Izumiyama and the Shira Jiki

I’m working in a workshop in Arita, in Kyushu. I’m trying to learn something about working with single stone porcelain. The potters of Arita in Japan have been making porcelain ‘jiki’ pots out of this single crushed stone from the izumiyama mountain quarry for four hundred years and they have developed a technique or two in that time. I’m keen to learn just a fraction of that knowledge in the very brief 5 weeks that I have here.

Arita is famous for being the first place in Japan where porcelain stone was discovered and white porcelain was subsequently made here. This place has a very long history. The first porcelain being made here in 1616. Since then the industry has had it’s highs and lows. We are currently in a low. Just like everywhere else in the world, the industry here is facing steep competition from China. Only a couple of decades ago, there were 300 studios here in this little town. Now there are only 100 and falling steadily. No country or industry can compete with the low cost-base of China. The best hope that they have is to engage with people like me, cultural tourists. I’m prepared to pay for the experience of working here in this amazing place, with this unique material that they have here. Merging traditional porcelain manufacture with paid workshop access for artists could be the difference between financial survival in the future. This town needs more accommodation and restaurants, if it is to encourage more longer-stay cultural tourism. Something more than the usual casual day-visit for shopping.

I don’t think that they really understand how rare and amazing this stuff really is on a global scale. So don’t fully understand its true value and what they have to offer. It’s just so normal for them here, after so many centuries. They don’t realise the special nature of what they have. It’s bred by familiarity! As all the workshops seem to be struggling financially, People like me could be the cash cows of the future, or at least part of the fiscal solution.

In the early 1600’s, the great Japanese Warlord Hideoshi invaded Korean. He captured potters and repatriated them to Japan. Rendition! It sounds familiar? A potter, named Ri Sampei, he was actually a part time potter and part time vegetable grower (farmer). Sounds familiar. He was captured and brought to this place. He soon discovered the special porcelain stone in the mountain of Izumiyama just outside of the village of Arita. He recognised it for what it was and began to make the first white porcelain in Japan, called Shira Jiki. The rest is history.

First day, I start with a clean wheel and pot boards, + a few lumps of porcelain clay.


So I’ve come to this place to experience the special southern Japanese porcelain techniques that have been developed here. This stuff is amazing, sufficiently plastic to throw well enough, so that you don’t really think that you are throwing with a ground up piece of stone. It is quite strong and stands up well on the wheel. Not vigorous, but sufficiently robust to make reasonable forms easily. For me anyway.

It is miles away from what I’m used to. The hard rock that I grind up at Home is a solid, non-plastic affair. I know from my reading that this stone here, is highly weathered. In a form known to geologists as ‘hydrothermal weathering’, where hot steam has passed through fissures in the parent rock, reducing what was formerly hard granite, to a soft crumbly type of soft white mica called Sericite. Sericite is both slightly plastic, throwable and highly fluxed at the same time. Plus, it is very low in iron oxide. A very unusual combination of characteristics. Only a few places in the world have materials like this at hand.

I find that the clay is used so soft here in this workshop, that I can’t separate my pots from the wheel-head using a conventional cutting string and lifting technique that I’m used to. I find that I have to use so much force to allow air in under the pot to lift it, that it distorts the bowl. I take a moment to make myself an extra thick, double twisted, multi-stranded, cutting string. The texture that it creates as it passes through the ultra-fine porcelain clay allows air to penetrate, so breaking the vacuum seal and allowing the pot to be easily removed from the wheel head.


I settle in for a few of weeks of intensive work. We work together, side by side.


I’m, in the workshop of Tsutsui Tatsuya. He is very experienced, having spent 40 years in this workshop. Purpose built, up on the hill overlooking Arita’s U-Tan district. I spend half a day throwing my pots and then spend a week turning them, and so it goes for the rest of my time here. I soon fill my shelves and then I’m looking for more storage space in the overhead racks, above the wheels.


The turning here is a different story to what I’m used to. It takes me back to my student days working for the Japanese Potter Shiga Shigeo. He was trained in the porcelain techniques of Kyoto and worked for the ‘Nation Treasure’ potter Tomimoto in Kyoto, another porcelain centre of excellence in Japan. Here they turn not just outside, but inside as well. I’m not used to that. I have tried in the past to get my form just about right on the wheel, so that there would be as little turning as possible. Here they all seem to use the ‘nobebere’ profile stick to throw the forms. Another thing that I’m not used to. But I’m here to learn and to experiment.


