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.
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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

Mottainai

Janine and I have just returned from an extended trip to Japan and Korea.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Korea to represent Australia at a conference in the Yanggu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre in Bangsan in South Korea.
I wouldn’t normally go to conferences, but this one was all about single-stone porcelain, its history and its contemporary applications. A topic close to my heart.
They also offered to pay my air fare, which made it a lot easier to decide to go.
However, I wouldn’t usually consider flying half way around the world for just 2 days at a conference. It’s a lot of environmental damage, for just 2 days of interesting experiences. So to make it more worthwhile Janine and I decided to take the month off and go to Korea for an extended time, so that we could catch up with our friends there and also take in some time in Japan on the way.
I can’t really justify taking a month off just now, as I have a lot of orders booked in and we are very busy. Not to mention that there is a lot to do in the garden at this time of year. However, this was a wonderful opportunity not to be missed, so we made efforts to fit it in.
As we had decided to fly via Japan, we arrived in Tokyo and spent a few days visiting galleries and museums. There is a lot to see in Tokyo, but we only had limited time, so we had to be selective and we kept very busy fitting it all in.
There were a lot of Galleries and a lot of shows, but I will only write about a couple, so as not to bore you.
As I am a keen patch-worker, but not for any fashionable reason. My interest in hand stitching patches onto my worn out work clothes is just to extend their life really. However, it also creates something beautiful and unique out of what would otherwise become a rag. It’s something akin to the kinsugi technique that I use to repair chipped and/or broken pots that are meaningful to me and deserve to be repaired and made more beautiful than they were originally, just because I like them and respect them as objects. A nicely repaired chipped pot is more precious than it was before it was damaged. So, the same applies to my old jeans. They become more interesting, beautiful and precious after I have spent a bit of time on them, and it saves the waste of throwing them out and buying new ones every few years.
I can afford to buy new jeans and new shirts, I just choose to repair and maintain my older clothes as a political statement about over-consumption and our throw-away economy. The fact that these things become gorgeous as well is an added bonus.
So, with all this in mind, Janine and I went looking for the ‘Boro’ museum. Boro, is a traditional Japanese word used to describe old clothes and blankets that have been patched, repaired and maintained for several generations because of poverty, but these days these old clothes fetch hundreds of dollars in the antique markets.
The boro Museum is a small private museum in outer Tokyo. We tracked it down and spend a very interesting afternoon there.
Amazingly, there was an exhibition of contemporary indigo fabrics on show on one of the lower floors. Janine just happened to be wearing her indigo dyed Japanese shirt that she bought some years ago on one of our earlier trips to Japan when we visited Mashiko. We spent a bit of time in the old indigo dying workshop in Mashiko while we were there. The indigo dying workshop in Mashiko dates back about 600 years if I remember correctly. The Lady artist showing the fabrics in the Boro museum contemporary gallery recognised the shirt immediately and told us that it was made by her teacher, who has since died. Such a coincidence.
Janine tries on a few pieces of old boro from the collection.
 
 
All these items were simple peasant farmers clothes that were patched out of necessity. A lot of these pieces were made in the north of Japan, in the Aomori Prefecture, where it gets quite cold and the seasons are short. It is too cold to grow cotton up there, so all the clothes were made of hemp and/or other local natural plant fibres, all dyed with indigo to preserve them and make them long wearing. indigo dyed cloth doesn’t rot and insects wont eat it. It is interesting to see old cloth that has both blue and white designs woven into it. In the very old pieces, the white areas have rotted or been eaten away and only the blue indigo dyed areas remain.
Really old and extremely worn out fabric was pulled to pieces and used to stuff bed-clothes, or cut up into strips and rewoven into indigo hemp warp to create new cloth from the old. This recycling, making sure that nothing is wasted, has a term in Japanese. ‘Mottainai’. Which can be literally translated as ‘being too good to waste’.
I have written about my interest in ‘boro’ in the past on this blog. See, “Something boro, something blue”. Posted on
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Tokyo.

