Korean Coda

It appears that I lied. 
That wasn’t the final episode of my Korean sojourn, The Kim Chi Chronicles. It was only the penultimate instalment. There is a coda to follow the Epilogue. I got here to find that all my parcels had arrived home safely, most of them before I did. The Korean Postal Service is very fast and efficient! I now have the largest collection, if not the only collection of glazed and fired, single-stone porcelain pots in the world – as far as I know. During the coming year I will make pots out of the stones that I have shipped back here to complete my show of  ‘5 Stones’ to be held at Watters Gallery in East Sydney, next August. 
I want to have pieces that I have made on-site in all these various countries around the world, as well as pots made here in my workshop from the same materials and fired in my wood fired kiln here. These pieces will have some unglazed areas on the outside to show the effects of wood firing and surface flashing. I have already started this part of the show with the clay bodies that I have shipped back from earlier trips. There only remains the 2 places from this last trip to Korea, via my quick few days stop-over in Cornwall. If the last few firings of unglazed, wood-fired porcelains, are anything to go by, I can have great hopes for the next few.  
The rough ash-laden surfaces of the unglazed pieces near the front of the kiln are completely different from the clean, white, fully glazed surfaces of the gas-fired work, that was made on-site in the local potteries, where these stones were found. I think that they will be a great foil to each other and show the full potential of the materials in different hands. I intend to preview a limited number of these pieces from the different sites at home here during the Southern Highlands Open Studios Weekends. We will be open on the first two weekends in November. 
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I’m very fond of the way that my own local porcelain stone with it’s peculiar surface reactions to wood firing, has the ability to turn both red/orange with the wood fired flashing effect and also jet black with carbon-inclusion, both at the same time, when fired in my kiln. I’m keen to see how these latest acquisitions respond?
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I have so many fond memories of Korea now and some friendships that I would like to continue with.  Over the time that I spent in Korea, I was encouraged to learn to use the Kakao Talk app. This is the phone app that everyone uses over there. I have since learnt that it also does a really good instantaneous job of translation. I only have to just touch the screen with my finger and the Korean text message magically appears as English! That’s pretty clever. The translation is better than that from Google translate. I copied it across and tried it out on both, Kakao Talk does it better. i.e., making more sense. There are always some words that don’t work, but I can guess the meaning from the context.
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So I am now in a continuing, intermittent dialogue with my friends over there. I also discovered a lot of photos that people over there had sent me on KakaoTalk. I spent an hour in the street markets in Yeoju with Jun Beom and Mia. Suddenly I find that they have sent  some images of me at the markets. That was a nice surprise.
I really like street markets and street food. There is always something special or even fantastic to surprise and amaze. Like dried fish, all beautifully bound and hung in vertical streams and a man making cigarettes one at a time in a small semi-automatic tobacco rolling machine. I have no idea how he was selling them. He appeared to be assembling them in boxes of 100 or 200, not  too sure. But maybe you could buy them in bundles by weight, singularly or by numbers  like 20. I don’t know, because no one bought any while I was there. I believe that smoking is bad for you. There is no longer any doubt in my mind, even though the tobacco lobby is still insisting that there is no problem. It doesn’t cause cancer and that it isn’t addictive. It’s just like the fossil fuel lobby, currently still claiming that fossil fuels don’t cause any global warming. They have vast wealth to throw lawyers at the problem and sue the pants of any government that tries to stop them. 

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. 

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On a brighter note, the amount of chilli for sale in the market was amazing.  As soon as I entered the street where the stalls were. The first thing that I noticed was the sting in the air of chilli dust. I could smell it. It was in my nose and eyes long before I could see any of it for sale. There were a few stalls that were busy grinding the whole chills into powder. I noticed that many of the workers de-heading the chills, before they were being ground, were working bare-handed. No gloves. I sincerely hope that they don’t get an itchy eye and want to rub it. I’ve been there and done that and lived to regret it. I’d like to say that I learnt and that it’s the sort of thing that you only do once. But regrettably I can’t. I am a repeat offender, or slow learner. I’ve discovered that even an hour or two later, my fingers are still quite lethal anywhere near my eyes.    
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I was particularly taken by the beautiful presentations of bulk garlic. As a garlic grower, myself. I’m always interested in seeing how different cultures present and store garlic. These were really big bundles, beyond plaits. They were bound up using rope!  These big bundles of garlic seemed to be for sale for Au$23 A bargain!
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There were also chickens and even puppies for sale. It’s always wise to remember that a puppy isn’t just for Christmas. It could be for dinner! 
Best wishes from Steve, now safely home again in Australia.

Kim Chi Chronicles – Chapter 7. Epilogue

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The Kim Chi Chronicles – Episode 6, Siila Mountain

