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