My favorite move in the Taoist Tai Chi set is called “My Fair Lady Works the Shuttles”. Once you learn all 108 moves in the set, you join classes where the group does the set a few times and then the teacher asks if there is a specific move on which someone wants to spend the rest of the class practicing. When I first started tai chi I kept forgetting the name and would answer my teacher’s question with, “you know, the one about the lady on the train” because I was thinking of the ladies on the shuttle trains in Asia who push a cart down the aisle and serve beers and snacks to passengers. Perhaps there was public transportation in Chinese olden days and they had the good sense to bring snack sellers along for the ride?? The formations and hand gestures in the move could definitely work with that scenario as you sort of reach and turn and reach and turn, but they are far better suited and more culturally relevant to the ladies who weave fabric using looms and shuttles. Shuttles are wooden boat shaped tools that can shoot across a layer of the strands and arrive on the other side, ready to become another millimeter of the article being woven.
Since Rana Plaza’s collapse and my resulting interest in coming to South Asia for my sabbatical, I think about the garment workers every time I come to the point in the set where My Fair Lady Works the Shuttles resides. Needless to say, the move has become even more special to me now that I have spent time with hundreds of fair ladies.
The workers in the garment factories I visited use modern tools like sewing machines and do not use shuttles, but I heard about a silk farm outside Siem Reap where traditional weaving and natural dyeing is still practiced. I wanted to see some silk worms and shuttles in action, so I headed over to the farm.
For those of you reading this who do not have the interest in garment production that I do, I still recommend the trip to the silk farm. At the risk of sounding like a COMPLETELY entitled jerk, I will not say something like “Visiting insanely beautiful Khmer and Dravidian temples from the 12th century for several days can get tedious”. But perhaps two solid days of temples from sunrise to sunset can leave a person wanting to see something soft and not made of stone. If you fall into this camp, here is some information.