Friday, January 30, 2009

Final weekend

I dried paper all morning while documenting and my teacher turned on the radio, which initially was distracting, but you will all LOVE it once I get back to Seoul and upload the video. Though documenting really slows me down, it's okay since I glued up the big books in the morning and they are drying under weights. After looking at the footage I shot yesterday, I had to give myself a break, b/c it takes 100% of me to do the living and learning, and it would take a whole other person to do the documentation. Maybe sometime later before I leave Korea I'll hire someone and pay the mill to let me do it all over but w/an eye not embedded into my own head so that it can be done and good and over with. OR, this is going to be as good as it gets.

Turns out that I have one day more than I thought at the motel, so I'll leave on Wed and my teacher will drive us up to Seoul to meet his jiseung (spinning/weaving paper craft) teacher (the story on this is a "it's a small world" + utter devastating tragedy one, and it came together while talking to my teacher in front of a fire). Thank goodness, b/c I will have a lot of paper to bring back. I finished up all of the books I started but I'll do one more binding for them (I'm leaving samples in thanks) since I'll have plenty of time next week. Then again, my teacher always has extra up his sleeve. Like spinning thread from mulberry bark by hand. I thought I'd have an easy afternoon today but I was back at the big sink in an apron, knife in hand, scraping bark to prep for thread.

Yesterday, one of the women said that she'll be sad when I go and will wonder what I'm doing w/my life, if I've gotten married, and to whom. She said, marry a Korean man! I told her that Korean men aren't interested in Korean American women (I'm also not interested in settling down in Korea). She asked if I was going to marry a tall man w/yellow hair and then another woman said, "but she's tall! So she should marry someone tall, not someone short." I love being the tallest woman here. I'm 5'5" and have never existed in a place where people considered me tall, and I don't think it will happen again. For that alone, this apprenticeship has rocked hard.

What I also love here (goes for most of Korea) is that my name is of no consequence. No one knows it except for my teacher and no one calls me anything but the term you use for young unmarried women. I've gotten used to it since it's the same word that my cousins' wives are supposed to use when talking to or referring to me. Today, my teacher's mother asked what my name was and then said, "I never knew until now! But I'm just going to keep calling you 아가씨" Which is fine with me. I'm happy to be the girl from America who came to learn about hanji in the coldest month of the year.

I was thinking while walking yesterday that I did it! I had spent SO MUCH time and energy psyching myself out, like I wouldn't survive, or that it would be a bad experience. I really had no idea what to expect besides the cold. But last night, talking to the people at the motel, I realized that this has all been just what I needed, when I needed it. I dread returning to Seoul, but I'm also ready to be done here. It's amazing to find that I had so much to learn, and so much to give and share. I went through some old bookbinding notes from grad school b/c I was stuck on the "halve the number of signatures and add one" rule, or maybe it was how to make straps, but I found something that Dolph Smith said in a visiting artist lecture: "If we knew what we were going to find, it wouldn't be called research."

Last night in the beautiful Paper Across Continents book, I read Naoaki Sakamoto's reason for opening a paper shop, besides how it gave him peace: "I had met with paper that I felt was paper." I am pretty convinced that I had the papermaking equivalent of mind-blowing sex last week, and can definitely relate to meeting paper that is really paper.

So, everything I thought that my research year would look like happened this month. Maybe this will be it, and everything before and after just getting there. It was so worth it. Even if just for the fresh air to clear my head.

Now my hands are really tired

They took a battering today. It didn't help that I sewed books all last night until I couldn't see anymore. I realized that it wasn't glue I was peeling off of my skin, but my skin. No wonder why thimbles were invented. Of course mine is at home in NY.

Today was my final day at the vat. It was combined w/a very concerted documentation effort, ALL on self timer. I dreaded doing it since it completely messes w/a papermaking flow, which just makes me look all clunky and disconcerted on camera, but this is my only chance. Halfway through, I thought, "hm, maybe it's not a good idea to be dripping water onto all my camera buttons." My tripod is drying right now. I did my best; we'll see how it looks tonight when I see all the footage.

I pulled regular sheets and then after taking a 2x4 and whacking it for a little while on the floor, I pulled the Swamp Thing. AKA the green and black layers - the outer bark layers that we scraped off of the white inner layer used for prime paper. I felt like I went from this nice pristine vat where I had all this space to think and mull things over, to a green swamp w/crap floating all around. It's HARD pulling that stuff b/c it's so much heavier and the huge bark pieces don't stay on the screen so it takes more manipulation. Leading to lots of back pain. My right knee gets all freaked out when I am at the vat for a while. I haven't figured that one out. But I wore hot packs on my soles and my back, which kept me warm.

