Sunday, November 30, 2008


[I'm cheating on the timestamp of this post to fit in just ONE more post in November.] This has been quite a month. Ants, moving, traveling constantly, having tons of people in town, losing friends, participating in malnourishment, and meeting people. I'm on every day. I thought that this weekend would be an exception but I was wrong. Today was good, though bursting at the seams (I seem to be back at my 2am to bed schedule). I went to a paper workshop that Jeong-In invited me to, and met one of her friends, and also saw my lovely roommate Boram.

[There she is, couching.] Then I did the crazy chicken holiday shopping dance, running from one place to another and back again. And then met JL for an ENORMOUS carnivorous dinner. We were ripped off b/c we were American, which is the very ugly side of being here, but were able to roll ourselves back to her Fulbright pad. Which is really nice! Good to know that Fulbright takes care of half its people. We had a good evening of swapping horror stories from both Seoul and Kingston.

I will be sad to start responsible living on my own in a month - I'm thoroughly adapted to jumping from lap to lap and though I know my lease is only for 6.5 months, that seems unnaturally long. Especially since I might end up paying double rent if I do indeed figure out a work situation w/a papermill out in the boonies. But apart from that, I'm still thankful for this . . . for this . . . for whatever I'm doing here right now. I loved talking with Katharina, who does gorgeous calligraphy and got me to speak a little French today. And then Barbara (up there, couching onto the guest book pedestal) who is a fireball of energy. She is a fantastic printmaker, and does really intriguing paper work and books as well. She seduced me and Boram into fantasies of moving to Germany. And also of getting back into the etching studio. The first fantasy conflicts w/my inability to speak German. Which is too much for me to worry about when I haven't even done my Korean homework, again.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Catch up

I've gotten almost caught up. I just need to type out my field notes, which I've been putting off for days now. I found this image hilarious: a print of wood skirting a real pile of wood. This papermill is barely visible when you see it from the street b/c there are piles and piles of scrap wood in front of it, used for the fires to cook and dry paper.

I also loved this big random radish under the paper stands. Here are pics from the rival papermill in Wonju (not as many; by then I was so tired that I just shot a few and called it a shoot). From what I gather, I think the first one makes higher quality paper, but I haven't gotten a chance to compare the actual paper.

This was from a bark scraping demo at the Paper Road paper exchange event on Friday at the National Palace Museum, part of the Silk Road Cultural Festival, which was celebrating the cultures of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

I loved this mould and screen used for Samarkand paper. The formation is western, but using a more eastern screen. The mould is notched so that the screen fits inside it perfectly. The papermaker from Uzbekistan, Zarif Muhtorov, seemed happy to be there. Korea's representative papermaker was Jang Yong Hoon, an intangible heritage practitioner, who has been training his son, Jang Sung Woo, to be the fourth generation papermaker in the family. They have a shop in Seoul called Jang Ji Bang and a mill about an hour and a half from Seoul. I'm hoping to visit them next week.

Meanwhile, I seem to be playing with dryer lint. Only, remember, there are no dryers here! This is all hanji that I've been ripping apart as homework. Luckily, I didn't have to have it done since I didn't meet the teacher who is going to show me the next step today. Instead, I slept in, went to the dentist, and had a really nice afternoon in the studio. FINALLY. Once I do a mailing on Monday, I'll be caught up on a lot of studio work, which is a relief.

Tomorrow is a day-long workshop. I have no idea what it's on, but I suspect it's for watermarking. I made a nice hot veggie dinner for myself tonight, which is I think my FIRST since I've arrived in Korea. I'll miss living in the lap of luxury once I move next month, but am hoping all this moving practice keeps me adept at adapting.

Frankly, I'm tired of all the hanji pictures, in case you thought I wasn't. They all look the same. I was going to try and visit all the mills left in Korea before the year's end, but now that I'm about halfway through, I don't think I need to, b/c it's all the same. My dad reminded me, "learn things you don't know, not things you already know." Rehashing is pretty exhausting, so even though I'm terrified of all things new, I know it's inevitable.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I started clearing space, and then things started to fall into place: I made my first sheet of hanji today. Or at least attempted such a thing. And talked to a 4th-generation papermaker who said that if I can find a place near his mill, I can come and work with them.