The very next day Jun Beom turns up early at the b&b and tells me that he has been doing some research of his own. In actual fact, there is a porcelain stone mine right here in Yeoju. I already know this, because Mr Jung Du-sub, at YangGu showed me the scrap-book of his exhibitions, and explained to me through the amazing translation medium of Miss Kang, that he collected some white porcelain stone from Yeoju. The very place that we had set off from at the start of the week. Well, I said. “I must go there.” The stone that Mr. Jung collected was quite siliceous and refractory looking porcelain, so he used it as a kind of irregular grog to give a rough texture to his otherwise quite fine work. He tells me that he had to go there and collect some because it is mentioned in the early records of the Royal Court as being a site where special porcelain stone was found.
Jun Beom asks “Do I want to go and have a look for it”?
He tells me that it isn’t far away, we can drive to the base of the hill and apparently it’s only a quick 20 mins walk to get there. It’s going to be a very hot day today, up in the 30’s, so we had better set off early. “It’s not a problem, just a quick walk”!
OK, I agree, lets get going, but not until we have had a good breakfast of fried eggs on toast, coffee and some fresh fruit at his house.
We eventually set off at 10.30 and it’s getting quite hot already. We drive to the spot where the path up the hill starts. Luckily there is a map at the start, showing the various paths up and along the mountain. I have learnt from my very enjoyable, but wasted morning spent wandering with Miyuri san in Kyushu, looking for a porcelain stone site, up on spooky, misty ‘black-hair’ mountain. That if you see a map, photograph it on your phone and take it with you. It will save you an hour or two of miss-directed wandering.
So I do just that and I’m glad that I did, because it shows that I am capable of learning a new trick – even at my age. And, on this occasion, it saves us from wasting a couple of hours going in the wrong direction in the intense heat.
We start off in the lower left hand corner of this map and  walk all the way to the top right hand corner.
We set off up the hill. It’s steep. It varies from ‘quite’ to ‘very’, and in places even ‘f@#$%ng steep. We are starting to puff a bit as we trudge onwards and upwards. We are carrying a shovel and a sack too. Nothing  suspicious about that!
 We get to the top and start to follow the ridge. The path continues along a highly silicious, intrusion that has formed this mountain. We walk for some time and I’m starting to think that we might have gone too far, if it’s only 20 mins away. It’s not!. We walk for an hour, consulting my phone map every 10 mins to make sure that we are going in the right direction. Whoever told Jun Beom that it was only 20 mins away, had clearly never  been here.
Along the way, I see a number old workings, on both sides of the ridge, where potters have been exploiting this material in the past. But there are no fresh excavations.
Just about the time that I’m starting to think about going back, because we have almost reached the far end of the mountain track. I can hear cars passing by below us  not too far away and I know that the mountain walk stops  where the free way cuts through the base of the foothill. Then suddenly, there it is. I’m relieved. It’s a lot farther than we thought or were told.
I can’t see any way of getting down into the workings. All the edges at this end fall away into the clay pit very steeply. If I where to climb or fall in. The only way out would be to follow the contour down the hill to find the exit. So we decide to walk around the edge of the pit to try and find the other end, where machinery must have made their entry. Because the hole is so big that it wasn’t all carried out by hand in a sack, like we are about to do. This huge hole has been quarried by machines.
We set off along the ridge track for another 50 metres. We have lost sight of the pit, but we know that it must be there, nearby to our right. We stop and decide to go straight down the very steep slope through all the dense undergrowth and pine tree forest. We swing down, holding onto roots and branches to stop us sliding in the loose scree and humus. We go quite a way. We stop. it isn’t here! Where has it gone? A quarry can’t just disappear. We haven’t come across a track or road that might have led back up into the mine.
We feel that we have come down the hill much too far and our only way out with certainty is to go back, but it isn’t east going. We are on all fours hauling our selves back up, root by branch, occasionally sliding back down again on a flow of loose rubble. We are forced to take a slightly different way back up to take advantage of the better gradient or firmer foot holds. I’m keeping a pretty close eye on where I need t be heading, since I lost sight of my old foot holds that I made on the way down.
Suddenly, it’s right there in front of us. It’s the quarry. We went past it by about 6 metres on the way down. It was obscured by the thick brush and undergrowth. I walk straight into the workings and discover a nice fresh wombat-hole-like, shovel-sized excavation that some other potter, or potters have made in the last few years.  Perhaps it was Mr. Jung?
We scrape out half a dozen kilos of the whitest fraction into our sack and make our way out and around to go back up. It is quite a bit slower going back up when you have to hang onto the sack as well as the tree trunks and stems of bushes. We devise a method of throwing the sack up the slope, above our heads and metre or two ahead of us, and then scrambling and hauling ourselves up the cliff-like, almost vertical slope of loose scree and rubble, Until we reach the sack. Then propped against a pine tree trunk, I throw the sack a bit farther up the incline. Eventually, we emerge back onto the track, with a sigh of relief. We are saturated with sweat from the heat. We’ve been at this now for a few hours and it must be past mid-day. The sun is at its apogee and we are feeling like we are cooking. We are out of water and it’s still a long walk back to the car yet.
We set off, taking turns to carry the sack. We swap it for the shovel. I wouldn’t have brought a shovel. I wanted a garden trowel, but Jun Beom couldn’t find one. So this is the only thing that he could find at short notice. It’s not heavy, but it is awkward, and when we see another walker coming our way along the track. I feel compelled to sling the shovel onto my shoulder, like a miner of old, with jun Beom out in front with our sack of booty, held over his shoulder in a similar stance. I feel like a complete idiot, out here in the baking sun pretending to be some sort of miner. He must think that I’m some sort of mad-dog, but in actual fact I’m actually an Englishman!
We have to stop every so often to take a rest. The view from up here is tremendous.
We get back to the car, with only one wrong turn. It’s taken us 3 1/2 hrs. So much for 20 mins! I’ve earned this stone sample. When we arrive back at Jun Beom’s place we have no problem in emptying a bottle of water each. He offers me a towel and some of his clothes, a T shirt and some shorts. We are totally saturated in sweat, soil and rock dust. It’s clogged onto us like a paste. I revel in the fresh clean water, washing my hair as well. I emerge feeling human again. Jun  Beom has turned on the air-con and the living room is now delightfully cool. After Jun Beom has showered, we sit and drink more water. he offers me orange juice, but its too sweet and thick. The juice tastes just too strong for me now. What I really need is the water to re-hydrate. I end making a shandy of orange juice and 2/3 water, the juice has just that little kick of sugar that seems just right in a small quantity right now. I’ve burnt a lot of calories on the climb, but lost a lot more water as sweat.