At lunch, my hands were a big red swollen mess. I was so zonked that I went straight to the box container after eating and laid down w/the three other women (in their late 60s/early 70s) and took a nice siesta on the heated floor. Then I got up and tried to sew another book but my hands hurt so much that I couldn't. I eventually got up the nerve to get back to the vat to do swampy swamp action and now, after cleanup, I'm ready for a vacation.

Seriously. The thought of six more months in Korea right now is not a particularly pleasant thought. I think I need to spend some quality time back in Seoul looking for a vacation, out of the country. If anyone has good ideas for Asia/SE Asia for a tuckered out papermaker who might benefit from a partial lobotomy, pass them along. [Though I might just go ahead and make do w/a papermaking excursion to the Philippines. But the idea of an 8-hour bus ride from Manila to the papermaking village isn't my idea of a vacation...]

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My hands really ARE magic!

I made 11 tiny books (pamphlets), sewed two ginormous (over 20 sections each) exposed spine bindings (w/mulberry bark "thread," which is quite a task), and am in the middle of prepping covers for 5 long/linkstitch bindings (then they will be all ready to sew up). That's all I did today. My teacher said he would cook the outer bark layers for me. It was funny to have his father come in and sit down and watch me sew and ask why I wasn't using thread to make it easier. I'm not about to say, "I never do things the easy way." My teacher brought me some tea today, so delicious: date and ginger. He was watching me wax thread and he said, "your hands must hurt" as I swiped and swiped with my thumbs. I hadn't noticed that they had been peeling and everything is raw. I take for granted how strong my hands are.

As always, I've been thinking incessantly. When I first got back a couple nights ago, I was writing on my computer and by hand at the same time and then reading my first journal entry from this journal that I started last July, which went something like this: "How do you ... how do you build trust?" And I just started crying and crying. Hyesun had asked me when I was briefly in the city for a list of things to do for trust building, to learn how to trust people more. I was dumbfounded, like she was asking someone who didn't know how to swim how to go surfing. Anyhow, I've been thinking a lot about the person that I've become and how so often I really don't like that person. Those days are hard to walk through. But I need to stop thinking that something is horribly wrong with me. Because there's no constructive living / learning from that perspective. My sister said, "you're not damaged, so don't think that you are, b/c that is the same as being it."

All the overthinking is confusing and boring me again. Back to the books.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Humming motors

I have to admit that I have walked into a trap of my own making for the past couple of weeks, and being in Seoul intensified that - it's basically an emotional black hole. I won't go into details since other people are involved but it's a huge battle with old, big demons and I am really hoping to win but maybe the key is coming to terms w/the fact that there is no winning and losing.

B/c of this, I was dying to get back to the country to calm down. Yesterday I was all worked up and got to work and was worked up but then worked and then whew. There I was, working, and okay. I need to stay grounded in my work. After the work day was over, my teacher said, "oh, you can get on the computer," and I was like, NO INTERNET. I can't do that right now. I'd much rather sit here with my teacher working on the floor working on my 4th and 5th books of the day and him weaving. It was soooo nice to just be two craftspeople making. I went home and thought, I can make beautiful things out of the discard pile. I have magic hands!

And my teacher said, "the paper just melts in your hands." I realize I have a very special relationship with paper. And how could I not? So, all other relationships in my life may suck, but this one is solid.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"How do you say 'stuff our faces' in English?"

The only little one who showed up for our family lunar new year gathering. She is the hardest one to get close to and I was convinced for a long time that she hated me but today we got along pretty well. It always helps to include holding her upside down repeatedly. It's not traditional to bow to your elders to pay your new year's respects on a yoga mat, but we put it there to cushion our knees. I went to my aunt's and uncle's home in the suburbs with my cousin and his wife and we arrived at about 11am so that we could help prep for lunch. Bowing first, then eating way too much food. At some point, my cousin's wife and I hid in a bedroom and took naps. My cousin told me on the car ride over to be prepared to just take whatever crap I was bound to get from my aunts and uncles b/c today is the day where you take it all nicely, no fighting or getting upset. I thought I had dodged the bullet, b/c only one of my three pairs of elders said anything about getting married as they gave me my new year's money.

But I didn't dodge the cannonball. After one of the families left, and an entire bottle of whiskey was drained, I was summoned to the adult table. Two uncles in their 70s, drunk, manned the interrogation. One asked, "are you even TRYING to meet someone?" when I promised him that I would get married if I actually met someone worth marrying. The other said, "do you have a lover? You do, don't you? I feel like you would." I said no, and explained that often there are interested men but I just don't share the interest. I think that my family thinks that I'm some kind of mutant freak that is unable to even meet people. Confirmed when the latter uncle asked, "are YOU a weirdo?" when I told a story about a weirdo who wanted to work with me here. Thankfully, they were so drunk that they got sidetracked on a tangential discussion so I was spared the rest of the fire.

