Capitalism is good at lots of things, but in my opinion, any one who owns shares in a tobacco company has no ethics and should be ashamed of their greed. Profiting from death and disease is nothing to be proud of. I understand that there is still one or two tobacco companies that are continuing their legal actions the Australian Government over our tobacco marketing and advertising laws.
After visiting the Post Office I take Jun Beom and his wife out to lunch, at a restaurant of their choice – for some noodles! After lunch we go to the bank to get the cash to pay Miss Kang tomorrow and then to the bus station to buy my ticket back to the Airport and walk along the street market near the bus station. We travel home via the big wood kiln that has been packed, fired and unpacked in my one week away.
We collect my glazed bowls from the workshop, that have dried overnight and take them to Mr Seo, Seung-gyo’s workshop. He is just finishing packing his kiln and has left some room on the top shelf for my few bowls. We arrive and they go straight onto the top shelf, the door is closed and the burners lit. The firing will finish tonight at midnight and the pots will come out tomorrow, midday.
We go out for dinner with 5 of Jun Beom’s potter friends. They order for me as I can’t read the menu. It turns out that we are all having the same thing. Fried pork and spicy noodles. The meal is hot. It has loads of chilli in it. I’m OK with the heat of chilli in food, as we grow chills every year at home in Australia. We don’t make our meals too hot, but with just enough heat to know that there is chilli in it. I am finding this meal hotter than I would prefer. I break out in a bit of sweat on my brow, but manage to finish the bowl full. I look up to find that it has been too hot for a couple of these local guys too. They haven’t finished their bowl full.
I earn some cultural credit points for finishing. They are all sweating too. I don’t know if it was some kind of ‘blokey’ test, or if it was just a normal meal out for a bunch of potters. Apparently they meet up every Monday night to talk about life as a potter. They have a self-help group. They all pitch in when something is a bit too big for just one studio. They can tackle bigger contracts this way. I’m impressed. They tell me that life is tough for potters here now. A lot of their contracts have been lost to China. It’s the same everywhere, Japan and Taiwan too. No-one can compete against the low-cost base of Chinese industry.
There is a lot of good-natured chat and laughter that I can’t follow, but I can’t help but laugh too. It’s infectious. I finally get back to the air b&b at 11:30. Way past my bed time normally. I get in to find a collapsible bike in the room. No matter how quiet I am sneaking in I still wake the guy in the other bunk. He jumps up! He’s a bit startled. I say Hi! I’m sleeping here tonight, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as my suitcase is next to my bunk, and my bag of dirty washing is on the bed. I’m dead tired and fall straight to sleep after my shower.
My Peddles in the next bunk has closed every door and window in the place and has the air-con set to glacial. It is a hot night but I’d rather get a bit of fresh air in the room. I drift off to sleep straight away, but wake in the middle of the night. Mr Peddles has turned off the air-con and the air in the room is so ‘close’ and stifling. I feel like I can’t breath. I get up and open the sliding doors onto the deck and also the window next to my bed. I can taste the freshness of the cool night air as it slowly creeps in and through the room. I sleep right through till my alarm wakes me. Mr Peddles is still asleep.
I get up and shower and I’m out the door in minutes. I have to meet Miss Kang early, as we are driving back up to Yanggu today to collect my pots, which should be out of the kiln today. It’s going to be a big days drive for her. We are off and heading out of the city and into the country side. I’ve been sitting next to Miss Kang for about 100 hours now in this little car as we have plied our way this way and that. Up and down the country. We have managed inadvertently to almost circumnavigate the greater part of South Korea in my quest. Miss Kang tells me that I can call her by her first name now! We have moved from ‘vous’ to ‘tu’! So, I do! There is some small progress! She asks me if visiting cards are expensive in Australia. I tell her that I don’t know, but that I think that they are probably pretty cheap if ordered over the internet. Why?
She has been wondering why I have home-made cards? I think what she really means is, why do I have such crappy cards, but she is far too polite to say that. I answer that I do everything that I can myself. This is all part of my philosophy of self-reliance. Ah, yes! She has been thinking about this. We spent quite a few hours over the past week talking about this. At least I did and she listened. Very politely. I think that she is trying to tell me that most people here in Korea will take a dim view of such ‘different’ visiting cards.
There is a very strong tradition here of exchanging cards when you first meet. It’s a ritual. The card must be offered with two hands and received the same way. You have to study it and show that you are taking it all in. It should be printed on a stiff, robust quality card. Perhaps even with a slightly glossy or textured finish. Mine isn’t this kind of card. I think that she is concerned about how I present myself, so that I can make the very best first impression.
I respond that it isn’t too important to me. I believe that anyone who judges me entirely by my card, probably isn’t going to be very helpful anyway. If they don’t respond to what I have to say. If they aren’t listening, then they aren’t my kind of person. I can probably get by without them. I won’t loose any sleep over it. Self-reliance is more important to me. If I can do something myself I will. Even if the things that I make are not as good as the manufactured ones that I might buy.
For instance, I make my own chairs, they are not as good as bought ones. They are quirky and pretty rough, but they have ‘character’. My character! I also make my own fire bricks for my kiln. They are definitely not as good as the bought ones, but the are mine and they work OK. I don’t need to have the ‘best’ of things. It’s more important to me to have ‘my’ things.
She tells me that she is impressed by my philosophy. She has thought about it a lot over the past few days. She has been helping her mother work in her garden. Her pottery studio is situated out-of-town at her parents farm, where her mother still maintains a garden. Her parents don’t live on the farm any more. They’ve retired into town, but her mother still goes there to work a few days a week. She thinks that it is a better and more healthy life style. We talk about a lot of things along the way, but mostly to do with lifestyle choices, meaningful work and a healthy diet.
