Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fiber and Fun in Shanghai!

As I mentioned in my last post, the apartment in Shanghai looked a bit desolate and bare towards the end. But shortly before that, there was much merriment and mess. And if you think that the alliteration is accidental, be very afraid. I am in a very alliterative frame of mind.

Our last 3 weekends were fully booked. First we went to the Painter's Street in Shanghai with friends and then we went to Guilin, a very scenic place in China. More on that later. The last weekend in Shanghai was devoted to friends, fiber and fun.

Even before I got to Shanghai, I joined China Knitters - a group on Ravelry consisting of people in China and of Chinese origin. In my time in China, I met a few of them in person but we really got to know each other online more than in person. 1-2 had already left China by the time I left, one will be leaving shortly, and others are just coming in. Our fearless leader, Jane, announced that she was going to visit Shanghai and thus the meet-up was born. Since Guilin involved travel, which in China means that you have your passport, we had to do this the last weekend I was there. In retrospect, we could have done it earlier as my passport came back from the customs clearance in time. But the shipping company wouldn't guarantee that, and we didn't want to take the risk of not being able to go to Guilin or trying to go without a passport. Therefore, the meet-up was scheduled for my last weekend in Shanghai and fortunately, the other Ravelers could make it.

There was a rotating cast of 5. Lynn was able to come on Sat and Jessica could only make Sunday. The rest of us (4 in all) made both days.

We started by visiting a Taobao store. Taobao is like ebay. It is a site where individual small businesses can host their shops and sell. It is a great place to shop for all sorts of things and is much cheaper than buying in a brick and mortar store. Chinese knitters purchase yarn from Taobao where you can get imported, export quality as well as Chinese only yarn. I had never explored Taobao as it is all in Mandarin and the payment options are limited. You have to pay via Alipay which is like PayPal. Apparently you can link your Alipay account to your bank account, or set up a prepaid account and top it up via vending machines and the post office, or link it to a credit/debit card. But lots of the other expats have trouble with this - mostly because of the language. Since I had no patience for this, I decided that I would only purchase if I could get someone to do the buying and I would pay them. At one point, I thought I'd have to use it to buy a yogurt maker but I was able to get a better price at a local online store that delivered and collected cash on delivery.

But that is a tangent. One of us had done a lot of yarn purchasing from a store called MIC MIC and they had a brick and mortar location in Shanghai. So that is where we went. It took us a while to get there as it is pretty far outside the city and not easy to find. But we persevered - well the owner of the car and the driver persevered, the rest of us sat in the back and chatted and knitted.

MIC MIC turned out to be a baby clone of Colourmart. They stock mill ends from Italian and other mills and wind off quantities which they sell. It is in a little courtyard with a show room and winding room on one side and a room containing bins of yarn on another. In a corner, there is a slightly bigger warehouse containing the rest of the inventory. This one is not lit or cooled so we just peeked in looking for larger quantities of one of the yarns.

It was around lunch time by the time we got there so we got to hang out in the showroom till the couple that owned the place came back. The showroom had samples of the yarns and threads and other supplies they carry.

 

Yes, those are bags of hundreds of locking stitch markers

Cones of yarns galore. We all bought a LOT. I just got 2 cones of yarn - 3 strands of silk wound together and 1 of a cashmere and something blend.

I got a bunch of these for spinning. I think I can just add it in while plying to add some glitz and shine.

These were fascinating. They are beads plied onto string so they stay in one place. I bought the gold and the black (the smaller bobbins in the back) for adding to spun yarn while plying.

 

These are crochet hooks and buttons and some metal circulars.

GIANT cones! Some of us bought a cone that held a kilogram of yarn!

There was even a basket of swatches. Some crocheted, some knitted. All beautifully blocked!

Hundreds of straight needles!

I think these are garments made from the yarns. The labels were cut off.

Once the owners came back, the photography stopped for a while. We went into the warehouse space and were lost in the black hole of browsing.

The yarn fumes eventually wore off as I had to deal with two words - WEIGHT and VOLUME. I had 4 suitcases that I could bring back to the US, which needed to include our clothes for the next 6 weeks, my precious Bohus sweaters, dishes and stuff we needed to live in the apartment for a week, my Hansen espinner, bobbins and flyers, and all the prescription medicines we had in Shanghai. Each suitcase could weigh no more than 23 kg. Remember that my shipment had already left by the time we got here!

The others were not so restricted so they got more stuff.

 

Each carton had one or more cones of yarn. The labels were in Chinese or non-existent but the owners were vary patient with us. And the fact that we had 3 Mandarin speakers among us definitely helped. It really made me understand how different my China experience would have been if I had been fluent in Mandarin.

