Travel Diaries

From 2007 to 2014 I created four books about travel in Japan and China. Day to day information appears as it happened earlier in this blog. Here I will discuss the books and how I created them.  I collected all of the emails concerning the trips, all of the blog posts and most of my photos. All pages are printed on Epson Matte Presentation paper, which produces vibrant color and excellent definition.  All four books use Japanese stab binding or some variant — a mistake. Stab binding is best used on thin books with soft covers. These are an inch or more in thickness and have heavy board covers. I was going for the ‘Japanese’ look and didn’t consider utility.

For the first one from Japan in 2007, I brought back a small package of silk scraps that I cut up and machine embroidered on Japanese Washi paper. The glued on bone bead embellishments are from my collection of beads and probably come from India.



The second book is from Japan 2008. Using silk from an Obi I first made a photo transfer and then hand embroidered the tree with French knots.


I’d like to say ‘never again’ to that, but I’m working on binding a fifth book with the title in French knots. I’ve been working on it, off and on, since 2013. The book block is finished–it may never get bound.

I also went to China for a month in 2008 and spent even longer thinking about the binding for this book. I began with a large piece of embroidered red silk. While China clearly has it’s elegant aspects my experience was much more concerned with grit and pollution. Finally I cut up the now dirty, gritty bag I had carried all month, used another photo transfer, a bit of the red silk, hand embroidery–not French knots and embellishments from my collection.


China 2008

The fourth book, from a trip to Japan in 2013, is structurally similar to the other three, but instead of the stab binding I used three brass screw posts, fittingly called Chicago posts. The book is thicker than the others and the posts provide a stronger binding.


The paper covering the boards has tiny leaves embedded; the title was printed directly onto the paper. The blue border is book cloth, which covers several mistakes I made during my initial attempt at binding.

Staying warm and saying goodbye

Monday morning and I have nothing on the calendar except exercise, so I'm still in bed. It seems like the best place when the radio tells you it's 13 degrees out and your apartment has warm spots and cold spots. This is an old building; the windows should be replaced and the space around the window air conditioners should be caulked. But there is no insulation in the walls so I suppose none of it would help.

My upstairs neighbors are moving out; he got a job in Dayton. They were good neighbors and I will miss them. Earl seems to have a good record on picking new tenants, so I hope the next people will be as good. Otherwise I'll be tempted to move. 

Last week I also said goodbye to one of my ESL students, who is returning to China.I have grown fond of him and he said I was the only American friend he will stay in touch with. I hope he will. The worst part of this tutoring is when a student leaves you. Admittedly, sometimes I'm happy to see them go, but more often I am sorry.


My Osher classes haven't begun yet. I'm taking two audit classes that started on Thursday: Chinese landscape painting and Japanese scroll painting, both with plenty of reading. I won't be writing any term papers this time. In fact, I won't be finishing either class since I'll be in Japan before they conclude.

China Book is finished

I finally did it! I'm not entirely satisfied, but I've decided to accept it as is and try to do better with the Japan book.

I had to remove all of the pockets from the front of the bag; it was just too large. I had hoped to put the small one, upper right, back at the lower right and decided it wouldn't work.

I did a photo transfer on the now empty front section of the bag. I consulted several books and the internet and my friend SandyB, who is wonderfully creative, gave me some excellent advice. I printed this photo backwards, with China 2008 added to it, on an inkjet transparency.

After I brushed acrylic medium on the fabric I placed it ink side down and rubbed the front of the transparency. This kind of transfer is usually done with paper, rubbing removing the paper from a film created by covering the ink with the medium, and involving lots of careful brushing and waiting for the medium to dry. Using a transparency bypasses all of that but results leave something to desire.

I embroidered the letters and the red banner, which hardly showed up at all in the transfer. Then I added the beads, bone soaked in black coffee, at the bottom, and the pieces of silk fabric at the top. The back of the bag had a large pocket that I retained. I write all of the files for the book on a DVD and put it in the pocket, just in case I want to do it again.


Binding boards get cut to size (9×11.5) then a half inch gets cut off the binding side and glued a quarter inch from the larger board. This enables the cover to open properly. After the fabric was glued to the boards, keeping everything clamped together, I drilled five tiny holes within that quarter inch space, then sewed the entire thing together using linen carpet thread from Ireland. Directions for sewing can be found here.


Wonders of the Internet

This morning I finally got an answer to one of the questions I had about a site in China: a huge construction just outside of Famen Si. Michael L. left a comment explaining that this massive construction was a stupa and would be the new home of a relic of the Buddha.


Read about it and see a picture of the finished construction here.

Still working on my blog books

I am still working on the China book. I had to get more printing paper. I want to try reprinting some of the photos that did not make me happy, and I still have to finish printing the book. All this time I've been mulling over the binding. I began by thinking of some Chinese silk scraps I've had for a long time; Scrap of Chinese silk finally decided it was too fancy.

I thought about using some olive green binding cloth, first wrinkling it, then coating it with lacquer with graphite or ink mixed it to give it some dark areas. This didn't please me either. I keep thinking about China as dusty and a little grimy. Xian, being near to the loess plateau gets a lot of dust blown in. And the sky always seems to have some gray in it, even on sunny days. There were always people cleaning, but the dust was ground into all of the crevices and never seemed to go away. Making the book too fancy or elegant seemed contrary to all of my feelings about China.