She tells me that there is very strong social pressure in Korea for young women to skip meals and then to take vitamin tablets to stay healthy. What do I think about this? I give her the predictable, obvious response. If you eat a lot of fresh green vegetables from your Mother’s garden and add in a few whole grains, then some fish. You will be fine. You won’t need any extra vitamins. All the meals that you have ordered for us when we have been travelling have been exceptional in terms of a healthy diet. It seems to me, from my very short stay here, that the traditional Korean diet is fantastic. Forget the diet pills. They’ll probably do you some harm rather than any good. Eat fresh healthy food, mostly vegetables and avoid the deep-fried stuff.
When we arrive in Yanggu around lunch time. We go into the pottery studio and there are my pots, all set out on the table in front of me. I go over and start to examine them. Unfortunately, most of them have not fired very well. There is a lot of crawling, even though there are 3 different glazes. Mr Jung knows we are here and comes in. He apologizes for the poor results. He says that they are ready to go to lunch. We should go now as we are booked in.
While we are walking to the restaurant. He apologizes to Miss Kang along the walk. It appears that the day after we left, Mr Jung woke up with some sort of paralysis. He is apologising because this ‘event’ has left him unable to swallow properly. He is warning us that he may dribble while eating. He has only just been discharged from hospital. He has spent the week there. He has almost completely recovered now. Over lunch, I learn 2nd hand, through translation, that this ‘event’ that has happened, was a lot worse earlier, but there is much improvement now. The doctors have warned him that he must cut back his work load and stress levels. He must also change his diet quite a lot. I don’t know how to understand all this. The word ‘stroke’ comes to my mind but also ‘Bell’s palsy’. I just don’t know. Miss Kang either doesn’t know the specific medical terms in English, or which english words to use, or Mr Jung isn’t using any specific words that she can look up to translate. So I’m a bit in the dark, but I do feel for Mr Jung and whatever has happened to him. He seems to be walking alright and speaking clearly, so maybe it isn’t too bad?
We return to the pottery workshop and look at my pots more closely. My Jung explains that because he wasn’t here all week. My pots were dried, bisque fired, glazed and then packed into the glaze kiln and fired by the assistants in Mr Jung’s absence. As he wasn’t here to check any of it, the glazes were applied a bit too thick and then packed into the glaze kiln a bit too damp, or so he assumes. Hence the crawling. He has however, filled 3 little jars with glaze so that I can touch them up and re-fire them when I get home.
After a good examination of the pots I find that there are 4 that are OK and that I can show. That’s enough. I’m happy with that. My Jung asks me if I’m sure. I am! 4 will be OK. He says that he will keep the others and re-fire them himself. One will surely turn out OK so that he will have one for his museum collection. I say that he should choose one of the 4. He refuses. I should take them home with me for my exhibition. A roll of bubble wrap has appeared and a cardboard box, but I decide to wrap them well and carry then in my back pack as hand luggage. This method has worked with other batches of pots that I have made in China and Japan recently. No-one will be more careful than me in moving these precious things around.
We retire to the lounge area for a coffee. I have brought my laptop with me this time, as I promised to show Mr Jung a presentation of my work, local geology, studio and house and garden etc. I have spent half a day during the week, collating a 30 page journal of technical information and photographs about my local single-stone porcelain materials for him. I have taken a lot of it from my PhD thesis. I hand it over to My Jung, he flips through it. stopping at the pages of analysis data. It’s all in English, so I imagine that it will be difficult for him to read. BUT!
He surprises me completely. When he’s sees the electron microscope results and micrographs. He stops dead and turns to look straight at her and says completely clearly in English, that I can understand from where I’m standing behind them. “Did he do all this himself”? I’m shocked! He can speak English very well. Either that, or I’ve suddenly learnt to speak colloquial Korean fluently! But in a weird twist, that surprises me even more, Miss Kang doesn’t realise that he has just spoken to her in English instead of Korean. She translates it anyway out of habit.
“Mr Jung wants to know if you did all this technical research yourself”? I go along with it and answer, that she should tell Mr Jung that the answer is, Yes. I did! He nods, but raises his eyebrows. Maybe a hint of dis-belief? It appears that I have been paying my translator for nothing. I only needed a driver after all. I could have caught the bus!
I explain that a lot of this is taken from my PhD. I did all the electron microscope work using the equipment at Uni of NSW. Yes. It’s all my own work. I really enjoyed doing my PhD. I had a fantastic supervisor who was right on my wavelength. He supported my research in every way, and without interfering and getting me to do his research for him. I have friends who had withdrawn from research degrees because their supervisor was trying to force them to do work the they weren’t interested in. I was very lucky!
Mr Jung has been able to follow almost all of what I have been telling Miss Kang to tell him. It’s a good thing that I have nothing but admiration for the man and have always been totally polite in all my dealings. I carry on as if nothing has happened. Miss Kang continues to translate. I’m the only one that realises what has just happened. I feel a bit odd!
Mr Jung asks me to show him my presentation. He makes a phone call and two other men appear. One of them is an architect and I’m not sire about the other one. They are here to watch as well, along with one of his staff members. They all sit politely, occasionally asking a few questions and at the end they give a soft applause of clapping. That’s never happened before! We say our thanks and prepare to leave. Mr Jung shows me the porcelain stones that he has washed. I go to collect them in a plastic bag and take them with me, but he stops me. He tells me that they are not dry enough yet. He will post them to me. I offer, through the medium of translation – continuing the charade, that I can dry them myself and carry them in my luggage. No! Apparently, I can’t do that. I will have to wait until he posts them. OK?
