Moon Jars

While the long wood firing is in progress, there are simultaneous demonstrations of Moon Jar making by 3 exceptional makers. These mysterious white porcelain globes, have fascinated people for centuries, including potters in the West like Lucie Rie, and Bernard Leach.

There is Mr Cheol Shin, The traditional potter who we met a week ago in his workshop while he was wood firing. He is the maker who threw 1000 jars to learn how to make them well and with feeling. He tells us that it was only after that epic effort, was it that he felt confident that he could interpret this elusively simple form with sufficient understanding and confidence to do them justice. He is such a confident thrower, that he makes a dozen ‘halves’ on the first afternoon and then with time up his leave, he make 20 large dishes as well.

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Mr Changhyeon Jeon,  makes Moon Jars with a modern, humorous take on the ancient tradition. His work is great fun, although to my mind he seems to be taking the whole forum very seriously indeed rarely smiling. It seems to be Mr Cheol who is cracking all the jokes during the throwing demos. He is very relaxed and very confident. Mr Changhyeon, on the other hand works on quietly, being very careful and studious. He isn’t interested in volume, only making two jars in total, but each with applied sculptural additions. He has been developing a long series of moon jars with little whimsical horses, that climb up on his pieces and bite a chunk out of the rim. He was commissioned to make a number of pieces for the Korean Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last year. In that series, his horses broke off pieces of the rim of the jars and made skies, snow boards and a luge, then took off down the steep sides of the pots.

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And then there is Mr Jung Hong Park, he makes Moon Jars with a very modern twist. For a start, he is working with black stained porcelain. His technique is to transfer high-definition, digital NASA images of the moon’s surface onto his forms. The detail is stunning and the time it takes to create the image is astonishing. I watched him work on and off for the 3 days and he managed to finish just a couple of square inches of the image. I congratulated him on the effort and he told me that this was only just the first layer of slip inlay, He will come back over it and inscribe another layer – or more. He works with ten different colours of slip, graduated from white to black, to get the fine-grained digital effect. He told me that he will spend up to 2 months to finish the image. Making the form for him is less important, it’s all about the totality of the enterprise, of which the image plays an important part. I’m impressed by his ability to concentrate and apply himself to this sustained project over such a long period of time.

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After work, on the way to our accommodation, we pass the local co-op. The light is on and I can see a lady inside working. I go in and see what she is up to. There are a number of machines in there, some are clearly for working with chilis. There are machines specially for removing the seeds, others for course. medium and fine grinding the powder, depending on the desired outcome.

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Tonight she is renting the oil processing machines. She has brought in her crop of ‘perilla’. I grow a variety of this plant at home myself. I call it ‘shiso’ and use it in salads, as a garnish and as an ingredient in pickles. It has a very distinctive flavour. The variety grown here is not the same and tastes similar but different. Here however they let it grow to full maturity and let it go to seed. The seeds are collected and pressed for their oil. They call it wild sesame here because the oil taste very similar to sesame oil, only milder and slightly sweeter. The mature leaves are used along with lettuce leaves to wrap the meat and pickles in the dish called ssambap.

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We see a hedge of perilla growing around the edge of a ripe crop of rice being harvested, and some real sesame being dried on the pavement in the village along with other recently harvested crops of chilis and herbs spread out on tarps to dry. You don’t want to see a good bit of unused pavement being wasted on a nice sunny day in autumn.

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The Yanggu Porcelain Museum wood kiln firing

After we have spent out time in Seoul, we set off to travel up to the geographical centre of Korea, right up against the DMZ to a small town, or large village, called Bangsan. They have been mining porcelain stone here for centuries. The earliest written records of porcelain making in this valley date back to 1391. The ancient kiln site is now preserved under a roof, but still accessible. The site where the porcelain stone was stock piled and sorted ready for shipping to Seoul is still there, however, it has been desecrated by someone in living memory. I don’t know the exact details or circumstances, but what a shame. The Korea war raged up and down the country for a few years, back and forth. Maybe it was then? I don’t know.

