Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Funny hats and silly clothes---

One of the archetypes of Daoists is that they are eccentrics who ignore social conventions in their personal life, and if you asked my neighbours, they would say that I fit this mold. But I would suggest that this is not the result of some urge to be "different", but because I see things that they are oblivious to. The clothing choices that I make are a good example.

In an effort to both save money and lower my carbon footprint, I've been experimenting with ways of living comfortably in a cooler home. One of the more interesting things I've found out is that Western-style clothing is poorly designed to keep people warm. I found this out when I heard an interview with a couple clothing designers who had studied Inuit clothing.

What they found was that this clothing is designed to trap hot air within and stop it from escaping. This means that its ability to keep people warm in extreme cold is not merely a case of the insulating properties of the fur, but also the structural design of the garment.

I raise this point because it occurred to me that traditional Chinese clothing was designed to keep people warm in a temperate climate even though their homes lack central heating. I found an on-line company that still sells cheongsams

and ordered one to see how warm they are and found out that they are really warm. To understand why, take a look at the two pictures.

The first thing to note is that the collar of the gown is tight, this stops warm air from escaping out the highest part of the clothing. The other thing is the front. It is double-breasted and the frog closures make sure that an air-tight seal exists all along the closure. The long sleeves also keep air from escaping. In effect, the cheongsam is a pyramid that fits over the body to trap as much of the body's heat in a blanket of warm air.

The second thing to note is the men who are wearing hats. I heard a US army report once cited that says that 40% of a person's heat is released by the head. And my meditation master once told me that wearing a hat is an essential part of keeping healthy. As someone who started going bald at the age of 15, I can tell you that hats are essential to keeping warm!

As I mentioned before, I found a source that makes and sells cheongsams on-line for a very reasonable price. They are made of light cotton, but when you wear them over ordinary Western clothing they make it very comfortable to live in a house where the temparture is as low as 10 degrees Celcius (50 Farenheit.)

Another thing I found out came about as a result of a rash I developed on my feet. I try to avoid wearing street shoes in my house, so I have a pair of bierkenstock sandals for indoor wear and I had a pair of "duck shoes" that I used for when I want to quickly duck outside to do yard work, throw scraps in the composter, etc. This meant I could quickly slip off one and slip on the other at the door, which preserves my hardwood floors. Unfortunately, the rubber shoes made my feet sweat like crazy, which led to a very nasty rash. (My doctor told me to throw away those shoes right after I got home.) I still liked the idea of having easily slipped on footware, though, so I looked for an alternative. What I found that works very well are wooden shoes, or sabots.

These are a traditional Canadien footware, although they are usually associated with the Dutch, who call them "klompen" (obviously for the sound they make when you walk on pavement.) The big advantage they have is that they are made of wood, which has huge advantages over rubber or plastic for footware. First of all, wood has naturally occurring anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemicals that help trees fight off infections. Secondly, wood is a structured, composite material that wicks moisture away from the surface of the wood, which dries out any bacteria or fungus on the surface and kills it. (I heard a scientist on the radio who had compared wooden and plastic cutting boards and cited these reasons for suggesting that the former are far superior to the latter.)

The point to remember is that our world is a very complex, interesting place and the person who is alive to it has a myriad opportunities to see things in a different, more fruitful manner. Even the clothing one chooses to wear can be an opportunity to flow with the greater Dao.


Marcus said...

Great information about the clothes items! I love the style of Chinese clothing.

As you say - these things aren't so much about 'being different'...but rather being true to yourself. In many ways other people act 'all the same', but that isn't because they are the same. It's just because they don't question their own actions / thoughts, and so they fall into a basic template of action - and are led along by society.

What makes it worse is that the conditioning of society (i.e. Should I do this? What will people think? But this is expected of me!) ends up fragmenting our minds. And each fragment has its own voice. In the end we find we are thinking with two or more minds - instead of just one.

Anonymous said...

Where's the link of the on-line clothing shop?