We put all our smelly clothes into the washing machine and then I spread all our rocks out on Jun Beom’s floor to dry. The day is baking hot outside, but the humidity is also quite high too. Things still take a long time to dry.
I sort out all my samples that I have collected over the last week, as well. I spread them all out to dry along with todays haul.
I spend a couple of hours hand sorting the Tae Baek Mountain sample, but now that it is all crushed I ought to call it Broke Baek Mountain stone. I sort it into pure white and slightly iron stained samples. I will make the purest, whites stones into the body to get the best translucency and use the slightly iron stain stones to make the glaze.
img_3288 img_3289
It’s anything but rocket science, but I know from working with my own porcelain stone materials back home in Australia, that this slow, painfully dull and boring couple of hours will be extraordinarily worthwhile in terms of the  finished results that  will be able to achieve. I’ve done this with much larger volumes than this and with materials with a grain size of just a few millimetres. I once sorted 40 kilos of fines using tweezers.
Took two days with plenty of breaks, where I just had to get up and walk away and go and weed the garden. This is an extreme example, but if you don’t get serious and give it a try, you don’t get extraordinary results.
No one notices this by the way. It doesn’t rate a mention, and I’m too cautious to mention it in public lest people think that I’m a bit loony. But I discuss it with my close friends, as they already know that I’m nuts and accept me as I am.
One potter once asked me if I’d sell her some of my milled stone clay. I said that I hadn’t even though about selling any. It’s just too precious. There are too many hours of work involved in making clay like this. She said try me! I said something along the lines that it would have to cost somewhere around a couple of hundred dollars for a 5kg pack. Needless to say I didn’t make a sale!. Later, when I though it through more thoroughly, I was very pleased, because I came to realise that the clay cost me so much more than that to make. Before I aged it for the couple of years that it needs to get some workability.
Even though I have never sold any, I have actually given some away to students who are keen to try it on the odd occasion when they attend my classes, but I’m very cautious about that and I ask them to return the trimmings to me, so that I can recycle them.
After lunch I decide to write that letter to the Southern pottery site and send the ‘letter of proposal’ that was requested earlier, last week. I don’t use letter head, or even letter format. Just send an email saying what I said originally, but adding the proposed dates of my show at Watters Gallery next year.
I add the closing sentence that I am writing a book of all my experiences in the research of single-stone porcelain from all around the world that will accompany the exhibition. This implies that because their conditions are so strict. I won’t be able to include any piece of theirs in my show which will feature quite a few pieces that I have been able to make in other places in Korea, But it also means that Although they will miss out getting any mention in the show and catalogue. There will definitely be a chapter in the book on my negative experiences as well. So, really it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, as I now already have all the other work that I need. He’s made himself irrelevant.
The rest of the day is spent in glazing my pots that made before I left on my week-long sojourn with Miss Kang. I decide to simply use a clear glaze and keep the work simple and consistent with all the other work that I have made in the other countries. I think that the material should speak for itself.
Jun Beom gets a phone call during the afternoon from the Southern Pottery Manager. He tells him that he will post a sample of their clay to me at Jun Beom’s address!
My response is that;
A/ I don’t believe him.
B/ If he does. He had better send it express mail as I leave in 3 days and I won’t be here for the last two.
I return to the b&b and go to bed early as I’m feeling completely wreaked from lack of sleep and the long hike.
Miracles will never cease! I arrive at the pottery the next day to pack up all my dry samples for postage back to Australia. These are all clean quarry rock samples collected from deep in the ground, with no top soil or humus contamination, so I am confident that they are safe to post to Australia. I have had no problems posting samples back from China or Japan in the past. But I did get one of my parcels that I sent from England opened for inspection by customs, but not quarantine. This was the stone from Cornwall, from William Cookworthy’s pit. This pit has been open and abandoned for many years, with lots of brambles and bracken invading the site and creating humus and compost. I also think that cattle grazed the site.
I’m a cautious kind of guy. I don’t want to cause anybody any trouble. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for importing any dangerous soil-borne diseases into Australia. So in the case of the Tregonning Hill stones. I scrubbed them thoroughly in water to get them very clean, then soaked them in chlorine bleach overnight, before drying them at 150oC to 180oC in the oven for an hour. I felt that this would probably kill any pathogens that might be lurking in any crevices. It probably also killed any beneficial bacteria that might have been there too. But I’d rather be safe. Funnily. It is this box that gets opened by customs!
I’m busy packing my samples into plastic bags and weighing them when the mail man arrives with my box from Cheongsong in the south. I’m quite amazed, stunned even. I open it to find a wooden box, not unlike the sort of box that a pot might be presented in – only rougher. I open that to find 3 kilos of clay wrapped in plastic. No note, nothing but the clay. Well! Wonder of wonders!
Jun Beom drives me and my precious cargo of 4 samples to the Post Office. I don’t use the wooden box from Cheongsong. It looked a bit iffy, lets say roughly made. I don’t think that it is safe to post to Australia. I’m sure that it hasn’t been heat-treated or sterilised in any way, so I discard it.
I have no problem with posting pots from Japan, packaged in beautiful hand-crafted wooden boxes. The first few times I brought them back to Australia in my hand luggage so that I could declare them and have them confiscated easily, if it was necessary, but each time the Border Force people let me keep them saying more or less that this kind of wooden product isn’t likely to carry any bugs. So from then on I felt OK about posting them home and haven’t had any trouble with them.
I’m about to test the System. I buy a suitably sized Post Office cardboard post-pack box. I fill it perfectly with my samples. I fill out the customs declaration form stating that the parcel contains “Korean Porcelain stone and porcelain clay”. That should do it!
The lady behind the counter processes and weighs the box. She reads my form and suddenly stops dead. Looks up at me gravely and asks me through Jun beom, If I’m aware of Post Office rules regarding posting this kind of material? I say no, please tell me! She looks very stern and informs me that “Australia has severe rules about posting anything that might contain soil!” I release quite a sigh of relief. I tell her, no worries. I’ve done this before and its quite OK, I’ll take the risk! She franks it and I swipe my card. It’s gone.
If there really is a rule about exporting porcelain stone from Korea. No one has told the Post Office!
PS. my parcel arrived home safely and before I did.
Sweet dreams from Steve in Korea