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.

 

 

Thank Goodness for Inhwa

The rain is gone, so on my walk to work along the river, I notice that the flow is greatly reduced and back to its clear normal flow. The waters must be fairly clean, as there are otters living and breeding in the river. Whereas in other more industrialised areas of Korea, the otter numbers declined over the past 30 or 40 years, before making a slight recovery recently, due to increased environmental protection. Here the numbers have remained largely unchanged presumably due to the remoteness of the site. The village celebrates the otters with a fountain in the village square. I ask the assistants working here if they have seen them? They tell me that, yes, they have, but otters are quite shy of people, so you have to be patient and sit quietly. Mr Jang, Duck-jin, the pottery teacher, here in the centre, even has a video on his phone that he made last winter. For that matter, so does Inhwa and her husband, Mr Kim.

I’m at the studio early. I walk around to the gas kiln area but the door is still firmly shut and wound up. I settle at my work bench to do some writing while I wait. It isn’t long before Mr Jung comes in with one of my small bowls. and hands it too me. It’s perfect, or seems so at first glance. No warping, no slumping, no pin holes, no runs and no rubbish fallen into it from above. That’s a pretty good result. The colour isn’t too bad either. I really glad now, that I double-dipped the glaze! I was a bit concerned at the time that it might crawl again, and then when Mr Jung come in after the bisque and told me that I had probably made all my pots too thin and that this means that they might slump in the kiln at high temperature. That put the angst into me. He didn’t mean to phase me out, but at that point, there was no way that I could make any more and get them through in time. So first impressions are good. Mr Jung intimates that this is just one that he has stolen from the kiln for me to see. The kiln won’t be opened properly for another hour or more. I sit and wait.

My Jung is at the door, he calls my name to get my attention. He always calls me ‘Harrison’. I’m getting used to it now. It’s a very Asian thing. Last names first. We go to the kiln area. The door is open and pots are being taken out. I can see more of my work appearing one by one. They are cool enough to touch right away. I examine each one briefly as it is handed to me. I can see a few coming out that have minor faults like a pin hole or some slight warping. A couple from the bottom front of the setting have come out a bit neutral in colour, lacking reduction, so they look just a touch anaemic. A creamy body, with a yellowish-green glaze instead of the pale blue over grey that indicates good colour for these materials in good reduction. I start to carry them inside to give them a better examination. Mr Jung calls me back. He switches on the diamond buffing pad machine, so that  we can polish all the foot rings. It only takes a couple of minutes. Then we carry them inside. The machine does a beautiful job.

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I examine each one, not just carefully, but thoroughly, in good light. I find that I have come out of it with 22 firsts and 11 minor seconds. That’s great. I was hoping to take home a dozen of various sizes, so I’m on track. I offer Mr Jung first choice for his collection in the porcelain museum. He replies to me at length through Inhwa, who has just walked in, that he will need some time to work his way through them, before making a selection. He asks me through Inhwa, how many he can choose. I say that he can have as many as he likes. He jokingly puts out his arms around the whole lot. We laugh. I’m flattered. He thinks for a bit and then says, “how about 5?” I Reply “yes, of course, choose 6, you have first choice.” He tells me that he has got some plans for a bigger extension for the Museum. He will have a lot more space to show contemporary work soon. Maybe next year? 6 will be good. He settles in for a good scrute. But his phone rings and he is called away.

 Inhwa and her husband Kim, Deok-ho, have arranged to take me to lunch. It’s their turn. We go to the Chinese inspired Korean eatery. Every time I’m taken out to lunch by some of the staff, we go to a different place. It seems that every house along the central part of the village is a restaurant! We just seem to walk along the street and then without notice someone in our group will just walk up to a door, open it and walk straight in, and sure enough, it isn’t a house at all, but a large dining room or rooms. I don’t have the nerve to go up to one of the other buildings that I haven’t been into as yet and just walk in expecting a meal. What would I say if I just walked into someone’s home and the family were all just sitting there watching telly in the lounge room? It’s all because I can’t read Korean. there is probably some sort of sign that I’m not aware of?

