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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

To all the Unsung Heroes

Weaving keeps finding me on this trip. From the weaving sisters in Luang Prabang, the lady in Kong Lor cave who was weaving table cloths and scarfs from the loom she made herself, to the ladies on Koh K’sach Tonlea island in Cambodia who are weaving patterned mats with colourful dyed straws.

For them, weaving is their muscle memory. A daily rhythm, a source of income. But as they weaved, in the repetitive motion of feeding the shuttle to the loom and the whirring sound of wooden planks clapping, they are passing down a collective memory of a culture, their own stories as story-tellers, and a skill which will live on long after they are gone. There is infinite beauty in that, fulfilling something bigger unintentionally and anonymously.

This reminded me of Garyson Perry’s 2011 exhibition in the British Museum titled “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman”. In the preface of the exhibition, Perry stated that all the artefacts in the British Museum was contemporary art at some point in history. However, we know hardly anything about these craftsmen and women. The exhibition was a tribute to those unsung heroes. I feel extremely privileged to watch a craftsman or woman of my time working. No matter how shabby their tools are, they carry dignity and integrity as they make a little piece of history with their own hands.

On making history, I also met another group of weavers on this trip – the story-weavers. Abo, our trekking guide in Liming, Yunnan, China, told us legends of his ancestors, the Lisu people. Our guides for the hike in Laos’ wild jungles taught us how to look for and read the stories written by the residents in the jungle. And Thavry, whose family generously hosted us on their island in Cambodia, is starting a publishing house with a team of just four like-minded and talented young people like her. Their dream is to make Cambodia fall in love with reading again.

As our trip is drawing to an end, I am sitting in a hammock on the beach of Kep, looking into the Gulf of Thailand, while a gentle breeze from the ocean flirt and dance with my hair. I am enveloped by gratitude. I am so grateful that I have met these master weavers. It is them who inspire me to follow the thread of my life and carry on weaving my own stories with compassion and passion, and every now and then a passionfruit too.