Glory be.

The passport show hits Hungary

Your Documents Please opens in Budapest today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Skipping T day

I was feeling relieved about missing out on Thanksgiving until tonight. My parents called when I was riding the subway and they miss me. Made me feel guilty for being happy about skipping the holidays this year.

The husband of the Fulbright Korea ED just passed away a couple days ago so I went to the wake tonight w/Richard and had dinner there.

After we said goodbye and I started to walk down the steps to the subway, I suddenly felt like I was hit by a huge wet sack of heavy sand. I got all depressed for no reason I could think of.

So then I lashed out at Richard via text and of course he retaliated and of course I said, SO LONG. I wish I could be a better friend than I am, but I get in the way. Maybe, in a twisted application of what Steve said a few weeks ago, it will make space for me to work on becoming a better person.

Something gave.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shawn is live!

One of my favorite people has finally gotten his website up: lots of popups at Shawn Sheehy's new address online.

Desolate; scattered

Nothing ever goes as planned. Ever. I got myself to Wonju to visit two papermills, but the schedule and outcomes of course were not at all what I had expected. Another day trip from early morning to evening, about 1.5 hours each way on the bus. I LOVE SLEEPING ON BUSES. When I met Bum last week and mentioned the whole traveling and coming home being like crack revelation, he said that there's just something comforting about being in transit b/c you can't do anything else, so you're finally free to do nothing. His premise was that it wasn't so much traveling that I liked, but being trapped on a moving vehicle that I am not driving. I sleep much better on buses than trains, b/c I can still do work on trains (I can't read or do handwork on buses).

I had about two hours to kill in the middle of the day and since there was nothing to see in the town-y part of town, I wandered around the more industrial part. More like the abandoned part. There was one area that was just all ROAD. As if people's bodies never traversed the area on foot, only in vehicles. Not even a road that leads to a parking lot, but a parking lot-sized section of random road. It made no sense to me at all. Probably b/c I was on foot.

I got all sad thinking about how disparate people's lives and environs are. I guess also b/c I am so attracted to attractive things and places, so it's hard for me to imagine living in a place that doesn't have at least a smattering of beautiful things.

I reek of smoke from wood fires and mulberry bark cooking in soda ash. I feel totally lost in my research objectives. I need to reassess this messy bag of half-formed thoughts and over-thought ideas and what-the-hell-am-I-doing concerns. Something is going to give soon. If I am brave enough to do things like knock down things I've held onto for a long time, and stick with the things I want to run away from.

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.

--Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Identidades.04 documentation

Elizabeth has gotten the virtual part of the catalogue up and running on the identidades.04 site!

Here are images from my paper leaves in Mexico.
Here is a little blurb on it (and a comic I drew).

Girls' night (and day)

I skipped trying to go to the gym today b/c I decided it would be more fulfilling to Skype Terttu instead. Then I ran to lunch w/Katherine and got good advice on research and surviving Korea. After tutoring (which I am sucking at b/c I never have time to study), I went over to Julie's place for wine with a bunch of ladies (mostly ones I met on St. Obama Day) before dinner. It was SO nice to spend an evening w/super smart and articulate women who are good storytellers and good listeners. I was excited to find that Hae-seon is also a big fan of Louise Erdrich and the book I'm reading.