We sit down, on the floor, as you do, at the end of a long table. There is an old couple at the other end. I smile and they smile back. They are very weather-beaten and a bit ragged looking. The man starts to talk to me in a friendly sort of way, in Korea of course. I have no idea, but Inhwa steps in to rescue me. She explains that this couple are farmers and they see me walk past their place most days. Apparently, She tells me through translation, that I smiled at them, waved, and said my “anyohaseyo” to them, then nodded my head in a modest bow in passing. Perfect! They knew that they would like me from that moment onwards. So now we get to have lunch together. Thank goodness for Inhwa. On my last visit it was Miss Kang who made sense of my life here for me. If it weren’t for Inhwa, this time I’d have no idea what was going on, and this opportunity would have just floated by in the ether. The farmers are beaming at me as Inhwa recounts some of what I’m doing here. Lots of nods, smiles and affirmative “huh”, grunting sort of noises.

We all nod and smile and get on with our lunch. Inhwa confesses to me that she is now quite embarrassed, as she has lived here in this village for the past 3 years of her studies in the research centre and she has seen this couple many times, but never spoken to them or even said “Hi” until now.

I explain that I know that I am the foreigner here. I look different. I can’t speak the language, and I’m not part of the farming community. I represent “The Other”. I suddenly arrive on the scene and I am a totally unknown quantity. I fall into “The Stranger Comes to Town” scenario. It’s one of the oldest plot lines from Hollywood. I know from my own experiences, back home  in Australia, when I arrived in my own small village, that small isolated villages, mostly inhabited by older people can be quite conservative places.

We were treated with suspicion by the locals for quite some time. We were different in every way, even though I was an Australian. Thank goodness that I wasn’t from overseas and spoke another language to boot! So, I understand what it is like to be the stranger in town, and the best bet is to engage warmly from the first instance, even though I’m not the warm, friendly, Type A personality, outgoing sort of person. I make an effort and I’m pleased that it seems to have paid off. It transpires over lunch, that these humble farmers have actually been to Australia for a visit too! Small world indeed.

Making a Start, Starting to Make

Making a Start, Starting to Make

The first thing that I did after I arrived here was to go to the clay room and get some recycled clay, so that I could throw some chucks. This is the first thing that I do everywhere I go. It’s a pity that they are so heavy and bulky, otherwise it would save a lot of time to just pack them in my bag and carry them with me.

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I make a range of sizes that will suit the pots that I pain to make. I get these out in the sun as soon as they are made. I will need them dried and stiffened, so that they can take and hold the pots on top of them during turning.  The chucks are thrown very thick and heavy, so they are quite slow to dry and stiffen up,. They need to get drying as soon as possible.

The next thing that I do is to throw my bowls. These are made from the best white sericite porcelain. I throw them quite thinly, because I can. Most porcelain looks best when it is very thin, so that the light can shine through and show off its translucency. However, this local and very ancient sericite porcelain stone body Is very highly fluxed and distorts really easily, so it best to make these pots a little bit thicker for structural reasons. This mica throws really well and is a joy to work with. They will dry out on the rims quite quickly unless they are covered with light plastic sheeting over night. The next day I get them all out in the sun again. The first of the smaller bowls are ready before the chucks are really quite dry enough. I wrap the bowls and leave the chucks out in the sun while I go to lunch with the staff.  When I come back they are ready. Its early summer here now, so the days are long and quite warm at 27oC. I’m staggered to find that Miss Kang and her boyfriend have returned yet again. They have been invited to come to lunch with us all again. I ask how the stars were last night? She tells me that they didn’t see too many, as it was a cloudy night, but it was a lovely experience up on the mountain. I gather that this is where they camped?