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There is a very ominous sign post on the banks of the river just 50 metres from the back entrance to the Porcelain Museum. It looks to me to be a warning sign about land mines. I get out my phone and use the translation app to read the text. Sure enough, it tells me that land mines can still be found here exposed after floods or washed down off the hills after heavy rains. It tells me how to identify them and not to touch them. As If! I can only suppose that some small kiddies might pick one up if un-accompanied? We are so lucky in Australia.

Our trip up here took us all day on 3 different busses and about 6 hours with waiting for connections. We have arrived early, before the forum is due to start, as we want to put pots in the long wood firing that will be held in conjunction with the conference. The Museum has a couple of 5 chamber traditional wood kilns that are fired a few times each year.

We pack all day and work into the night. One of the residents potters living in the student accommodation village ‘Daewoong’ is in charge and is assisted by a visiting potter from Poland ‘Gosia’. Not her full name, but one that she feels that we can pronounce. The firing will go for 100 hours or 4 days, all through the forum and demonstration days.

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On the days when we are not involved in the forum, we do a 6 hour shift in the stoking. Janine ends up getting in more time at the stoking than me, as I’m constantly involved with the translator and publisher, or if not with them I’m speaking at the forum. I turn up one day to find that it is a fully female crew on shift.

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As the firing progresses on to the final stages and the side stoking of the 5 chambers.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the (Porcelain) Forum

We are spending a few days in Seoul to do a little cultural sightseeing, visiting some of the Art Galleries and Museums, and searching out some interesting shops and small private galleries that show a range of hand-made objects, and not just ceramics.

It’s always great to be in a very different place and experience different cultures first hand. We are here alone without any real Korean language skills, just following our noses I can’t help but notice as we walk to the station that they seem to have chosen one of the most expensive way to wash their high-rise windows.

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Two large cranes for a day, a Sunday at that, must cost a small fortune?

I’m more accustomed to seeing blokes abseil down the glass fronts of these big buildings, or stand in a mechanical hoist that is lowered down from the roof.

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As we approach the station we see the first of the first of what is going to be a very common sight over the next few weeks. People make use of every space to dry their autumn harvest. In this case Chilis, and this is in the middle of the city of Seoul. Every spare bit of space is utilised.

We are very lucky to discover a very nice small shop that sells handmade ‘Jogakbo’ Korean patchwork fabrics and Korean paper lamps. We spend half an hour in there even though the shop is quite small. It has a lot of very interesting small things stashed away in intriguing little nooks and crannies. We really enjoy the paper cut-out lanterns, lamp shades and wall installations.

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Their patchwork seems to feature a lot of pastel colours and at times some very bright colours, but I’m rather drawn to the most simple unbleached, off-white, hemp and ramie fibre fabrics. Simple and restrained, they speak to me of tranquility, even though the surface is intrinsically busy. I see parallels in my life in this material. I’d love a large, wall-sized piece, but they are too expensive.

We settle on a couple of small things that are more in tune with our budget. One in pastels and another in a very restrained, if somewhat Piet Mondrianish style.

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We dine in a little cafe just down a lane, not too far from our hotel. It offers just about the best hand-made, small production, Indian Pale Ale that I  have ever tasted, and it’s made locally too! Sweet, sour, bitter and spritzig, with wonderful fruity hops. The hops are so lively, that I suspect that it has been double hopped, late in the ferment. I don’t know much about beer making, although I do make beer at home myself, but I’m a complete amateur and just use a ‘Coopers’ kit. However, my son Geordie is right into brewing his own mash from basic grains, as is my friend David in Wales. He even grows his own hops in his garden.

See,; ‘From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales’, on this blog a few weeks back.

For the rest of our trip here we only drink Fermented white rice wine, soju or whatever local Korean beer there is in the little village cafes that we frequent. Although when I take my friends Jun Beom and his wife out to lunch, he chooses us a bottle of soju made from sweet potatoes. A first time for me. Not that different in flavour from the rice originated equivalent. Or so it seems to my uninitiated taste buds.