Tomorrow: field work in Wonju. I'm kind of going on zero directions, which is nerve wracking. I'm relying pretty solely on cabs this time once I get off the bus. I forgot to get extra batteries for my camera. I'm feeling kind of unprepared this time around but it will be really good to get these two visits done.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And there it goes

I called Hyeseun in a panic today after meeting with the head of the Traditional Korea Paper Artists Association and the head of KasamKorea. My aunt (my hero...she knows EVERYONE) introduced me today and suddenly I have all sorts of things to do immediately - events, interviews, dinner, shows, etc. I was given a deadline of Dec 17 to make a book out of hanji. A new list of books was thrown at me, all in Korean. My pile of assigned reading is growing and I haven't read any of it. But then Hyesun was like, "but isn't this what you want to be doing? Isn't this better than having nothing to show for your research?" And I suppose she's right. Even though all I want to do is curl up with my book in English and Ojibwe and read things like
"I'm losing," Agnes muttered. "You tricked me, old man."
"Me!" said Nanapush. "You've been tricking everybody! Still, that is what your spirits instructed you to do, so you must do it. You spirits must be powerful to require such a sacrifice."
"Yes," said Agnes, "my spirits are very strong, very demanding, very annoying."
Nanapush nodded in sympathy.
"Check," the old man said.

--Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blasted days

I went to a rock concert tonight and had a strange evening with someone I was supposed to live with but am not anymore but she seems to not grasp this fact and for some reason thought that I was going to end up in her bed tonight. Long story that I won't even bother shortening b/c the whole thing made me so tired I can barely see right now. I didn't understand what she said over the phone yesterday about what we were doing tonight, but I thought it was a concert, even though I heard "park." I was right and right: a concert at the Olympic park. I was ready with earplugs. It was a tame affair, though. The 5 year olds were rocking out as I was falling asleep and being sneezed on.

So much for rest. The week is already climbing onto me and I need to figure out better survival techniques. All I want right now is to find a good cleaners and shoe repair place. After lots of sleep.

Late walk home after evading a weird man practicing tennis serves with no racquet down a NOT well-lighted path

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A magnet for busy

First off, Jami is suffering, so consider getting her a gift while she endures this misery. I just did, which is my excuse for not getting my ass to the studio and making her mail art. I really WANTED to get my ass to the studio, but life has proven to be quite wily in giving me what I want. I mean, I'm getting what I want, but not in the order or way that I had initially asked.

I made a bunch of phone calls on Friday that were pretty successful. I've been trying to contact this professor at a college that recently started classes on hanji in a famous papermaking city, but I only had her office number, which she never answered (and there is no voice mail here). Luckily, the last person I met at the papermill in Andong on Thursday was one of her former students! So he gave me her cell phone number and I talked to her about visiting in early December. Also, my aunt finally was able to get a hold of Kim Kyung, a teacher in her 80s who has been collecting hanji artifacts and teaching paper manipulation techniques for years. She had batted down my call months ago b/c I had no connections, but a month later I found out that my aunt knew her. Finally, two and a half months after I started to try contacting her in Korea, I met her today. This is also well over a year after I first got the info on her from a Canadian artist. I'm marveling lately about how long these things take, things that seem so simple when you're doing pre-research before applying for a grant.

The meeting went really well and the next thing you know, my aunt and I are ripping up hanji into tiny bits and making paper scarves. Of course, the request again was for me to translate the teacher's book into English and be the NY connection. But I think I'll be going back next weekend and already have two big sheets of hanji that I need to decimate and turn into two piles of tiny little bits. That's my homework. As if I needed more things to do! In the elevator while tagging along w/my errand-running family, an artist/dealer called me for a meeting tomorrow. So much for my fantasy Sunday - laundry, Korean homework, and down time.

I ended up spending the entire day w/my family - a cousin that I don't usually get to see, his wife, and their daughter. It also involved watching hours of a Korean drama about arch rivals in the casino business. Juggling a rich family life that involves small children and a research project that has grown a thousand legs of its own all running in different directions while living in a country where being a New Yorker fluent in English makes me as popular as I'll ever be in my whole life (for reasons that I have no control over - I didn't choose NY or English) is...well, it's my life right now.

1. This subway ad (up there) totally shocked me when I got to the stairs near the exit to the station going home a few days ago. I don't even know what it's for, but it's something I'd never in a zillion years see back home. Also, I had made a book almost 10 years ago w/a similar image, only much more subtle (so much so that I had to explain to everyone that it was a breastfeeding baby).