After lunch we all go back to work and Miss Kang and friend leave to set off on their mountain climb. I start my turning and get all the first batch roughed out quite quickly. Then I return to the wheel to throw some more. I need to have a continuous supply of work coming, depending on the drying time, so that I can be continuously busy and not waste any of my time here.

My next task is to try something larger. I make some 200 mm bowls and then, last thing, before the workshop closes at 6.00 pm, I make some 300 mm bowls. That will keep me busy for a day or two of turning. My days are filled with a mix of throwing and turning, wrapping and unwrapping. I stroll to and from the workshop along the little farm roads that wander like I do around the fields and streams, eventually always ending up down by the river.

Each trip I try and take a different route. I have tried crossing the river using the stepping stones that are provided to save the kids who live at this end of the village from walking all the way up to the bridge and back to get to school. I can tell that it isn’t used very much these days as the grass has grown high and almost covered the path. I suppose that it is because it is school summer holiday? I have plenty of time, so I take the long way around and walk past different farms and get a different view of the valley. Although it is different in detail, it’s more or less the same in general. Every farm is growing more or less the same things, at the same times, in the same way. A mixture of poly tunnels and rice fields. Very little is grown  out in the open. Potatoes, garlic, spring onions and sweet corn are all out doors. Whereas chillis, melons and tomatoes are under the protection of the poly tunnels. I can’t but notice that the melons are grown in such a way that the fruit will develop on a mat to keep it off the ground. I one greenhouse, I saw that they had little plastic dishes set out to rest the melons on, to keep them up off the matt, so as to get perfect shape as well as no dirt or discolouration and unripe white skin colouring from developing underneath.

 

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I turn all day the next few days, I slowly it dawns on me that I’m not turning like usual. I start to realise that I have finally taken the edge off my favourite yellow handled carbide  turning tool. Its taken a couple of years, but it has now lost its razor edge. It’s still sharp, but the ultra fine edge has gone. I check it against a couple of tools that I don’t use much and, yes, it’s gone. Luckily, I have brought a small diamond file along with me in my kit. I have carried it since I bought my first few carbide tipped porcelain tools. I have to break it out of its plastic bubble wrap packaging. It works a charm. I’m surprised, but not shocked. This tool is my favourite and has lasted a couple of years without sharpening. On the other hand. I have to sharpen my hand made carbon steel custom tools every hour. They are great tools, easy to make, but easy to  make blunt too, with a bit of porcelain stone work. Fortunately they are very easy to sharpen. I always carry a small mill bastard file in my kit as well and step outside often to give the edge a little touch-up as required. I always go out side to sharpen my tools, as I don’t want any iron filings to turn up in my clay. It strikes me that I’m a bit like a butcher in this way, constantly adding a little bit of a fine edge to my knives as required.  At the end of a day of using these little round handle-less gems, I have to sit for a while, out on the sunny bench and re-shape them, because they soon develop a flat spot on the curve after a day of constant use and sharpening in the same place. The sweet spot, where I use it the most, in the centre of the curve. It’s a pity that I have never seen any large flat carbide shapes like this for sale anywhere. I guess that there are not so many people using these ‘inner’ tools to justify a production run?

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The walk home is lovely, it’s balmy and there is a lot of bird call. The sun is setting and it makes the rice crop glow. It’s a peaceful, beautiful time.

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Alone, Like a Shag on a Rock

I’m here in the very pleasant little village of Bangsan, just outside of yangggu. Porcelain stone has been mined here since the 1300’s. It isn’t known exactly when. But a ‘stash’ or ‘horde’ of porcelain and silver ware was unearthed up on top of a local mountain when some workers were building a fire break. The box contained a few porcelain pots, two of which have inscriptions carved into them. One indicates quite clearly that it was made in the Koryo dynasty. 918 to 1392. I know this because the Yang gu Porcelain Museum on-site here has the pieces in its current exhibition. I’m lucky to be here at just the right time.