The next two days are spent with our friend Miss Kang, she is only available on weekends now, since she got a full time job. We are lucky that she has the time to spare to see us. I am eternally grateful to her for being my translator and driver a few years ago. She was fantastic in that role. We have continued to keep in touch and are now friends. This is the 4th time that I have visited Korea and managed to catch up with her.

She drives us to Icheon a few hours away to visit a common friend and see his new gallery. Icheon is a pottery town. It seems to be almost exclusively involved in the business of making and selling pots. After lunch we go for a walk to visit a few of the other workshops and galleries. There is a small ceramic festival on today in a new part of town where a new pottery suburb has been built. It’s so new that not all the streets are tar sealed yet and not all the allotments have been fully developed. The festival/ street party is to get the community involved and make a bit of an advertising splash. As this area is so new that they need to make themselves and their whereabouts known to the wider community.

Miss Kang takes us to one gallery/workshop where the owners name is ‘Mium’. They have built their workshop and gallery as a square shape with a square courtyard in the centre, with square windows. Miss Kang explains to Janine, using her phone, that the Korean letter ‘‘ is a plain consonant and is pronounced ‘mieun’, so they have used this as a central motif, not only in their work, but also in the design of their workshop.

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Next, we are taken to a Master Moonjar Maker. He has a fantastic workshop and gallery too. He is firing his wood kiln today. We can see this from afar, as it is very smokey. We are introduced, and it is expained that we are here to take part in the Yanggu Porcelain Museum, Special Annual Porcelain Forum. The potter, Cheol Shin, looks amazed for a second, then shakes my hand. He tells me, through translation, that he is very pleased to meet me, and knows that I am coming to Korea, because he will be one of the speakers /demonstrators at that forum too. What an amazing piece of synchronicity! He is a really nice guy, so friendly, but without Miss Kang and Jun Beom to help us, we wouldn’t know.

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Apparently, he made 1000 large Moonjars, before he was prepared to call himself ‘Master’. I believe that he is certainly entitled to give himself that title now.

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Next, Miss Kang and Jun Beom take us to the local HaeJu Ceramic Museum. We meet the Director, Mr KiHwan Um. He seems a rather eccentric kind of fellow. I like him. After some polite social introductions and an exchange of name cards, an explanation of our mission here and my past research, he shows us around and gives us a special personal tour of the exhibits, but more importantly, the stock rooms. There are rows and rows of old and new pots. He just happens to have a collection of Song dynasty pots in his collection. Amazingly, we are expected to handle them and comment.

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We end our tour in the international section. He asks if I have any images of my work with me. I regret that I don’t, as I wasn’t aware that I’d be coming here, this is just a fluke meeting. I do have a few images on my phone though. I show him what I have of my show at Watters Gallery last year. I am suprized when he asked me, through Miss Kang, if he can obtain one of my Australian Native single-stone porcelain bowls for the Museum. I’m flattered.

Before we leave Icheon, we bump into a couple of Australians, Tony and Gail,  who have come here to do a week-long, hands-on workshop in Onggi making. There are apparently 5 Australians here for the workshop. Lucky them.

I love Korea. I am always happy here. We’ve only just arrived and I havent even left yet, but I’m already thinking of ways to come back. It’s a funny thing.

 

 

Korea is such a great place

Janine and I have been invited back to Korea. I have been here several times to do research into Sericite porcelain. I was invited last year to give the Key Note address to the first International Porcelain Conference, along with other speakers from Japan and China, as well as local Korean presenters.

I have spent all my life researching the use of local stones and other endemic materials for use in ceramics. A somewhat weird but very interesting and rewarding hobby. I have spent the best part of the last 20 years specialising in research into the use of Sericite in single stone porcelain bodies. That research got me the guernsey to last years conference. While I was there, I gave a copy of my latest book ‘5 Stones’ to the director of the Porcelain Museum and Research Centre. It turned out to be a very rewarding gift, as Mr Jung, the Director of the Museum must have been impressed, he invited me back again this year to speak about the book.