2. I am crazy about the book I am reading and so sad that I don't have lots of time to read it: Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Thank god for Velma for sending it.

3. I was sad today b/c while meeting w/the hanji lady, she asked where I went to college. She needed a brand name answer, and I didn't have one. When I said Oberlin, it was a "what?" answer followed by my aunt saying "oh, you know, it's obviously not a very good school." This is one of the things I hate dealing with here. I know it's an issue back home, too, but not to this extent. It's awful to feel like my entire education is classed as something that you might as well throw into the trash when it was actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I know this is why my mother always told me that I had to go to a brand name school, and when I didn't, she insisted that I go to a brand name grad school. And I didn't. I'm often tempted to just lie, but I'm not very good at it. Though it might be fun, especially if it involves a lot of preferential treatment. But that's for another research grant.

4. I think I'm finally making inroads in my research. I'm scared that I've already run out of time, but I need to stop psyching myself out. I like the random connections that make the hard work that I started years ago suddenly click into place. If I could only figure out a way to get a decent amount of sleep while juggling it all, I'd be golden.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Today is my quasi day off. I "slept in" until 9am and am not leaving the house until it's time to go to the Fulbright Forum tonight. At least, that's the plan. This was from Tuesday, when Melissa introduced me to Lance and Whirimako over very good tea.

It was SO COLD at this palace so we didn't stay long (Lance and I practically RAN back to the car after snapping quick pics). I love his pose. I'm so shut down that my body would never even imagine spreading open wide on a freezing day in public.

I don't even know who she is but apparently she's some famous movie star. All I know is that when she arrived, I nearly swooned b/c I LOVED her dress. Exquisite. She's the new cultural ambassador to NZ from Korea or something like that.

Our table was the "education" and "artists" table. Lance and Whirimako sat there but not for long since they had to perform between dinner and dessert. I got to sit between professors who were all very nice and offered help in my research.

It was REALLY blue in that room. Even this picture doesn't do it justice. Melissa snapped it w/her camera, which I got to use at the end of the night to do some group shots, and I nearly wet myself using it. SLRs are soooooo sexy. I'm a little sad now that I didn't get one when I made my last camera purchase, but it just makes me look forward to the inevitable, hopefully not too far down the road.

p.s. - photos from Celebrating NZ and photos from the paper factory in Andong are up.

Last installment

Technical problems. So I am going to break up my posts to at least get some of it all up. This was from the VIP dinner this week to celebrate New Zealand, especially honoring creativity (I snapped this b/c the typeface is so weird, w/the saggy "a"s).

Whirimako is a diva onstage but none of the bad attitude off of it.

Lance also had a great time; the whole visit for them was fantastic. Even though they worked really hard.

Melissa, me, Whirimako, Dion, and Lance after the dinner ended. In case you were wondering how I came to befriend Melissa: I had a fabulous intern when I worked in NYC. She eventually left to do museum management grad work in Philly and then moved west. She got me in touch w/her US friend who was in Seoul, but when I emailed her, she was already about to leave Seoul. Then she got me in touch w/her friend Melissa, who was going to be in Korea for a bit since her husband Dion was here as a NZ diplomat. They're both lovely and wildly generous.

We went to Once In a Blue Moon, a well-known jazz club in Seoul south of the river, and saw this percussionist, who is apparently a legend and has been playing for years. He was wearing a Sonny Rollins t-shirt and got on the mike to basically say all hail Obama! It was surprisingly non-smoky at the club, which was a treat. The whole night was great in that it was all things that I'd probably never ever do in my normal life. So, thanks to Melissa for inviting me to be a part of it. And giving me the itch to travel to the islands....

