Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eve of the big chill

I couldn't sleep last night.

I've slowly slipped back to not being able to fall asleep quickly, stressing over minute details of things that of course require no such repeated stressing over. Maybe it was the Coke forced upon me after dinner last night. Maybe it was overstimulation from having a nice long talk w/JL before bed. Maybe I somehow knew that today was going to ROCK.

Well, not all of it. But the gist is that I said I'd just use the fiber as is, picked over just once, b/c it was good enough. I didn't want to spend another freaking day picking fiber (b/c now I have a new arm rash from doing that, plus it's boring) since we'd lose even more of it, and there's not that much to start with. So we did a quick beat (I think it was about 15 minutes) and I set up to pull. Today was the right day for it, since it's still nice and warm. The son kept saying, isn't this fiber so much better? And I totally could not tell.

Until I pulled my first sheet.

Holy moly. It was like a dream. It was like when you have amazing wine or high quality anything after being used to crappity crap. It reminds me of when I started to get serious about violin and my parents bought me one, but it was a total piece of shit. Someone had to actually try hard to make such a bad instrument, seriously. I'm not sure why it was 4x the price of a machine-made one from Mexico, b/c it was just as bad. I struggled w/it for a long time until I got truly serious and my parents bought me one that was 5x the price of that one. And then I was like, omg! I don't have to work as hard to make it sound!

This vat was filled with magic fiber. It was so fine, smooth, and easy to pull. It made gorgeous sheets. Light, well-hydrated, totally built for this purpose. This is the fiber I hacked down off the hill rising to the train tracks, steamed, stripped, scraped, cooked (in a solution from ash that I had also harvested and made), picked, and beaten. All of that really DOES make a difference. It made me want to send a telegram back home to tell everyone to stop using that crap that we import from Thailand. This is the real deal.

It's insanely amazing how different it was from what I had been practicing on. Out of this world. Of course it didn't last long b/c there wasn't that much of it, but I got a respectable stack, with the final half batch w/added bark bits for decorative paper (which I kind of hate but I'm going thru the steps).

When I started, the father was so excited about me finally getting to use quality materials, and he started telling me stories. Which he never does. He told me about how his father said never to use soda ash, that it was way better to use plant ash. TRUE. He said that when he was 17, his dad said, "Don't learn how to make paper! It's too hard." [this is common: most papermakers in Korea never wanted to pass it down to their sons b/c they knew it was an incredibly difficult life - they wanted better for their children.] But he would try it a little, and thought it was really fun. So during lunch break, he would sneak in and pull sheets at his dad's vat, and found it quite difficult. Later, his dad would say, "You pulled sheets at lunch, didn't you?" b/c of course he could tell that someone had messed with his post.

But if he was working w/all quality materials, I'd act the same way! Though I'm thankful that it wasn't a lot of fiber - I pulled from maybe 10am to 2pm w/a break for lunch, and cleaned up everything possible b/c tonight, the cold settles in again and we drop about 20 degrees Farenheit. After dealing with frozen strained pulp on the frozen metal floors, I figured it was best to just strain it straightaway, so I don't have to deal with anything frozen tomorrow. The vat is drained, squeegeed, the hibiscus roots are all back in their container filled with water, all their strainers and cleaned and drying, the leftover pulp is strained and stored off the ground so it doesn't turn into a hunk of ice, the post is centered and ready to be pressed tomorrow morning, the floor is swept of pulp bits so it doesn't stream into the drain, and the rubber apron is OFF my body and hanging on the nail.

Tomorrow, I dry (which will be a real test, b/c I made thin sheets today. Yikes. I hope I don't destroy them all). Then we get Saturday off for the lunar new year! So I get to head back to Seoul earlier than planned, which is great b/c my schedule is already overbooked. And unfortunately, once I took off my apron, I felt a chill pass and the early ghost of a cold coming through my throat and lungs. I'll dose up on C tonight and pray that I don't come down with anything.

My back is particularly pained today, and my arms incredibly sore (though, b/c the fiber was magic, agitiating w/the poles today was like dancing - no effort at all!). It reminds me of how that woman I met in a different province last year told me that you have to sacrifice your whole body to learn a craft, to learn something new. All of it.

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