Friday, January 31, 2020

Teaching in China during the Coronavirus

On January 18, I departed Xi'an for what I thought was a short 12-day stay in Wisconsin, with my little brother's wedding being the highlight of the trip. As I write this, a calendar reminder popped up, reminding me that my flight to Xi'an was to happen in 15 minutes. And yet I am writing this from the couch at my condo in Madison, WI.

At the O'Hare airport on December 19 (one day later than planned due a flight delay and then missing the next flight), I saw a small sign that urged those traveling from Wuhan to self-report if they had a fever or cough. Because it didn't apply to me, I didn't give it much thought. Then I waited in the long line with the HUGE number of Chinese students returning to Madison for the start of the second semester. The at-capacity bus I was in, along with the other two buses, contained virtually all individuals from China.

Just a day later, the city of Wuhan became known to the world. I began thinking of those 16 hours I spent on the plane and then a few more hours on the bus with people from China. Had any of them been in Wuhan? An administrator from my international school in Xi'an contacted the faculty querying about where we had traveled and if we had any contact with those in Wuhan. On Monday, after hearing that school would be closed for at least two more weeks, I contacted my principal, requesting that I remain in Wisconsin until the re-opening date is definite.
 Map showing the current number of reported coronavirus infections
When I look at this map and see how the numbers continue to escalate every day, I am grateful that I arrived prior to the major outbreak and thankful that I did not have to return on the 30th, as originally planned. Friends in Xi'an reported store/mall closures, reduced store inventory (especially of produce), and the inability to find any masks and hand sanitizer. Getting around by public transportation is severely impaired, with the suspension of service, limited routes/hours, or long delays due to the screening of passengers. Several highway exits are also closed and health checks are being conducted at those open. Many flights are also being canceled. Didi (the Chinese equivalent of Uber), the most popular way for foreigners (and many locals) to travel within the city, has now suspended its service. People are strongly urged to stay home, cooped up in their high-rise apartments. All those entering the apartment complexes are checked for fever and cough.

Currently, there are 87 confirmed reported 9,742 cases in the Shaanxi province; of those, 32 are in Xi'an. Even the "small" town where a Chinese friend of mine has been cooped up in her family's apartment now has some infections. She is especially concerned for her grandma, who already has health issues. I pray for the health and safety of all the hard-working, kind citizens of this populous country.

Starting on Monday, I am to be giving art assignments to my students online. I can't use any resources that require the use of a VPN, in order to accommodate the Chinese students. So that means no Google apps, no YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, and even many seemingly innocent sites. Art supplies will have to be kept at bare minimum as well. If anyone has had experience or advice on teaching upper elementary art (particularly PYP) under these restrictions, I'd love your insight.

For now, be assured that I am safe and healthy in Wisconsin.

Winter ❄️ wonderland in Wisconsin

Friday, January 03, 2020

My Weaving experience at the Ock Pop Tok Center

After a wonderful lunch overlooking the Mekong River with fellow workshop participants, I began my 1/2 day weaving experience. The warp on the floor loom was already set up with 400 black dyed silk threads. Likewise, the supplementary heddle was already in place. This is the "program" that helps establish the patterns seen in the weaving.
Silk colored through natural dyes
Natural materials for dyes

To start, I chose the color that I wanted for my main weaving and for the design. Both the dusty rose dye and the cream color were created from the fresh leaves and bark of the teak tree; the light color was only briefly dipped. The skeins of silk were then wound onto spools, a process that also separates the silk and makes them smoother. Due to limited time, I only did a couple spools.
My weaving in process. The Naga design is at the bottom.
Most of the weaving was a simple tabby weave (over-under-over-under). I quickly got in the groove of which bamboo foot pedal my right foot should be on, scooting the shuttle through the opening, and the correct even pressure needed on the beater. For the design, I chose the naga - a mythical protective water serpent that I had seen in many local Buddhist temples.

The magic behind achieving the Naga continuous supplementary weft (kit) design comes from the supplementary heddle. Once a row of the design was woven, that string on the supplementary heddle was moved upward. Had my weaving called for a repetition of the Naga design, the supplementary heddle was already set up for this. In this complex part, the instructor was directly involved. Thankfully, she was also there when one warp string accidentally broke; she patiently attached some extra black thread to make the warp thread tight again. 
The loom with the supplementary heddle pictured on the left.
  Due to time constraints, the instructor removed the weaving from the loom after weaving several rows of thread. Multiple strands of the black warp threads were moistened, grouped and then two groups twisted together. The end was then knotted.
My finished weaving
I am pleased with my finished piece. I'd love to go back and try the more complex discontinuous supplementary weft (chok)  weaving. That is a 3-day course though. At any rate, the experience gives me a greater appreciation for the time and skill it takes to create such beautiful textiles. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Hmong Batik Experience in Luang Prabang, Laos

During my Christmas vacation, I participated in a half-day workshop on Hmong batik. The instructor was Mae Thao Zu Zong. This petite 66-yr old from the Striped Hmong (Hmong Lai) group is the remaining Hmong batik artist in Luang Prabang.
Mae Thao, Hmong batik artist
With a photo of her in the background, Mae Thao demonstrated how to hold the tjanting tool and make straight lines with the hot beeswax first on a small piece of woven flax. The locally harvested wax was tinted slightly with indigo to make it easier to see on the cloth. While she confidently formed straight lines in rapid succession, I found holding and controlling the tool (the metal part is near the heel of your hand) with the correct amount of wax (and at the correct temperature) a bit awkward. The weave was rather coarse, which sometimes made my movements a bit jerky.
Backstrap loom with hemp fibers
Thankfully, the less-than-perfect grid lines were camouflaged when additional details and symbols were added. Symbols included natural items such as cucumber seeds, pumpkin seeds, animal teeth, and ferns. For the curves of the center design, the tjanting tool was held more like a traditional drawing tool. 

Mae Thao demonstrates how to do the spirals
Instructor and student
Once I was finished with the wax part, I asked Mae Thao to pose with me. I stepped down so there wouldn't be quite the height difference in the photo. Because I wanted my piece to be dyed indigo, I had to leave it at the center. The following morning it would be dunked in a vat of indigo dye and the wax removed. Because it was only dipped once, it didn't get the deep blue color seen on many Hmong works that may be dipped up to 20 times.
My completed batik