The National Silk Museum is a place where you can discover silk history through a series of ancient artifacts and displays, but most excitingly also see some real silk worms in action, eating away the mulberry leaves picked from the nearby trees. If you come close, you can touch and feel their soft white skin, it feels soft and dry, it reminds me of the texture of silk. They are quite large and majestic, standing now and then on their back legs to reach towards the sky. I can hear a monotonous munching orchestra as the eating orgy takes place under my eyes. Some of the worms have started to weave their cocoons, and I can see them looking half asleep through their thin shell. They look much calmer than the hungry ones.

Outside the museum, there is a lovely quiet man made park where school children take a break. I spot a few of them having fun with a piece of fabric that may well be a silk scarf. They play with it for ages, two children holding it while the others run underneath, screaming with joy as children do. They take it in turn to hold the cloth, and run around with it, letting it float elegantly behind them.

In the afternoon, I give a talk to some students from the Art theory, education, and aesthetic department. Their favourite artists are Monet and Van Goth and they cannot give me the name of a living artist. They knew I was coming but don’t know my work yet. They cannot access websites from outside China. The talk is set in a very formal way. I am in the middle and they are all looking at me. I decide to take them outside to do something that will challenge them a bit, so off we go in the rain. I ask one half of the students to close their eyes and the other half to lead them around the University gardens to experience it with other senses than their vision. I am not sure what they think of it, but I explain that for me art is not just about paintings or sculptures; it’s about challenging perceptions…


After a 5-hour night (we have flown around the globe fast to catch up with sunrise), and a very stiff neck, I am awakened by a lovely Dutch airhostess. I am enjoying my last Western breakfast, daydreaming through the window, when I spot mountains like I have never seen before. It’s as if someone ruffled a tablecloth placed on top of the earth, and the houses below are about to tumble. The earth has rippled to created folds that remind me of silk ribbons, what a nice welcome from the country of silk.

We are welcomed by Feng Xue Qin, our host at Hangzhou Normal University, and two lovely and pretty young students offer to take us to the Silk Market. A scary drive in a taxi with no seatbelt, horns beeping all around, and people on electric motorbikes whizzing passed us with no helmets. My health and safety customs are shattered right away!

We arrive in a busy shopping mall, buzzing with people and big green bags of goods being wrapped and unwrapped right in the middle of a 7-floor building, it gives me a sense of what an ancient silk market might have looked like, with lots of people bargaining and bartering silk for other goods. Dorothy thinks we might have swapped Blue Zaffra copper extracted from European mines for Chinese silk. All the colours we can see have been created form the ground, either with shades of Copper ores or plants cultivated for their colour. In England, purple was the colour used for the Bishop. Black was the hardest colour to make as it would easily fade away from the fibre.

We reach the top floor by lift and wander through rainbows of colours and patchworks of patterns, with silk scarves and garments varying in price from £1 to £100 depending on the quality of the silk. To be honest, at that point, I cannot see a great difference, but the girl can. Eyes are not enough to judge, touching and feeling is needed. I cannot understand what they say but I know when they are mentioning silk because in Chinese they say “ssssss”. It sounds as smooth and shiny as it looks.

I leave the market with a scarf for my mother, mother in law, grandmother and grandmother’s sisters. I wish I knew more women I could buy silk scarves for!

Tiredness is now hitting me, but we need to eat. Back on university campus we head for the canteen, desperate to find dumplings. Unfortunately (and obviously!), all the menus are written in Chinese, and the 2 girls have now left us… We suddenly spot a kiosk with food on display… saved! We don’t have to choose blind we can point!

A delicious soup with noodles and vegetables was just what we needed. Just a bit spicy, Dorothy scares me to death as she nearly chokes to death with the heat! I rush to ask for water but cannot find a way to describe it with my hands and facial

expression only. I spot on the counter a soft juice of an orange colour, not orange juice, and I’ll never know what it was, but this cooled down the fiery Chinese dragon lodged in Dorothy’s mouth!