In a passing gap

I've lost my internet connection again at home so this is just quickly to say (before I lose whatever wireless I'm surfing on now) I'm still plugging away. Just barely hanging on, but feeling a little better after getting home and getting a shower. Yesterday was an AMAZING and fun New Zealand VIP dinner at the Hyatt, where Whirimako and Lance just melted me into a puddle. It made me remember why musicians were my first love (and second, and third, and and and), and why I wanted to be one, and why they are so vital to life and humanity. Funny, too, b/c I had just told Richard about how I felt like I had hardened permanently in certain ways that dealt with my relationships with other people, but then I just felt my bottom fall out while Whirimako sang it all away. She is such an amazing gift; I feel really lucky to have met her, shared stories, and witness her performances.

Of course, these dinners lead to going out afterwards, so we landed at a famous jazz club, and then I got home way too late. I really did NOT want to do my field research today but somehow got myself up and out three hours southeast to Andong, where the biggest factory of handmade hanji resides. I felt SO GOOD once I was on the bus and it was moving and the heat came on (did I mention that it's hella cold here??? I did, but I'll say it again: HELLA COLD). It made me realize that traveling for me is like crack, which is why I feel so crazy when I stay in Seoul. But then, after hearing very interesting things from the son of the head of the factory, and then trying to find the bus back to the "city" - the bus stop was just a covered table and you flag the bus down, when it actually shows up - I realized that going back home is ALSO like crack for me.

On my long walk back home from the bus terminal, I wondered if it's b/c I'm undeniably a suburban girl in a world that hates suburban girls, so I try my hardest to not live in the suburbs. But I do that by going to the extremes: city and country. And they both have aspects that I adore. But then the aspects that don't suit me start to make me crazy and I bounce from one to the other.

I met a friend of Mary's and Fran's (people who have been really helpful from pre-Fulbright app days, both in the US and in Korea) who lives in Andong. We had tea at her place and then dinner out before she drove me to the bus terminal. She gave me some really good advice and insight, reminding me not to let the blindness of my youth / inexperience make me pass up experiences that might be really important. She ALSO reminded me of something that Ellie had said all along about not worrying about people using me - she said that comes from being too narrowminded and smallhearted. She said, go out into the world and tell people, "I am going to use YOU." The most profound thing she said was that to get anything important, you must give up your whole body to it. Talking and thinking in the end really get you nowhere. You just have to do the work, and if that means giving up your time and energy and comfort to learning skills with your whole body, that's the price. I think I've been so overprotective of myself (while ALSO the total opposite, very careless and very parceling myself out to other people) that it's shut me down in many ways.

So now I have a lot of work to do and major prep for giving myself over to someone else in hopes that it will be just what my work needs from me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I talked to my cousin's wife about how it's SO cold now, and she said, "this isn't cold! Besides, it's way warmer than New York!" Funny, b/c I've never thought NY was cold. At least not NYC and the metro area. Today was ridiculous. I thought I was bundled up enough but I was NOT. I went to Oroom Gallery to see the third piece of the James Turrell show and then got a little mixed up riding a bus, so I had to backtrack on foot.

Getting turned around gave me a better sense of the road layout and neighborhood. The gallery is inside this building, called Human Starville. It's HUGE (heightwise). Once I finally got north of the river, I sat down in a coffeeshop w/tea and a scone (and a brilliant strawberry jelly dispenser - nice patent. You snap it in half, two pockets of jelly press against each other, and you squeeze it out of a diamond-shaped hole. No mess!) while reading Louis Erdrich and waited for Melissa and her New Zealand guests. It felt so good to have down time like that. Today was literally the first time I've been able to do that for about five months.

I met them at the tea house w/birds flying all around, and it was SO LOVELY to spend the afternoon together. Whirimako is a singer, and Lance is a guitarist. Both were warm and friendly; there was a sense of largesse in spirit and a relaxing of time, which is so unusual in Seoul, but a great tonic. They took their time and were happy to learn and share cultural tidbits, which made for a slow-paced itinerary with lots of room for unwinding. Whirimako sung me a song first in Maori and then in Korean. She said that it's a traditional song in New Zealand, and that when the K-Force (soldiers from NZ) went to Korea during the war to join the US, they taught the song to Koreans. At lunch I was worried that we had ordered too much food, but as Lance polished off the last bits, he said, "you're sitting with two Polynesians! There is no such thing as too much food."

