The rain is gone, so on my walk to work along the river, I notice that the flow is greatly reduced and back to its clear normal flow. The waters must be fairly clean, as there are otters living and breeding in the river. Whereas in other more industrialised areas of Korea, the otter numbers declined over the past 30 or 40 years, before making a slight recovery recently, due to increased environmental protection. Here the numbers have remained largely unchanged presumably due to the remoteness of the site. The village celebrates the otters with a fountain in the village square. I ask the assistants working here if they have seen them? They tell me that, yes, they have, but otters are quite shy of people, so you have to be patient and sit quietly. Mr Jang, Duck-jin, the pottery teacher, here in the centre, even has a video on his phone that he made last winter. For that matter, so does Inhwa and her husband, Mr Kim.
I’m at the studio early. I walk around to the gas kiln area but the door is still firmly shut and wound up. I settle at my work bench to do some writing while I wait. It isn’t long before Mr Jung comes in with one of my small bowls. and hands it too me. It’s perfect, or seems so at first glance. No warping, no slumping, no pin holes, no runs and no rubbish fallen into it from above. That’s a pretty good result. The colour isn’t too bad either. I really glad now, that I double-dipped the glaze! I was a bit concerned at the time that it might crawl again, and then when Mr Jung come in after the bisque and told me that I had probably made all my pots too thin and that this means that they might slump in the kiln at high temperature. That put the angst into me. He didn’t mean to phase me out, but at that point, there was no way that I could make any more and get them through in time. So first impressions are good. Mr Jung intimates that this is just one that he has stolen from the kiln for me to see. The kiln won’t be opened properly for another hour or more. I sit and wait.
My Jung is at the door, he calls my name to get my attention. He always calls me ‘Harrison’. I’m getting used to it now. It’s a very Asian thing. Last names first. We go to the kiln area. The door is open and pots are being taken out. I can see more of my work appearing one by one. They are cool enough to touch right away. I examine each one briefly as it is handed to me. I can see a few coming out that have minor faults like a pin hole or some slight warping. A couple from the bottom front of the setting have come out a bit neutral in colour, lacking reduction, so they look just a touch anaemic. A creamy body, with a yellowish-green glaze instead of the pale blue over grey that indicates good colour for these materials in good reduction. I start to carry them inside to give them a better examination. Mr Jung calls me back. He switches on the diamond buffing pad machine, so that we can polish all the foot rings. It only takes a couple of minutes. Then we carry them inside. The machine does a beautiful job.
I examine each one, not just carefully, but thoroughly, in good light. I find that I have come out of it with 22 firsts and 11 minor seconds. That’s great. I was hoping to take home a dozen of various sizes, so I’m on track. I offer Mr Jung first choice for his collection in the porcelain museum. He replies to me at length through Inhwa, who has just walked in, that he will need some time to work his way through them, before making a selection. He asks me through Inhwa, how many he can choose. I say that he can have as many as he likes. He jokingly puts out his arms around the whole lot. We laugh. I’m flattered. He thinks for a bit and then says, “how about 5?” I Reply “yes, of course, choose 6, you have first choice.” He tells me that he has got some plans for a bigger extension for the Museum. He will have a lot more space to show contemporary work soon. Maybe next year? 6 will be good. He settles in for a good scrute. But his phone rings and he is called away.
Inhwa and her husband Kim, Deok-ho, have arranged to take me to lunch. It’s their turn. We go to the Chinese inspired Korean eatery. Every time I’m taken out to lunch by some of the staff, we go to a different place. It seems that every house along the central part of the village is a restaurant! We just seem to walk along the street and then without notice someone in our group will just walk up to a door, open it and walk straight in, and sure enough, it isn’t a house at all, but a large dining room or rooms. I don’t have the nerve to go up to one of the other buildings that I haven’t been into as yet and just walk in expecting a meal. What would I say if I just walked into someone’s home and the family were all just sitting there watching telly in the lounge room? It’s all because I can’t read Korean. there is probably some sort of sign that I’m not aware of?
We sit down, on the floor, as you do, at the end of a long table. There is an old couple at the other end. I smile and they smile back. They are very weather-beaten and a bit ragged looking. The man starts to talk to me in a friendly sort of way, in Korea of course. I have no idea, but Inhwa steps in to rescue me. She explains that this couple are farmers and they see me walk past their place most days. Apparently, She tells me through translation, that I smiled at them, waved, and said my “anyohaseyo” to them, then nodded my head in a modest bow in passing. Perfect! They knew that they would like me from that moment onwards. So now we get to have lunch together. Thank goodness for Inhwa. On my last visit it was Miss Kang who made sense of my life here for me. If it weren’t for Inhwa, this time I’d have no idea what was going on, and this opportunity would have just floated by in the ether. The farmers are beaming at me as Inhwa recounts some of what I’m doing here. Lots of nods, smiles and affirmative “huh”, grunting sort of noises.
We all nod and smile and get on with our lunch. Inhwa confesses to me that she is now quite embarrassed, as she has lived here in this village for the past 3 years of her studies in the research centre and she has seen this couple many times, but never spoken to them or even said “Hi” until now.
I explain that I know that I am the foreigner here. I look different. I can’t speak the language, and I’m not part of the farming community. I represent “The Other”. I suddenly arrive on the scene and I am a totally unknown quantity. I fall into “The Stranger Comes to Town” scenario. It’s one of the oldest plot lines from Hollywood. I know from my own experiences, back home in Australia, when I arrived in my own small village, that small isolated villages, mostly inhabited by older people can be quite conservative places.
We were treated with suspicion by the locals for quite some time. We were different in every way, even though I was an Australian. Thank goodness that I wasn’t from overseas and spoke another language to boot! So, I understand what it is like to be the stranger in town, and the best bet is to engage warmly from the first instance, even though I’m not the warm, friendly, Type A personality, outgoing sort of person. I make an effort and I’m pleased that it seems to have paid off. It transpires over lunch, that these humble farmers have actually been to Australia for a visit too! Small world indeed.