I started thinking about the possibility of going to Microcampus since half of the Dynamite group had returned to school. Listening to their experience and seeing Jeffrey's final product pulled me in. Four weeks away from the air pollution, actually being able to see the stars at night, and while researching a topic of high interest sounded like a get away from the society we knew of social standing and appearances. Choosing my top three choices out of a long list of possibilities took me a long time of pondering and imagining all the different ways to complete each topic. I eventually had my mind settle on textile dye and I was all set to start my project.
My family always had a interest in the arts whether it was music, embroidery, painting, writing, etc. Textiles are things I have seen many times throughout my life with my family. At the time, I did not comprehend how it was made, how it was dyed, or how the color never seemed to fade away. So when given the chance to study textiles, I immediately included it in my top three choices. I knew I was not very good with sewing so I turned towards dye. How things were made always interested me and I was determined to figure out how the dye was made because I also have an interest in plants. Being the curious person that I am, I decided something like this would give me plenty of room to rid myself of my parent's expectations and just find my own way in a new place for a month. The part that frightened me was talking to strangers, being that I am (and forever will be) the most socially awkward that I know. Wishing and hoping that I could potentially come out of this alive, I set out to begin my project of natural dye production.
Over the course of my time here, I had met many people and developed some interesting relationships with, but two stood out. Not because of my relation to them, but who they were and how they held themselves, Da Shu and Mr.Chen. Da Shu is Yang Ai Yi's husband, and though there are few males left who know how to make textiles, he is extremely knowledgeable in the entire process. Mr.Chen is an ambitious man, with a 13 year old daughter and a grandma that can not stop making textiles even for a day. His tie-dye factory is not very well known, but he is a master at making textiles. His family has been making textiles in ZhouCheng for over 300 years.
They both are know many things about the process of making the dye and were extremely helpful in my search of gathering information, introducing me to their family members and we developed a learning relationship with each other which I believe is the most important part of all in my learning experience. The two of them are some of the few men that still make textiles today, which is a big reason why I wanted them as sources. I hoped to understand why as males, they decided to learn the craft and continue it rather than work in the fields or factories.
I had asked them many questions ranging from things about textiles in other countries to the future of textiles in ZhouCheng. I eventually narrowed my questions, being that some questions that I asked could not be answered, so I eventually narrowed them to my topic of natural dye, their lives and experiences, and history of ZhouCheng. And those were just a few of the many questions that I asked. Being there in ZhouCheng will my head filled with unanswered questions and having them answered and learning even more was the best experience I have had this trip. Being in the field and really experiencing everything first hand is an indescribable feeling.
In order to understand my experience learning about the production of natural dye, one must consider the processes of making the dye, the procedure, and my personal journey.
Sharing My Learning
Here is where I have uploaded my final product about my journey. I hope you enjoy!
I believe that throughout my experience of my chosen inquiry topic, it is really not about the facts that you receive from x number of people, well it is a bit but it is not the entire meaning of having this experience. Meeting the people, growing as a person, and really just experiencing real China, not tourist like on China Alive but as a part of the community for a month is the most important take-away from this entire experience. Really digging deep and understanding how it is like and to understand and learn more than the average tourist really makes this whole experience a once in a while opportunity and I am glad I took it.
My topic of Natural Dye Production was fairly specific from the start, it was the process of focusing on certain areas of the process that took a bit of time to gradually head towards. Though at one point I thought of a future inquiry project of focusing on the different patterns and tying and finding out if there is any special meaning behind them. Or modern and traditional patterns and if anything regarded social class. It would be quite interesting to see how future textile-related projects progress. I believe future inquiry projects will become more interesting and specific as the years go on, so I am hoping that maybe one day my project will inspire them. Probably not, but I can hope.
The part that was most difficult about my research was talking to people. I have said this once and I will say it again, I am the most socially awkward person I know. Going to random strangers and trying to get them comfortable with me before asking questions took everything I have. More than once I felt the urge to just bolt and run, but now that I am looking back on those times, I am sure glad I did not run. I know that in the future, sooner or later I have to do the same again so this is good preparation for those times.