But it was still wonderful to spend time with my family, since it's not something I ever get to do on a regular basis or will get to do for most of the rest of my life. I realized that this was the first time I bowed to all three of these aunts/uncles since I've never been in Korea for new year's. I was reminded again today that I could never be doing this well right now without them, on so many different levels.

Time for some sleep. Tomorrow I hit the road again to return to the country for one more week of paper time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Being in the city lowers my life expectancy

I got back to Seoul yesterday morning after a longer-than-usual bus ride (due to factors like snow, holiday traffic, and a bus driver that decided to make a 25-min stop to eat breakfast and then tell us to get off and take a different vehicle). I hit the ground running, unpacking and re-packing at my apt, updating my website, going through my mail, doing online things. I had lunch w/JL and then we got her a plant and had tea, then headed back to her place. I stopped upstairs to drop off a book for Frank, another Fulbrighter, and then JL and I watched a mucho depressing film (Margot @ the Wedding; not recommended). Now that I know which bus to take, I headed back to my neighborhood, picked up groceries and dinner, and got back home and then hung out w/Hyesun. Then I Skyped a long-lost friend, watched three TV episodes, and had a very cold sleep. Today was probably about 6 hours of Skyping total, a quick errand, and more organizing.

Like, pictures from the mill! There are more, but I have to set them on private since I've been asked not to release all the family/company secrets, which I respect. Hopefully next week when I head back I can get some of myself actually making paper, b/c I still have none.

Yesterday was a pretty rude awakening to urban life. It's wildly stressful, and I'm still on the verge of something. It was lovely, though, to get this amazing book and mix from Clover in the mail, and a gorgeous sewn silk flower from Lori in Oklahoma. I really wonder how I'll function when I get back for good next month. Tomorrow I head to my family's house for lunar new year and the next day go back to the country for my last week at the mill. It has been an intense time.

p.s. - Renata started a blog! My radiant printmaking mail art pen pal in Portugal.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One misstep

It's REALLY windy. Like, makes it sound like reindeer sleigh accidents on the roof of the mill, or being under attack. I had a hard time sleeping again last night so I was a wreck this morning and didn't press the post long or hard enough, so I successfully destroyed the majority of the paper I made yesterday. It was too damp to dry, but too late to re-press, so most of the sheets are torn, have pieces of torn other sheets on them, have brush damage (pull and tear), and dried unevenly. Kind of a huge nightmare and hard to keep on until I was done, but what was I going to do? I had been left to fly solo when I wasn't quite ready for it. Everyone was gone so I had no guides. Oh well. Just under 100 sheets, and lovely stuff (the few that survived my manhandling).

I just laid down after lunch and think I will do slow spinning and leave early (as in, when everyone else leaves, around 5pm) to pack and do laundry. Tomorrow I head back to Seoul for lunar new year and hopefully will be able to finally upload some images. I've survived almost 3 weeks and seen an entire batch from tree in the ground to hanji. Time for a break.

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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The pursuit of perfection is always a setup for failure

I finally listened to the inauguration speech (this computer freezes up a lot so the video stopped after five minutes) and still feel disconnected from everything important. But that's okay. Everything passes, everything changes. Last night, I went to bed at 8pm b/c I was so tired from the fire (I almost overcooked since I don't know how to put out fires. I forgot that there was a way besides letting it die on its own), and woke up again at 2:45am, wondering in the dark if the inauguration had happened yet. I get so impatient. Being 14 hours ahead of the bulk of my former life is trying.

Today, I picked bark. All day, hands in water, picking bark. Removing any impurities, anything that will prevent the formed sheet from being a pristine white. I am the worst and the best person for the task: seeking out and destroying errant bits of unwanted things. The worst, b/c I will be overly fastidious. The best, b/c I will be overly fastidious. But one of the women here helped me all day and I enjoyed our dialogue, though I know that I lead a life completely different from hers, values all counter. The three of them after lunch made me lay down on the heated floor in the box container to get some rest and defrost. I love having them around.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bright day, smoky eyes

Back in the saddle. I thought today would be another sitting on HOT floors tearing down paper day, since the men in the family had to go to town. But instead, the father came and got me in the middle of possibly my 15th signature, to start making ash water. The pepper tree smells all came back. We gathered and bundled the bark that has been drying and hanging in the sun, soaked it, and then cut down w/a machete (I ran outside to get it, and started to run back, but then thought, "probably not a good idea to run w/a machete") before adding to the cauldron. I hauled buckets of ash water to the outdoor cooking station after I was told to start a fire.