We stop outside the building for the obligatory photos. I offer my phone to Miss kang to take a photo for me as well. She juggles 3 phones and takes a sequence on mine that I feel really captures the total sincerity that has evolved between us in this short time. We are possibly the only two men with this common interest in the world and we have finally met after 15 years of similar research. I feel a strong connection to My Jung. He’s a very thoughtful, creative and helpful person. I like him.
I’m a bit sad to say good-bye. But we really must leave now, as the drive is a long one. On the way home we approach an intersection without traffic lights, but only a flashing orange light. I take it that this means take caution, slow down and watch for cars. She doesn’t slow down very much and suddenly we are on the cross roads and there are two cars on our left coming out of no-where and travelling at speed. She brakes and swerves, but too late. Fortunately, the other two cars are able to swerve onto the other side of the road and just miss us – just. Luckily for us all, there were no cars coming the other way. My heart is pounding. The adrenalin rush is severe, almost painful. I’m completely shocked!
We stop and take a break. My driver is tired. We stop at the next truck stop for another coffee and a brisk walk up and down the parking area. I make an effort to keep talking to her all the way home, asking her questions, remarking on the scenery. I don’t want her to drift off again. It would be such a shame to die here, like this, and inconvenient for everyone else to have to cope with.
She is wide awake now and for the rest of the trip, which is uneventful. We break up the next 3 hrs in the middle with another loo stop to discharge the coffee from the last rest break. We talk of all sorts of things. I tell her about the building of the new chicken run. Making it fox-proof and dog-proof using thick galvanised steel mesh all around at floor level, dug deeply into the ground. I tell her of my plans to plant out all the summer vegetables on my return, as it will be the middle of September and starting to warm up. I usually get all the early vegetable seedlings started about this time. Sometimes there is a late frost in October and once in November. Then we have to start again, but that doesn’t stop me. The reason that I chose to leave the city and live in the country was so that I could have a very large vegetable garden and an orchard, as well as a pottery studio and wood fired kiln.
She listens as she usually does, making occasional comments. I have become used to her saying something along the lines of. “Thats very interesting” and “I’ll have to think about that”. This time however, She responds at length. She has been considering all our conversations of the past week. She tells me that she has been helping her Mother in the garden with the weeding.
She tells me that she will think about a change in her life, maybe spending more time at the farm and studio. She’s ready for a change, but will still need a job for some cash. I suggest being a translator and tour guide for specialist pottery tourists like me. There must be other potters who would pay for the particular service of an educated, ceramic specialist, tour guide?
On the way home, she gets several calls, a friend, her sister and boyfriend. But also one from Jun Beom. We are invited to dinner at his wife’s parents house. Her Father has caught a one metre long fish today, so we are all invited. We go to the pottery first. I collect my fired, glazed pots from My Seo’s firing. 4 out of 5 are OK, 3 are very good. I can show these. I offer one to Jun Beom, but he refuses it. I offer one to Miss Kang and she almost grabs it off me. Apparently she is pleased! So, I have 4 pots from this firing too. They are all dully bubble wrapped and packed into my back pack. I can’t fit them all in without unpacking my sweater and rain coat. I won’t need them again now.
The Tae Baek mountain stone body was creamy yellow when raw, but has fired to a very clean, bright white translucent body. I’m very pleased with it. If all goes well, I will have some Australian wood fired versions of it to compliment it later in the year. Everything is shaping up nicely. Better than I could have possibly imagined. I owe special thanks to Claudia, for introducing me to her student, Jane in Australia, who introduced me to her brother in Korea, Jun Beom, he in turn introduced me to Miss Kang and everything flowed from there. Thanks also to Byongchan from Sturt workshops, who introduced me to Mr Jaeyong from Tae Baek.
I knew that Cheonsong was going to be difficult, but couldn’t imagine just how frustrating and negative it was going to be. However, I did end up getting some clay from them. I didn’t even imagine that I would be able to get to Yanggu, as the reputation was quite formidable. This turn out to be the most rewarding experience. I hadn’t even heard of Tae Baek or Siila Mountains before arriving here. They were just lucky breaks. I really do hope that Mr Jung will end up posting me some samples in due course. Funny that he wouldn’t let me have them when I was there?
This has been a very successful Korean end of my research trip. I have travelled 37,000 kms in the last month. I’m ready to go home and sort all this material out. I also have a long list of jobs to finish when I get home. I have a large kiln ordered. I have 3 weekend wood-firing workshops booked in a row in late September and early October, then the Southern Highlands open studios weekends coming up. I can’t see myself getting to any of this porcelain stone and having some more time for research until the New Year.
I get home to the b&b late. It’s always the same here. Everyone is so friendly, and they stay up so late. I’m back by 10.30 and start to pack my bags. I leave very early tomorrow morning on the 7.00am bus to Incheon Airport via seoul. It’s a long 3 1/2 to 4 hr trip depending on the traffic. I need to be there 2 to 3 hrs early to make sure all goes well. I fly out in the early afternoon. I’m all packed and sorted and in bed by 11.30.
I’m up at 5.45 and all ready to go. Jun Beom picks me up and takes me to the bus station. I want to thank him in some meaning full way. More than just a handshake and a bow. At least with Sang Hee, I was employing her and I could give her a bowl. Jun Beom wants nothing from me. He says it’s all right – relax! We sit and chat until the bus arrives. I thank him profusely again. He just waves it off. “Its OK!” He says. It doesn’t seem enough.