This work requires you to be both meticulous in detail and therefore precise in your hand-eye co-ordination, I’m not too sure if I’m up to it, but I give it my best, roughing out on the next day and turning down to form on the third, then the precise thinning and finishing when it is bone dry on the next, or any time after really. It doesn’t matter once it is fully dried out. I get to use my new tungsten-carbide-tipped turning tools for the job. I’ve colour-coded them. I need to get out more!

IMG_0471made by Steve in Arita

IMG_0449First pot finished, 89 to go.

A gecko comes to visit me while I’m turning.


Today Tatsuya made us a cup of matcha for afternoon tea break. It was amazing. He offered me his father’s Karatsu tea bowl and chose to use the bowl that I had recently given him as a gift, for himself. The tea looked really good in them. We both reached for our cameras at the same time. We laughed! So funny!. We were both thinking that we ought to record the special image of this very particular event on our cameras.



It’s a modern world, in this ancient place. So full of history, you can taste it!

The perfect juxtaposition of then and now.

fond regards from Old Steve in the New Arita, Japan

Yes Way! – A Walk Along the old Tombai Walls

I decide to take a walk up to the old Izumiyama Quarry and visit the Folklore Museum that is situated just by its entrance. The upper part of the Kami-Arita street isn’t that interesting as most of the galleries and shops peter out towards the top of the hill and I’ve walked that way plenty of times. So I decide to detour off the beaten track and take a walk along the little stream and stroll what was once the old main street through the town. It winds and meanders its narrow way between the workshops, gardens and backyards, as it follows the course of the stream and its natural contours. There are several detours and by-passes, little bridges that take the walkway along the opposite side of the stream for a while, for no apparent reason.



These criss-crossings of the stream had their reasons in the deep past, but today just seem strange and quaint in a world of hi-tech engineering and straight lines conceived on paper and then engineered into reality, regardless of the local contours and conditions on the ground.



I really like the lovely, ancient, quality of the neighbourhood.  A lot of this area still has the old brick walls laid with mud called ‘Tombai’ walls. Tombai is the local dialect word for firebrick as a lot of the walls along this old road have been built from recycled

firebricks recovered from demolished kilns over the centuries. Their mottled surfaces variably shiny glazed, blistered and pock-marked from their years of productive work in the ancient wood fired kilns.



This old main road was little more than a walking track for people with baskets and hand carts and was so windy and convoluted that it was eventually replaced with a new road, capable of carrying traffic in the modern world. The old road remained because it wasn’t just a thoroughfare, but a vital constituent of the local economy, because all along the little stream, there were situated huge, water powered, timber stamp mills, called ‘Karausu-ato’ These mills were used for crushing the local porcelain stone that was the life blood of the local economy. At it’s peak, there were over two hundred and seventy of these water driven pounding mills, creaking, groaning and thumping their way through the day and night. siphoning water from the stream slightly higher up and directing it along leats to the mills, then discharging it back into the main flow to be used again lower down. In this way, the local economy was directly linked to the weather and rain fall patterns. There are no longer any working water-powered stamp mills operating along this stream. They have all been replaced by electrically driven machines. There are two of these mills preserved in the locality as educational tourists attractions. However, water powered clay crusher mills just like these are still in use in the pottery village of Onda, in the north of Kyushu.

see <“A Mecca called Onda” – revisited, for the first time Posted on 12/11/2014>

Not only are there no longer any water-powered stamp mills still working in Arita, but potters don’t do their own milling or clay prep at all anymore. That all finished a long time ago, with the specialisation of labour and business efficiencies. Just as all the pots are no longer thrown on foot powered, wooden, kick wheels, so all the clay for the potters of Arita is now made in just two large mechanised factories and one very small, husband and wife, family business.

It looks like I’m the anachronism. One of the last guys standing who chooses to try and do everything for himself, from digging the stone, through crushing and grinding the minerals, then ageing the clay and then finally throwing the pots on an antiquated, wooden, foot powered, kick wheel. Then firing the pots in a wood fired kiln, that I built myself with my own hand made bricks and fired with wood that I cut and split myself.

When the people here ask me how I work and I tell them. They shake their heads in disbelief. One looked gob-smacked and  just said “No Way”!