Cleanig crew in Shanghai. It was the same in Xian.
As I thought about it more I decided to try to use the bag I carried with me all through China and Japan. It had the dirt of China (and Japan) on it and I hadn't used it since I returned home.

Our group 10-19-2008 9-29-50 PM  
I'm the one with the large bag. It was big enough to carry all of my usual necessities along with that folding cane I used for stairs. I bought it in Target for $15 or maybe $19; I don't remember. Of course, it was made in China–very appropriate. It was very well made, and except for the dirt, held up very well and not easy to take apart. Here is the front with all of the pockets.
Unfortunately, it's too large. The large pocket would fold around the binding board and I don't want that. It would be very clumsy. I've removed all of the pockets and will sew the smaller covered one back on and put some things in it.

It has a green lining that I'll use for the inside of the covers and do some decorative stuff in the empty spots.

A good day

Yesterday was a beautiful day: a taste of spring inspiring me to take a long walk. Having spent most of my first 63 years in Chicago I do not believe Spring comes in February. In fact, I hardly believe in Spring–most of the time there was winter and then there was summer. In spite of that I truly enjoyed the day. It is still warm today, although very gray, but I will go for another long walk.

I began the day with my tai chi class. Not the class which met twice a week for mild exercise at the health club, but a real tai chi class. We are learning to relax and sink; to walk on thin ice; to ward off left and right; to change the weight on each leg; and the five most important principles of the 55 that constitute tai chi. I've been doing this for several years now. My teacher says it can take ten years to really learn those first movements. My legs still rebel at all of the weight shifting and I need to practice more.

After the class I took a short walk, about a half mile, over to Carnegie Mellon University, and sat through an interesting lecture on the management of culture in China. I had never given any thought to the policies that promoted the numerous archaeological digs and how the objects were managed after they were found, so this lecture gave me much to think about.

Since I came to Pittsburgh I've been looking for some kind of volunteer work that didn't involve raising money, long hours on my feet or stuffing envelopes. I think I finally found a tutoring opportunity, but it requires tutoring reading as well as speaking. So my next stop was the library where I picked up a book on teaching ESL. From there, I walked home–about two miles, and felt very virtuous.

Women Culture Museum: how could I forget

I am almost finished compiling my China book. As I neared the end I realized I had entirely forgotten to write about the Women Culture Museum at Shaanxi Normal University. It made a very big impression on me while I was there, but somehow totally disappeared from my head while I was writing the blog. So much for short-term memory.

I think we went on October 28, the only day I have no account of activities in the afternoon. This was another CCS expedition: Eva took us with Mr. Wang driving. I think Andrea, Natasha and I were the only ones to go. Laura may have been working, or she was sick. Shaanxi Normal University, Chang an campus, was a large, new facility about a half hour from the apartment. I don't think the museum was a tourist spot open to the public; a visit requires special arrangements to be made.

The first gallery, titled Her Story, "displays the women's struggles in Abolishment of Binding Feet, Revolutionary War, Anti-Japanese War, Cultural Revolution and so forth in the 20th century. In the part, we have a special exhibit "An Ordinary Woman's Story". The intention of doing so is to praise the life value of ordinary people." I am quoting from the brochure we got at the museum. I found the exhibits about foot binding to be incredible and horrifying; the rest of that gallery not so interesting.

Since my recollection of the museum is now dim, to say the least, I will continue quoting from the brochure. Also the website I linked to above has some good information about each of the exhibits. The second gallery was called "Women's Characters in Hangyung. Around Hangyung County, Hunan Province of China, there is a kind of peculiar character, which records the local dialect. It is only used and imparted among the women, and it is a uniqlue (sic) in character history of the world. We call it "Women's Characters". In the Museum, there is a big collection of relics about Women's Characters such as "Fan scripts", "Handkerchief scripts", and "Wedding Congratulation letters". In addition, exhibited here are the tools used by women when writing everyday life articles, pictures and some written materials by the successors of Women's Characters."

Sometimes Chinese "English" requires almost as much interpretation as translating from Chinese characters. What they are really saying is that a community of women from this county in Hunan created their own written language, which was never shown to men. They used it only for women things. Use of these characters is now dying off; only a few women who know it remain alive. The museum is trying to preserve this heritage.

The third gallery is about sex. "Reproductive culture is long neglected by the main culture. Exhibited here are some symbolic genital worships and art works as well as indigenous child-delivery tools and aborticide."

The fourth gallery displays women's craftwork. "The world of Women Craftwork is abundant and beautiful. In this part, there is a big collection of women craftworks, such as weave goods, knit goods, embroideries and decoupage." Not mentioned in the brochure, but hugely impressive, are the papercuts of Ku Shulan, who called herself the papercut goddess. You can see some of them here and here and more about Chinese paper cut art here. This was my favorite gallery, although I found all of them interesting.

The last gallery was a large hall displaying wedding dresses. "This part mainly exhibits bride's wedding dresses. When the girls had learned how to do needlework, they began to prepare their wedding clothes. While making the wedding clothes, they were filled with happy thoughts about the future. Any nation's marriage customs has its own tradition. The style, the color and the pattern of the wedding clothes maintain a stable content, a nation's oldest worship and its symbol. The museum has collected about over 50 kinds of Chinese wedding dresses."

Most of these dresses were collected from the ethnic minorities living in China. They were diverse and beautiful. I don't know how I managed to erase all of this from my memory.