The traffic in the morning peak hour is appalling. It’s stop start all the way along the free way. Grid lock! The air quality is appalling. Out in the country side we have enjoyed much better air than this. It was always slightly over cast looking. I thought at first it might be cloud, but it was consistently always the same, pale, yellowish, photo-chemical smog. During our driving epic. Miss Kang and I talked about this too. She claimed that all the polluted bad air was blown in across the water from China. Some of it might be, but it wasn’t as bad out in the country side. Here however, in towards Seoul the visibility drops down to a few km or less. I can’t see the sky scrapers in the distance at one point. I know that they are there, I just can’t see them any more after we have passed them. I’d hate to live here in this air. Miss Kang does. She is breathing this air all the time. I’m sure that the majority of it is self-generated here in Seoul by all the industry and traffic. I hope that she will be OK into the future. She has been a very good guide, translator and driver. I can recommend her!
It’s a very good thing that I Caught the early bus to the airport, because when I get to the check-in. I can’t believe the queue. It stretches about 100 metres back from the zig-zag webbing lanes, back out into the foyer of the check-in area. I walk and walk, along the queue. Stopping every now and then to enquire if this is still the same queue. it is! I don’t want to spend an hour or two standing in the wrong queue. I have purchased the cheapest flight combination possible, so have to travel back to Australia via China. the queue is for all the people wanting to go to China.
I’m just so lucky to have been taken to Australia when I was young. We complain a lot, but there aren’t many places that I have been that are better than this when everything is considered. I don’t live near the beach, or have a view. But life is what you make of it. I have my beautiful partner and son, my workshop/business, my gardens and orchards.
I am so very lucky to have such a good life!
And a bag full of porcelain.
Best wishes from Steve in Korea
This isn’t really an episode in itself, but it is a different topic all together, but it all happened on the same day. I’ve divided it and posted it separately, as the original piece was becoming long enough to be a book in it’s own right. It didn’t need to made any longer. So here is the ‘footnote to chapter 5’
I get home to my air-b&b room to find 5 young Korean guys partying. This b&b specialises in advertising to cyclists who use it as a one-nighter while on cycle tours. I’ve had several of them in here with me over the time, sometimes two at a time, but most usually just one. The place has 3 pairs of double bunks. These cyclists are always quiet and tired after a days peddling. They shower and go to bed early, often leaving early. One guy arrived and showered, washed all his lycra, hung it out in the landing and then went out for a walk. I thought to myself. That’s strange! Needing a walk for some exercise after a long day of cycling. He came back with 2 beers and packet of twisties! That was his dinner, after peddling all day! Oh to be young!
However, tonight its party night apparently. Which is a bit strange as it’s Sunday night. Don’t they work tomorrow? Or is it some sort of public holiday tomorrow? I never know what is going on. I’m a complete outsider here. Mystified by the language barrier and always on my best behaviour, so as not to offend anyone inadvertently. I keep to myself.
The party boys invite me to join them, so I do sit and chat to them for a short time. I want to be sociable, as we are going to be sharing this very small space together – possibly for days? I refuse the white spirit that’s offered after sniffing the bottle. I’m tired and only really want to go to sleep. I accept a small cup of local rice wine. I’ve had it before and liked it. Light, cold and tangy it’s alright on a hot night. They don’t really speak much English past “G’day Mate!” and “owsitgown?”. I give them my best ‘onyohasio’. Then that’s just about it.
Four of them soon loose interest in me and go on to talk among themselves in a very loud, drunken, exchange of good will, jokes and bon homme. They are quite uninhibited in their laughter. One of them sits opposite to me across the fire. He has been to Australia and worked in Perth for a couple of years. It turns out that he can speak excellent English, as a result of this. He asks me why I am here and I tell him that I’ve come to study pottery. Ah! Yes, of course. YeoJu is famous for its pottery industry. That makes sense. There isn’t much else here for a foreigner! He tells me that when he was in Australia he worked for two years in a pottery factory in Perth. I ask if it was a potters studio, or a factory? He thinks for a while, digesting this distinction in English and replies that it was a small creative factory. Somewhere in between.
He asks me if I make pottery myself and I reply that I do. He asks if I have any work to show him. So I get out my phone and show him my web page, under the menu of ‘exhibitions’ , with some pots on it. He looks and admires. Scrolls down a bit. Thinks for a while and then says. “You could sell these you know, they’re not bad. Actually, they’re OK”. And then, “Yeah. I think that you could definitely be able to sell these”. “I’m a web designer”, he tells me. “I’ll make you a web site and you can start to sell these things”. I tell him that I do already sell them.
Is it the beer? Hubris? The difference in cultures, or just plain shift in meaning through translation. I don’t know, but he launches in to a long lecture of how everything is going online and that I need to have an on-line presence. If you are not on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter, then you don’t exist. People have very short attention spans and they need constant reminders to keep interested. If it isn’t you popping up on their feed, then it will be someone else who will get their dollars. No one browses for web sites anymore, that’s dead. You have to push the feed to them, or some such jargon.
I’m not really interested. it’s not for me. Anyway, I’m tired! I’ll let someone else get those ephemeral, floating, discretional, shallow dollars. I’d rather just be in the studio making my pots for my own enjoyment and growing my vegetables. That’s the life I’ve chosen. I have no intention of going on to ‘etsy’ to market what I do.