Me, fire? I am the last person you call when you want to start a fire. Fire runs in the opposite direction from me. I got a lighter, two sheets of newspaper, a bundle of dried plants, threw in four logs, lit it and ran the other direction. I was afraid my teachers were going to leave before I got the fire started, but luckily I walked out later and it was raging; the father had come out after getting changed for town.

An old friend used to be obsessed about smelling the neck of her baby. She loved that smell. That's how I feel about the smell of cooking mulberry bark. And it is even better here, since it's cooking in plant ash instead of soda ash. Except the wind keeps changing so I've been getting hit hard by the smoke. I like watching from a little further away to see the difference in color between the steam and the smoke. I went to the woodpile w/the wheelbarrow that has holes in the bottom to get more firewood and of course the tarp was frozen to the ground.

Time to run out and check the fire...

Last week, Katherine called me and suffered the brunt of my first talk w/a native English speaking friend since I got here. It made me realize how important friends are, through different modes of communication (mostly what I have here is email, some phone, some texting). She talked about how she is trying to reconcile old friendships and it spurred me into action. I'm in touch w/two people now that I thought were gone from the ranks and once I get back to the city will deal with the one friend that I really hope not to lose; this one requires more thoughtfulness and an actual penned letter.

I also got a very sweet email from my teacher who is working in Japan, apologizing for not being able to spend more time helping me out. It's so ridiculous, b/c he has already helped above and beyond the call of the biggest heart ever, but it made me realize the cultural conditioning that I share - the tendency to overapologize, constantly apologize, and always say you fall short. Last night I finished a weaving that is supposed to be a replica of the one he made me last week. It's of course not as good, but it's good practice. I have suffered through a lot of bad movies for it - it's easier to spin and weave to TV, and the motel replaced my noisy bad reception one. But there's only one channel that shows foreign films. And, sadly, they're pretty awful. I don't know how I did it, but I had a marathon on Sunday of Harry Potter (don't know which one), Batman Begins, Tomb Raider (don't know which one), Sky High, and then gave up once Rush Hour 3 started. I vaguely remember Terminator (don't know which one) in there, but maybe it was the night before. It's dreadful stuff, but I got lots of work done. And somehow, it's still better than soccer.


Last week, Katherine and Hyesun both asked if I was videotaping and documenting. Kind of, sort of. I guess I'm at a place where I'm tired of all the stock photos - everyone has them. I feel like I've spent the last 5 years constantly explaining to people how to make paper. It's really boring to me. But I felt myself getting really defensive when asked. I know that I should. But it's also a balancing act. The tripod would have been too much to travel with (though I might bring it back after this weekend in Seoul). The camera could fall into all sorts of trouble (water, mucilage, dirt, snow, ice, pulp, rust, etc.). This place isn't mine to splay open for the world to see. And, as for video, I think that once I shot and cut the video from last summer, I never wanted to edit again (and would like to give my brillz editor sister a break from all my editing favors). I'm also still dreadfully old school, or just strange, about these experiences: I like to experience them. No camera, no pen and paper, just eyes and ears and hands (I think that this place fully exploits the range of possibility available to a creature w/opposable thumbs).

But I am keeping track every night: a work log of everything I've learned and done that day, a journal of my thoughts and emotions, a written journal, a written notebook for the field, and a calendar. Last night, I found some old documents in my computer that completely floored me. One was the last two chapters of a story I worked on four years ago. I kept meaning to go back to it when it seemed right (and my first solo show this fall is built around it), but hadn't looked at it for a long time. Eerie to read it, b/c it was a total prediction of what was to come in the following years. Creepy. Also, one of the old friends I contacted told me that I am doing almost exactly what I said years ago that I was planning to do. I didn't remember verbalizing any of this, but apparently I did.

It's like the story my violin teacher told me about the fake fireplace house vision. That's a story for later. For now, time to stoke the fire again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Summer vacation

I haven't been following the weather, assuming it will be either cold or very cold (or brutally cold), but I shouldn't have put the hot packs on that I had Julie mail to me last week (brilliant stick-on heat packs that emit warmth for 12 hours, made in Japan). Things are actually MELTING today! I feel like I'm on vacation b/c it's sunny and warm. At least, warm in comparison to what we've had lately. It looks like it's a little spell of warmth this week followed by rain and then we'll drop back into the real cold again.

