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.
IMG_8698 IMG_8567 IMG_8571
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.
IMG_8635 IMG_8636
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.
IMG_8646 IMG_8651 IMG_8652
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.
IMG_8678 IMG_8679 IMG_8682 IMG_8685  IMG_8725
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!
IMG_8777 IMG_8779
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.
IMG_8783 IMG_8784IMG_8788 IMG_8798
IMG_8800
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!
IMG_8740 IMG_8741 IMG_8745 IMG_8746 IMG_8748 IMG_8750
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.
IMG_9815
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Korea

Bodoko

In the boro museum we get to understand some of the history of this amazingly time-consuming and beautiful example of enforced creative frugality.

In the north of Japan there was a history of recycled cloth called ‘bodoko’, sometimes shortened to ‘bodo’. Bodo are made by sewing many small pieces of used and worn cloth together to make a larger sheet. Bodoko sheets are primarily used in childbirth to lay the newborn baby on. They were also used as sleeping sheets when laid over layers of dried leaves or straw on the ground. Times were really tough back then! We live in luxury now and look upon these old fabrics today as cultural art objects, but they were originality created out of the necessities of poverty.

The items of the Boro Museum were collected by Mr. Chuzaburo Tanaka from the mid sixties onwards. He had a love of these old fabrics from his earliest days. Some of the museum displays are fortunately written in English and enlighten us as to more of the history. One of the panels tells us that when a baby died in child-birth, it was buried with nothing other than a stone. To make the baby tougher in its next life!
IMG_8439 IMG_8456
It’s a great thrill to see all these old fabrics in a well-lit, well displayed place. There is a wealth of material here in this museum spread over several floors of the building.
IMG_8441IMG_8435 IMG_8447
IMG_8457 IMG_8467
IMG_8499
Later we make our way to the local sushi bar for lunch.
IMG_8524  IMG_8535
The next morning we are up very early and off to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market for a wander around. The fish market is only a 15 minute walk from where we are staying in a cheap hotel. There are all sorts of stalls in and around the market. There is a very nice Japanese knife stand, but they are very expensive and out of my price range. However there is an enormous range of all sorts of fish and sea food products on sale. I’m particularly taken by the sea urchin pulp with wasabi paste and pickled ginger served in a lovely wooden box.
IMG_8551 IMG_8552
There is fresh wasabi root, dried squid and lovely mushrooms. I wish that I had a kitchen, so that I could justify buying some of this.
IMG_8540  IMG_8539
I’m quite taken with the fish eggs displayed all in a roe.
 IMG_8549
We spend a few minutes watching a master fish chef de-boning a very large tuna. it’s a very skilful art. A big tuna like this cost thousands of dollars just an hour earlier, and is broken down now into smaller affordable pieces for the days sushi and sashimi restaurants.
IMG_8554  IMG_8555
We can’t help ourselves. We have to have some more sushi and sashimi after this.
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Tokyo

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.

Our Wild Life in a Small Village

Although we lead a quiet life in a small village.  Our wild life was exposed yesterday for all to see. We had a Posse of Parrots, a gaggle of gang gangs, a calamity of black cockatoos, all the usual small silvereyes, fire tails and wrens, swarming and flurrying across our gardens. A very noisey pair of juvenile magpies demanding to be constantly fed and the occasional visiting flock of marauding white cockatoos. Thankfully they moved on.

The king parrots spent a few days with us following us around the house and gardens. I presume, hoping to be fed. But we didn’t, so they eventually moved on to visit someone else who would feed them. We have a bird bath, under cover in the shrubbery which is very popular for washing and drinking by all the birds, but we don’t extend our welcome to feeding. I think that they are much better off working the forest around here for their own wild food.

We also had a visit from an echidna. She/he was only here for the day, just passing through and was gone the next morning. As we have 4 dams for water and a couple of hectares of forested land around them, with loads of dead trees on the ground. I suspect that this is a very suitable habitat for him/her, as they swim as well as burrow. There are plenty of termites in the dead wood all around here.

IMG_7909IMG_7911

IMG_4559

IMG_4565 IMG_8306

IMG_4595 IMG_4587

 

The Weather Warms Up

As the weather warms up, we continue to harvest the garlic as it starts to mature and dry off. each different variety comes on at slightly different times, but  most of it has been lifted now, with just a few blocks of plants still remaining in the ground.