Episode 5a. The Five bicycle guys – a slight digression.

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 Kim She Chronicles – Chapter 5

In which we decide to go way up North to the DMZ and look for Mines
I read somewhere that The DMZ still has somewhere around three million land mines, even after 50 years. We decide to go there anyway. We only want to see one mine. The place we are going to has a fearful reputation of strict control of its natural assets. We know where it is located. The Place has a web site. Miss Kang has rung ahead and spoken to the lady in the office. We can come and make a brief visit. The Centre has a Museum and a Research Facility.
It all sounds very worthwhile visiting. We set off up the coast. At one point, we drive along the shore of the Ocean. I wave at the waves and say ‘Hello’ to Australia, a long way away, on the other side of the ocean. I feel just a twinge of home-sickness at this point, after almost a month away.
It’s another long drive. Miss Kang copes with it very well, just like all the long drives that she has done. I am so lucky to have found such a resourceful person as a guide. We chat sporadically to pass the time. It develops that Miss Kang is a fan of eighties video games along with her partner. I ask if they play pokemon-go?
The answer is a fast NO! They prefer the older 80’s and 90’s generation of games and the consoles that they were played on. Collectors items.
Along the way, our conversation does reveal an amazing fact about Korea – unintentionally. It appears that no-one can play the modern version of pokemon-go in Korea. The Government hasn’t exactly banned it outright. It just hasn’t allowed any detailed maps of Korea to be published or released electronically on the net. It appears that this is because of some sort of paranoia about the use of these maps by North Korea should there be an invasion? Not too sure about this, but this is what I think that I understood?
Because there are no interactive e-maps of Korea, the game won’t work, as it relies on live internet access to e-maps to function. However, there is one anomaly. The detailed e-maps of Japan exist and pokemon-go is very popular in Japan. It just so happens that one of the digital maps of Japan has a square that just covers a part of Japan in its lower south-eastern corner, but also extends out over the sea to cover just a fraction of one Korean city at the opposite side of the square in the upper north-western corner.
Because the detailed electronic map exists in Japan and it has information about this place in Korea. It turns out that this is the only place in Korea that you can play Pokemon-go. The city was soon invaded by extreme numbers of young people on weekends. They would travel down to this city, just to play the game. The City council soon became aware of this as every b&b, hotel, motel and camp site, in the vicinity was booked out solid for months.
The mayor stepped in a took control. He got himself a pokemon-go character outfit and made all his public speeches and appearances in that get-up. He became the character for publicity purposes. He encouraged the players and welcomed them to his town. Making it as easy as possible to get to his town and to spend money there. The place hasn’t looked back. It’s booming! Just his luck to be included accidentally in the far corner of a Japanese map and he has made the most of it for his community.
Conversation gives us wings and the time soon passes and we are there in this small town, right up on the Northern border region, up against the DMZ. The Museum is a very Modern affair, Concrete and glass minimalism.
img_3193 img_3194
We walk into the front office past a lady weeding the pavers in the courtyard garden. As we walk into the office, she gets up and follows after us and welcomes us. She is the receptionist. She hasn’t been wasting her time waiting for us. She is taking pride in her workplace. We are invited to sit on the lounges while she makes a phone call.
Eventually a man comes into the foyer and greets us. He has an open, friendly face. Tall, slim, elegant and handsome with a confident demeanour and a welcoming smile. But! He looks like a busy man. I get the impression that we should make this quick. Miss Kang does her thing. Introducing us and briefly explaining our mission. The man doesn’t show any reaction at all that I can discern. I can see this becoming a repeat of our experiences of a few days ago.
Suddenly, he gets up and walks out, up the stairs. I’m at a bit of a loss. Few words have passed between them. There is no translation, but she only says to follow him. We do, and the stairs lead up to an office. We are asked to sit at the desk. He positions himself on the other side. He looks a bit bored. Certainly non-committal, but he listens to Miss Kang expand on her introduction. I can discern particular words like ‘Australia’, ’single-stone’ and ‘baekja’, which I recognise as the Korean word for white porcelain.
While they are talking, My eyes wander around the office. A few porcelain pots on a shelf, some old-looking shards on another. A book-case full with journals and magazines. Then right next to me on the shelf by my shoulder I see 3 large white  lumps of porcelain stone. One of them is iron stained along the fracture cracks by water staining. A man after my own heart.
Miss Kang is addressing me now. I return my gaze to The Man. He is apparently the Museum Director. He is interested to know more about my project and my intended exhibition. I explain to him through the medium of Miss Kang, that there are 5 countries in the world where I know that porcelain was invented independently. There may be others, but this is what I know. I have been to each of these places and worked on-site to make porcelain pots there and intend to have an exhibition of ‘5 Stones’ in Sydney in 2017. He listens blankly at first, then smiles and tells me that he is also collecting samples of every porcelain stone. Where are my five sites located. I tell him that I have been to China, Japan, Cornwall and now Korea. That’s only 4 he comments. I tell him that there is also Australia. He smiles. “I didn’t know that there was any porcelain stone in Australia!”  There is, I tell him, because I have used it to make my own native, single-stone, local porcelain. He looks at me a little bit surprised.
“And what about Cornwall?”
I tell him of my visits to Cornwall and my collection of kaolinised granite from this historic site. I tell him of my research and the various sites where information can be found. I write it out for him on his writing pad.
William Cookworthy, Tregonning Hill. 1745. He ‘navers’ it on his computer. This is the same as ‘googleing it here. ‘Naver’, is the Korean equivalent. He scrolls and clicks for a while around on his screen. He turns to me and says through the medium of Miss Kang. That he didn’t know anything about these two porcelain sites till now. How did I learn about them? I tell him that I found William Cookworthy by googling him. All the web sites are in English, so it wasn’t hard to find.
Suddenly, we are engaged at an equal level of common interest. We are connected by the same quest. I’m stunned, he’s amazed. He brightens up when I mention my 5 stones show. He tells me that he has spent his life collecting samples from all over the world. He is building a comprehensive collection of porcelain stone material for the Museum here.
Could he please ask me for a sample of my own stone. Of course he can, I’d be very pleased to send him a sample. I even have a couple of fired sample pots with me in my pack. I get them out and pass them across his desk. He examines them closely over a few minutes. He is taking in every detail. I can tell that he knows what he is looking at. This is so different from my earlier Southern experience, where, when I offered my pots for examination, they were pretty much summarily ignored.
We exchange name cards. The Director’s name is Jung, Du-sub. He takes us on an extended tour of the of the facilities. It is all very extensive and modern. It is a museum, a research facility and a teaching institute. The Museum has a large collection from the 16th Century up to contemporary works. We return to Director Jung’s office. He regretfully informs me of the rule that no stone or clay can be taken away from the site. It’s not his decision. BUT! He can offer me something else.
There is no rule about taking fired pots from here. He will offer me a place in the artist-in-resident program that they run. He retrieves his pad and starts to write out a possible program for me.
“When do I leave Korea?”
“Next Friday, a week away.” It is now Saturday evening.
He plots out a possible program for me. If I start throwing now, this evening. He will keep his TA staff on site till late in the night to give me support.
If I throw my work now. I can turn them tomorrow, if we force dry them with a fan and a heat gun. He will arrange to have them bisqued during the week and then glazed and glaze fired, They will be out of the glaze kiln on Thursday lunch time. Can I come back then and collect them on Thursday? Then I will be able to take the pick of them away with me in my hand luggage. I can get to the airport to catch my plane out on Friday. I’m stunned, amazed, thrilled! This man is really thinking creatively and being very helpful to me. I can hardly believe it. All this will be totally free, if I agree to donate one of my pots to the Museum. I agree willingly. Miss Kang rings Jun Beom to tell him that we will still be away for yet another night.
I look at Miss Kang. Can she stay another day? She nods, Yes!. This ‘short’ road trip is becoming bigger than Ben Hurr! Can she bring me back here next Thursday as well? She will have to make a call and get back to me. She goes out to make a call, but is soon back and nods.
Yes, she can bring me back on Thursday.
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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 get started on my work. They give me a metre of freshly pugged clay. I make 10 bowls of  various sizes, while Miss Kang sits and waits. Most of the time, she is glued to her tiny screen. Occasionally, stopping to take a few pictures of me working. She is still working for me at all times it seems.