I reply “Yes way”!


The Temple Bell

Every morning at dawn, the temple bell rings. It makes its first gong at 6.00am and then about every 35 seconds until ten past. The next strike comes just as the last one has died away. It is a very gentle way to be reminded that the day is about to begin.

Luckily for me, I live some distance from the temple. if I lived right next to the giant bell, I might have a very different opinion. I lay in bed and ponder just where this temple is. There a so many temples and shrines around here. Everywhere in fact. The streets and lanes are crowded with them. I have some idea of the direction of the sound. But sounds are funny things, so influenced by the surrounding buildings and the hill, that I’m not too sure if i’m hearing the sound directly or as it bounces off another building.

Today, I wake just as the dawn in breaking and the new pale light illuminates the shoji screens of my room. It’s 5.30 am. A while before the bell is due to ring this morning. I decide to go out into the street and listen more closely to determine where the sound is coming from.


I’m up, washed and dressed. If I move fast, I will be able to find to source of the bell. It’s not that important, but I’m inquisitive. My instinct is that it will be coming from the higher temple, above the train line, up on the hill. but my ears have been telling me each morning that it is emanating from the opposite direction. I’m never really sure when I hear the first gong, but once I’m awake they enter my consciousness and become real.

I start by heading to where I feel that it has been coming from in the past. I have 15 minutes to find it before the monk starts his morning task. I walk down the street, I pass a gap between two buildings, there is a little lane way. I can see straight away that it leads up to some temple buildings. I walk up the lane as quietly as possible. I don’t want to disturb the Monk in his daily rituals, he might be meditating?


When I get up there, there is no-one to be seen. The temple is beautifully kept. It has a raked gravel garden with some large stones. I still have several minutes before the first sound is due to ring. I take a moment to look around the garden and courtyard where the bell house is situated. We are quite well elevated here, above the buildings in the street. The sound would carry well from here. It’s not as hight as the other temple up on the hill, but high enough.


Only a minute to go and there is no sign of anyone around. Suddenly the sound of a bell sounds out. It isn’t this bell at all. I was completely fooled. I could have sworn that the sounds were coming from the direction of this temple. I head off down the lane and out into the street. It must be the hight temple then.

I head off in that direction, up the street, then up the side street towards the temple. Just then it strikes again. I’m completely wrong! What’s happening?  The sound is coming

from the other end of the street now, back where I just came from. I turn and hurry back with as much dignity as I can muster, as I rush down the street, back past my place and further down the hill towards the sound. I want to get there before the monk or priest finishes his work. I only have 10 minutes max. to find it. Of course, I could always try again tomorrow morning, but I’m up now and on the job.


The sound is definitely coming from here. I walk up the lane and there it is, right in front of me. As I approach, the bell strikes again. Actually, that is wrong. The bell sounds as the log that is suspended on 4 chains swings back and strikes the bell, producing that marvellous resounding gong sound. I can’t see the monk in  underneath the supporting structure, so I walk around the garden wall to


where I can see the bell house most clearly. There is no-one there!  As I watch, the log swings back and strikes the bell again. It is an automated system, run mechanically. I have to say that I’m just a bit shocked and disappointed, for some reason, I was sure that there would be a person here doing some sort of ritual daily devotion.

So now I know, or at least I think that I do, but what do we ever really know? There are two temples and two bells. The first strike seems to come from up on high, then all the subsequent rings are from the lower one.

I’m sufficiently satisfied with this explanation to go home and prepare my breakfast of unsweetened natural yoghurt and fruit. The day has begun. No time to dally. There are porcelain bowls to be turned using my new hi-tech, tungsten carbide tipped kanna turning tools. If I have no problem adopting this brand-new technology for my work to make my life easier, then why shouldn’t a monk do the same?

Taking Time to Take Tea

I have an interest in tea, only minor in the scheme of things, but it’s been consistent in my life. I love the old tea houses, especially when the thatch gets that mossy look of age, that special wabi, sabi  look. There are some especially intuitive, gifted and sensitive people out there to be sure. I’m not one of them, but in my better moments, I can see and appreciate the profoundly beautiful things that they have left behind for me to experience. It’s a joy that highlights my day.


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One one of my walks I come across a temple where you can take tea. So I do. I take the time. I sit and I ponder. It isn’t in my vague plan for today, but it is very much welcome and appreciated. This is time unplanned and well spent. The caffeine really enlivens my step afterwards too.


