Monday, July 21, 2008

Brief bettering

I was just telling Melissa that weather is a real presence out west in the States, and now I realize that I can easily remind myself of the same reality here. I feel GREAT tonight b/c a breeze has come in and it swept away the humidity after the three straight days of rain. After beating myself up for the past month, I forced myself to leave school with all my books and get to Insadong, the area of Seoul w/the folk museum and village and tourist traps, so that I could find the hanji (Korean handmade paper) shop that I've heard about for over a year. I FOUND IT! Bo Kyung Kim of FIDES had given me good directions and even though I was terrified about going and introducing myself, it wasn't so bad. These are the three large sheets that I got for about $45 total.

THESE are the fakey fakey sheets that I got for $4 total - this area has a lot of shops that sell paper that they call "hanji" but is actually just paper made in China for super cheap. Sadly, it's replaced most of the high quality Korean paper, and tourists don't know the difference. The real sheets I got are made in the tradition where two sheets are couched together to make one. This particular shop that I visited is a family-owned one. The father and son work further away in an area with good clean water, making the paper, and the son's wife runs the shop. The father is in his 70s, I think, and learned papermaking from his father, whose father also taught him. So far, it seems like I won't be able to see the real nitty gritty of the mill (family secrets) or apprentice there, but I should be able to visit later in the year since they sometimes have groups of people come by for tours. The woman was very informative and even gave me an article in English written about the family practice and she was happy to have someone come by who knew about papermaking and specifically about hanji. The struggle I'm hearing over and over is the same: cheap Chinese paper undercuts the market, and well-known Japanese paper overshadows the Korean tradition. So more and more Korean papermakers have stopped working (this has been going on for a loooong time; I'm not trying to say it's a recent thing, just that it's a continual pattern). Which is sad, b/c the paper is superior.

Anyhow. I'm feeling better even though my teacher scolded me today for making the same spelling and grammar mistakes over and over again in my homework (I'm one of those notorious phonetic spellers; I just get tired of looking things up and end up guessing). We'll see if I'm motivated enough to go to an opening tomorrow that I just found out about today for thisAbility vs. Disability at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art. I hope I will be, b/c the show seems really interesting. The rumor is that Pauline Oliveros will be there! I haven't seen her perform since the Cat in the Cream at Oberlin almost 10 years ago.


  1. Isn't the art of handmade paper declining overall, not just Korean vs. Japanese and Chinese? There are so few handmade things in general.

    I have a friend who does calligraphy and her work reminds me a lot of what you do- the final product has such a luxurious, personal, "touched by a human" quality to it.

  2. Hi Ammie,

    I won't be there in person.

    I will be involved in an informal project discussion via SKYPE from Kingston NY to Seoul on the 23rd.

    Maybe you can catch that. Otherwise check out

    Regards for the Cat & the Cream days.



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