The most interesting thing that I had discovered was just how much time and effort is put into making textiles. I know for most people, it is not the most interesting thing in the world, that facts and such are far more important than time and effort, but I personally admired how much patience that they contained. For me, as I first started out, it took me an hour to finish a simple design. But for some people like Yang Nai Nai, who has been making textiles since she was 8 years old, with time and experience she is able to complete those effortlessly.
This overall process gave the opportunity of an on hands experience with my topic. I believe that experiencial learning is more efficient and helps students develop a clearer understanding of what they are learning as opposed to learning from a textbook that may or may not be very helpful in the long run as it does not leave a imprint on their lives. Being able to be here and go through the pain and gain new levels of patients has really been one of the most educational things I have experienced in my short lifetime so far.
I became more interactive with strangers and became more aware of the people I see everyday and eventually they began to recognize me as well which was pretty cool. I learned to be more open with myself and others so they do not feel as awkward as I feel. I am still not very good at that but I am trying to get better at socializing less awkwardly and I believe that in 10 years I will have noticeably progressed - hopefully.
During the course throughout this project I learned that I am more capable than I think I am. That I can possibly go beyond what I have firmly set as my boundaries and do something that is interesting. I normally unconsciously underestimate what ability I have, which makes me hold back quite a bit. Over the course of the past few weeks, I learn to keep pushing myself past those boundaries and see what my limits really are.
If I did have to option to go back and change something over the amazing time that I have spent out here, it would be my final product. Now, if I add up all the hours I spent learning how to make the tie-dye, it is a little over a day. And because this big one contains some techniques I have not done before and to be fairly honest, I do not believe it will turn out the way it is supposed to. But I will finish it anyway because I already have put a whole lot of work into it, I just wish I had more time.
I plan to continue my research on traditional dyes by going around the world. Obviously, I am still young but I am hoping for a trip to India (where indigo is indigenous) in a year or two to learn their dyeing process. Other students could possibly do many amazing things after mine. Someone in the K group could look into their plants more or the medicine portion of indigo plants. Others could possibly take a trip with the factories to gather the flowers, grasses, and indigo in the mountains and have an inquiry project on how plants are grown, gathered, and cut. There is an endless list of possibilities and each person that reads about my work will have a different take-away, making the possible possibilities seemingly endless.
I want to thank all the Yangs that helped me throughout this process. Though I want to thank two Yangs in particular, Yang Ai Yi and Yang Nai Nai. Now Yang Ai Yi supplies me with all the materials I need to make my learning and experience as educational and enriching as possible. Yang Nai Nai for being patient with me and feeling empathy with me as I struggled and broke through walls. Da Shu and Mr.Chen, the two best male tie-dye makers in all of ZhouCheng. I want thank all the local tie-dye selling stores in XIZhou's Si Feng Jie. Big thanks to Duan Ai Yi and Yang Lao Ban for showing me their vats and taking me around their equipment to explain the entire process. A huge thanks to all the grandmas that still make these, though their eyes are no longer as sharp, they are still extremely knowledgeable and wise. But most of all, I want to thank Mr.T and Ms.Mai for giving us the chance to come out here, otherwise none of this would have happened in the first place.
The road I have been on has been a bumpy road, like riding to Si Feng Jie on a bike and feeling the vibrations as you go. There were difficulties, there were those moments that I felt like I had so many things accomplished yet the very next day it was slow with information gathering, there was pain. A whole lot of sharp pain from the needle that I have gotten used to seeing every day. All in all, the journey was long and slightly challenging in some areas, but if given the chance to redo something now, I actually may not change it in the end. Because it is being here, out here in XiZhou as a part of Microcampus that is the most important part. Being able to learn out here in the real world and face challenges that are not going to get any easier is the basic foundation of why we are out here in the first place. Even though I wish we could stay here even a week longer, I believe that my experience out here has really been one of the top 10 experiences of my short life so far. It really is indescribable to be out here, this is one of those things where you need to come out here and see for yourself how it is like to fully comprehend everything. And as a Microcampus participant, I believe that I can confidently say that I understand now.