Or maybe its me? I know that I have.
We fly out to Seoul. We miss our scheduled flight and have to catch a later one. A much later one. We have a very nice, but basic hotel to go to, but it’s 1.00am in the early morning by the time that we navigate our way out of the airport, then through the underground rain system, changing lines on route to where our hotel ought to be. Even though its way past midnight, there are heaps of people out in the cafes and on the streets. All well behaved, civilised and ever so helpful. They offer to guide us to our hotel, but ultimately they are not correct and we find our own way there. As soon as I realised that we would be arriving late, very late! I emailed our Korean friends from the airport in Tokyo and asked them to phone the hotel, to tell them that we would be arriving late.
Theoretically, the front desk should be closed by now, but by the time we find our way there, the wonderfully helpful man on the late-night desk has waited up for us and is there practising his guitar as we walk in. I’m so pleased and very thankful!
This will be the first of our wonderful experiences in Korea together. There will be so many more in the days to come. This is my 4th trip to Korea, but this is Janine’s first time here, and it’s my first experience to spend any time in Seoul, instead of just passing through.
Our experiences here lead us to believe that Koreans are so much like Australians. Open, friendly and engaging. I found this on my various earlier trips into the deep hinterland, but it becomes abundantly clear now on this adventure in Seoul.
We have a few contacts here. The Amazing Miss Kang, my former translator, driver and cultural guide. Then there is Ji, a friend and ex-student of one of my former students. She has visited us at our place for an open-day sale a year or so ago, as part of the Southern Highlands Arts Festival, She has offered to show us around Seoul. Ji had also rung the hotel for us as did Miss Kang, to warn of our late arrival. It’s all worked out quite well. We are so lucky to have such wonderful friends.
Miss Kang had advised me months ago, when this trip was first muted, to book place in the north of the city, in a place close to, or in Anguk. It was a very good advice indeed. We find ourselves close to the older, interesting, cultural centre of old Seoul. We spend our first day wandering aimlessly through the local area. It’s great. Old streets, traditional housing, many now converted to craft workshops and artists galleries. It’s a culturally vibrant area.
‘Ji’ has arranged to take us out for the day, for a tour of the cultural highlights of Seoul. We meet at the local station and she has an amazingly dense, solid packed, itinerary of people and places, galleries and shows to visit during the day. She is amazing! we are so thrilled to have someone local to offer to show us around and translate for us. You learn so much more about a city when you are given inside knowledge by a local. Ji won’t let us pay for lunch either. I try and dodge past her to get to the till first, but I’m outmanoeuvred, and she speaks to the sales girl in Korean and they won’t take my money. Instead they take her card. I’m out-classed here. I have so few words of Korean to call on. She has her way, and we are grateful, but I’d rather have been able to pay to show our gratitude for her days support, guidance and education.
We can’t help ourselves but buy a few small culturally significant items that will remind us of this warm experience. We can’t carry much, as we have a long trip planned and this is still very early on in our itinerary. So we collect all our little objects of importance and consign them to the Korean postal service. We will get our own belated xmas presents in about 3 months time, when the ship comes in.
We learn how to carry 700+ eggs on a motor bike!
At the end of the day, Ji takes us on a tour of the Emperors Mausoleum. It is only open one day per year, so we are lucky to get to see inside.
The next day is the weekend and we are able to meet up with Miss Kang again. She drives us for several hours, across to Yeo Ju to re-visit Beom Chan and his family – her old boss. It’s wonderful to see them all again. I take them all out to lunch. It’s the least that I can do to repay all the help that they all gave me last year when I was doing my research into Korean single stone porcelain sites.
Like so many Korean meals that I have experienced in the past couple of years, the meal is very healthy, with so many vegetables and pickles to go with the very small amount of meat on the BBQ. After lunch, Jun Beom and Miss Kang drive us to an ancient Kings burial site. It has been extensively restored and preserved.