I can see it now;
“Lovely hand crafted, single-stone, native porcelain bowl. Clay aged for 4 years. Wood fired in a hand-made kiln made from handmade fire bricks made from locally prospected white bauxite. Wood fired, using wood from trees planted specifically for the purpose, grown and hand tended, on-site for 40 years, before cutting and seasoning for 2 years. fired with loving care in a 20 hour overnight firing, calling on almost 50 years of experience in firing and glazing.
Nice piece, $10.55 or nearest offer!”
I reply with my own sermon of lifestyle philosophy. I see my job as making objects of small, concentrated, intense but gentle beauty and interest, for an extremely small market of informed people. Many of whom have no money to buy them because they are artists themselves. But that’s OK, they appreciate them and that is what counts to me. No one really understands what I do and how I go about making them. And if they did, they probably wouldn’t believe it anyway. I’ve had the most rewarding life doing this. The times that I’ve spent in conversation with special people who are on the same wave-length, discussing local provenance, self-reliance and integrity in life choices have made it all worthwhile. Money doesn’t come into it. It’s not about money!
I’d still be happy to make all my pots the same way, even if I couldn’t show them in a gallery. Selling, is not the reason for making them. I put my pots out there in exhibitions, because I think that it is important that the work be able to be seen, but I don’t sell all that well, I’m used to that. I know that I’m never going to be able to make a living at this. I’m not the sassy, pushy, street-smart person, who markets themselves well. I earn my money by other means. Whatever it takes. ‘Means’, means kilns in this case! I get by OK. I’m happy doing it this way. I’m self-employed. I’m in control of my own destiny. These are my choices.
It’s more important to have a meaningful life that I can be proud of than chasing those 15 minutes of fame or anything as totally meaningless as money. Lets face it, the stuff is empty. It has no real value. After the basic necessities of life are provided for. Whether you drive a Hummer or a Hyundai. It doesn’t really matter. as long as it gets you there reliably. That is the important thing, all the rest is ego. Don’t let yourself be sucked in by the advertising! It’s cleverly designed to keep you dissatisfied and poor. Choose a life of integrity, which involves some service to others and be content with some frugal comforts. This is the road to happiness!
I grow all my own food and do almost everything that I can by myself. I am trying to be as self-reliant as possible. I choose to do it frugally. Without a reliance on too much money. The time spent earning money is a waste of time. The great money chase ruins lives and is a complete waste of a life. Life is short. Don’t waste it on trivia. Look deep for your own meaning. It often doesn’t need a lot of money. I’ve read that service to others is the most rewarding thing that can give meaning to a life. I think that this might be pretty true.
He listens, he sounds almost interested. He asks me to expand on this low-income, frugal lifestyle of self-reliance. So I do. Eventually, he asks me if I’m married. I tell him no! But I have a long-term partner. I told him that we are not married, but have a child together. We waited 10 years before we engaged on bringing a new life into the world. It was no accident. We planned it. We had to be sure, to be confident. Confident that we could afford it and that our life and the world was stable enough to bring a new life into it. It’s all worked out OK and our child is now grown up. A beautiful person who we admire and are proud of. He has his own life and will probably start his own family soon.
He seems amazed at this revelation. How can this be? It’s against all the rules. I reply that those rules only apply to the people who believe in rules. I don’t, they are not my rules. I will decide that for myself. Janine and I are the masters of our own destiny. This is quite possible and reasonable in Australia at the current time. Of course there were those in our village who shunned us. The constipated, stifled, right-wing, conservative neanderthals. They stewed in their own bitter juices of anguish. We were immune. They are welcome to their views. I wasn’t listening. We made our own peaceful and beautiful way without them. You have to be some kind of strong-man or woman, to go it alone, but it can be done if you concentrate and stay on focus. Strength isn’t about muscle. It’s all about how and what you think.
He listens and thinks a long time, then says that he is considering what I have said.
This appears to be at the heart of the emotional/intellectual/existential problem for the weekend cyclist Mr. X. It turns out that he is on the horns of a dilemma. He is getting on and so is his fiancé. Her parents want them to get married and start a family. They want grandchildren. So are selfishly putting pressure on him. He is obviously not convinced that this is the only and best option. So we reach the crux of the matter. Is his relationship strong enough? I have no idea and it’s non of my business anyway.
He asks me straight. What I would do? I reply that I can’t tell him what he should do. Only he knows the answer to this question. I suggest that he look very deeply into himself when he is sober and think about what options he can live with.
I add that I have lived through this same situation years ago. I wasn’t sure. I was definitely uncertain. I thought about my situation. About children, about all the other people involved, but ultimately it was me. I was the one who had to live with the consequences of my conclusion. I thought long and hard. I took my time, and eventually the answer clarified for me. I made my resolve. I’ve lived with that decision ever since and I am completely happy with the outcome. We all have to mature and grow up at some point. Think very hard about your choices and don’t be pressured or rushed. You will have to live with the repercussions of your determination forever and so will two or three others.
I have just had a long conversation, not unlike this. We discussed the meaning of life – if any, and what we are here for. The answer to this, I am pretty certain, is that life has no purpose, other than to reproduce itself. The selfish gene! This imperative got us to survive the long, lean times. But what now? Seeing that there are too many of us already, perhaps it’s a good time to consider negative population growth. NPG. This didn’t go down too well with the group of friends that I was gathered with for a meal on another occasion, as some of them had chosen to have a lot of children. In fact I got a very hostile response from a mother of eight. She was quite strident in her invective.
So, how should we live? How do we make the best decisions in life. There are no answers to these dilemmas, we just have to muddle through. But I do believe that we have a responsibility to think long and hard, so as to make the best decisions. Whatever that is for each individual. He doesn’t answer, just stares into the darkness. But I can see that he is considering it.