I finished drying the whole 2nd batch of paper, and it comes out to just over 180 sheets. We're not quite on schedule b/c of family issues, so I don't think we'll be making alkaline water today w/ash. Suits me fine - I have lots of paper from the first batch to cut down for books, and weaving to do. It's nice to be able to take Monday easy and contemplate possibly subracting one layer of clothing for Tuesday. [Tuesday here, though, isn't so back home. I feel REALLY out of the inauguration loop. It's both sad to be so far and a relief to be away from the emotion of it. But party on!]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The end of week 2

I realize that an applied mathematician or physicist or lighting designer would be great at all of this. It's so much about angles. Pulling sheets is kind of like surfing, too. So I have stopped trying to just smash myself against the oncoming wave, b/c it NEVER works. I pulled and dried today, which was kind of painful b/c I was so bad at both, but it's been a long week. I'm getting way better at reducing formation mistakes, but obviously was out of my element in regulating thickness of sheets. They're allll over the place. My first batch was a little over 100. I dried 75 today but there is a whole other (taller) post waiting to be pressed and dried on Monday. I get a little frustrated that my production runs seems so small, but it's b/c each sheet is two doubled up. So pulling one sheet = physically pulling TWO.

I read another great quote from the Paper Across Continents book: "You great paper fucker, I love y." It's becoming clear what the next step is after I do my time here. I've been putting it off for years but I can't for much longer: color. As in, dyes. But I can't think about that right now b/c it stresses me out.

Also, for pictures: Steve Daiber, a great artist and person that I met in Seoul a few months ago was a cultural ambassador in Vietnam this winter. He has lots of great pictures up of his trip on flickr.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NOW it's starting to hurt

Brr. Just in case it seemed like I just walked 20 min down an icy country road, ate breakfast w/the family, and starting pulling sheets, it's not nearly so easy. Almost every day we have to deal w/something freezing over. Halves of days go to defrosting the pipes or whatever it is that is frozen. Luckily, I don't have to help w/that b/c it involves a lot of being outdoors w/steam machines. This is what I call them b/c I don't know what they really are. Just look like green motors with tiny tubing coming off and steam coming out of the tubes. The floors are all huge rusted sheets of metal, and of course I always step into the gaps between joints where the waste water runs out. Standing on frozen metal is kind of sucky. It's bad enough also working w/slippery hibiscus roots, but then imagine slickness iced over.

Today I walked out to whiteness: the first snow since I've arrived. Makes it quite dangerous to walk since all the ice is now hidden from view. But it meant that today was a tiny bit warmer than it has been. I took my time getting to the vat b/c I knew it would be a long day of pulling. My main teacher left yesterday for a business trip to Japan so the atmosphere here is a lot different. He comes back after the lunar new year. So this morning I slacked by reading this gorgeous book that lives in the box container: Naoaki Sakamoto's Paper Across Continents. There's a chapter on the family here. It's so lovely. He keeps saying "paper gives me peace." I think about all the people who scamper around the world on the paper chase (that's what Christian called my trip out here).

I loved this part, from when the author traveled to the Amazon. The people there, before he left, said
This is the first time you, white people who are not the Ticuna, have stayed here for eight days. We are very grateful. We would like to give you a present, but as you see, we have nothing to give. But we would like to give you a song.
And then they sang to him w/guitar accompaniment and he cried.

Yesterday, watching my teacher weave me a necklace, I thought, what if we still made things like this? By hand, labor intensive, time intensive. Everything would feel more valuable, in the best kind of way. But I know that's all fantasy. Yesterday I talked to Hyesun, and she asked if I was thinking of extending my stay. I said no, but realized that the thought of going back to Seoul in a few weeks is not so attractive. I think also of when I got a residency at Banff but turned it down, and Andrea, my first papermaking teacher, said to me that I should create my OWN residency. I suppose this is what I'm doing right now. It's more like a residency and intensive class all rolled into one.

I love that one of the women here (actually, all three at some time or another, but this one in particular does it very often) bursts into spontaneous song. She's hilarious. Today, another asked if my mom is upset that I'm over 30 and unmarried. They all seem to think that I must miss my mom a lot b/c it's so cold and I'm out here alone. I tried to explain to them that I get along best w/her when we are this far away from each other.

Last night, I got really into trying to weave my own little things using techniques I had learned, and then, b/c I am me, I totally stabbed myself in the thigh w/a tiny pair of (very sharp) scissors. I learned that artist tape doesn't stick to skin very well (I didn't have any bandages on me; no first aid kit in my love motel room). I've been really lucky, though, injury-wise. My first injury was on day one, when I scratched my face with dead, dried pepper trees b/c I was throwing myself onto piles of them, hoping my body weight would crush the branches so I could bundle a lot into each pile I made. If I make it out of here w/no machete injuries, I will consider this a highly successful experiment.