I finish my throwing and take Miss Kang to dinner, she selects a local place that is only walking distance away. It has been recommended by Mr. Jung. We go and it is very nice. The usual fare of a bowl of rice each, a dish of soup to share, served along with several small dishes of pickles and other vegetables. It all looks really delicious. I can’t help taking a photo with my phone. I look up and see that Miss Kang is taking a photo of me, taking a photo of the food. We both laugh.
The residency building is very new. To the level of still smelling of fresh paint. The floor is heated. I find the boiler room near the entrance and turn the heating down to 22. I know that  I can live (or sleep) with that. I get a beautiful hot shower and make my bed. I go to the bedding cupboard to find that there are 4 blankets and a pillow. No mattress. I lay 3 of the blankets, folded double down to make a bed and keep the last one for on top. I sleep well enough.
When I wake, there is a fresh bottle of water outside my door with a note from Miss Kang. She has been up early and gone to the 24 hr. shop in the village. I shower and put all my old smelly clothes back on. I have run out of everything except knickers and hankies. I put my singlet back on inside-out to get another day out of it.
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We drive back to the Museum via the 24 hr. convenience store for a coffee and I start drying my pots with a hair dryer, then a heat gun appears and I use both to dry the heaviest of my chucks first, so that I can get started with the trimming. It all goes pretty well.
This clay has been beautiful to throw and turn. It’s one of those beautiful combination of plastics and non-plastics that works perfectly. Plastic enough to spiral knead, which is unusual for many single-stone miller rock bodies, most work best with cut and slap wedging method. There is just a hint of resistance from the milled stone component. I learn later why this is when we sit down together and exchange some technical details of our work.
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I turns beautifully with no chipping or tearing, but with only a slight tendency to ‘chatter’ when it is a bit too soft. Like all single-stone bodies, it turns best when almost dry. I don’t have that luxury here – or anywhere else on this trip for that matter. So I push on with the turning doing several repeat thinnings as they dry. Mr Jung’s technical assistants are very thoughtful and attentive. A heated drying panel appears and my work is transferred onto it, then a fan is brought in and set up. Luxury under duress. I really need to get this done. I can’t ask Miss Kang to stay away from her home for another night and force her to return to the convenience store for more personal apparel. I need to get this all done today.
I get half of my bowls turned, when Mr. Jung appears. He drops in every hour or so to check on my progress. He checks the weight and thickness of my work. I sometimes see him out of the corner of my eye gently rocking/juggling a bowl to asses its weight and balance. He very carefully runs his fingers down the wall to asses the profile. He seems satisfied. I respect this gentle man. He knows what he is doing. He is positive, creative and supportive. What more could you want?
He says that he would like to take me to the mine site to collect some samples of the porcelain stone. I really want to go. This is very important to me, but I also need to get these bowls turned today. I look at Miss Kang. I may need to stay another night to get all this done. How am I ever going to get it all finished? I get a ever-so-brief look that flashes across her face in a micro second. It’s not even there. It’s gone, but I saw it pass. It informs me ever so gently that we are going home tonight. She has had enough! However, she also wants to see the mine as well. She has started to take an interest in my project over this week of total immersion. Poor thing!
We go to the mine in the company van. It’s a very large site where porcelain stone was stored and sorted for hundreds of years since the 1600’s.
Does my arse look big in this quarry?
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We fill a couple of bags with nice pieces and then My Jung drives us to the clay making facility. It is very modern collection of machinery. The crusher is completely enclosed in a plastic sheeted room of its own to control the dust. Then there is the ball mill, slip tanks, electro-magnets, slip storage, filter press, vacuum pug-mill and then the   bagging area and stored to age, ready for use. It’s an enviable clay-making piece of kit. It is sort of what I have, it’s just that mine is in micro, compared to this, and all my gear is home made or bought second hand when I was lucky enough to see it up for sale. Small, laboratory sized crushing equipment doesn’t come up on the market very often in Australia. I have spent a life time of opportunistic scavenging to get all my equipment together in my shed. Then of course there is the expense. I had to do all of this on a shoe string budget. Thats probably the main reason that it has taken me 40 years to get it all assembled. This, on the other hand, is a purpose built shed and all brand new machinery. Oh for a budget like this!
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My Jung takes us to lunch. It’s very generous of him and quite unnecessary, but greatly appreciated. On the way back to the Museum. I ask Mr Jung why there is so much loud music and amplified talk radio blaring out from loud speakers through the village. He replies through Miss Kang, that it is not local radio. It is in fact North Korean propaganda that is being piped out over the border.
The border is only just over the hill here. It is only hundreds of metres away. The noise  goes on forever. He tells me that no-one really hears it any more. “We are just oblivious to it now. It’s just background noise to us.” luckily I can’t understand a word of it, So it really doesn’t mean anything to me either. It’s just noise to me too.
My Jung promises to post me some samples of  clay and stone. It can’t legally done in a straight-forward kind of way apparently. Or so he thinks, but he is not sure. No one appears to have tested it. Mr Jung says that he will post me the samples, but labeled as kaolin and not porcelain stone, just to be sure that there isn’t any problem. He has done this with other academics in China and Japan. I really hope that he does. I’d like to have them. But I will have the work, so it really won’t matter that much. It would be just the icing on top for me.
By 5.30 pm. I have finished my turning and clean up my turnings and wheel. Sweep the floor and sponge everything down. We are ready to go. My Jung asks us to have coffee before we leave. I think that it is a good idea if Miss Kang is to drive for a few hours into the night. He asks me again if I will send him samples and other technical data that I might have about my Australian single-stone. I confirm to him through Miss Kang, that indeed I will. I have given him the unglazed and wood fired bowl that I have with me in my pack. He has prepared a contract for me to sign.
His assistant appears and I duly sign it and I get a presentation copy to keep in a rather plush folder. This is to make it all legal. I will also donate one of my works that I have made here as well, once they are fired. I say that he can have first choice of my work when it comes from the kiln. We all nod in agreement and it’s smiles all round.
This has all turned out so much better than I could have imagined. I’m so happy!
We sit and make small talk for a bit, then Miss Kang tells me that Mr Kang wants to talk to me about Tregonning Hill. He has been doing some research of his own. Have I been there? Do I have a sample of the material? Do I have an image of the site  …. and the mineral?
I answer Yes to all of the above. I get out my phone and show him the images that I do have on me. He scrutinises them carefully. We make more small talk. I think that it is getting late and we  have a long way to drive, or at least Miss Kang does. Then after dropping me off in Yeo Ju, she still has another few hours to get herself back home to Seoul.
Why are we still here? There is some discussion going on between Miss Kang and The Director, Mr Jung. Eventually, Miss Kang turns to me and says that Mr Jung would like to ask me a favour. I say yes, of course.
He asks me through Miss Kang if I would be prepared to give him a sample of my Tregonning Hill stone. Of course I would. That is absolutely no problem for me. I will post it to him as soon as I get back home, along with a sample of my own local Joadja aplite. He heaves a sigh of relief. Smiles, and says thank you! He has been building up the courage all weekend to ask me this. It is finally said and the air is cleared. We are all happy.
We really need to get going now. We get up and head for the car. He sees us to the door and we get into the car. Miss king takes some time to call her boyfriend, then Jun Beom and set the navigator app for home. As the car turns and starts to pull out. I see that Mr Jung is still waiting by the door to wave good-bye. I wave back and must say that I have a twinge of emotion to be leaving a place where I had absolutely no expectations of any kind. Or if I did, they were probably negative, going on my past experiences and the warnings that I had been given.
To find such a nice, welcoming place, run by such a creative, flexible open-minded person. This is amazing. It’s quite beyond my attempts to put words to it. Then to discover that he has the same interests as me in collecting samples of single-stone porcelain We both didn’t know that each other existed before now. It’s been a very positive meeting of minds. Even though our minds were filtered through the medium of the wonderfully patient Miss Kang.
Miss Kang drives us through the night and I eventually arrive at my old airB&B room quite late. I find that there are 5 guys there tonight partying out the back with beers and a BBQ. It’s quite late, but they insist that I join them. I say OK, but just for a short time, as I am very tired. They have run out of beer, but have moved onto some sort of strong white spirit. I decline, thank you very much. Then one of them comes out with a chilled bottle of fermented rice wine. I’m OK with this, as I’ve had it before.
There is still a lot yet to happen this night, but that is another story.
Fond regards from Steve in Korea

