines that take acrylic fiber from raw puffs to finished yarn. First they pick it into fluffy clouds with one machine, then they blow it through a giant pipe to another machine, where it’s carded. (It was really neat watching the carded roving come off in a paper-thin sheet 60″ wide–then it goes through a little funnel-thing and presto! it’s a thick rope 1.5″ across. Magic!) After that they comb it, draw it out into a very thin strand, and then use a series of different-speed rollers to draft it out and feed it into a series of ring spindles, which simultaneously twist and wind on the singles (unplied) yarn.
Then, workers take the filled spindles (which are maybe 1.5″ in diameter, fully wound) and dump them into a machine which winds the small spindles into giant cones of yarn. Finally, one machine plies the singles together into finished yarn, and the last one winds the finished yarn into skeins for dyeing. All this is fully automated, with rows upon rows of spindles rolling at high speed, automatic feed in most places, and the factory runs 24 hours a day, outputting 28 tons of yarn seven days a week, 351 days a year. (The fourteen remaining are national holidays.)
Anyway, after looking at the long series of giant green machines automated for everything under the sun, I looked at my humble little homemade drop spindle, with hand-shaped clay whorl, and considered just how far technology’s come. I wonder how many skilled spinners it would take to create 28 tons of fine yarn in just one day. Geez.
On the other hand, tools aren’t everything; I bought a book on Lao textiles that shows them using a primitive backstrap loom to weave the most incredible pieces. I feel guilty now for having so many high-tech toys; they’re working with human ingenuity and almost nothing else, and they produce weaving far finer than I’ll ever manage. Of course, they also spend their lives at it (there’s the downside to an artisan culture).
Anyway–Ko Chang is an island off the SE coast of Thailand (on the peninsula that leads down to Malaysia), supposed to be considerably less developed/spoiled than Ko Samui (“Ko” in Thai means “island”, in case you hadn’t guessed). Most of the island is a national park, but development is, sadly, continuing apace regardless. Thailand has a severe conservation problem, has only 10% of its forest left, and is widely expected to lose that within the next thirty years.
Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ll have email there; accommodations are apparently a choice of fan-cooled concrete bungalows and open bamboo huts, so we’re not talking the world’s highest-tech connection there. Nonetheless, I give at least 50-50 odds that there’s at least one cybercafe on the island (in which case, you know I’ll find it within my first thirty minutes on the island–major email junkie here 😉 ).
I’m told that the best way to acclimate to the tropics is to stay in a room without air conditioning, so your body acclimates to the heat. I’m highly dubious at best (this sounds much like “Well, you’ll be sore all over for the entire AIDS Ride, but it won’t bother you after awhile”)–but since it looks like I won’t have much choice–well, we’ll see.
(As it happens, I *did* feel like hell most mornings of Lifecycle, and in fact it didn’t bother me. I think it’s because there’s nothing you can do about it–you’re going to feel like an arthritic 90-year-old no matter what you do–so you just get used to it.)
I have no real clue how I’m going to get to Ko Chang–all I know is that it’s a five hour bus ride and you have to change buses at some town near the coastline, then take a boat across the water–but I figure i’ll get there eventually. Or not, in which case I’ll simply find another place to stay/wander. The wonderful thing about having no set schedule is, if you don’t make it to a particular place, it’s no big deal–to quote Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have yet to have problems finding interesting trouble, wherever I happen to be. 🙂