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There is still some of the porcelain stone still around. At one stock pile site that I walked up to. It was stacked up in rows of stock piles that dated back centuries. Apparently, This was all the reject stuff that wasn’t good enough for the pots of Royal Patronage, possibly because it had a few iron spots? This material has sharp edges and looks hard, but shatters easily. It is mentioned in historical documents as being transported out of here to other places for manufacture of porcelain under Royal decree at the rate of 70 to 80 tonnes per year, since the Koryo dynasty. Usually transported down the river twice a year at times of high water in spring and autumn, although some porcelain was made here onsite too. Large amounts of the stone were won and stock piled, then suddenly the trade seems to have stopped and the stock piles remained untouched until recent times.

Although the original mine site  of this particular stock pile is completely unknown. That is, until very recently. It was known to have been mined somewhere around here. There is an ancient kiln site across the river from where I sit and write just now. The site has been excavated and preserved. Covered with an impressive shed to keep the weather and shard hunters out. Then, just behind it. Higher up the hill, there is a museum of the sherds that were unearthed during the dig. Porcelain has most certainly been made on site here for a very long time.

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Now this following part must be taken with a grain of salt, as it is third-hand via interpretation. So maybe I’m completely of the mark, but as I understand it. A few years ago the current source of the Yang Gu sericite was discovered. There was a bad flood that changed the banks of the river that flows through the village here. It exposed some material that looked promising. A few years later, there was a severe drought and the river level dropped dramatically. This allowed Mr Jung, the Director of the Porcelain museum here, to get in and excavate some samples. It turned out to be sericite, so a large machine was brought in and the lens of sericite was removed to higher ground and stock piled.

It seems that the old kiln was built on the banks of the river here for a reason. I notice that there is a leat let into the banks of the river just below the kiln. Possibly to run a water driven clay crushing hammer in the past? I’ve seen exactly this in other countries like China and Japan, where porcelain is made! It all comes together?  There are a few examples of replica water hammers around the village. Non of them working, just for show these days.

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The original Yang Gu sericite material from the stock pile site is a hard, glassy, stone like many other porcelain stones that I’ve seen. However, the new material is somewhat softer and more friable. I can crush it with my fingers. I imagined, when I first saw and felt the raw material in the stock pile. That it might be some sort of kaolin based clay. It reminded me of my ‘Mafia’ deposit of halloysite/illite/quartz/felspar, near Mittagong at home. However, this proved to be completely wrong. I’ve had my samples from my last trip analysed and the material here is almost totally composed of sericite and some quartz. I must say that it is amazingly plastic, for a body that is almost completely free of clay. I say almost, because the material is so glassy and fusible at high temperatures, that Mr Jung has brought in some sericite with a kaolin component to firm it up a bit at stoneware temperatures. This material comes from JinJu farther south. I really had no idea of just how plastic mica could be. This place is pretty special. I consider myself very lucky to be able to be here and enjoy these amazing experiences.

I am being housed during my stay here, in a student residency building about two kms away from the workshop. I am currently the only person in the place, as it is the first days of summer and all the other residents are away on summer holidays. I do the 2 km walk each day to the workshop and back along the river.

The river is very lovely. It’s low water at the moment, but still running consistently and clear. I can see from the detritus that is hooked up on the iron work along the top of the old bridge, that high water can be at least 7 metres high and possibly more. There is a water bird working the shallow shingle rapids along the river bed. He’s very fast and efficient. He seems to be catching something every minute of so. I see him sunning himself on one occasion sitting alone, up on a rock. I know how he feels.

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This morning the weather was foggy and overcast. There was a beautiful mist hovering around the mountains. Their silhouette is reflected in the water of the rice fields. The rice has doubled in size  since I arrived. Lots of water and some warm weather is all it needs.

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So Much Water, So Far From Home.