I made it home w/o turning into an icicle, but my feet are already cracking. Tomorrow I'll hit the salon for a haircut before the VIP dinner where Whirimako and Lance will perform! I'm excited, except that I am going to have to wear about a hundred layers over my dressy clothes just to be able to make it to the hotel. But "Human Thing" is on and I just heard "A girl can keep it together" so I'm going to believe it.

Monday, November 17, 2008


The cold set in today. Starting tonight, we drop below zero degrees celsius. It's no joke; I can tell already that winter takes no prisoners. I only got five hours of sleep, but was able to successfully transfer funds online (internet banking in Korean is hard!), finish translating a website, stop by a paper exhibit, and schedule visits to two papermills in Wonju. I'll go Thursday and hopefully get there and back in one day. If not, I'll still get back in time on Friday for a Fulbright Forum. The Buddhist nun today said, "you came here to make paper but you're doing everything but!" Ah, I'm so very good at skirting my path.

Tomorrow I help Melissa escort Whirimako Black, a Maori New Zealand singer. Tonight's ambitious scheme: early to bed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I had brunch w/Hae-seon today in fancy pants land at a place that is apparently a chain from London. Having eggs benedict w/a really smart woman who gets the whole Korean American woman in Korea experience was a great tonic.

I had intended to go from brunch to the studio, but it was too cold and my shoes hurt, so I headed back home to change.

This streetlamp was torn out, laying on the ground. I can relate.

A couple nights ago I found the scenic route home, which is WAY better than the route I was taking - a tiny stream separates the walk from the huge road, and there's only one street crossing via an overpass. The night I figured it out, it had been raining and traffic was heavy, so it was lovely and beautiful since the pollution was damped down and the car lights looked like Christmas lights strewn down the entire width and length of the main drag. Peaceful for me b/c I was on foot, unlike the suckers in cars below.

I saw three places w/my mom's friend yesterday, all like living in closets, and freaked out a little. I went onto craigslist and saw a week-old listing for a place that sounded peculiarly similar to my friend's place, and emailed the landlord. That studio was already taken, but he had a place opening up next month. So I went to check it out, and it WAS the same building. I went in to negotiate solo, which I am notoriously bad at, but I know my limits (which means pretty much paying what is advertised, or a little less, but not a LOT less, and then NOT beating myself up for not being a haggler. Besides, it's all within my budget. And, hey, don't people who pay the going rate make the world go round? This is my contribution to the flailing Korean economy). I ended up having tea and M&Ms in the landlords' apt upstairs and signing a contract. So my ginormous Christmas present to myself this year will be a place to live.

It only took half a year longer than I had anticipated, but it's done. Which means for half a year in Korea, I will have a stable place to live by myself, no one up in my business and no more exchanges / barters for rent, no one to tiptoe around. A room of my own. I've missed that! It's been two and a half years since I moved out of my studio in Chicago. Who knew it would take this long. Until then, I'll make the best of my floating situation.

Yesterday I was talking to my mom's friend and she was worried about me losing weight and not being strong enough to live here, but I told her not to worry and that I'd be FINE, and that you HAVE to be strong to live here. Just the fact that I get up every day and survive each day means that I'm tough enough. When I was despairing about my weakness last week while climbing the hills of Seoul, I didn't realize I was starting the conditioning process already: now I appreciate all the inclines, and try to see the long walk part of my commute as a gift rather than a pain in the ass. Not to say it's not a pain in the ass some days, but I'm still standing!

I made the cake and I'm taking it back to eat it. Finally.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My book has landed in Toronto

I just checked and it looks like Tara has gotten my book for the Portable Library Project! Mailing artwork overseas has been nervewracking; I shipped my most valuable piece to date yesterday and hope it arrives as safely as this one.