Knitting Connections

This post is borrowed from my daughter Shawna Williams who lived in China for three years.  To read more of her exploits click on this link:

August 20, 2010

Shawna Williams in Jiuzhaigou, China

I’ve discovered that a good way to strike up conversations with Chinese strangers is to knit in public. I think this is because Chinese people assume that knitting is a Chinese thing, so they figure that a knitting foreigner must be picking up local habits. On a recent four-day trip from Chengdu to Beijing via Shanxi Province, a man in a bus station mimed knitting and gave me a thumbs-up, and a few women looked at my work and asked what I was making (a dish towel). One day I was knitting in the aisle of a train and turned around to find a male train conductor, a woman, and two preteen girls standing in the doorway of a sleeping compartment and staring at me with rapt attention. One of the girls, who was eating a stick of processed meat, gave me a little wave.

“Ni hao,” I said.

Four generations: Great Grandmother Mona is holding Shawna’s hand on the right.

And so it began. Where had I learned to knit? In America, when I was a child. Who taught me? My maternal grandmother’s mother, I said, not knowing the word for great-grandmother. They were impressed by this. How old was I when my great-grandmother taught me how to knit? About 11, I guessed. I explained that my great-grandmother died when she was in her 90s.

Later I reflected how lucky I really was to have known my great-grandmother well enough that she could teach me how to knit (as well as crochet and do counted cross-stitch). And it’s remarkable that knitting helps me connect both with my own ancestors, and to women in a culture that could hardly be more foreign to my own. All thanks to some expat friends who peer-pressured me into re-taking up needles and yarn.

About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.