I made paper all day today. I'm getting the hang of pulling more and more, so I get less and less of those awful stretch marks/air bubbles that are highly embarrassing. But today the youngest son told me to cap my beautiful high post and start over, to practice starting a post. I was dreading this, and rightly so. I had to discard at least four sheets until he finally was able to get one to couch. Of course, right about then, a huge family came for a tour, and suddenly I had to be the demo person. Bad timing, since I was about to demo some really poor couching. But I survived. It wasn't very well heated in the studio today so it was a little rough, and I find that it's not so much my hands (which feel pins and needles when I'm laying in bed at night - it takes THAT long for them to defrost), but my wrists that get super chilled.

I called it quits at around 4pm today and tomorrow I am supposed to finish the rest of the fiber (about 2 vatfuls, maybe? I did three today) and then dry everything. I guess I should just be thankful that I can do this mostly alone now. I agitated 2.5 vats by myself, which is hard b/c the poles are only so long and the vat is BIG, but I'm getting better at stirring hard. Apparently, in the past, paper was pulled by two people at a time. I was thinking about how hard it is to have three points of movement/pivoting: my two arms, and then the cord that the back of the screen is hanging from. But it is still way easier than worrying about coordinating w/a whole other person.

What I love is when my teacher tells me stories about how bamboo poles were used by vatmen to beat the mill workers. Or when his brother says that stripped mulberry branches make very good whipping sticks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Round two

Yesterday I learned how to dry sheets. That was another comedy of errors. The younger son was teaching me, and his method is very different, and makes me nervous. But I finally got the hang of it to some extent, learned how to count sheets (this is very fancy and I doubt I'll ever get the hang of it), and then prepped books. Yes, books!! My teacher suggested I bind my first sheets into a big book w/covers he already has made, and then that I make a twin to gift to him. I was SO happy to finally feel like I had something to offer and give back. Of course, I spent most of the afternoon kicking myself for leaving all of my vital tools in Seoul: paper knife, awl, etc. All I have is a bonefolder and tiny knife. Yesterday I witnessed the younger son cut his hand really deeply w/one of those while wrapping paper for a Buddhist nun. Eee. I hate those kind of injuries.

Today I learned more jiseung craft techniques (twisting and weaving paper). It's amazing what you can do. My teacher made a little necklace for me. Totally precious - and it contains all the techniques I need to learn. Not that I can remember them all right now. In the afternoon I was back at the vat. I'm getting a better sense of the whole thing, but it changes constantly as fiber and formation aid levels vary. It's never just the same technique each time.

Apparently I was wrong about being in Moonie land: I'm actually living in Eden. Most of the buildings in my eyesight have red roofs and are lined w/red lights so they are outlined at night. It's a similar cult. I also realized that this is my first time learning papermaking from men.

Time for dinner. Tomorrow is pulling allll day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Yesterday, after a visit from one of my best hanji contacts here (she had some great news about a new project sponsored by a cultural ministry here - on hanji - and hopefully I can jump in on it while it's funded), I started pulling sheets. Obviously, I sucked at first. I still suck. But it felt SO GOOD to really start doing a production run, to really feel what it's like to work in cold water and know that I won't die, and to do what I came here for, what I had been researching for a couple years but couldn't get my hands onto.

I think for sure that learning how to make paper is like having sex for the first time w/someone. I was in major vulnerable land yesterday and all freaked out about pulling and couching in front of my teacher, which is ridiculous b/c how else will I learn? But I remember: this is exactly how I felt when I FIRST pulled my FIRST sheet of paper ever, in Chicago. Andrea, my teacher, would come around to my vat and I'd flip out and not want her to see me. Which again makes no sense, but that was my instinct.

But eventually, I calmed down last night enough to not be like a drowning non-swimmer in the vat. You can hear it, too, by how the water moves. You can see the whole history of the hours I was at the vat in the paper - it will show you every misstep, every crooked hip, a tired arm, a sore back, a lazy eye, everything. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow, when we dry the paper and see how badly formed it is. I had hoped to pull an entire post and then rehydrate it, but my teacher says we're going to dry.

Today was pulling ALL DAY. I was there, thinking, "why do people climb Mt. Everest? Why do people jump into freezing cold water to be part of a polar bear club?" and realize that non-papermakers would lump "why do people make paper?" into the same category. Yesterday, I freaked out while stirring the hibiscus roots that let out the gooey ooze we use as formation aid b/c they were frozen - you could feel the chill coming off of them sitting in water and ice in a huge garbage container. I didn't think I'd be able to handle the water at all. But the hot water next to the post helps a LOT. And today, I actually got to a tolerance level in the afternoon that made me not want to dip in hot water - it was more comfortable cold.