I did my washing today. What more could you want?

Toji Markets

As it is the 21st of the month, and I’m in Kyoto, that means it is the day of the Toji Markets. They are held on the 21st of the month, regardless of the day. Today it is a Friday. So off I go. The markets are held in the grounds of the Toji Temple, hence the name, not too far from the main Kyoto station. It’s usually a very busy market and very full of all sorts of stalls. Today, however, it is only half full, as it  has rained pretty heavily over night and is still pissing down this morning. I guess a lot of the stall holders just stayed home. The rain cleared about 10 am. and then it was fine, getting very hot in the early afternoon. I eventually needed a hat, but only brought an umbrella.


Everything that you could want is here, even on a slow day like today. There are fruit, veggies, clothes, pots, pickles, fabric, beads, furniture and hot food. You name it and it is probably here. I’m particularly looking for and old pot with character. perhaps a tea bowl? I missed one last time I was here. I could kick myself. I passed it up because it was Y45,000. Way above my budget, but I could have afforded it if I’d changed my other plans and rearranged my budget. It scarred me off. I should have extended my self. But travelling on a strict budget has its limits, and that was past mine, and now it’s past tense.


I’m still looking for something exotic, quirky, interesting, unusual, with just a touch of the sabi/wabi’s about it, but today, no luck. I can’t see anything in the way of an old pot that speaks to me. There are plenty of them here, but not one with my name on it today. I eventually settle for an old, not very old, maybe 80 to 100 years old, Soba noodle cup. The straight down the line white porcelain with washed out small blue brushwork, chipped foot ring and a bit of age staining. Delicate and light and speaking lots about old Japanese porcelain. I love the things. They are still fairly cheap and reasonably easy to find, but I notice that they are creeping up in price each year that I come here, and the best ones cost the most – of course!


To get it to the market, you have to pass through the temple gates. They are massive wooden installations and quite old, recently repaired and restored and beautifully done too. Just inside the gates there is an old lady with a stall selling old, used, indigo cotton fabric. I’m very fond of this stuff, both plain and patterned. I use it to patch my own worn out work clothes. I don’t really know what it is worth, so I don’t buy the first samples that I see. I make sure that I do the whole circuit of the site, looking at every stall first. Eventually I go back and buy some of the early bits that I saw, as they turn out to be the cheapest bits that are in reasonably good condition with still some wear left in them. The plain stuff is the best, as once it has been dyed in Indigo, it is toxic to bugs or something, so nothing will eat it. I find that the patterned fabric has some of the white bits eaten out, or just rotted away and become fragile somehow. Maybe it’s the ultra-violet in the sunlight? I don’t know.

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There is so much good food here. I want to try it all, but I hold out for the okonomiyaki. It’s my favourite. I can’t think of anything more delicious and ever so fresh as this. Cooked in front of your eyes in a few minutes. I could describe it as chopped cabbage cooked in a light pancake batter, with bacon and egg and other bits of dressings and herbs and spices like red pickled ginger. Ever so yummy. Oishii Desu!

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I see a few old wooden stools that are nice, but totally out of the question for me. I also see some of the freshest and plumpest ginger that I have ever seen. If only I had a kitchen!

A day spent wandering the Toji markets is a full days entertainment with almost free entrance, only a coin donation to the temple at the door.

Firing the Dragon Kiln

I’m here in Singapore to teach a Master Class in my very own flavour of environmental ceramics, using local rocks to make local glazes for local potters. I’m also here to give a seminar about this work. There is a tea bowl conference and exhibition. I’m here because people buy my bowls to use as tea bowls. I don’t call myself a tea bowl maker. I haven’t been trained, so I can’t really call myself a maker of tea bowls, I’d feel that I was a fraud if I did. However, if people want to buy my bowls for use in the tea ceremony, then I’m pleased about that and happy to sell them one. I’m also here to take part in all the other related activities that go with conferences, but more of that later.

I’m here alone, because The Lovely checked her Passport, that 6 months ago had almost a year of life in it, and that seemed OK at the time, but is now so close to being out of date,  having less than 5 months left on it, that I can’t check her in online at the Airline web site. A bit of a cock-up there. I should have checked in and confirmed, as soon as I bought the tickets. I thought that there would be plenty of time for that later, and there should have been. So it’s my fault. I won’t let it happen again.

