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

The Search for the Soul of Seoul

In Tokyo, It’s the tail end of autumn and the Ginkgoes are turning yellow and loosing their leaves. breakfast is nato, rice, pickles and seaweed, with miso. Wonderful!

Janine and I eventually leave Tokyo after several days of art and culture. Tokyo seems to have changed since I fist came here 30 years ago. I can’t put a name to it, it’s just a feeling, but it has changed.

Or maybe its me? I know that I have.
IMG_8413 IMG_8428 IMG_8523.jpgThe future and the past.

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.
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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.
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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 Jun Beom 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.
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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.
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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.
IMG_8722 The offending meal!
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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.
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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!
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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.
IMG_8803The 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.
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Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Korea

My New Book – 5 Stones

IMG_7383205 pages, 125,000 words, full colour, soft cover. Written, collated, printed and bound on the kitchen table. A very limited edition hand made book.

I have spent the last few weeks and months editing and formatting my new book. This will be my 6th book and 7th if I include my contribution to Handbook for Australian Potters.

This new Book is titled 5 Stones, and details my recent research into single stone porcelain. The book will be launched by Grace Cochrane at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery on Wednesday 16th of August from 6 to 8 pm. I have a selection of single stone porcelain from all 11 sites on show in the exhibition.

15 years ago, I discovered a white porcelain stone near where I live. It made me think about where else porcelain has been discovered and when. Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to each of the places in the world where porcelain was originally discovered/invented independently from first principles and found that they all had something in common, and that thing was a stone called ‘sericite’. It turns out that originally, porcelain wasn’t made from the white clay at all. Kaolin wasn’t involved. All the original porcelains were made from a special type of stone called mica.
My travels led me to China, Korea, Japan, Cornwall, France and Germany. I even developed communications with academics in California, Alaska and London. Then finally back to Mittagong in Australia. Near to where I started.  I have made my porcelain pieces out of these weird and interesting materials in remote villages, artist studios, back rooms, workshops, even factories. Where-ever I could track down and find amenable people using this ancient technique who were open to collaboration. 
At each site that I visited I made works out of the local porcelain stone, but I also used the opportunity to collect samples of their stone and posted these rocks back to Australia where I could process them myself and make local, contemporary versions of these ancient porcelains. I collected native porcelain stone material from 11 sites around the world and have made what I think are beautiful pots from them, both on-site, where that was still possible and back at home in my own workshop. 
This exhibition shows results of my firings and 15 years of research into these single-stone native porcelains. To coincide with this show I have written a travel journal documenting my travels. My book, titled ‘5 Stones’ will be launched at the opening by Grace Cochrane. The book stands alone in its own right as a travellers tale, as it has its own characters and arc of narrative, but also helps to illuminate the story behind the actual works on display in the show.
I have works in the show that were fired on-site in clean conditions to give very white and translucent pieces and I also have the same materials fired at home in my wood fired kiln with very different results.
4 of the 11 examples are made from porcelain that is no longer available, as 2 of the sites are lost forever and another two have complications.
I consider my self very lucky to have been able to get my hands on all of these ancient and very special porcelain materials. This will be the first and only time that all these porcelain ‘clays’ have ever been shown together in the one place.
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Unglazed and flashed wood fired Arita porcelain
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Wood fired and celadon glazed Japanese porcelain, fired in my kiln in Balamoral.
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Korean porcelain made onsite in Korea
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Woodfired Japanese porcelain
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My woodfired local Joadja porcelain, showing some carbon inclusion on rim and base.
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Korean porcelain stone body, woodfired in my studio.
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Amakusa porcelain from Japan, made in Arita.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with a lot of ember and ash contact. The intense carbon inclusion reduces the translucency.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with ember and ash contact.

Home Again

I have had an amazing time in Korea. I was very lucky to meet such supportive and helpful people. Every thing had gone well this time and I am returning with a suitcase and back pack loaded with beautifully fired porcelain. So different from my last visit, in terms of the fired result.