I'm learning here how much stronger and weaker I am than I thought. I am VERY BAD at stirring things w/poles. My arms are just too wimpy, despite my nightly pushups and yoga (I can't NOT do this anymore, or my body will crumple up and die. It's amazing how many asanas you suddenly remember when your back is totally thrown out and you don't think you can close your hand into a fist anymore). So agitating the vat in sync w/someone else several times a day is hard. But I keep up b/c I don't want to be totally embarrassed by my sissy-ness.

I had some really good moments. And some bad. Again, the paper reflects it exactly. So when I was pissed off at making so many air bubbles, it just got worse. When I felt better, it got better. The master papermaker (the father) came in a few times to help me out. He's a great teacher partly b/c he is quite deaf and soft spoken so he just tells you things and demonstrates. His method is a lot more even and calm than what I learned yesterday from his son. There's a nice rocking motion you have to get down. I was doing too much shoving the whole thing into the water at too deep of an angle, which forces the screen up from the mould, and then all the stretching and bubbling. I am learning not to FIGHT so much. Not fight the water, not try to force things. There is pretty much no place for that attitude in the mill. It just gets you hurt and tired.

I got thru a bunch of pulp today and finally had to quit around 4:15pm (instead of 5) b/c my body hurt so much that my sheets were all getting ruined. Plus I was running low on fiber and formation aid. The father and sons are all impressed by how I'm doing. It's true that being a papermaker helps. We do the sucking out air bubbles w/a straw trick here, too. I saw the inside of their beater, and it's wild. A big secret, designed here. It looks like an art piece, the knives! I have to try and remember so I can draw it out tonight. It's tricky, b/c they are sharing a lot with me that they don't with others, and don't want me to then let the secrets out. But that makes it hard to do what I'd like to do later, which is disseminate all the info. But I respect that, esp since I see how HARD it is to run a family business in a field that is not lucrative, and also misunderstood.

The father said something today about the screen being too big but I insisted that I learn on it. It's hard to keep track of everything b/c the water is moving and the pulp is moving and nothing is keeping it put and there's so much surface area, so I might be making a good corner up here but not back there. I was glad that the father took off what I consider the "cheat bars" on the sides of the mould today. We also had a really weird visit from a university marketing team trying to sell propolis. For the boonies, this place gets visitors EVERY day. Lots of interesting people coming thru.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I started making paper today. Can't feel my hands but it feels really good. More later; must catch my ride home.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


6-day work weeks are HARD. Today I kept thinking, it's Saturday, and lots of people have today off. I did not. I did one thing all day, and it nearly killed me: scraping bark. Really not very fun at all, and the knife doesn't quite fit my hand (too big) so my hand got the brunt. And my arms. And neck. And back...I feel guilty b/c two other women who work here had to do it w/me since I'd NEVER get it all done in time to prep for papermaking this month if I scraped alone.

I'm hoping to do laundry tonight at the motel. I've been wearing the same clothes for six days in a row, so it will be really nice to 1. wash them and 2. not wear them for one day. Last night I finally started to get the hang of twisting paper into 2-ply cord, which was great. However, I thought maybe I could TRY watching the TV in my room while doing it. Horrible, horrible idea: I found a horrible, horrible porn channel. Not only did it make me feel totally violated, it was dreadful porn. Plus, the VCR is disabled on the TV but not quite, so it keeps whirring while the TV is on. TV is no longer an option for anything but draping dirty clothes now.

Yesterday, after gleefully roasting and eating four sweet potatoes at my beloved fire, I was told to stop watching the fire and go inside and only go out every 20 min or so to see how it was doing. No one seemed to get that I was very happy to be outside in the cold, b/c I was next to a FIRE. A hot fire. Hot fires keep you warm. Anyhow, I went inside. 20 min later, I go outside to see that our HUGE tower of trees that were lashed together and standing upright in a cauldron of boiling water, being steamed, had fallen down. AGH. FALLEN DOWN! It made me sad b/c I would have been fine staying there and catching it (or at least trying to). Anyhow, since the bark was a little understeamed, stripping was hard. I did an extra hour of work stripping outdoors until it got dark and the father (master papermaker) yelled out the window that I had to come in for dinner.