Once we decided what we wanted and how much, the cones went to the winding-off room. For example, my 3 stranded cone started off as 3 cones. I told them I wanted 600 gms total. So a cardboard center was placed on the top of the winding machine, 3 cones of the single stranded silk were placed on the bottom on scales and the machine was turned on after the fiber was threaded through the machine. And they run while the womin in the room monitor the weights.

 

There is also a giant skeiner in the room. Hi Jane!

After all the discussion and agonizing about selection and the winding was done, the owner gets down to tallying up the bills. We went out for a very late lunch while the winding was going on.

Each item was carefully packed in plastic bags and taped into packages. This is our loot in the trunk of the minivan.

The very patient owners of MIC MIC.

And the nerve center for their Taobao store. This is where the orders are received, weighed and packaged up for delivery.

We were exhausted by the time this was over and we had to drive back into Shanghai. So ended day 1 of our 2 day bender.

The next morning, we met up at the Yuyuan Garden subway station and went to the wholesale notions market. This is a 4 story building where you can get just about anything to do with crafts. There is trim with or without bobbles and fringe, zippers, beads, buttons, chain, fur trimmings, plastic glitz of every kind from blingy plastic 'fabric' for making cell phone covers and the like to rhinestones and fake baubles to attach to clothing. Cord, thread, pins, scissors, measuring tape and so on and on and on.

We were in the market for knotting cord and buttons and beads. But Jane and I got sidetracked by chain and spent a lot of time buying chain to make necklaces. Dawn got caught up in the spirit and got embellishments for a crocheted corset. We found embellished pins that looked like kilt pins but nothing in stock wowed us.

On that day, I subscribed to a bit of the knotting cord that Jessica bought. Then we went on a bead hunt. We checked out the place where I had bought beads a few months ago, before heading out to check out a bead store that was on a street outside. Sadly, that was closed. But on the way back, we got sidetracked by streetside button vendors. We squatted down in the heat and bought wooden and plastic buttons for 1 yuan for a bag of 6 buttons. Approx. 6.1 yuan = 1 USD Yup. 1/6 of a USD for 6 wooden painted buttons. I don't know if they will last but they are cute and cheap.

Eventually we worked our way back to the bead shop and bought 10 bags of beads wholesale. The vendor was nice enough to divide each one into 5 bags - one for each of us. I think the big bags were 500 gms each and we each got 10 colors. These are glass beads - not very consistent in quality but very cheap. So you just use the ones that are good and toss the mis-shapen and irregular ones. I think we paid 130 yuan for the 10 bags in total. A little over $20.

On the way out, I saw elastic with buttonholes. These are used for kids clothes so they can be adjusted for fit as the child grows. But I saw a buttonhole placement device. I couldn't buy a meter or two of it. I had to buy the entire lot for 5 yuan. So I did. I split it with another of our party but I have enough buttonhole placement devices for a lifetime. More on that later.

We then went to the yarn stores on Ruijin (2nd) Road. These are regular yarn stores and we mostly browsed, except I got some mink/cashmere to go with my Tour de Fleece yarn. Some others bought that too and then some of us also got a good deal on some lovey cashmere. I will do a post on all my loot and talk about that more there.

Lastly we headed out to meet Cate of Infinite Twist. She has a business in Shanghai where she imports Australian merino, hand dyes it and then has it spun by local hand spinners. She was getting it done in Qinghai near Tibet but more recently is using a group in Shanghai. She mostly sells outside China but she had advertised on our Ravelry group so we found her.

Dawn had had the foresight to preorder dyed fiber. The rest of us were not so thoughtful so we wandered around her studio and petted and oohed and aahed. I also took the opportunity to divide up some sequins that Jessican and I had bought to share - to add to spun yarn.

Cate's rather dim studio. It was rather dreary outside so the inside was not too bright. It is a very creative place with color and texture and fiber all around. We pawed through Cate's kits.

There's Cate in her lovely studio. Yes, that is a Crazy Monkey electric skein winder in the back. And boxes of dyed and undyed fiber and yarn.

Cate's father makes these lovely wheels in Maine. We drooled over them, but wiped the drool off carefully.

Then we rushed back to my apartment where we finished dividing up our spoils and paying each other for the various bits and bobs we had shared. Jessica had to rush off to catch her train and that broke up the group. I was exhausted but elated and exhilirated. What a lovely set of people that I hope to keep in touch with for many years!