The Kim Chi Chronicles – 4th Instalment

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.

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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

The Kim Chi Chronicles – Part 3


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Kim Chee Chronicles. Vol 2.

I have been in Korea. It has been my first trip to Korea and it was amazing, such lovely, friendly and helpful people. 

I eventually visited 3 sites where single stone porcelain is currently being mined and used and a 4th ancient site that is now abandoned by the industry, but still worked by the odd individual potter. As an ‘odd’ individual myself, I know what they are looking for. I am lucky to have a fabulous driver/translator to help me get everything done. Thank you Miss Jane, Mr Lee and Miss Kang, I would have no chance of doing any of this on my own here without the necessary language skills and local knowledge that you provided. I am very grateful to all the Koreans that I met who gave me so much assistance and warm friendship along the way on this trip.

I had been in dialogue with the manager of one old porcelain site in the south that is reputed to be a single-stone porcelain site. The Manager was very dismissive and not really interested in my research project. I wrote politely from Australia, asking for samples and to be able to make a visit. He told me that there is a Korean Government blanket rule that bans the release for export of porcelain clay and/or porcelain stone from leaving the country! He even seemed to be claiming that this ban included porcelain pottery made at the site by outsiders like me. 

I’m amazed. Is this really true? Am I being sold a pup? Apparently there is some basis in truth in this, others corroborate it. This stone is a National Cultural Property or Asset of cultural Significance.

So, I can’t have a small sample for my collection. Not even a golf ball sized piece. It’s forbidden. I can’t have any clay made from it either. Not a skerrick. Verboten. Eventually, I get an email via my beautiful and ever so helpful Korean friend in Sydney, Miss Jane. Explaining to me that she has finally had a response to my letter, but only after following it up with a phone call. The email said that I can visit the porcelain centre and look, but only as a tourist. I cannot keep any of it in any form. The reply reads as follows;

This is an edited, English translation of the reply that I received.

“Hello Harrison,

I am writing to reply your enquiry.

You are able to use single stone as a trial only but you cannot stay in the Porcelain Centre to cure in Kiln or fire, that means you cannot have a complete piece of ceramic. 

This year we have many exhibitions in the Porcelain Centre and we are very busy at the moment. 

We don’t have any residency program to accept candidates who want to learn the Porcelain.”


So, that was pretty comprehensive. I can come and look. I can touch the stuff, but I can’t keep any of it in any form.

I ask my Australian/Korean friend what she thinks this means, and am told that I shouldn’t expect anything at all from this guy. She has rung him for clarification and spoken with him directly. In her opinion this man is not going to be helpful to me at any time in the future, He is just not interested.

I interpret that this means that I shouldn’t expect any help at all in any way. If I go there and visit the site. I do decide to go to Korea anyway. It’s worth a try. My Australian friend’s brother knows a local potter who is currently under-employed, so will be happy to work as my interpreter, guide and driver for a reasonable set fee per day + costs  I agree willingly. What a fantastic opportunity.

I arrange to get two rooms booked for us on the first night and then a couple of nights for me in a single, so that I can stay on and work.  My interpreter will return to her work. I’m confident that once I meet the director of this ancient porcelain making site, he will soften and will let me stay and work with their clay. Once he sees my dedication, enthusiasm and my long term commitment to this noble cause. As you may have guessed. I’m somewhat naive!

We set off on our road trip early, and drive all morning, with only one brief rest stop. We arrive about 11.30. We introduce ourselves. Yes, they are expecting us. We are booked in at the Cultural Centre/Museum’s replica country house accomodation facility.