This isn’t any kind of answer to my bike-man, but it is all I have. He seems quite satisfied with it though and eventually thanks me. He says that he knew that he had to come on this ride. He is so glad that we have had this conversation. I say that I really need to go to bed now. It’s midnight already and I’m dead tired. I’m pretty sure that if I go on, I won’t be making any sense!
I stand to leave. All the others farewell me while still offering some more white spirit. I decline. I leave the rabble of noise and good humour. A tale full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. My colleague of the last hour, Mr. Peddles, stands up and offers both his hands in a sincere gesture of parting. We shake hands. “I knew that I was meant to come here tonight. This is like the Buddha moment for me now. “ I must say that I’m a bit shocked by that, but let it pass as I’m determined to make my way upstairs to my bunk.
I stand to take my leave. He asks again. What would you do? A lot of things are said in an unguarded moment. But I pass. I don’t really know anything about his situation, but I do know that he will have live with his decision for a very long time. I wish him well with his existential dilemma. I certainly don’t know the answer for him. “You have to make your own decision, be true to your heart, but don’t rush it. Take your time!”
I’m not drunk after my one cup of wine, but I’m pretty sure that they are. I wonder what the outcome of it all was. Did he even remember our conversation the next day?
I’ll never know! I try to sleep, but the noise from down stairs is consistent and quite loud. I must say that it never erupted into anger, like it might have in Australia, when a group of young men get drunk. It always sounded good-natured. Just loud outburst of laughter!
The last time that I remember waking up because of the noise was at 3.30 am when I looked at my phone. After that I don’t have anymore recollections of time, but someone came into the room and zipped, or unzipped a bag. No one climbed up onto the top bunk to sleep as I was expecting. I sleep after that. However when I awake at 7.30. The place is empty. Everyone is gone and I am alone. They have finished whatever they were up to. None of the beds have been slept in. The party is over and they have packed up and gone. God knows how they managed to keep their balance on bicycles when still probably pissed. I wonder what happened to them?
I do hope that they are all alright.
fond regards from Steve in Korea
The residency program offers free accommodation as well as workshop access and firing. He will arrange to get us both separate rooms in the newly refurbished student accommodation building. We will be some of the first residents to use the rooms.
I am in Korea to investigate ancient pottery sites where single-stone porcelain has been made and/or mined and made. These days it is most common that the stone is mined some way out-of-town and then transported to the crushing/processing plants closer to the pottery making areas. Many of the oldest sites are now sterilised by the expansion of the residential areas that grew up around the quarry/mines to support them while they were being developed and then expanded into them.
I am up in the North East mountains of Korea with two potter/colleagues and we are looking for an old mine site for porcelain stone and glaze stone. This mine is well-known, but as a name only. Of all the potters that I spoke to in Yeo Ju, the specialist, pottery making town, located a couple of hours East of Seoul. No one there had ever been to this mine, or even knew of anyone who had. It existed to them as a mythical kind of place, a long way away and high up in the mountains. It’s synonymous with Rampant BB in Australia. Every potter had a bag of it, but no-one had ever been there to check it out.
No-one actually had an address or directions of how to find it either. When I set off on this sojourn with Miss Kang, my driver. We were only going for a couple of days. Well she was anyway. I was going to stay on at the porcelain centre and enjoy their hospitality and work for a while, but all that collapsed like a quantum wave-form calculation when I got there and looked for a result. It seems that I can know the location of the centre, but not the duration of my stay, or I can know the precise length of a stay, without any guarantee of a location. Ah! The duality of light has nothing on this! Damn Schroedinger! Like any sub-atomic particle. I was only ever there in theory! So much for the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of short term, impromptu travel.
As our road trip has developed – organically into this week-long, Kerouac-esque, Dharma bum style, endless travail from one pottery site to another. We have adapted as we have had too. I am perfectly OK with this, as I packed my small, red, back-pack with 5 days worth of undies, 4 T shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, one for clay and another for clean etc. But as for these other beat-potters travelling with me, as we enter day 4. It is Miss Kang who proves to be the most resourceful and creative, impromptu traveller. Managing to cope so well with this extended expedition with so little notice.
We make our way along some pretty rough country roads heading ever higher. We eventually end up on a track that rises sharply and winds around the side of the mountain. It ends up being just 2 tyre tracks composed of a melange of concrete, bitumen, gravel and then patches of the same, randomly and very haphazardly applied to keep it navigable. It is definitely only a one way track. I certainly hope that we don’t meet anything like a fully laden 10 tonne truck coming down!
Miss Kang navigates the pot holes and ditches skilfully, always keeping up the revs and our speed to give us the momentum to get to the top. Suddenly we broach a small rise and pop out into a quarry. A very wet and slippery quarry. As it has been raining all night and is still sprinkling with a light shower even now. The air is bracing and crisp. It smells of earth and clay and moisture, with just a hint of diesel exhaust. Our breath condenses as steam as we talk.
There are a couple of other cars up here. A processing plant straight ahead. Piles of bulker bags stacked 3 high on one side, full of product, ready for delivery. A tip-truck on the other. Over to one side there is what we would call in Australia a ‘donger’. A shipping container, that has been converted into an office. We walk over to the ‘office’ as a small thin older man comes out. He has a weathered, but kind, enquiring face.