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My last day starts foggy and overcast, but clears up.  I was walking back across the lawns from the research centre , back to the pottery workshop building , when I bumped into one of the support staff. A lady who I thought spoke very little English. I had heard her say “Australian Honey” out loud on my 2nd day in the workshop. I had given a small jar of honey to one of the staff members who had just helped me with a problem. I took several small jars of Australian varietal honey with me specifically to use as gifts. This lady saw the jar and read the label out loud. I heard this from the other side of the room and got another jar out of my back pack and presented it to her.

She asked if it was for her. I replied. “Yes, it’s a gift for you”.

She thanked me profusely, and that was the end of the matter. I didn’t have reason to speak to her again personally until now. She stopped me on the lawn and said to me in her basic English. “You leave today?”  I replied. “No, not today, tomorrow morning, very early, 7am.”

She explained to me that she only spoke a very little English, but wanted to thank me for the honey and say that I was nice to have around. She reminded me that I had helped her to move a heavy shimpo potters wheel, so she could do some cleaning under and around it.

It was very nice of her to say so, and to venture to initiate the conversation in a language that she was not proficient in. She told me that she was not Korean, but originally came from Japan and married a local Korean farmer.

I replied “So desu ka!” Is that so!, She did a double-take, blinked and replied “Anatawa Nihongo hanasamasuka?” Can you speak Japanese? I replied “sumimasen, watashiwa, Nihongo arimasen…choto dake” Not really – just a little.  It’s true, I don’t speak Japanese, but I can speak a few words, however, when I get my ear in, after I’ve been in Japan for a week or so. I realise that I can recognise a lot of words in what is being said around me, and I often know what it going on. Japanese is the only foreign language that I ever tried to learn by doing a bit of study. Some of it has stuck.

Suddenly we were off on a tangent talking in a weird mix of Japanese, English and Korean using my phone app. It was a completely unexpected, but warm and rewarding moment for both of us. I came away thrilled and very pleased at the intimate level of communication that had just evolved so organically and unexpectedly.

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I go back to my room and start to clean up and pack my bags. I have a few clay samples that I have been drying on the heated floor of my room. I eventually get everything back into my bags, plus, I’ll be leaving with an additional 20 bowls and 5 kgs of clay. I’m ready for the early start tomorrow.

The sunset is lovely. The sky is clear. The last rays illuminate the rice and the poly tunnels, that so define this place. It’s a beautiful way to remember this pleasant valley.

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Inhwa and her husband turn up very early the next morning to give me a lift with another student to the bus terminal at Yang gu. My Jung turns up too! He has stopped off on his way to work, to say a final Good Bye. My return trip to Incheon airport out of this remote place on 3 busses all connects perfectly and I arrive at the airport earlier than I had allowed for. My return flight is uneventful, I just want it to be over with really. Sitting in a seat for 12 hours is very dull. Although I do manage to find a couple of hours sleep during the night. Probably my best effort so far at sleeping sitting-up while flying. Possibly because  didn’t sleep much the night before.  Maybe I’m getting better at this? Not that I want to practice it any more. I’m over it.

I’m home just before the solstice. I unpack my pots to show Janine and take a walk around the garden. The early peach has started to flower. It’s so amazingly early. The first job is to move some more big logs into the wood shed, closer to the splitter. The last time that  Idid this, a month ago. I smashed my finger. it still isn’t healed. The chickens are happy to come along and help with this job. But only because there are always a lot of bugs and creepy-crawlies under the bark for them to eat. They love the wood splitter. It provides fresh protein that wriggles all the way down. Yum!

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They have absolutely no fear of machinery like the splitter. They really want to get their heads in there as soon they can, to get the first peck, but sometime the splitter blade hasn’t even finished coming down. I’m constantly brushing them away, but they swivel around and are straight back. They trust us – foolishly.

I think that they have no fear, because they have no brain. But they are sweet things to have around and they are good company.