I’m back in Korea again. This time I’m up in the north of the south. I came to Korea last year to do some preliminary research and to suss out what might be possible, but mainly to visit as many single stone porcelain sights as possible. It was an amazing trip and I learnt more than I had hoped for. I discovered sites that I hadn’t previously known of and got to make some nice pots along the way.
From my reading and research, it seems that Korea might have been the place where porcelain was invented, some time around the year 900. That places it about 100 years earlier than the development of porcelain in China.
Before commencing this research, I had believed that China was the source of porcelain development and the technology had spread overland to Korea by osmosis. Some doubt has now been cast on this theory and it just might have been the other way around?
I certainly don’t know. I’ll wait for the evidence to be further developed to see what happens. It makes no difference to me. I don’t see it as a race. But an excellent example of human ingenuity. 
In my own Walter Mitty world. They both came across the idea at more or less the same time, quite independently. Just as I did, more or less by accident, or good fortune. Although I do concede the truism that the harder you work, the luckier you get. McMeekin  just seems to have stumbled on his porcelain deposit from word of mouth, possibly over a beer at the Mittagong pub? Who knows. I don’t believe that this sort of information is recorded. Luckily, whatever the circumstances of the insight, he was the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
I do know that when I arrived in my small hamlet of Balmoral, I asked around of the locals, if there was any clay deposits in the area. The best people turned out to be the local bull dozer driver and the back hoe operator. They spent their days digging the dirt in other peoples places and seeing just what is under the surface. They had lots of insights. Unfortunately, non of them lead to usable material at that time.
So now I’m back here specifically to work the YangGu sericite porcelain clay. There has been porcelain made here around these hills for centuries. I’m just not sure how long as yet. That is one of the things that I’m here to find out. However, what I really want to do is to get my fingers into the stuff and make some pots. The Yang Gu porcelain stone has been mined out of these hills for eons, possibly since the 1400’s? However, no one knows just where the stone was mined. It’s a mystery still. Most likely under ground, as there is no sign of any material like it on the surface and enigmatically, no shafts have been found. However, as we are so close to the border here. the material just might be located just over the hill in the North?
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The walk to and from the studio to my dormitory is very pleasant. I get to walk past lots of little farms. There is a lot of poly tunnel agriculture here. I guess because the summer is short and the winter is very long and very cold. So a bit of extra warmth from the poly tunnels gets things started early when the ground outside would be just still too cold. I’m told that the frost penetrates down to 1 metre here.
There are several crops of beautiful garlic coming along. The outer leaves are just starting to turn colour, so they will be ready for harvest very soon. It must have been dry here lately, as I can see that this farmer has the sprinkler on the crop, irrigating it, to keep it growing a bit longer to fill out the bulbs.  
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As I walk to the village I can hear cookcoos calling from the forrest all around. All of the valley floor here has been levelled and terraced everywhere that you look. It must have taken hundreds of years of man and women hours to get the landscape so well prepared for rice culture. The terraced paddy fields go all the way up to the steep sides of the hill.   Intermixed with poly-tunnels. Then some enterprising farmer has even ploughed the slope up the hill side, where it was possible. I’m not too sure that this is a very good idea, as when the big rain events come. He will loose most of his top soil. The forrest on the hills is all heavily planted with timber species. I’m told that all of this forrest was totally cleared all around here during the Korean war of the fifties. The hills from here to the border were denuded of all vegetation so that any enemy attack could easily be seen coming. 
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We are only a kilometre or two from the front line here. Now called the DMZ. At various times throughout the day I can hear loud speakers booming out the insane propaganda from over the border in the North.  I can’t understand it and the locals tell me that they don’t even hear it any more. It’s just so much background noise, like heavy traffic passing. What is really tragic, is that a poverty stricken country like the North would waste so much energy in such a totally futile exercise.
There is a lot of water still issuing from the hills here in the form of spring water. It has all been harvested and channelled into culverts. It makes it’s way down across the valley floor and is diverted here and there in to smaller channels, ducts and eventually into local ditches that work their way around the paddies.  