Miss Kang introduces us. She has already spoken to him on the phone and he is expecting us. Inside we are gestured to sit down on the bare floor, which is always a challenge for me. I don’t sit well cross-legged. I’m given a special seat against the wall, so I can lean back and spread my legs out under the low table. A well-worn lady dressed in work clothes comes in and attends to a sauce pan, wok and a pressure cooker that are busy chattering, hissing and steaming away on the stove in the corner. We are all presented with a mug of hot, sweet, thick, milky coffee. It just couldn’t be a better gift to welcome us in. Thankfully, the office-donger-container has a heated floor, which is very cosy.
A brisk conversation ensues, all of which is opaque to me. As it is in rather fast Korean. But I can tell that the tone is cherrie and light-hearted, with occasional laughter. Apparently this guy has a very dry sense of humour. Eventually, I get a quick version of events from Miss Kang and am asked the question, “What do you want?”.
I ask her to tell him that I’d like to see the best grade of porcelain stone that he has. He says that he has sold out of his best material. His wife, (I’m assuming that it is his wife) But couldn’t be more wrong on this occasion. The lady doing the washing out the back and cooking lunch in here, making our coffee and generally being all things to all people is, as it turns out. The Vice-President of the company (or is this just another one of his jokes?) and the best geologist on site, it is she who directs the mining and knows all the twists and turns of the best seams.
I ask how many people work here? And am told that there is one guy who drives all the diggers and machinery, another who drives the tip truck for deliveries. Then there is the engineer who keeps the crushing and screen plant operating. And then, he says. There is me. I am sometimes allowed to press the button!
It turns out that he is a retired professor from the university. He has taken on this job to keep occupied in his retirement. Miss Kang and Jaeyong explain my quest to him and he smiles attentively. So completely different from our experience earlier in the week. He smiles a lot and nods. I feel that this is all going to end well.
While we have been talking, the NOT Mrs miner, but rather, Vice-President lady has been out and comes in with 2 bags of samples of their very best white material. She knows where there is a little stash kept aside. I’m very grateful. The conversation turns to the topic of who is allowed to own this precious stuff and is there really a ban on it leaving the country. He nods. My memory of the translation of what transpired goes as follows;
There is a ban on selling porcelain stone for export. It isn’t supposed to leave the country. There is some sensitivity about Korean resources being plundered in the past. As Mr Manager understands it. It is a commercial thing. The sort of thing that involves tonnes of stone. He sees no problem with a small sample like this being given to an academic for artistic/research purposes. Shouldn’t be any problem. He smiles a big broad smile…..
But it’s perhaps best if you don’t mention my name. He adds! so, I don’t.
Anyway, I already have a legitimate sample from the clay manufacturing plant.
Mr Manager and Mrs Vice-President are a lovely couple. I feel really welcomed and secure in their under-floor heated donger office. This is honest, generous council. I appreciate it.
I really appreciate it!
We all go outside into the cold and drizzle. I’d really like to go down to the quarry face for a look, but it is a quarter-mile away, and down a precipitous, wet, seeping, slope. We climb up onto the stack of bulker bags to get a look down onto the working face. It is only just visible through the trees. I’d rather not walk down there in this weather. I pass.
There is still one more place to go up North here. Way up North! Right on the DMZ. We have made enquiries. At least my amazing Miss Kang has. She has it all sorted on my behalf. I was told last week at a potters meeting back in Yeo Ju, that the place up North is quite isolated. It is the place where all the Royal Patronage Porcelain was made from the 1400’s onwards. Quite unlike the southern site that only made peasant/farmer domestic wares.
I was told that the regime there is even more strict than that down South. I’m told that nothing can leave the premises. Let alone the country. If we are allowed in to look, and If we learn any of their secrets, then they will probably have to kill us!
Nobody in the meeting has actually been there. Certainly nobody has ever returned, it has a huge and scary reputation. I can’t say that I wasn’t told this time! I’m in the NO!
We have experienced the Southern Humiliations, we have survived the fire-swamp and I don’t believe in Rodents of Unusual Size. What’s keeping us? We can drive up there to the North from here in a few hours. We can call in, have a look, They can say NO! And then we can leave. They can only say No! So many times, I’m getting used to it. We will still have time to drive back home again to Yeo Ju by midnight.
We have enough fuel. Lets give it a try!
We say our good-byes and so many thank-yous. They wave and we leave, with our ultra-white sample of single-stone contraband. Mr. Jaeyong has other business to attend to locally, so won’t be coming with us. He really wants to, but will follow if he can, only after he can complete his pressing business.
Into the unkNOwn!
Best wishes from Steve in Korea
I am in Korea, searching for ancient sites where porcelain stone has and/or still is being mined for the creation of porcelain in the old-fashioned way.
We set off in the late afternoon having wasted quite a bit of time unnecessarily here. We drive into the evening and on into the night. We have a way to go up the East Coast to the hight range of mountains that will be near where the home of the next Winter Olympics will be held. It’s a cool damp place this night.
On the way, Mr Jaeyong gets us to stop off at this grandmothers house, where he has to collect something. It’s a beautiful old traditional Korean farm-house. His grandmother appears to be quite elderly, but still quite energetic and vital. She still tends the large vegetable garden in the front area of her land along the driveway coming in. It’s really beautifully picturesque, and a real credit to her and her tenacity and ability for hard work. I love it! Mr Jaeyong had invited me to stay here while I worked in the porcelain Centre, had I stayed on and he would have taken over as my interpreter, but that hasn’t eventuated. Pity, I would have loved it here. I’d have done a bit of weeding to earn my keep.