We are flying on the cheap, very cheap no-frills, cheap, new Asian low-cost airline, Poverty Air. They offer you nothing, no service, no frills, no meal, no drinks, no movie, just a seat on a plane and it’s quite a small, narrow, hard one at that, with little leg room. But it’s cheap. Their flight path and service, if you can call it that, isn’t very convenient, but it’s cheap. What they do offer is a very cheap fare, and my-goodness it’s cheap! Imagine Ryan Air with all the luxury removed! I agree with the terms and conditions. It’s cheap and I expect nothing. I feel that it will be OK because it’s only a very short flight to asia from here, just 10 or 12 hours, depending on the route taken. Ours is a bit of a round about one to fit in with their scheduled flights to get us to where we want to go, But Hey! It’s cheap!

So Janine has no valid pass port, she can’t get on the plane with me. I go alone. She has already applied for her new Passport online and paid the extra $350 for an overnight/24 hr.  Express Processing, so she will follow me in a couple of days.

I arrive and soon check out the place. I have done a quick look around the area here surrounding the pottery site and found what I think is an aplite rock, just like the bai tunze that I found at home near Mittagong. It looks so similar I have high hopes that it will make some nice glaze. It looks to be a little bit darker than mine, so I don’t think that it will be as pale when fired. But the cleavage planes and the texture look remarkably similar. It might make a dark green ‘Northern’ Celadon, but who’s to know? I’m no geologist, but it does look promising. I also found some white granite that is being used as road gravel here. There is a large amount just outside the gate to the pottery, so I also tested that. Steven Low, who has organised this Masterclass at the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle has also located a few samples of commercially available rock gravel as well as a local white sandy clay. I will test all of these if time allows.

I need to crush all these samples down to very fine dust so as to be able to make glaze tests out of them. All I have to work with is one kitchen mortar and pestle made out of granite and a dozen helpers throughout the day. I will need more than this if we are to get it all done. Steven takes me to the village street markets, where we buy another 4 stone mortars and pestles. He has arranged to get a steel stamping tube mill welded up, to be used for primary crushing and it is there when we get back with the mortars and pestles. So we are all set to go.

We all sit around in the shade and crush the samples. It’s very boring work, so I’m really pleased to have some wonderful, helpful people sharing the work load with me. The day before my Masterclass is due to start, many of the participants have turned up, they are here for the whole event and are happy to put in an hour or so to help me get it all done. I am very grateful. We only have one of my home-made stampers and 5 granite, food-grade mortars and pestles from the markets to work with. But with so much good will and great helpers, it all gets done. I couldn’t have done it all just by myself. Not in this time frame. So thank you very much to all those who helped me. I’m so grateful.



We don’t get all the materials tested during the Masterclass. There isn’t enough time. There is a bit of theory to explain, as the system that I have developed to analyse the various rocks and ashes for stoneware firing as glaze material is a little complex. If you haven’t done it before, it might seem a bit difficult to follow. So, the first tests take some time, but once everyone gets the hang of it, we get a lot done.

The class is over-subscribed. I have almost 30 students, but only 4 sets of scales and equipment, so we work in teams of 7 or 8 per table. It’s a great atmosphere of cooperation and fraternity. Eventually we run out of time, there is another session booked in for this room in the afternoon. We still have a few of the samples left untested. I go back each evening after work in the pottery and complete a few more samples until they are all finished by the end of the week. I’m interested to know the results.


Stamping mill                        Stone mortars and pestles

 56 Demonstrating where to start

These photos of me by Merrie Tonkins, from Qld, who was helping me on the day as assistant.


A few of the finished test tiles ready for firing.

My other, or real, reason for being here is to make pots and to fill, pack and fire this Dragon Kiln. We are being hosted for some of the time at the Thow Kwang Dragon kiln Pottery. This is the last remaining working dragon kiln in Singapore. There is another kiln close by, but it closed down some years ago and is now rented out as workshop space to local artists. ‘The Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln Pottery Jungle’ is in a small patch of what used to be jungle up in the North West of the island.


It’s a marvelous old structure, built into the slope and mostly underground to get the earth as support for the arch that runs the full length of the kiln. Just the stoke holes are visible at floor level. The kiln is 1.8 metres high inside, but only 500 mm. is visible above the elevated ground level.