The Yanggu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre together with sponsorship from the Yanggu Gangwondo Min Ilbo Daily Newspaper have bought the rights to translate and publish the book in Korea. We get free return tickets and an advance royalty so that we can meet with the translator and publisher to set out the ‘tone’ and final content of the Korean edition. The book is about my 15 year research in 5 countries investigating endemic sericite porcelain and its history over a thousand-year period.

The story takes place back and forth between China, Korea, Japan, the UK and Australia with plenty of asides and digressions as I blunder about like the proverbial bull in the China shop smashing my way through cultural niceties and taboos with some incompetence and plenty of ignorance. It’s not so much a scholarly work as a light-weight travel journal. I’m not too sure what the translator will make of the puns, ceramic in-jokes and Australian/Western cultural references. I have already done a Korean-sensitive re-write and edit to make it specifically more appropriate to a Korean reader. As it stood in the original edition, about a third of the book took place in Korea, as Korea is such a culturally fertile place for porcelain with its extensive ceramic history.

I was so lucky to have all the stars align for me a few years ago when I first decided to go to Korea and try my luck in finding a few sites where porcelain had been independently invented and developed locally. I couldn’t have been luckier as it turned out. One of my past students from the Art School, ‘Clauda’, has now become a very popular teacher herself and just happened to have a Korean student in her class. When she heard that I was planning a research trip to Korea, she asked her student ‘Jane’ if she had any contacts that might be helpful to me. It just so happened that Jane’s brother is a potter in Korea. He invited me to visit him and offered me work space in his studio. He also knew an under-employed ex-employee/friend who could speak good English and was interested in a temporary job as my driver and translator.

It couldn’t have worked out better. I was beyond lucky. Miss Kang turned out to be the most amazing person. Creative, enthusiastic, engaged, interested and as a ceramic graduate, knew enough about my interests to make excellent decisions and able to do research into each topic that I mentioned in our conversation as we drove about the country. I found her to be very quiet and reserved at first. Very measured in all her conversation. However, over the first few days of being crammed together in her small car, we developed a working relationship that turned out to be very productive.

As it turned out, my two-day offer of work organically developed into a very long road trip that lasted a couple of weeks and covered a lot of the county, as Miss Kang followed up leads on her phone, ‘googling’ and ‘Navering’ various locations and key words. Initially, she had no knowledge of sericite or single stone porcelain. Her knowledge was all of contemporary Korean ceramics. Together we learnt many things about Korean historical porcelain and its development. We discovered several historical porcelain stone sites and were able to collect a lot of samples for me to post back to Australia for analysis.

I had initially offered her this small job to drive me from near Seoul, down to the south of the country to visit an ancient porcelain site, stay over night and then she would return home, leaving me there to do research. I was to meet up with another Korean potter, Mr Ji, a contact that I had made remotely, by email, from Australia. Mr Ji lived locally, and it was he who was to take me to another site and so on, following whatever leads I could find. It was my intension to do all this other follow-on research by public transport. However, Miss Kang became interested in the detective work of the research and stayed on for the duration of where-ever the leads took me. I couldn’t have been more fortunate. She turned out to be one of the most resourceful people I have ever worked with. I couldn’t have written the Korean chapters of the book without her research.

Through this chain of fortuitous events, my book ‘5 Stones’ became a reality along with my exhibition at Watters Gallery of my porcelain. So here we are in Korea again for the 5th time. We have been given our return air fares to make another presentation at this years porcelain forum, meet the people involved in the funding and production of the book. Work with the translator, catch up with Mr Jung in Yanggu, take part in an extended wood firing in the Porcelain Centres traditional 5 chambered wood kiln, then also spend a weekend with Miss Kang in Seoul, as she has now become a good friend and we couldn’t visit Korea these days without taking time to catch up with her.

Korea is such a great place for me to be.

To Korea

We start to think about what else we want to do in our last day in Kyoto. We fly out to Korea tomorrow and then on to London. We have a job in Stoke on Trent to build one of our small-scale, fuel-efficient wood fired kilns for the new ‘Clay College’ that has started up there this year.