It is actually quite lovely, even though it is a totally fake replica building. It has lots of natural timber. It is very basic, but I don’t mind that. I hope that my guide doesn’t mind. I give her the choice of the larger room. There are a few thatched buildings in the rear courtyard and a climbing chambered kiln. None of which are used. It is some sort of historical display.
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We are first introduced to the senior man in the front office. He can’t tell us anything positive. He has to ring his supervisor. Eventually the supervisor arrives down from up-stairs. He can’t tell us anything either. He’ll need to consult. He goes outside to call on his mobile. Eventually the Cultural Centres special person whose job it is to stall me arrives and begins his work. He tells me that he has rung the pottery workshop site, but can’t get through. No one is answering. It’s 12.00 o’clock now, so probably at lunch? We are taken on a tour of the facilities.

We are shown through the Museum of local single-stone white porcelain material collected from nearby archaeological sites. Then there is a sudden jump to some few items of turn of the century peasant wares, but the majority of the museum collection is comprised of Japanese Satsuma ware porcelain that they have recently purchased from Japan. Apparently, one of the Korean potters that the War Lord Hideyoshi kidnapped and took back to Japan during his ill fated invasion of Korea in the late 1500’s was captured from around here. The bold claim made by the Museum Curator is that it is the Korean genetic heritage in this person (whatever small that percentage is after 15 generations abroad) it is this Korean heritage that has made him great. So they are claiming him as their own and this Japanese work is somehow now Korean! This is a very strange experience! But no more strange than Australians claiming famous New Zealanders as being Aussies! Read Russell Crowe, Our Nicole, etc. So, fair enough!

Eventually at 2.00pm they are back from lunch at the pottery and someone answers the phone. We will be able to go out to the pottery site, up the mountain, about 10 kms away. They are expecting us this afternoon.  

 I thank them warmly for their ‘help’ in the office at the Cultural Centre before we leave. 

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Eventually, we are allowed to go up the mountain, to the pottery. We get to meet the Manager. We get there and he is just as disinterested my requests in person as he was to my Korean friends emails and phone calls from Australia.
My translator makes a passionate case for my interests, but it makes no difference. He is not responding positively to any suggestion that I make through my interpreter.
I ask my translator to put the point that I have been negotiating with them for 7 months now, surely they are aware of my visit here. Their web site states that a visitor can have a ceramic ‘experience’ for 10,000 Korean Wan. I want to get to feel the substance of the stuff to get an idea of its ‘nature’. 
I don’t know how my very diplomatic translator conveys this, but ….
He relents. Through my interpreter, he tells me that I can ‘experience’ their unique single stone porcelain. 
That’s great! There is a potters wheel over there in the corner of this spotlessly clean show room, and a pug mill. Can I have a go now? 
No! It is actually not that simple. I will have to wait until tomorrow. I will be able to try the clay tomorrow at 10.00am. back at the Cultural Centre/Museum. It takes time to organise these things.
We are given our leave to wander around the so-called pottery workshop, but nobody seems to be working here. There are no work racks, no work in progress. No ware boards. All the buildings are spotless and very new looking. The white stone seam opposite the pottery building hasn’t been worked for years. There are no clean faces. No workings. No access track to get to the face. It all looks abandoned and over-grown.
I do actually get to meet old Mr Go. He is the old potter, now in his 80’s, who once worked here in his youth. He sees us off the premises. All the way down to the gate and I’m not allowed to take even a very small piece of the stone!
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Before we leave, I seem to be being told to make a written ‘proposal’ to them tomorrow? Even though I already have done this from Australia before I left. I’m a bit confused!
Miss Kang and I eat out in the local village a few kms away, down by the river. We choose the equivalent of a tasting plate, or plates. Perhaps a degustation? Except that it all comes at once. We get a small bowl of rice, a pot of soup to share and then 20 small dishes of pickles and vegetables to go along with it.
It’s a wonderful local Korean dining experience. The equivalent of Au$35 for the two of us. We retire to our old fashioned style, but new, farmers house. It’s actually quite cosy inside my room. It turns out that it has a heated floor, which I find to be too hot, so I fiddle with the controls for a while to figure out which buttons do what in Korean. I eventually set it for a more comfortable 22oC, down from 26.
We have been told to meet at the museum in town at 10am the next day and we do. A young man turns up with a plastic carry bag with a couple of pugs of clay in it. I’m shown to the pottery room attached to the museum. He leaves me there to try the clay on the wheel. 
I go behind a partition to change into my clay work-clothes. I find a gas kiln in there for firing the porcelain and a clay box almost full of similar pugs of white clay.  There is a heap of it here in the clay box.
I make a few pots and put them out in the sun to speed dry. I am only allowed this one day to have access to the wheel to make and turn my work. 
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It’s a hot day and I rotate my work every few minutes to get it dry enough to trim without drying too much on one side and then warping out of shape. No matter what I do the stuff curls up and warps in the intense heat and wind. It’s 30oC out there today. After an hour I bring in the first piece and attempt to turn it almost bone dry on the rim, while still being damp down at the foot where it is thicker.
It doesn’t show the normal tearing and chipping that I ‘m accustomed to when turning single stone bodies that are a bit damp. Chipping and tearing is a very common trait of single-stone porcelains in all the other countries where I have done this. It didn’t have any real resistance and lack of plasticity that is also so very common with all the other single-stone materials in the world. 
I turn the two pieces that are the least warped and abandon the third. I get the ‘feel’ of the stuff. It doesn’t feel at all like any milled-stone body that I’ve experienced before. Not to throw and not during turning.
When I’m finished trimming, I clean up my wheel and sweep up all my turnings and put them in a plastic basin that I find in the room and place them on the wheel head. I leave my 3 pots on a work board on the table. Just in case someone turns up to weigh all my turnings and 3 pots to account for all the clay that has been issued to me. No one turns up!  It must be so very boring for my interpreter to sit and wait all day while I work.
We are joined in the afternoon by a friend, of a friend, of a friend, from Australia, Mr Jaeyong is a potter who is just starting out on his career and wants to know a little about my project. I go to the office and say my goodbyes and thank them all for their help.
We go to our cars to drive up the coast to visit another pottery stone site. Perhaps we can find somewhere more obliging. While I was working Miss Kang has been working hard tracking down the next site and making contact. She has been busy all day on her phone. Not wasting time on facebook, but busy working for me in my interests, chasing up leads. Mr Jaeyong is very interested to come along too.
There is a quarry up the East coast. An ancient site where pottery stone has been mined for eons. There is no functioning pottery on the site, but the single-stone material is used extensively all over Korea for glazes and clay bodies. Mr Jaeyong lives not too far from there and doesn’t know of this porcelain stone site. He is offering for us all to stay at his house over night and to go to the site together tomorrow. I ask my translator,  Miss Kang if she has the time?  She makes a phone call. Yes, she can spare me another day. It’s all arranged.
I’ll just leave this southern site out of my exhibition. I can always use the Yeo Ju porcelain work that I have already made to represent Korea in my show. Plus, I still have another 3 places to investigate yet. 
So we get in our cars and drive off.
I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, I am. But I was warned!  Still, it could have been better.
Such is life. Lets get going!
Best wishes from Steve in Korea

The Kim Chi Chronicles

I have been away for a month doing some ceramic archaeology in Korea. It’s my first trip to Korea and it was amazing, such lovely, friendly and helpful people.

