Thursday, December 04, 2014

Hugs and fruit juice

I'm going to try and play catch up now. My back went out last night after an ancestral ceremony for my aunt's mother (more about that later), so I cancelled my lunch date and am staying home. Of course, I've already done stupid things like vacuum and clean the bathroom, but I did, for the first time in a long time, go to bed before 11pm.
This is Asi Tea Room, a new lovely little cafe in Jeju (I think near Jeoji but really I have no idea where things are because I was driven around the entire time). Swan Kim runs it, and she is a teddy bear artist who had a studio/gallery space made first and then was asked to take over a cafe so she's doing that in the next building over. Both small freestanding spaces and both so lovely.
I asked her if it's hard to dust this place. She said she doesn't mind and that it's the yardwork that really kills her. She makes all of these teddy bears by hand! I especially love the ones (not pictured here) that have buttons as joints so the arms and legs move freely. I wanted one but they weren't all priced so I took the one that had a tag, the second one back with the sweater—turns out her mother knitted the sweater! You can barely see, but the button on the sweater is also in the shape of a teddy bear. I had noticed on my last trip to Korea that for some reason, there are multiple teddy bear museums. I think more have opened since then.
I have no background in this so I can't explain the phenomenon, but what I loved about this space was that it was clearly set up with a lot of love and care, and that it showcases precious things made by hand.
Plus I loved meeting Ms. Kim (and had no idea what her name was until we exchanged name cards at the end ... I only knew her as the woman from Asi Gallery, and this is normal, to not know names of people). She was so generous and warm and funny. I'll backtrack (for my sake) so I can keep track of what happened:

1. Deplane from Japan late at night
2. Two nights in Seoul
3. Fly to Jeju and took cab to see artist friend Boram Hong and her new baby
4. One night in Jeju City
5. Errands and cake with Boram before driving east to Gallery Nori for an opening
6. Luggage into Yang SoonJa's car and going back west to a gathering of people who love Jeju and meet 4x a year—they've done this for 20 years! Meeting, shabu-shabu dinner, drinks, drive to Jeoji, weave, first of two nights in Jeoji
7. Too rainy to walk the volcanic formations (so sad! I had looked forward to this for months), so rest before church, where we had lunch. Stop by Mongsengee's storeroom to get food for dinner
8. Stop by Asi because it was open, and we were just in time: she was cooling freshly baked cookies! We had rooibos tea and warm cookies and stayed for a while before
9. Visit Kim Kyung, who taught me joomchi, and is now 91, bedridden, and senile. She didn't recognize me at all and kept repeating herself: "Show people that you can throw hanji into water! It's amazing!"
[Still at Asi—she collects all kinds of things from land and sea alike]
10. Visit Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art and walk home to prep for dinner
11. Dinner with Ms. Lee (who also brought delicious persimmons and ginger ale syrup she made herself for tea), with a visit later by SoonJa's niece and her husband—they brought raw fish just caught from nearby that she ordered—and tea with all plus SoonJa's older sister, who lives next door. The fish was delicious!
[Driftwood at Asi]

12. Pack and load car, stop by Asi to take pictures only to see Ms. Kim again! So we stayed for milk tea and cookies and pictures and bears. I heard very sad details about how SoonJa lost her former space at an old schoolhouse and how hard it is for her to keep her business going. In general on this island, I heard a lot of heartbreaking things.
13. Go to Mongsengee's retail location across from a park. Not a place that gets foot traffic, and formerly a grocery store. You can see that persimmon-dyed goods have replaced refrigerated items.
The clothes are SoonJa's signature but too hard to sell to randoms, so she plans to turn this space into just souvenir-type things and move the clothes to another location.
When she showed me one of these dolls at home, I knew I had to have one. The hair, clothes, skin, underwear, everything: dyed with gammul (the Korean word for persimmon dye, or kakishibu as most people know—the Japanese term). I got the skinny little dark one near the left side.
She also insisted on dyeing my second hanji duck and some hanji cords, which was terribly generous.
Straining the dyestuff: hers is green because she adds no extra dye to make the color appear right away, as apparently is the case for many other versions of persimmon dye.

[That wood sign reads Mong - Saeng - ee—as I understood it the last time, it's a nickname for a certain kind of horse native to the island. Small but very strong, well-suited to Soonja's business.] Left to dry slightly in the stormy weather: high, high winds, storm advisory (I was getting emergency alert texts that day on my Korean phone telling boat people to stay grounded). My flight was in the early evening, and I got to ride a shuttle bus to the airport. I felt guilty for riding for free in a bus that carried only myself and the driver, but I worked, unplying the dyed cords before they dried completely and stuck together.

Got home late and hungry and cold as temperatures had dropped in Seoul to real winter weather. I didn't get to shoot the countryside or sunny weather but you can see my Jeju pictures here. I feel like I witnessed a lot of pain for a lot of women. Growing older is hard, yes, but losing your life's work or losing your way is painful at any time in life. It wasn't the visit that I had expected, but it was so true to the different phases of life (30s, 60s, 90s). And the steady thing was how generous people still were, even amidst their own hardship.

1 comment:

  1. reading this dense schedule and those poignant interactions has made me go deep inside to examine my own complaints...nothing much really, but i do yammer on. but the great thing about reading your wonderful adventures is that you gave me a book idea!


thanks for visiting!