The following day we take our selves to the southern part of the city on the subway and visit the Major Museums, The National Museum and the Leeum Museum. We have lunch in a cafe and although we have identical meals. I get food poisoning. It could only have been the chilli pickles that I added to my meal and Janine didn’t? it takes me by surprise half an hour later as we are walking into the Leeum. I manage to walk the distance to see almost all of the display, but the feeling that I’m about to throw up doesn’t leave me alone and although I thought that I might disgrace my self in the polished black granite foyer, I make it out to the street and eventually throw up at the bus stop. It’s so humiliating and degrading, and poor Janine gets splashed shoes for standing by me and supporting me. Fortunately, there was a garden bed and low hedge behind the bus stop for me to despoil. I cover my disgrace with some dried leaves and some compost before departing.
The offending meal!
The National Museum has an amazing collection of old pots, as you’d expect. I love the moon jars – everyone does! I’m also taken by some of the old stoneware, high silica, rice-straw-ash, early opalescent glazes.
As we are leaving the National, we realise that the gardeners have spent the day wrapping the bamboo plants in the tubs along the entrance walkway. Some are done up in traditional rice straw rope, but only those on the right hand side. On the left side, they only seem to be getting the glossy colour magazine paper treatment? I don’t know what this is all about and have no way of finding out. I can only guess that it is something to do with protecting the plants from the intense cold weather that is coming in the winter?
The following day, I’m feeling better and we go to the industrial street of tool shops. This long street is cram-packed with little cubicles. Each one specialising in a different type of tool or piece of equipment. I’m here looking for some specialised diamond cutting discs. I know that they are here, but the exact fittings that I’m looking for prove hard to detect amongst the mass of industrial ‘stuff’ without specialist language skills. On this occasion, charades and sign language don’t cut it. I even have a photo on my phone of the sort of thing that I’m after. But all to no avail. I leave with just two little items that aren’t quite what I had in mind. Still, they were cheap and it was a great half-days entertainment!
On our way home that night we walk past the Japanese Cultural Centre in Seoul for the umpteenth time and as usual there are two police men standing outside the doors. They are there at all hours of the day and night, not dependant on whether the place is open or closed, rain or shine. I stop and ask the police man why they are always there. He answers me quite frankly and honestly in good English. He tells that because of Japan’s past aggressive history towards Korea. There is still a lot of bad feeling toward Japan and its representatives. The permanent police presence is there to off-set any chance of hostility or vandalism breaking out. Very honest and straight forward.
The view form the bus as we depart Seoul.
We only have a 4 day stay in Seoul, and we need to be making our way up into the North to the little village of Bangsan, up on the DMZ. We catch the subway train the the south-eastern city bus terminal. From there we can catch a bus to Yang gu, via Chunchoung. From there we will have to change to a small local bus to go the final leg of the journey to Bangsan. I’ve done it before, so I’m not too phased about it. Its several hours. We buy our tickets and while we wait for the bus to depart. Janine watches the Korean news channel on the big bus depot TV. it appears that President Trump has just flown in to Seoul somewhere. It crosses my mind that it would be unfortunate if there was a dummy spit and temper tantrum on this day of all days, when I’m here with Janine. The day passes and we make all of our connections and arrive in Bangsan in the afternoon. We walk our suitcases across the road and down the lane to the Yang gu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre. We make our way to the pottery room, but there is no-one in there at that moment. I can hear clay being pugged in the clay room next door. I walk in and everything stops. I know the two workers and they recognise me. They lead us back out into the pottery room and My Jung magically appears, as if he has sensed our arrival. I’m not too surprised. I sent him a ‘KaKaoTalk’ text message from the bus terminal in Seoul, advising our departure and approximate arrival time.
My Jung greets us warmly and takes us straight away, across to the research building where Inhwa Lee and her husband work. Inhwa speaks good English and My Jung want her to translate for him, so that we are clear about what he has planned for the afternoon. Inhwa makes us coffee in her porcelain cups. I know from my last visit that she collects hand made spoons. So, the day before we left Australia, I found some time to make a few stainless steel spoons, forged from my kiln off-cuts, so that I could give them away as presents. I was reluctant to give these people hand made porcelain, as they do it better than I do! The spoons are not very professional, but they are somewhat unique! Anyway both Inhwa and My Jung both choose one as a gift.
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Korea