I decide that I will go back to the Aizenkobo indigo workshop and buy a jacket. I have been carrying the image with me of trying it on now for the whole time that we have been in Japan, as it was the first place that we visited when we arrived. I have chosen a hand dyed indigo, hand-woven, hand-made, tight, dense, cotton fabric, jacket. It’s more expensive than I have ever paid for any piece of clothing in my life at $300, but you only live once, so here goes. I really like it.

We arrive in Seoul and the first thing that I notice are the carpet tiles in the entrance area at the airport. I’ve been here a few times before, but I haven’t noticed them previously. Imitation indigo nylon carpet floor tiles. It’s the perfect segue from our indigo adventures in Japan to Korea.

 

Miss Kang has given us a present of some special fermented tea from Jeju. Korea has an island to its south called Jeju island. It is a volcanic island and therefore the weathered basalt soils are very rich and fertile. It has elevated slopes that are just right for the cultivation of tea. Being south of the peninsula, it is sub tropical and warmer than the mainland, but being quite elevated, the higher slopes are cooler at night. Apparently it makes for an ideal tea growing climate. There is one particularly large tea plantation that draws all the tourists that visit the island. They grow several cultivars, each one specially suited  to each specific soil type, aspect and micro climate.

Miss Kang has chosen for us a particular blend of fermented black tea, that is very mild and low in caffeine. It is processed, fermented, dried, but then re-moistened with steam and pressed into little bricks, then re-fermented and aged up to 100 days in what is described as a Post-fermentation process. Each finished little brick is individually  wrapped and the whole lot packaged in tray that is then packaged a very impressive presentation box.

 

 

It’s really beautifully done! The packaging is certainly very impressive and the flavour of the tea is very mild, low in acid with a distinctive aroma. I haven’t come across anything quite like it before.

The little individually paper wrapped tea leaf brick is impressive. I like it. It swells up into a pot full of fully formed tea leaves. I have read about ‘brick’ tea in the past, but never actually come across it. It’s a particularly asian thing. As I understand it, ‘Brick’ tea, or blocks of pressed, dried tea leaves were used as a form of currency in China and also throughout parts of Southeast Asia in time past. It was light to carry, easily stacked and packed and could even be crumbled apart and eaten to get a bit of a buzz to keep the labourers going on long treks. There is a rather long listing on wikipedia about brick tea, particularly in regard to the tea trade from China up into Tibet.

I thought that I had better enlighten myself, so I downloaded this quote from Wikipedia;

Ya’an is the main market for a special kind of tea which is grown in this part of the country and exported in very large quantities to Tibet via Kangding and over the caravan routes through Batang (Paan) and Teko. Although the Chinese regard it as an inferior product, it is greatly esteemed by the Tibetans for its powerful flavor, which harmonizes particularly well with that of the rancid yak’s butter which they mix with their tea. Brick tea comprises not only what we call tea leaves, but also the coarser leaves and some of the twigs of the shrub, as well as the leaves and fruit of other plants and trees (the alder, for instance). This amalgam is steamed, weighed, and compressed into hard bricks, which are packed up in coarse matting in subunits of four. These rectangular parcels weigh between twenty-two and twenty-six pounds—the quality of the tea makes a slight difference to the weight—and are carried to Kangting by coolies. A long string of them, moving slowly under their monstrous burdens of tea, was a familiar sight along the road I followed.[2]

The brick tea is packaged [in Kangting] either in the courtyard or in the street outside, and it is quite a complicated process. When the coolies bring it in from Ya’an, it has to be repacked before being consigned upcountry, for in a coolie’s load the standard subunit is four bricks lashed together, and these would be the wrong shape for animal transport. So they are first cut in two, then put together in lots of three, leaving what they call a gam, which is half a yak’s load. Tea which is going to be consumed reasonably soon is done up in a loose case of matting, but the gams, which are bound for remote destinations, perhaps even for Lhasa, are sewn up in yakhides. These hides are not tanned but are merely dried in the sun; when used for packing they are soaked in water to make them pliable and then sewn very tightly around the load, and when they dry out again the tea is enclosed in a container which is as hard as wood and is completely unaffected by rain, hard knocks, or immersion in streams. The Tibetan packers are a special guild of craftsmen, readily identifiable by the powerful aroma of untanned leather which they exude.