Jane and I did a mini-meetup a couple of days later and went back to the notions market. I got some cheap beads (yes, even cheaper) for necklaces and other crafty things she has turned me on to. We bought more chain and also some leather strips for necklaces in various colors. The beads were plastic and wood mostly, although some glass and were smaller than those for knitting. I have some visions of DIY necklaces, stitch markers, and these were for those endeavours.

I also bought some more knotting cord for myself as I realized that the amount I had from Jessica was good for playing with but not for the ideas I had in the interim. Jane and I split 1000 stitch markers - the kind that Hiyahiya sells, which look like safety pins with a circular end.

It was a challenge to get everything into the suitcases without their becoming overweight. Fortunately I was able to shed most of the Indian groceries I had - between some of the Ravelers and a colleague at work. But our suitcases were 22+ kg each except for one which was a shade over 23 kg. Our carryon bags were also heavy - weighing around 15 kg each. I made the mistake of keeping a full bobbin on the Hansen. I should have wound off the single and sent it with the shipment but I didn't.

Anyway, I successfully got all my purchases home. The yarn is in the freezer for one of many freezing/thawing cycles to ensure a complete destruction of moth eggs and then it will still probably stay sealed till it is time to use it.

I have stuffed the rest of the items into a suitcase to deal with after I have the household set up and running. Hence the lack of loot pictures. But they will come.

 

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Winding down

The cabinets and cupboards are bare and empty. The personal touches - photos, little figurines, books, are gone. There is a sock on the sofa and the electronics are still out. But otherwise, the place is a desert.

We are heading back this week and things have been a little chaotic. Work has been busy, we have been cramming everything we can into the last few weeks here. So blogging has been on the back burner.

But now there is a little calm. The chaos of sorting everything into what goes by sea and what we take with us is over. I have managed to find recipients for all the things we don't want to take back - 220v appliances, Indian groceries, partially used beauty products, OTC meds, etc. The last of these will go out tomorrow and then we have one night before we fly out.

I have been busy on the fiber front. I finished a shawl, spun a bunch on my Nano Trindle and had a wonderful weekend here in Shanghai with Ravelers from various parts (including one from Canada who is here temporarily). We hit up a warehouse that sells on Taobao - the equivalent of ebay here and bought cones of yarn and other things. We stormed the wholesale notions market (twice) and bought beads, buttons, cord, chains and other findings. We crawled through the local yarn stores and even found a woman who is dyeing fiber and selling handspun abroad from here in Shanghai. We got fiber from her.

But more on all of that and the purchases later. The internet here has been extremely slow of late and that makes me irritable when I want to blog. It will be a lot easier from home.

I wanted to explain the long silence and also capture some of my thoughts as we come to the end of an adventure. Part of me wants to continue the adventure. Another part can't wait for it to end.

It is much harder closing down an apartment in another place than leaving one's place for a long while. You can leave things behind, it is easier to find people to take things because they are not as transient as you.

For example: we had a lot of Indian groceries and spices. I took a bunch home the last time I went but there was still a lot here. Food cannot be shipped. So it was either take it in one's luggage where it adds weight or find takers. My Indian friends are all stocked up and can't take any more due to space constraints. We keep flour and spices in the freezer to keep the bugs at bay in a hot and humid climate like Shanghai. Especially because we stock up - supplies exist but are irregular.

I found one friend to take a bunch but she had to schlep them to Beijing. I sent another bunch home with a local Raveler and the last lot is going to a colleague at work. I didn't want people to feel that they were going to be stuck with things that they can't use.

The household leftovers are going to our ayi who will use or dispose of them to her advantage. The 220v appliances are going to a couple who recently came to Shanghai from the US.

And so it comes to an end.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rolling along the River

The Brahmaputra river starts in Tibet and winds along the country for a bit before descending through the Himalayas and emptying into the Bay of Bengal. We had the privilege of driving back along the river from Shigatse to Lhasa.

 

I love taking photos with reflections in the water.

There are always mountains on both sides. Sometimes they are close by and sometimes far away.

There are a lot of trees here. I believe these are recently planted by the government.

The color of the water changed from blue to green to turquoise and teal.

At times we were driving along flat valleys along the river and at other times we were high above it.

There is a rail line being built between Lhasa and Shigatse. This bridge is part of the rail line.

An interesting and annoying aspect of driving in Tibet are the numerous checkpoints. At some of them, you have to produce your passport and permit to visit Tibet. Apparently they make copies of these things at these checkpoints. In a couple of cases, our guide - who handled most of the checkpoint duties - came back to get copies of the documents from the car because their computer was down. If you didn't have copies, you got to wait till it was up. If you had copies, you handed them over and moved on. Armed with foresight, he had brought a lot of copies. We did exhaust them all by the time we returned to Lhasa.