While Miss Kang drives, we talk about our experiences of the last two days. What was going on there? We are both at a bit of a loss to come to some sort of clear idea, but as we discuss it, our ideas clarify. My best bet is the we have encountered a corporate ‘yes’ man who just wants a simple, uncomplicated life, and I have come along against all warnings and blundered in an asked him to do something, that although he is paid to do it. He doesn’t want to have to. He wants the wage, he doesn’t want the work. Simply because it is just too hard and a lot of unnecessary bother. I made his life hard for him. I’m the problem. There might also be a bit of a parochial attitude mixed in there too?
Of course, he could have just said. “Here take this pack of clay, no-one will ever know. But please don’t tell.” It could have been so easy. I would have honoured that and exhibited a pot of Korean Stone, but not directly identified to his site.
I will eventually write to him, but I won’t be rushing to do it. Maybe after we get back, I’ll drop him a thank you email note? I really did want to exhibit a pot made from this southern single-stone clay in my show at Watters next year. It would have made the exhibition really comprehensive, but that isn’t going to happen now. I have work that I have made in all 5 countries where singe-stone porcelain has originated, and in several workshops in each of these places, using differing local versions of their single-stone clay. Also obtaining various selected batches of the local bodies made in different clay making workshops and factories. I also have work that I have made and fired at home in my own kiln, made from all these same single-stone bodies that I have shipped home over the years to continue the research, by making and firing these same clays in my own wood fired kiln.
We move on to more interesting and uplifting conversations about life, pottery, organic gardening. Whatever crops up as we travel. It’s a long drive.
We find Mr Jaeyong’s place without too much trouble, as Miss king has the location plotted in the maps app in her phone. I feel for this young lady, having to drive such long distances. Especially when it is dark and rainy like this. Mr Jaeyong’s place is perched halfway up a mountain, in a clearing on the edge of a precipitous drop into a forested valley. We don’t know this when we arrive in the dark and misty rain. Mr. Jaeyong has driven fast and arrived before us. The lights are on and he is there to guide us into a little parking space between two buildings. There are several little buildings clustered around an open grassy clearing. There are gardens and loads of pots decorating the spaces between the various pavilions. My first impression of the set up in the dark and rain is that it is very pretty. I can’t wait till morning to get a better look in day light.
We each have a different building to sleep in, each with it’s own on-suit. I’m very impressed. Apparently the place’s owner is currently studying wine making in Australia. At least that is what I think I was told.
Jaeyong welcomes us into his kitchen/dining room building. It’s warm and dry and very cosy. We even have WiFi internet. Jaeyong cooks us a very nice meal. It transpires during our conversation through this cooking process, that this place is snowed under for 3 to 4 months of the year and is not habitable. My Jaeyong decamps to somewhere warmer during this time. Like his grandmothers farm-house down south, or somewhere overseas to study pottery making around the world. He rattles off quite a list of countries that he has visited to study ceramics. He hasn’t been to Australia yet, so I welcome him, should he make it to Oz. I will return his hospitality.
We dine on a very nice traditional Korean meal of rice with soup and a host of other small vegetable and pickle dishes. It’s all extremely warm and welcoming and satisfying to be accepted into someones home like this. So openly and graciously, just as Jun Beom and his family have done in Yeo Ju.
Eventually our conversation return to our difficulties of the morning. Mr Jaeyong offers the opinion that the Manager and Master Initiator is just doing his job, the way he has decided to interpret it. We should feel sorry for him, stuck in his life the way that he is. We eat our beautiful meal, we talk, drink a beer and then some wine with the meal. It’s all so well presented. Mr Jaeyong has gone to some trouble. These two wonderful people talk in Korean in short bursts, but then stop and one or the other interprets for me, sometime the discussion continues in English for my benefit.
Mr Jaeyong had to work with people like that when he worked in a public service job years ago. They suffer from ‘bureaucratic brain syndrome’. It’s all a bit tragic really. They need our sympathy. I take this onboard. I consider my reactions and attitudes. Mr Jaeyong is very generous and open-minded. I look deep into my self and reflect on my own stance, perspectives, predudices and viewpoints. I should have some sympathy for this guy.
But I don’t!
I look harder and quiz myself more deeply. No, there is nothing there for him. Just a blank. I fail this simple test of humanity and compassion. But I am who I am, and I try to be the best person that I can be. I’m just flawed, but in a manageable way. I wish no ill on any other person. I guess that I just don’t have the energy to send out anymore good will out into a void. I haven’t been sleeping well with the jet lag and everynight in a different bed. I’ll put my failings down to that. It’s an easy excuse.
Mr Jaeyong makes us a bowl of green tea to cap off a delightful meal. This is very much in the Japanese style. He has spent quite a bit of time in Japan I gather, working with potters over there to broaden his understanding and training and to enrich his skill base.
In the morning I awake to a bright sunny day, cool crisp air in the lingering mist up here on this mountain. I wander around the garden and take it all in. It a sort of remnant, Hippy commune style cluster of hand-made buildings, none of which would get building approval from my local council back home. It is beautiful in its sprawling ramshackle way. I love all the clusters of big, dark, ‘ongi’ jars scattered in clumps all around the garden.
I walk around the site, the view is great. The atmosphere is terrific. His kiln is almost finished. I wish him luck with it. I’m certainly glad that I don’t have to be here right up until the show closes off the road and the place sits idle for 3 to 4 months.
We set off early, as we are all on a mission to explore deep into these remote mountains to locate the ancient single-stone porcelain site and try to recover a small sample of the stone for my collection. I already have a small sample courtesy of the clay processing factory in Yeo Ju.
I just need to see it in-situ and be able to compare if there are any differences. Perhaps there are more choices, different veins, whiter grades?
Best wishes from Steve in Korea.