Another prominent guild in Kangting is that of the women tea coolies who shift the stuff from the warehouses to the inns where the caravans start. They have a monopoly on this work and the cheerful gangs of girls are a picturesque element in the city’s life. They need to be immensely strong to do a job which consists of carrying over a short distance anything up to an entire yak’s load several times a day. Many of them are quite pretty (and well aware of the fact); they look very gay and rather brazen as, giggling and chattering among themselves, they move along with their heavy burdens, which are held in place by a woolen girdle around the chest.[3]

So brick tea has a very long history in China. This doesn’t really enlighten me about tea in Korea very much, but it is interesting to me just the same. The Osullooc tea plantation has only been in business since 1979. So it doesn’t have a long history in itself, but uses the long historical aspects of tea in all it’s advertising. The tea plantations are all certified organic, so that is a very good place to start.

I can say that post fermented tea is an acquired taste. The Osulloc company make many claims for the tea. A particular selling point is the clean environment of the island, but they also make special mention of the long, post-fermentation aspect of the curing process. They claim that they use the long and ancient history of Koreas skills in fermentation. As ‘fermentation’ is the current buzz word in culinary circles, I’m just a little bit suspicious, But that’s me. They also claim to use traditional Korean fermented pastes. I don’t know what these are, and they are not saying, it’s certainly not Kim Che.

I can’t say either way, as to whether it is good for you or not, but it has a unique quality. I think that it would possibly be a good bed time tea, as it is low in stimulants and that could be good? I’m certainly impressed with the effort that has gone into the presentation, pity it will all be thrown away! Maybe if they could develop a special paper made out of tea leaves, then we could infuse the wrapping as well, still have a great ‘cuppa’ and reduce waste?

Looking at all the effort that has gone into the presentation and advertising, I think that it just might be a triumph of style over substance.

Maybe it will help me sleep better?

Unfortunately, that isn’t one of their claims!

We enjoy our tea from a Gwyn Hansen Piggott tea pot with matching cup and saucer.

 

 

 

  1. [2]  Migot, André (1955). Tibetan Marches. Translated by Peter Fleming. E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., U.S.A., pp. 59-60.
  2. [3]  Jump up ^ Migot, André (1955). Tibetan Marches. Translated by Peter Fleming. E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., U.S.A., pp. 83-84.

Post-Conference Surprise

As part of the conference proceedings we are all asked to do a demonstration over two consecutive days. On the first day, we all make a few things that represent a sample of what we do. These pieces are left to stiffen overnight and the following day we finish them off before the assembled conference audience, who walk around and chat to us to get better informed about what we do. My translator shares herself between me and  Janine, who also demonstrates. Janine draws a much bigger audience than I do as her work is intricate, decorative so much more interesting to watch.
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After the conference is wound up. All the presenters, their translators and all the Museum staff are taken to dinner by the Museum Director, Mr Jung. We enjoy a full Korean banquet and after the meal, Mr Jung performs a traditional Korean drinking trick to amuse us. He mixes Korean choshu and beer in different ways, all of which amuse, entertain and surprise us.