Over the years, all the other kilns have been closed down and/or demolished. The sites leveled and used for modern developments. This last remaining old Dragon Kiln is threatened too. It’s a shame. It ought to be recognised as an historic site. It’s part of the Nations Heritage of this place, but I don’t think that the bean-counters in the Government are interested or listening. Cash is King here! And money doesn’t just talk, it shouts.

The Dragon Kiln has a 3 year extension on the lease for the site just now, but it can be revoked at any time. No one knows what will happen, but as this is Singapore, it is inevitable that the site will be concreted over in the not too distant future. The place used to be surrounded by dense jungle with a lot of wild life in it. There were jungle fowl, wild boar, monkeys and loads of birds. All living and thriving in this last remaining eco-system. However, the Singapore Development Authority decided in their wisdom to clear the jungle and replace it with a modern designer, jungle-inspired garden walk, designed by a famous German landscape architect. So Appropriate. So local.

Everything was bull dozed and replaced by what a German designer thought would best represent the concept of ‘jungle’ in the modern world. Once the real jungle was removed. It’s basically lawn with a few shrubs. This narrow garden strip, follows what used to be the old creek. Which is now concreted over and filled with imported stones, so that it looks ‘natural’ The rest of the site is being concreted over and high-rise is being built on it.

The new road is completed, and the first two concrete high-rise blocks are built, there are 9 more planned around the site. The district is not called Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle any more. It has a new identity now, The new road that circles the old kiln site is now called ‘Clean-Tech Loop’. Could anything be more insulting and anal? There is no wild life left here now, just a few birds to be seen. But the German designer has thoughtfully placed photographs of each of the animals that used to live here on plastic profile boards all along the walk so that we can be reminded of what was once here just a year or so ago, before its habitat was destroyed in the name of rampant development. Clean fucking Tech Loop indeed!

Welcome to Singapore!

For the pottery making part of the workshop, I chose to make my pots for the firing of the old Dragon Kiln from the local clay. This isn’t particularly smart. I know nothing about this clay. This is clay that was recovered from the local clay pit right outside the pottery, just before it was bull dozed, to become part of the new Post Modern Jungle-free, ‘jungle’ garden walk. In some way it is an ‘homage’ to the old ways, the old folk, the potters and throwers, to the labourers and unskilled workers that this place employed, before they were displaced by the bankers. I think of all that lost culture and history, all the lost techniques and skills. All bulldozed over and concreted in this very time of ours. We did this! We let it happen.

The clay that I’ve chosen is completely unprocessed, it is totally natural, yellow and sticky, straight from the ground. The ground that supported this venture for over a hundred years. It’s very soft and very gritty with huge chunks of organic matter and stones up to 10 mm dia or more. It is a little difficult to throw and to deal with. Probably better suited to making the old, large, thick jars, rather than small functional bowls as I am making, but I decide to give it a go and I persist. The alternative is to use clay imported from Australia. I didn’t come all this way for that. So I persist.


I choose to use the very old, traditional, floor level, 4ft dia. wide, kick wheel. It is essentially a very heavy flat disc. You kick it up to speed with your foot and the momentum keeps it going. You then bend over it, legs akimbo, in a torturous way that can’t be too good for your back, and throw the clay into a pot, as best that you can. As the wheel slowly looses momentum. You have to stand up and kick the wheel up to speed again to give it enough momentum to finish the pot. I made 7 bowls ‘off the hump’, from one big lump of clay, in this way. I was quite surprised that they came off quite well. I’m used to using a kick wheel at home, but not one like this! So the transition wasn’t too hard. However, I’m glad that it was only for 15 mins or so. I don’t think that my back would last all day working in this method.

Still, my pots have a nice soft, gentle undulating quality to them that I like a lot, and it’s mostly due to this method of making. I put my row of pots out in the sun to dry and turn them an hour later. The weather is very hot here and also quite humid, so the pots dry out relatively evenly without getting dry rims. Quite surprising to me. If I were working like this at home in 30oC heat, the rims would be bone dry in 10 mins.

Once my bowls are turned, I put them back out in the sun to dry further. They are eventually packed directly into the huge dragon kiln and the firing is started a few hours later around dark, full of raw pots, just made that day, some still quite moist. The kiln is slowly steamed over-night and then, in the morning, when all the pots are quite dry, the firing is allowed to gain speed and more wood is introduced more often.

The firing starts to go quite quickly, up to temperature by the following evening. More or less neutral to oxidised atmosphere. The fuel is industrial timber off-cuts and building demolition timber. The final temperature is achieved around mid night, and then the rest of the tunnel kiln is side stoked well into the night, stoke hole by stoke hole, metre by metre, it progresses up the slope, all the way along the kiln and finishes just before dawn.



The kiln takes two days to cool and I’m amazed that my pots turn our rather well for an unknown clay, thrown on an unknown wheel, with an unknown glaze and an unknown ash and fired in an unknown kiln. Luckily, the locals here have us all well organised and keep everything loosely under control. It all goes smoothly enough and I’m really glad that I’m just an innocent bystander and not at all responsible for any of it. I can enjoy myself.

I sell my 3 bowls in the ‘Chawan’ Exhibition in the city and all of my bowls from the dragon kiln at the on-site exhibition at the Dragon Kiln site. So I’m very pleased with this outcome. I give a few away to people who have helped me while I’ve been here. It is strange being here and traveling alone without Janine. I haven’t travelled alone since the 80’s. She is still back at home, waiting for her passport. We Skype each day to keep in touch. But it’s not the same without The Lovely!

They appear to have lost her new passport somewhere and can’t give her tracking number for it either. Sheer, utter incompetence! Someone ought to be hauled over the coals for it, but no-one will be. After two frustrating weeks, they eventually tell her that the Passport will have to be declared ‘lost’ and will be cancelled next Monday. That’s something, but not too much. It means that she will not be able to get to meet up with me here in Singapore. The whole adventure will have finished and be over. I’ll be in Japan by the time that she has the new passport and can then buy a new ticket. That is if they can get her a new passport and if the new one doesn’t end up ‘lost’ in transit as well? It means that we will forfeit two Poverty Air flights, as they are cheap and not transferable.

The only benefit, if I can call it that, is that I get to have an empty seat next to me each flight. So I have a smidgen of extra space to expand into.


I have accumulated a quite a few things over the time I’ve been here, things that I can’t carry with me. Mostly catalogues and tourist brochures, but there are also 2 pots. Just what I need!

I have navigated my way through the maze of shopping center’s to find a very small post office on the third floor of the 2nd tower of the 2nd mall just down the road from the hotel.

I’ve been told where it is by the staff at the hotel, but I doubt that they’ve ever been there themselves? I walk and I walk. It’s a long way. I walk so far that even though I’ve been told that it is in the second mall, I feel that I must have walked too far by now. Maybe I’ve walked  through the first Mall and into the second Mall already. Maybe I’ve gone too far?

I can’t help but feel that I must have missed it. I ask directions. No! You are still in the first Mall! Keep walking! I do, and it’s very dull. Eventually, I ask again and I am told that I am close. It’s such a relief. How much plastic shit can one man walk past without expiring?  Every shop appears to be either a women’s clothes shop or a shoe shop. Or so it seems.

Eventually I find the Post Office. It’s hidden away around a corner, in a back area. But there it is! It’s very small, with only two girls working in there. But they turn out to be quite efficient and it all gets weighed, stamped and sealed, then off into the bag.

So my parcel is sent and my load a little lighter for my flight this afternoon.  I’m very relieved.

Our hotel must be located in some of the ugliest, most concreted, un-natural ‘dead’ location of tourist shopping hell. Ringed by freeway overpasses and tower blocks. There is no-where to walk except to the nearest shopping mall. Which is connected to yet another shopping mall. You can walk all day in glacial air-conditioned comfort on concrete and terrazzo, endlessly, without seeing the sun or breathing fresh air, or seeing greenery or anything that resembles the natural world, unless it’s a photograph, and then it’s of somewhere else.

Luckily, I have no interest in venturing into the dead heart of this dystopia. The ‘Sensoria’ and ‘Vivocity’ Disney-Like plastic and concrete escapist unreality. In fact, I was looking for something to buy as a memento of my visit to this place. Something quintessentially Singaporean, but I couldn’t find anything that would not insult my senses and degrade me later through its ownership. There is nothing here but concrete and plastic and most of that is from China. This is a totally artificial environment, built around misrepresentation and fakery with strict governmental control, keeping everyone and everything in order. It’s the antithesis of my DIY natural philosophy of independence and self-reliance.

Welcome to Singapore!

I suppose that the people who are living here and doing well, making a lot of money in their business’s are happy here. I don’t think that I would be. I’ve been spoilt with too much open space and relatively clean air, a big garden and orchards. I can’t see myself wanting to pay 2 or 3 million for a 100 Sq. m. Apartment on the 9th floor, with nothing to do but work or go shopping. Of course not everyone is happy with the strict authoritarian system here. There was a riot here earlier in the year in the Indian district. Apparently, it shocked the authorities. How could it be that everyone isn’t blissfully happy here? Well, the poor, low-paid labouring classes for instance. The ones doing all the work building the city, repairing it and keeping the city going in every small detail. They can’t afford to buy into the dream.

They aren’t buying apartments or going shopping in the malls It’s street food and rough dossing for them.

Welcome to Singapore!

The taxi driver told me that this is the most boring place in the world. There is nothing to do here other than work and shop. He would love to leave here and live somewhere else, but he can’t, he has no way out. he also told me that there are about 5.5 million people in Singapore and that the Government wants to increase the total number of citizens in the next decade by almost 2 million more. I ask why. It already seems to be over-crowded here. He tells me that the Government is concerned that the percentage of Malaysian muslims in the population is increasing rapidly. They are having lots of children. There is a concern that they will soon out-number the ethnic Chinese part of the population and take political control. This can’t be allowed. So there is a big campaign to import emigrants from mainland China, to boost the number of ethnically Chinese citizens. It doesn’t sound too sustainable to me, but I have no say in the matter and it’s none of my business either. I can see the next step being the Fijian solution?

Welcome to Singapore!

A couple of young potters have asked me if it is possible to come to Australia. Once they are over 30, all I could tell them was that it is only possible to come as a tourist or student for short-term. There is no migration, unless you can get 100 points by being a preferred occupation, like doctor, lawyer, nurse etc. Potters don’t make the cut. Or, of course, the other option is that you emigrate with 100 points by being a millionaire!

Welcome to Australia!

Finally, yesterday, I found a lovely little piece of pottery in Little India. A small pouring bowl of 7cm. dia. Unglazed, low fired and slightly flashed porous clay. Probably fired to 800 oC by the feel of it. Thrown off the hump and cut off with a twisted thread leaving a nice shell pattern on the foot and un-turned.  Very understated, basic and honest. But of course, it’s not from here. It’s made in India!  The shop keeper asked me for 50 cents. I’m a tourist, I knew I was being ripped off blind, but I am comfortably well off in my own chosen frugal life, so I gave him a dollar. I think I have the better part of the bargain.

I get to fly out of here tonight.

I posted it home in the parcel by sea mail. The lady at the Post Office said that it will probably take a month. It ends up taking 6 weeks.

I brought a bit of spending money with me, but haven’t found anything to spend it on, so will convert it into Yen for Japan. There is nothing here that I want, so my money has remained in my pocket. My biggest expense each day is the $1.30 per trip on the metro into various parts of the city and back. The Metro has interesting carriages that are all totally open all the way along. It is the first time that I’ve been on a train like this. It’s a very good, clean, fast, cheap and efficient system. I like it.


Oh! Yes, we did go to Raffles one evening and have a Singapore Sling. We bowl up at the front door to be met by the biggest, boldest Seek Indian Gentlemen, replete with turban and loads of bling. He speaks with such a deep, rich Anglo/Indian Raj sort of accent. I’m quite impressed. He informs us politely and with a big smile that we are in the wrong place. This is the entrance to the Hotel. We need to go back out this entrance and around the back to the public entrance, where we can find our way to the Long Bar. We find our way and order our Singapore Slings for $33. It wasn’t worth it. What a rip off! Don’t waste your money, if you are given the chance! Go somewhere else and get a G&T at a more reasonable price. We left and went to Little India for dinner where it is hot, hectic, crowded, cheap and delicious. Later, we all went up the tallest building here and had a beer at the top in the bar for $20. Not my idea, but I went along for the ride. It also wasn’t really worth it either, but you get conned into doing these things at conferences.

I wouldn’t be bothered doing it again.

The most comfortable place here is the Botanical Gardens. We spent a day ‘off’ there. That was a nice bit of open space and greenery. I think that it might be the only bit of open space greenery in Singapore?

Best wishes from

the singular hot and sticky potter in this tropical heat!