IMG_8187 IMG_8202

The citrus are flowering, one of the lemons is flowering so profusely that the ground under the tree is white with fallen petals. The fragrance is beautiful.

I have spent the last few weeks kiln building, and kiln number 300 is now complete and ready for delivery. This is my penult kiln, kiln number 301 will be my last before I retire from building these larger, heavier kilns. I will continue on in semi-retirement for  a few more years building the smaller, lighter, relocatable, mini wood fired kilns, as these are easier on my worn-out body.

IMG_8223 IMG_8246

The birds have started to destroy the fruit crop – as usual!. After 40 years of organic farming here, all the older stone fruit trees are too big for us to net individually these days. It has crossed my mind, that we could net the whole orchard, but this would be prohibitively expensive. We did net the entire vegetable garden area about 15 years ago and that was there best thing that we ever did. Now we get all of our produce and the birds, rabbits, wallabies, possums and eastern grey kangaroos are no longer a problem.

IMG_8226

We spend a day with our good friend Warren, helping us to net all the smaller trees. The parrots have started to hollow out the almonds, looking  for the sweet young developing nuts. There is nothing that we can do about it. The tress in the stone fruit orchard are just too big to net. The birds can have them. I planted a dozen new almond trees, in a row down one side of the netted vegetable garden. These are reaching maturity now and depending on the vagaries of the weather, can produce good crops.

IMG_8233 (1) IMG_8231

IMG_8235

We drape nets over the smaller trees, supported with tomato stakes and use irrigation pipe hoops to support the nets over the larger trees. We have been doing this for years, it’s a days job every spring. The nets are getting a bit old now and are getting a little brittle, so holes are starting to appear. I made a huge needle out of TIG wire to use as a repair needle to stich the nets back together using baleing twine, repairing holes and joining seams. It works rather well.

IMG_8232 IMG_8227

We end the day in the nut grove, by pruning all the suckers from underneath the dozen hazel nut trees on our hands and knees. These trees want to grow as a small wide thicket, so they need constant attention, removing the suckers, to encourage them to grow as upright trees with a single trunk, or two or three trunks. This makes them very much easier to maintain, manage and mow around. It’s a constant job, but the nuts are worth it.

IMG_8238 IMG_8240

IMG_8239

Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished, nothing lasts.

Spring has Finally Arrived

Spring hasn’t sprung. It’s sort of crept in very slowly. It hasn’t rained properly since March, so all the dams are very low and as the weather slowly warms up, we are having to water the vegetable garden and potted plants every day.

IMG_8113 IMG_8114

IMG_8115

IMG_8126 IMG_8127

We have been harvesting the new crop of garlic for the past month as it starts to dry off and wilt. I planted over 100 cloves this year and we have harvest a very good strong crop. However, one of the varieties that I planted has turned out to be a bracing type, initially it grew as one stem, but as it matured, it separated into a dozen separate plants. One stem for each clove. I have no idea what the variety is called, as I bought 2 knobs of this garlic from the health food shop, as Australian grown organic garlic, and that is all I know about it. It has quite a mild flavour.

IMG_8128

IMG_8136 IMG_8147

Each batch of garlic has to be laid out to dry for while before it can be plaited and hung up for storage in the kitchen ceiling truss.

 

Some Jobs are a Lot Quicker with Helpers

We have had our last wood firing workshop for the year, as the summer fire bans are now in place. The kiln was packed and fired and marshmallows were roasted to get us through the cold night. There was a cracking good frost over night too.

IMG_7928 IMG_7931.jpg

IMG_7934

It was a very good firing with excellent results. After the unpacking of the kiln, many of the potters stayed on for a working bee to help us to split wood for the next firing.

IMG_8003

It was a fantastic experience to be amongst bright friendly young people who have a lot of energy. In just a few hours we managed to fill the wood shed. This is the first time that t he wood shed has been completely filled to capacity. It a good feeling, but more-so because we were part of the team all working hard to complete an objective.

IMG_8004 IMG_8005.jpg

The chicken had a field day eating all the bugs that were exposed from under the bark of the logs. I’ve never seen them collapse and have to sit and rest in amongst all the hectic activity of wood splitters and chainsaws, because they had eaten too much and were completely full.

IMG_8048

IMG_8102