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My friend Warren calls this kind of potters beer drinking performance trick “Beertrix Potter” Jokes!
We all assemble at our hotel the next morning for a final breakfast together. I had figured out how Janine and I would catch the series of busses back to the Incheon International airport in time to catch our flight back to Japan. But I shouldn’t have worried. Mr Jung has it all planned. He will deliver all of us to the airport by courtesy limousine provided by the conference. However, before we leave Mr Jung’s assistant, Mr Mun, comes around and gives each of the presenters an envelope. This is good, because I had come here on the understanding that my airfare would be paid, but I had to buy my own ticket and present the receipt to be reimbursed. Other than that, I knew very little else about the conference or its schedule before I arrived. All my information was relayed to me in Australia via Miss Kang in phone text messages. I had nothing in writing. So I was a bit relieved to see an envelope coming my way at this last moment.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the wad of wan that it contained! Apparently we were to be paid for our presentations and demonstrations. I wasn’t told this beforehand. When Mr. Jung asked me if I would take part in a conference if he organised one in the future. I agreed without hesitation. He then asked me how much I would charge. I replied that I’d be happy to do it for free, just as I have always done here in Australia over the past 40 years. He then offered to pay my fare, and asked me how much my airfare was to get there on that trip. I replied that it cost me about Au$1,200. He visibly recoiled! He sat and thought for a while and then said that he might only be able to afford a one way ticket. I said that would be OK. I’d still come. I really like this guy and feel that I owe him a debt for all the help that he had offered me in my prolonged ‘5 Stones’ project.
Australia is a very long way away from Korea, unlike China and Japan are in respect of Korea. These ‘local’ Asian airfares are in the low hundreds of dollars. So I understood the situation and didn’t expect anything more.
So when I felt the thickness of the envelope, then opened it and saw the massive bundle of notes. I was really quite shocked. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like it. But I was very pleased to receive it. I’ve never earned three million in cash before. Pity it was in Wan and not Dollars!
It’s an easy trip to be collected from our hotel and driven in comfort and style all the way directly to the terminal. Because we have travelled direct, even though we have left later then I would have planned to, we arrive earlier than I had expected.
Mr. Jung sees us into the terminal and checks the flight schedule for us. We are so early that we have time to share coffee and cake, before disappearing into the Airport system to be ‘processed’ through emigration and security. To keep the cost of the airfare as low as possible. We chose to fly with Poverty Air. I’ve flown with them before and we are prepared for the 200 mm leg room and no heating or oxygen to supplement the rarefied air at altitude. We decide not to buy the over priced water on the flight and we have come prepared with a sweater to keep us warm.
Having travelled well prepared, we arrive in Osaka in good shape, just a couple of hours later and make our way to Kyoto on the train. We were not able to book into our usual inn In the Higashiyama ‘pottery’ district, but find another one not too far away. It’s late by the time we get ourselves booked in and settled. We walk out to look for a place to eat, but there is only one place open at this hour in this more remote area, away from the usual tourist haunts. We walk in and sit down to discover that we are in an okonomiyaki cafe. It’s fabulous! It’s a really local little family place. It’s full of kiddies and families. Kids drawing with crayons and pencils on scrap paper with their parents. We are lucky to get two seats at the bar so we can watch the chef a work. At the end of the bar there is a teenage boy with text books out, doing his homework. It’s all so family oriented, noisey and chaotically wholesome.
We order okonomiyaki and omelette.
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It’s a great start to our next week in Kyoto.
Best wishes from
Steve and Janine in Korea and Kyoto

The Yanggu International Poreclain Conference in Korea

Mr. Jung explains to me through the translation abilities of Inhwa, about the program for the inaugural International Porcelain Conference at the Yanggu Porcelain Museum. He has paid my travel expenses to get me here from Australia and explains that I will be the making the Key Note address to the conference. This is a little bit of a shock to me, as I usually play 2nd fiddle (or cello). He goes on to say that the idea for the conference occurred to him after he first met me 2 years ago.

When Inhwa isn’t around, we have to make do with the translation apps on our phones. These are not all that accurate and very slow, but we seem to manage to communicate at a basic level by this method. I know that it is not all that accurate and lacks subtleties of the languages, but its all I have in these situations. Hence I sometimes get things wrong or muddled. But I’m still very pleased to be invited here again.

