“We all get old, but the infirmities of old age are less important to me because the puppies and swallows I create travel the world on my behalf,” said 87-year-old Huang Tu Yu-yan (黃杜玉燕), who was hospitalized at Ditmansion Medical Foundation Chia-yi Christian Hospital a decade ago when she exhibited complications due to diabetes that made it difficult for her to walk.
Six years ago doctors amputated her left leg.
Despite the physical difficulties Huang has had to endure as a result of her illness, she also discovered the art of Chinese knotting while at the hospital.
Having always been handy with a needle and having started her own sewing shop, Huang quickly mastered the art and soon started producing works in the form of puppies, bunnies and dolls.
Chinese knotting is the art of creating shapes, using one piece of string, that are identical whether viewed from the front or back. Traditionally, they are believed to ward off evil spirits and serve as lucky charms for a happy marriage.
Among the pieces she has created, the most popular have been doll-shaped and puppy-shaped knots, Huang said.
She has even named them using characters from her own name, calling the puppies “Hsiao Yu” (小玉) and the dolls “Hsiao Yan” (小燕).
Huang’s ornamental pieces are one of the most common gifts given by the Chiayi Presbyterian Church to members in South Korea, the US, Japan and the Philippines.
Recently, a church member from Myanmar asked Huang for nearly 100 of her dolls as gifts for the poor in that country.
Huang was delighted to learn that her works bring joy to others.
Huang says she spends at least two hours a day creating Chinese knotting works and over the past decade estimates she has made about 10,000 pieces that she has given away.
“I like to learn, to travel and share,” Huang said, adding that when she was young she paid for her college tuition with the money she made from weaving.
“By the time I graduated from the English department at college, I had already visited 17 countries,” she said.
Maintaining her positive outlook despite her health problems, Huang found herself teaching more than 40 students at Chia Hwa Senior-High School last week. She hoped they would learn not only the art of Chinese knotting, but that some of her tireless optimism would rub off.
Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer