Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Today, I took my first real walk here since arriving a week ago. I went with my teacher's wife, and he joined us for a bit here and there but came later and left earlier on the motorbike. The scenery was stunning; I'm so glad I saw the leaves before they all fall down. I had been inside for two days because of rain but hope to make this walk more often, despite fears of wild boars and poisonous snakes (they've been spotted here and today the neighbor came to look at a snake that my teacher's wife saw on a walk. After she told him upon rushing back home, he saw it later and somehow caught it, tied it up, put it in his backpack, came home, and put it into a container outside with a heavy lid on top. That was in August. Today, they lifted the lid and it was STILL alive. The neighbor said it's one of the most dangerous snakes around, and took it away to the man who deals with snakes).
I had started my teapot yesterday but took a break after dinner last night until this afternoon because my hands were killing me. In the interim, I managed to broker a sale of a bunch of Korean woven objects and deal with more Japan trip logistics. Who knew I'd come up here to become an artifact salesperson and travel agent?
By the end of the night, I had gotten even further than this; the spout's inner opening is done. It will be a double-walled vessel. Not as beautifully shaped as my teacher's but good enough in my book for a first learning attempt. The paper is so much easier on my hands than the last batch, and I felt much better after finally moving the rest of my body this morning. The exercise deleted the afternoon nap I had been taking for the last four days!

Monday, October 20, 2014


Done with the first piece!!! Took longer than we expected (five days), but we've learned a lot about the aged paper stock that I've had and used, and other technical issues. After much difficulty trying to shoot it inside on the floor, I realized the best place was in the place it was made. Birds always, always perch on top of that wooden duck that my teacher made! I put out peanuts for the wee ones on the balcony rail.
You can see today was different from yesterday still.
This is a poor image, but it's a real gourd from my teacher's land next to mine. I insisted on making it crooked, which he didn't understand until I managed to get an image of a Japanese hyotan from Susan's book. Then he got very excited.
To mark the first rainy day since I've arrived, we had the traditional rainy day food: noodles,
pancakes, and makgeolli. My teacher's wife joked that the latter was to ensure that we were fully unable to make any more work today. The gourd was complete in the morning, and we spent the rest of the morning admiring it; my teacher insisted that we rest today because one piece was done.
This is what lies in wait tomorrow: the teapot. I've been dreading it (a double-walled vessel with LOTS of extras) but it will make so many things possible. I'll likely do the small white model, but with a hanji handle rather than bamboo. We'll see, as things always change while working. In the meantime, I took a happy nap, have started to re-read excellent articles for my Japanese research trip, and had delicious kozo twig tea!

p.s. - for anyone who wants to help with a mulberry harvest in Canada, look here!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


My teacher's wife said that every morning is different here. So true! Not a trace of water or mountains today, though it eventually cleared.
I'm already feeling cabin fever, so I stepped outside and walked across the lawn and exchanged looks with the dog, and then off we went.
A boat dock waaaaay below.
I finally begged to turn around because I wasn't sure how far we would go. I've never had such a hard time keeping up with a dog, but obviously we're not dealing with leashes and also I am quite out of shape.
I finally learned the technique for tipping this puppy over! Slowly but surely ... as I am at the very far reaches of my abilities and patience (and my hands are aching, especially the left).
Look familiar?
Preparing the cook.
 This one is very me.
We're almost at the end of this piece (this is past halfway), but I should have stopped earlier. I got too anxious to finish late at night and now the top is not shaping properly. I am very sad about this, but knew enough to just finally stop and retire to my room. Tomorrow, I may rip some out to fix it. I was obeying my teacher's instructions, but he never remembers that I don't twine with as much tension as he does, so the instructions need to be altered for my lesser skills. But I have napped two days in a row, and that was great.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Progress is slower than we hoped; my teacher said this had to be done by today (I've been here for just about four days but there were some interruptions). I begged him to help me make a crooked gourd. Crooked is NOT his thing but he is humoring me for now. I'm almost at the neck; it came up not quite the way we wanted, but it's still very good practice for gradual slopes—my usual shapes rise and fall too suddenly.
One morning. Every morning the mountains are shrouded in this fog, which also dances on the water. But these days I don't get up quite early enough to shoot it before the sun takes over.
My teacher planted paper mulberry plants, from Wonju, along the road leaving the house! It's like seeing friendly faces.

This morning. Late waking again, but I just am not cut out for 5am or 6am rising.
Lots of drama in the household today, lots of internal drama for me as I face the reality of taking care of a couple on a research trip to another country. But I still did a bunch of weaving and watched this hilarious show where Korean singers sing songs made popular by American stars. Tonight, as you can see, Michael Bolton visited to see the young Koreans go through some of his most famous tunes. I found this highly entertaining; helped distract from the sore hands and raw fingers. Tonight I stepped outside for the first time after dark to see the sky full of stars. The dog is lovely and came up to sit next to me as I talked on the phone, until it was time to run over to hunt some small animal in the darkness. Glad to know someone is out there!

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Each day is so packed that I feel like 24 hours is more like an entire week. Yesterday, I made a very long trip to my teacher's house (left at 9am, arrived past 5pm) that involved car, subway, and bus just to meet my teacher and his wife. The timing was just right so that I made it right when they sat down to eat, so I was able to have a proper lunch. Then there were market errands, retying gasoline cans in the back of the truck so they stopped leaking, windy mountain driving, unlocking the gate to the private road so that we wouldn't need to deal with the boat, and a very bumpy ride. My teacher insisted his wife and I climb up to this tree for pictures.
These neighbors (miles and miles away from home) insisted that we come down for coffee while they talked about soybean grinding machines. By this part of the drive, my teacher had already invited himself and his wife on my trip to Japan. So I'll stay here for a month until two days before my trip. In the meantime, I have to book their flights and lodging, and figure out how to do my research at the same time. Should be an interesting juggling act.
We stopped by the water for more fall color pictures. By the time we got home, I was completely worn out and my back had been hurting from the morning because my bags were entirely too heavy for me to carry on my own (and yet I had no choice). But then there was dinner and catching up with my teacher at night, AND starting instruction already! I don't know how I made it but I was so happy to get to bed. A real mattress! Such a treat after sleeping on a bed frame.
I noticed flashing lights when I was in bed and wondered what they were, considering there were no cars or planes or city lights to do that. I heard the dog barking, too. It turns out that 1. there were shooting stars and 2. the dog fought off animal intruders but got scratched eyes in the process (apparently there are wild boars and very mean badgers). There was thunder and lightning and rain, but when I woke up, the sun was rising behind the mountains and fog lifting from them as well.
I had brought pine nuts as gifts for my teacher, and it turns out they had the real thing, dried and ready to shell. Tonight, they were straining honey from the combs from their bees. Forgot to get the eggs from the chicken this morning. I had seaweed soup for breakfast (traditional for birthdays) and noodles at dinner (traditional also for birthdays, to have a long life—like the long noodles!).
I was alone in the morning because there was a shipping mixup and my teacher and his wife had to go BACK to town to get the right package. Once they returned, his old elementary school friend surprised them with a visit. Out came the grill for the meat, and it was the perfect amount of people to share the birthday cake!
Very, very well behaved dog but camera shy.
On the other side of the house.
Green tea and delicious!
The friend posing with a pine cone (full of pine nuts) and his wife trying to capture the smell of it. We had delicious Korean rice liquor as well and I got scolded for not drinking it with the proper manners. Later tonight, I got scolded some more about my poor cording and weaving skills. I already have a blister on my finger (evidence that I was gripping improperly) and was told to take a break. Apparently, my teacher's heart and teeth have suffered from too much jiseung all at once!
The wind blew out the candles before I could. Funny, because it's the first year that I ever planned my wish a day early (I decided while on the back road to home). I hope it still comes true!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


For my last day in Seoul before I head into the middle of nowhere (truly!), I had an errand- and meeting-ful day, in the best of ways. I started at Seoul Selection, to buy a first-edition copy of my book. I talked to the clerk about ordering more books (they started with 50 and are down to 7), left book award stickers for the remainder, and got freebies and directions to Jogyesa, the huge temple in the middle of town. There it is, across the street.
I heard from my dyeing teacher that my hanji teacher's shop had moved across from Jogyesa, but of course they were closed, which I knew from the old days, as my teacher's wife commutes from afar. It was so bright that I didn't notice my finger was in the shot.
This shop that I always send people to when they want Wonju Hanji is still open! That's good, because the area has gotten so expensive that a lot of people have been forced to move away. I didn't check prices, though, so maybe they've raised them to make up for rent hikes. On the way to my dyeing teacher, I got a call from the Korean Craft and Design Foundation, which is hosting a hanji symposium in December that I will be part of. When I arrived, my teacher was quietly chopping eggplants to dry, and ushered me upstairs for omija tea.
I bought one of those hats for mom after having been gifted one during my first visit. There was a class in session that I rudely interrupted, but the students were fascinated by my book and shared their mint tea, mini rolls, and chestnuts. I was going to leave, but then they all rushed into the dyeing studio to start onion skin dyeing, and pushed me into an apron and slippers.
I hung back because I knew I'd otherwise be late, but I HAD to listen to the story that my teacher's wife (the one without long chopsticks) was telling about the clothing business they used to have and how they lost it. She told some other amazing stories about why my teacher is so good at "women's work" and she teared up talking about him, which made one student remark that she must really love him. She concurred. She also explained to me why they dye differently from the way they did when I was there (on gas ranges and with constant stirring)—she took a two-year dyeing course and learned a lot of new things. They were using long thermometers, stored with the long metal chopsticks in the foreground.

I tore myself away to rush to the subway, mortified that I was late, but luckily no one else was. I was SO HAPPY to see my Korean language teacher, and she walked me over to the most wonderful traditional Korean restaurant. There were so many small plates that they covered the entire table (which was big enough to seat four); some plates on both sides were too far for each of us to reach with an arm + chopstick length. It was so gratifying to give her my book and point out her name in the acknowledgments. She had excellent advice about my future, which I am taking to heart. Then, I had a quick meeting with a childhood friend, now a radiologist with two children. I loved being able to catch up like our last meeting was yesterday, not five years ago.

My final errand: shopping. Thank goodness for my aunt, who produced a couple bags big enough for me to pack for Bisugumi. After a check-in call from family friends, I think I'm ready!

*I'll be traveling on the eve of my birthday, too!

Monday, October 13, 2014


A LOT has happened and I am barely staying on top of it. If my life was only present and I didn't have to plan my trip to Japan and the next fiscal year (aka setting up workshops), if only! Here is Seoul before I enter the subway station closest to home, on my way to see a friend I haven't seen in five years. I was so happy to dine with her and her new beau and catch up. Before dinner, I went to church so that I could see more family and have a delicious lunch over very, very hot stone bowls full of rice and tofu soup. I got to see my dad's cousin, who was at my parents' wedding (at that time, not a lot of our family was in the U.S.). He went to Ohio State, so Cleveland isn't a mystery to him. I would have loved to nap afterwards, but needed to help my cousin's daughter's with English homework. After I got home, I got to see my cousin upon his return from a long weekend in Vietnam. That was Sunday, which was no big shakes compared to Saturday.
Oh, Saturday. Big Adventure. Just to get here, I had to take the subway to another subway, walk to my parents' friends' house (the most kind and generous couple, who has known me since I was a tiny one), get into their car so we could drive three hours (the last bit being worse than getting to Penland, endless switchbacks up to almost the very top of the mountain). We stopped at this place to eat, because there clearly was going to be nowhere else to eat, and because it was lunchtime (it is very important to eat at mealtimes here—no excuse is good enough to eat meals late). I was so happy to see the duck on our way in! Can you see it?
The specialty here was a kind of bibimbap with TONS of picked herbs from the mountains, served in a wooden bowl.
With even more herbs for the banchan (the small side dishes, which keep getting replenished if you like).
Each person also got a tiny bit of ginseng to start the meal! And the pot on the stove was hot medicinal water, yum. While we were starting to eat, we asked the cooks about my teacher and his address. They explained that the only way to get there was by boat. I was shocked, because my teacher did NOT talk about a boat when I said we were coming by car. Of course, being a space cadet, had left his phone number at home inside my computer. I have two phones: a U.S. phone that only works on wifi (so, useless at this point) and a Korean BlackBerry that only texts and calls (and useless because I had only used my U.S. phone to contact my teacher on a data service, so his number was not in the BlackBerry). I had to have the husband call his son, who knows English and computers really well, and then I talked to the son to ask him to log into my Skype account to find my teacher's number, and then he texted it back to his dad.
[Another duck on the way out!] By then, my teacher was like, WHERE are you and why aren't you answering your (dead, useless, non-data-connected American) phone? So I told him, and he told the wife how to get from where we were to the boat. That took us back down the mountain in some of the most outrageous switchbacks I have ever been on, down a hill, and onto a dirt road whose holes rivaled Cleveland's potholes. This road completely hugged the mountainside with very little margin for error, and was covered with mountain-climbing tourists.
Finally, we parked and saw a couple getting off of a motorboat and walking up the hill to greet us. I had no idea until that moment (though on the way up, seeing how remote this place is, I started to guess) that he had remarried. Thank goodness, because how one person could live so far out and survive is beyond me. Here, we've just gotten onto the boat, looking in the direction that his new home is.
The day was gorgeous, and the water was clean, and there's my teacher (his wife's hand is on a big lacquered pot that he made. He unloaded that, plus a huge bag of rice, from a parked SUV and made a joke about how if I want to eat any rice, I have to carry it back to the house).
The ride was beautiful, though we were staying on the same side of the water—the road being impassable, so requiring a boat. Even the mail comes via boat. After we disembarked, we had to climb straight up another mountain, passing a dry harvest of perilla seeds that smelled amazing, following my teacher as he drove a motorbike with the rice to the house. This is the view before the last climb to get there.
Can you see the house bits? They farm all along the steep slopes on the way up as well. We heard a dog, who was totally chill once we arrived, and there was a lone caged chicken that had to be removed from the group because the other chickens were bigger and were pecking it to death. Mountain water comes down and follows carefully laid pipes to a basin, the yard was impeccably mowed, and the house just right.
Arrived! The inside is super lovely, and full of my teacher's jiseung pieces. I took one look at his cords and realized I had been making mine WAY too thick for a good long time. Of course he gave me a hard time about that for a while.
Always drying food for storage and in preparation for harder times. And, the larger crops, to sell.
One view from the porch. It took a while for me to realize, but on top of the lamppost,
another duck! I showed my teacher the few pieces I had flown here with: my beaded necklace, shoe, and second duck. He said I was too advanced to study with his other students in Wonju (which is WAY closer to Seoul and very accessible), where he teaches every other Friday. So he said I had to come and live with them for two weeks, then go down to Wonju with him when he went to teach, take the bus to Seoul to do my business for two weeks, return to Wonju to meet him to go back up, spend two weeks there, and so on. I have to do this three times to total six weeks of study, though it will be a little less because I wasn't ready on Saturday to just STAY there (I had no idea that this would be the case!) and because of my trip to Japan next month.

But now I finally know how the rest of the year will look (unless heavy snow later in the coming months prevents me from going). I felt so guilty on the way there, as the drive got longer and more windy and bumpy, because how do you repay family friends who take SUCH good care of you? On the boat ride back, I felt so freed and exceptionally grateful for this life: I have been so richly blessed and it's hard to believe and accept, but my dad said something like, "Just know that you've met good people, and say thank you."