Other checkpoints didn't involve us, just the driver of the car. Speed limits are maintained by time limits. The driver picks up a paper at the first checkpoint and it is stamped with the location and time. He has x number of minutes to get to the next checkpoint. If he gets there before that time expires, he pays a fine because he was driving too fast. An example is 55 mins to drive 40 km. This means that there are lots of places where cars and buses are pulled over and waiting for time to pass so they don't get to the next checkpoint too early.

These impromptu rest stops are usually furnished with a vendor or two selling food and drink and someone looking to make a buck off the inhabitants of the vehicles. It is maddening. In one case we got to a checkpoint 2 mins early and the driver was told to slow down. But he wasn't fined. At the last of the checkpoints before Lhasa, they collect the piece of paper with its stamps. Paper - it is what rules the world!

As for food, we found tasty vegetarian food everywhere. Sometimes it was just stir fried vegetables with rice. In the mountains we found yogurt. In the valley, not so much. We found Indian food in Lhasa with a Tibetan twist.

Finally, we get to our last day in Tibet. Just as we were getting comfortable with the place, the altitude and enjoying the ride.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gyantse and Shigatse

Gyantse is a small town with a monastery. It also has some history. If you have some time, read about the British, Chinese and Russians and their battles over Tibet. Gyantse was one of the places where a battle was fought and many Tibetans were killed.

 

We stopped at the monastery briefly on the way to Shigatse. The stupa was closed for renovation. This reminds me: many of the sites we have visited have been reconstructed or renovated. Many monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and that is also true in other parts of China. Where relics and important documents and statues were saved, monasteries and temples have been rebuilt. The same is true in Korea where the palaces were rebuilt after the damage done during the Japanese rule over Korea and then the Korean War. Even where things did not get damaged, renovation goes on regularly to keep up with the damage done by the hundreds of thousands or millions of visitors each year.


The photo below is of Gyantse fort, which is where Francis Younghusband defeated the Tibetans.

 

At Shigatse, we ate in a very interesting restaurant. The decor was exuberant - very typical of Tibet.

 

The next morning we went to Tashilunpo monastery, which is the home of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is historically the teacher of the Dalai Lama. The current Panchen Lama was whisked away to Beijing and is being brought up there. He comes here once a year or so. His photo is everywhere. He is in his 20's now.

 

The yellow windows in the photo above are where the Panchen Lama lives when he is here.

There are thousands of Buddhas on this wall.

And here is the modern juxtaposed with the spiritual and historical. The parking lot for Tashilunpo monastery. By now, by the way, the alititude was getting a lot easier to deal with. Maybe because it was our fourth day in Tibet?

After visiting the monastery, we left Shigatse and headed back to Lhasa along the river. But, there was more to see. First, some bright decorations at an intersection in Shigatse.

A bridge out of town was under construction so we got to ride along a dirt road for a while. It gave me the opportunity to get a few more photos of daily life. There are lots of greenhouses all over Tibet. They are used to start seedlings and also to grow plants that need some shelter. We passed dozens of them on the way out of town. Here's one below from the road to Shigatse.

We also passed a number of homes, with their requisite dung piles. This is a particularly impressive one. See that brown, rectangular thing in the middle of the picture. That is dried fuel, neatly stacked.

 

And with that, we were on our way back along the Brahmaputra river. That trip will be the subject of the next post. Now on to fiber-y stuff.

The Tour de Fleece started last Saturday. I am trying to finish last year's project first. I spun a bit on Saturday and Sunday but then was unable to do more during the week. I am going to spin some more right after I finish this post. But this is what I accomplished last weekend.

I have also been knitting away. I tried two different lace shawl patterns for this yarn.

Finally, after frogging them both, I started Nuvem and am loving knitting it. I found it hard to knit on planes and airports trying to follow a chart - on paper and on my tablet. I am now up to the end of skein 4 (from right) which is about half way.

This photo was taken at the beginning of skein 4 which you can see in the middle of the shawl. I am going to knit 6 skeins and then start the ruffle. One is supposed to knit 80% of the yarn and then knit the ruffle but it will be easier to do 75% for me as I have 8 skeins. I can start the ruffle after I join in skein 6 and make the ruffle out of skeins 7 and 8.

Lastly, this is the weekend when Meg Swanson's Retreat 2.75 is happening in Wisconsin. I miss everyone there so much and am so happy that I may be able to attend next year.

The End (for now)