15 years ago I discovered my local deposit of Single Stone Porcelain. It got me thinking about the history of porcelain and where it was first discovered and how it spread around the world. I knew in a general sense that it all started in China a long time ago, but my knowledge was lacking in specific details. I decided back then to find out a lot more to fill in the gaps in my education. I read as widely as I could and worked out a time line of events and places.

It all started in China about 1000 years ago. I’ve travelled to China twice in the intervening years to collect samples in-situ and to make work there from their amazing sericite based porcelain body. I also discovered that Korea inherited some of this Chinese knowledge/technology of porcelain making a few hundred years later, which is not too surprising as the two countries are closely land-linked. There are 5 places in the world where porcelain was discovered independently  following on from the Chinese. I decided that I had better go to all these places to see these sites, experience the local terroir, collect samples and if possible, to make work on-site out of the local stone. Korea is the last of these places, so I had to go there and complete my research. 

I did what research that I could on-line before going to work in Korea, but a lot of the sites are only in Korean language. I was lucky to be introduced to a lovely Korean lady here in Australia. It turned out that her brother is a potter in Korea, so all my questions were answered.

Jun Beom, is a potter working in Yeo Ju. A large town, or small city, dedicated to pottery making. He is amazingly friendly and incredibly helpful. He really looked after me so well while I was there. I was able to use his workshop to make some work. He had also organised a local translator/Guide/driver, Miss Kang, who could take me to all the single-stone porcelain sites in South Korea. It eventually turned out to be a 5 day 1500 km. long road trip, full to the brim with interesting events, places and people. I was so incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this situation. Thanks to one of my ex-students in Sydney, Claudia, who has a lot of contacts and to whom I am very grateful.

I discovered through my new Korean friends that there are multiple sites in South Korea where porcelain stone has been mined and used to make single-stone porcelain. There were many more according to the archaeological research that I came across. In one place that I visited, there were 32 places in that one valley alone, where archaeologist had found significant kiln sites in the past few years.

I arrived in Incheon and caught the bus straight to Yeo Ju, where Jun Beom met me and took me to the AirB&B that would be my temporary home for the next few weeks on and off. Jun Beom invites me to work in his studio and makes a potters wheel and a few ware boards available to me. He is fully aware of my research interests and although there are no single-stone sites in Yeo Ju. There is a clay making factory in town, just a few minutes away, where porcelain stone from the East Coast is used to make the local porcelain body. 
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Jun Beom takes me to the factory and we are shown around by the manager, who is very obliging and gives us a full tour. It turns out that he is a friend of Jun Beom’s  I am shown all the materials that they use to make all the various bodies here in the processing plant. Im particularly concerned to see the porcelain stone. They have several grades of it here. I’m quite taken by the whites one. it is delivered to the plant already crushed, washed and screened to 10mm with the 3mm to dust fraction removed by washing it out. It is very familiar looking stuff. Although it is quite small, the pieces show no crystalline structure and it could easily be a sample of my own aplite. A quickly cooled, micro crystalline, mica free acid rock. I’m greatly pleased to see this. They have no hesitation in filling a bag for me to take away as a sample.
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I ask if they make a single stone porcelain from it. But no, they don’t. It is mixed with something else. He’s not saying what. Recipes are commercially sensitive and kept in confidence. I have no problem with that at all. I like the look of this stuff and am keen to try some out. I buy 2 bags of the prepared porcelain body made from this stone. It throws exactly like I would expect from my experience with 11 other milled stone blends that I have tried from around the world and a couple of single stone bodies that I’m confident about.
The first thing that I have to do is make a few ‘chucks’ so that when my pieces are dry, I will have some tools to use to support them during trimming. This is an essential part of how I work. The chucks are made and then the work. I really like this material. It is just so familiar to me even though I’m thousands of miles away from home.
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It needs to be coaxed a little in throwing, as it is a little bit sluggish, but quite good, better then my body and better than I imagined that it might be. I am assuming that the thing or things that are added to this stone might be kaolin and bentonite? It suffers from base cracking against the wire cut. This is exacerbated by the thick wire that I have to use here. I hunt around and find a finer one that helps alleviate the problem a little. On trimming the base the next day, it has that totally predictable tearing and chipping quality if it is turned a little damp. It really needs to be just off bone dry to work freely, but for this you really need tungsten carbide turning tools. I just happen to have some with me. Lucky! I’m very confident that this locally produced Yeo Ju porcelain body is composed substantially of milled stone. It looks, feels, acts, throws and turns just like it ought to if it is composed principally of milled stone. 
I’m keen to see the fired results, but that will have to wait till next week after these pots have dried and been bisqued, then glazed and finally glaze fired. Pottery making can be a slow process. In the mean time, Jun Beom has organised a translator/guide/driver for me, so that I can travel to other places in Korea to visit sites where single-stone porcelain is made. Everything is arranged for tomorrow morning. The road trip will begin.
I originally planned for a simple 2 day, one night trip to the south and back, but this soon blows out to 5 days and 4 sites, as opportunities arise and offers are made and accepted. Travel can be a very fluid thing if all the planets fall into line and the people involved are flexible in their approach. I am so lucky that my guide is such a generous and flexible person, willing to change her own plans to fit in with mine and take up these opportunities as they arise.
Talk about lucky!
For dinner, I’m invited to a Korean BBQ. It’s great! The only thing that I’m not too certain about is the, quite heavy, slippery and thin stainless steel chop sticks. They will take a bit of getting used to. Everything else is turning out to be wonderfull.
I’m so lucky to be here with such friendly, warm and welcoming people.
Best wishes
from Steve in Korea