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The rice seedlings have just been planted out and are starting to shoot upwards. The fields are kept flooded while the rice establishes itself. Once the top field is filled and is completely flooded. the excess water then flows down from ditch to ditch and field to field into the next, and so on. Once all the farmers fields are flooded. The excess water is returned to the fast flowing channels so that it can be used by the next farmer down the valley.
The water eventually makes its way down to the river in the valley floor, where some enterprising farmers who don’t have access to a spring fed flow. Pump the water out of the river and it starts its irrigating journey all over again.  
In the evening the setting sun shines on the flooded rice and there is a peaceful harmony about it all. This enterprise of growing wholesome food, the tinkle of fast flowing water, the quiet of the evening, the last feeble rays off the sun and me walking home in the fading light after a productive day in the workshop, its a beautiful time. As I turn into the little valley where I am staying I notice that there is a very prolific bird sound. I am staying right up at the head of this little valley, so It’s a long walk. A couple of kilometres. The forest here is alive with some sort of birdlife that I don’t know. There must be thousands of these birds, all calling and responding with a kind of hooting sound. Maybe it’s mating season?
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I can sense that there is no other wild life up here in this valley or the woods that surround it on all sides, because all the farmers fields are wide open. There are no fences to be seen most of the time. I guess that this also means the there is no issue of pilfering either. All the farm equipment is left out in full view, even power tools. It’s a lovely feeling to be in a place where there is so much neighbourly trust and respect. On the road I suddenly see a very small frog. I would have missed it except for its luminous green and black colouring. I decide not to touch it. Anything this colourful, hiding in plain sight without a care, must be very confident that no bird will eat it. I suspect that it is vey toxic. I only take its photo and not its pulse. As I walk further, I can see that there a whole lot of them that have been squashed on the road. Not only does their (possibly) poisonous skin make them totally unafraid of predators. They have no road sense either. Tragically for them, poisonous skin doesn’t deter cars.
As I walk up past all the poly tunnels, rice paddies and vegetable plots I nod and say “Anyohaseyo” to each of the people that I meet. I got a few double takes on my first trip, but now they recognise me and word has spread that I’m here and only sleeping in the dormitory building at the head of the valley. At first they responded in fast, staccato Korean. But I can only shrug my shoulders and look helpless. I can’t speak any Korean past the first few words of airpot language that we all learn to be able to get around. They smile back at me and we each go on about our own tasks. 
I’m still quite amazed that even though it is summer and it hasn’t rained since I’ve been here, and there a people watering their plants, it’s obviously a dry time, but as I walk, I can hear the river rushing, then up the valley I can hear the irrigation ditches channelling the gurgling spring water. I’m suddenly struck by the fact that here is so much water, so far from home.
Best wishes from Steve in Korea

The dull thud of distant artillery and the sharp crack of small arms fire

We are here in Cambodia and on our first night we are awoken several time with the realisation that something strange and possibly quite bad is going on.

We keep hearing the dull thud of distant artillery. Not constant, but quite intermittent, just so much so that we drift off to sleep again and then are re-awoken by the sharp crack of small arms fire, not all that far away.

Having read up a bit on Cambodia before arriving here, our minds are full of Pol Pot and the civil war. Then, just a week before we set off. There was a documentary on the idiot-box about the assassination of a local journalist who had been campaigning for civil rights, and against nepotism and corruption in the government. He was shot by the secret police who staged it as some sort of ‘hit’ over an unpaid debt.

So, our minds were fertile ground for a disturbance. We didn’t sleep well. However, in the morning we awoke, eventually, to find that the house is under the shadow of a huge mango tree and the fruit is in full season just now. When the ripe fruit drops and hits the ground, it makes a dull thud, but when it falls onto the flimsy tin roof of the pottery shed, it makes a sharp metallic report, not unlike distant small arms fire.

It was a great relief and we were able to sleep well after that, even with the noise.

 

We soon get accustomed to eating half a dozen fresh mangoes for breakfast each morning. We even make tropical mango and banana pizza for the family before we leave.