He wasn’t aware of me or my research or even that Australia had native porcelain and he certainly wasn’t aware of the early work of William Cookworthy in Britain that pre-dated Wedgwood. I crashed onto his radar that day with Miss Kang as my pilot and translator and we soon developed a professional friendship based on a mutual interest in single stone porcelain.
Mr Jung had been thinking of ways to promote the unique situation of Yanggu porcelain in Korea, as Yanggu was the original source of the Royal Porcelain for the Korean Court. He has spent his career, building up an excellent Museum and an exceptional research Centre for post-graduate training in Porcelain skills to an amazing level. I’m so impressed with the quality of the work being created here. i wish that I could have been exposed to this level of support in my early career. Instead of the Chaotic, random experience of making do and following ones own impulses without guidance. I had approached the late Ivan McMeekin at the Uni of NSW in the early seventies for some post-graduate experience, but I was rejected. so I had to find my own way on my own.
The Research Centre provides free housing and workshop space for approved students who have completed higher degree level studies, majoring in porcelain. There is a 3 year tenure in the centre to develop an individual approach. The selected students have to pay their own food, fuel and clay costs. It’s an amazing deal for the lucky few Korean post-grads who make it there. Currently there are 7 places for prospective students, but Mr Jung has plans well underway for a small village of residencies, not too far from the centre. He has secured the land already and there are 3 new residency buildings on the site, along with a gallery and cafe building. He has plans for another dozen residencies in the future as finances permit.
After I had explained my project to him at that time, to make porcelain in each of the 5 countries that had developed their own single stone porcelain tradition. He conceived of the idea to hold a conference and invite someone from each country to speak about their research. Hence my invitation. It took him 2 years to organise it and raise the finances. I’m still a little shocked to be up front on this, but I know my work backwards now after 15 years of research and the successful launch of my book ‘5 Stones’ at my big exhibition at Watters Gallery in Sydney just a few months earlier. It’ll be a piece of cake!. Well, it ought to be!
The first day of the conference involves us all travelling by limousine coach to a number of local galleries and museums to experience the full nature of the district and it’s history. I find out a lot more about the Yanggu district that I had known or learnt before on my previous trips. I have always travelled on a shoe-sting with only the absolute necessities allowed for in my budgeting. I have always restricted myself to a narrow vision of what each location presented, concentrating on the porcelain. Now we are all treated to the full Monty of tourist excursion sights. There is an amazing Traditional Arts Museum, A Museum dedicated to a very famous local painter in an amazingly simple but exquisite stone-walled building, buried partially underground. Then there is the museum of philosophies, specialising in local philosophers and poets. I really liked this place and its curator. lastly there is the local contemporary Art museum, that has 3 venues. The most impressive was the current show of virtual Van Gogh. The curators had ploughed the extensive fields all around the building and planted a wheat crop for the summer, while the show was on. The vista outside the extensive gallery glass facade was a very real shimmering golden wheat crop bending and responding to the eddies and zephyrs of the breeze. This was such a beautiful concept to me, I was quite touched. The actual ‘virtual’ show of Van Gogh works wasn’t as impressive!
The next day, Mr Jung opens the proceedings with a 20 min intro explaining the importance of Yanggu and why it is a suitable place to hold such a conference. There are a couple of hundred people present and all the seats are full in the auditorium.  Only standing room for the resident students and researchers. Mr. Jung introduces me as the Key-Note speaker. I have a dedicated professional translator to translate sequentially as I present each image and talk to it. It all takes a bit longer than I had imagined, allowing for the time in translation.
I speak for the best part of an hour with plenty of images to illustrate my points. I go to some length to show the importance of local geology and why sericite is/was so important to the invention of the original porcelains in each place in Asia and England. I make reference to some very recent archaeological research that seems to indicate that some of the earliest porcelain ever made was in Korea and not China!
I am followed by a potter from Jingdezhen who delivers a short dissertation about their unique porcelain and then a potter from Arita who talks about the Izumiyama and Amakusa porcelains.
In an amazing turnabout, it just happens that ‘Manni’ the Chinese potter from Jingdezhen, remembers meeting me coming into his shop earlier in the year in Jingdezhen. I look at him in some combination of disbelief and incredulity. He’s right. I look into his face and recognise the talkative guy trying to sell me everything in his shop in March. I ended up buying just the basic fine white porcelain clay, a couple of 17kg, bags every couple of days. Then to cap it off. Just to prove that the world is a very small place and that there are less than 6 degrees of separation, I find myself in conversation with the potter from Arita and we establish that he is good friends with 3 of my own close friends in Arita! I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. It’s a very small world!
Best wishes
Steve and Janine in Korea