Harvesting the trees yesterday was a total comedy sketch, too. My fears were realized b/c it was TOTALLY machete day. In the morning, I had to sharpen mine, and I already was unable to do that properly. So just imagine how well I would do on a hill right next to the train tracks on a rocky incline covered in felled loooong trees, trying to identify and then hack down mulberry trees. Thank goodness my teacher is so patient. He ended up clearing most of the trees, leaving ones that I could actually hack down. He cleared the rest and made a fire in the field (the farm animals in the distance were REALLY loud) to get rid of branches, and then we hacked away some more to trim the trees to the right length and trim off small shoots and branches. Again, total comedy. I'm just not much of a machete person. After he lashed together two huge piles of branches, he hoisted one onto my shoulder and we had to walk them back to the truck, which was at the other end of the field. That also almost killed me. Damn my bone structure - the pointy one at the top of my shoulder is still sore.

We had lunch at a local place off the side of the main road and it was really good. Even w/all the young solidiers in camoflauge all over the place chowing down. I'm learning a lot about food, too, and today learned that it's important to drink a lot of water (this I know) that is more alkaline (this I didn't know). I had grown up w/parents who boiled roasted corn or barley tea for us to drink, and Koreans do it here, too, but I didn't get why until today! Higher on the pH scale. God, they're so smart. I can't stand how smart they are.

I'm already gaining weight from eating so much here. But I can't not b/c the work makes me hungry. It's dinnertime soon, and then I get my one day off! I've survived a week. Three-ish more to go.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My hands on the trees!

I harvested mulberry trees, steamed, and stripped today. KILLER on the body but it feels SO GOOD to get my hands on it. Also, I roasted sweet potatoes in the fire. More tomorrow.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Did I sign up for an intensive?

I didn't think I did, but I think I did. It's INTENSE. The eldest son of the master papermaker here runs the business and is teaching me, and is nonstop!! I can barely keep up and I'm learning things I never expected to. My idea of the ideal month: working hard all day, coming home to stretch, shower, write up notes on what I learned that day, read, and go to bed early. I've only done that for three nights but it's all over now b/c of the overload of info, learning, and homework. So much for going to bed before 10. But it's pretty amazing watching him spin paper into two-ply rope, just like that! So I have to practice. He claims that your hands get sweaty as you spin and that gives you the moisture necessary to twist the fibers, but I said it's not true. I have perpetually dry hands. Also, he says I can do it while watching TV. How do I explain that I don't do that, either?

Anyhow, it's total info overload. When I'm not DOING something, he's giving me history lessons (of ALL kinds, not just papermaking) or lectures on topics that are interesting, but w/vocab that is flying over my head. Everything hurts, but that's b/c so much of what I do here involves using my whole body to make stuff. My leg becomes a table, my foot a hand rest, etc. That's something about Korean culture that has always been part of my life and practice, but it's intense when it's 24/7. Floor culture is great but I'm getting old and creaky enough that my back is not so keen about it full-time.

I'm also thankful that I get to see the whole picture behind a family business. I have all three meals w/the family, which is the eldest and youngest sons, their parents, and the eldest's two daughters. His wife runs the shop in Seoul so I don't see her. It's a nice change to see how the kids here are being raised - playing with string and jacks, making things with their hands, content w/o a million toys.

I got my first internal freak out today when I thought I entered a preliminary stage of frostbite in my hands while stuffing a sack full of cords (while being lectured about the old saying, "drizzle will soak you" - my rough translation), but I survived. I've been warned to wear double socks tomorrow to harvest the trees for papermaking fiber. Scary, b/c I fear that involves a machete in a much more serious capacity than yesterday. But it's only getting colder, so it's best to do it before it gets unbearable outdoors.

Also, the motel employees have been super nice. The owner said to eat w/the women who work there and not worry about paying for food, and they insisted that I eat a red bean-filled roll yesterday AFTER I had already been stuffed full of dinner last night. My ski pants are already getting tight w/all this feeding. He said to hang out w/them b/c I MUST be lonely and bored alone in my room. Everyone thinks that. But I LOVE the down time alone and can't get enough! Yesterday I worked on new budget skeletons for FY09 and cleaned up FY08 budgets. I know, sounds boring, but I could organize my life endlessly.

And great news: there's actually a non-outhouse bathroom here that I just found today. Plus, the local dogs are barking less at me. I still feel like a snowman (as in, limited mobility) under all these layers, but so far, so good.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It hurts everywhere

Hm. This computer isn't reading my flash drive so I'm afraid it is going to be an imageless month blogwise. Easier for me, harder for everyone else. Today we burned all the pepper trees. I got kind of annoyed during the process b/c I had to machete my way through tons of blue cord that was tangled in the branches - yesterday afternoon, it seems like I was the only one bundling the trees w/o the cord. What you don't do today someone else does tomorrow. It also doesn't help that I have NO machete skills. But we still managed to burn that plus other things laying around in piles (some of it smelled REALLY good, even though it was dry and dead).

I spent the afternoon doing more joomchi - basically, just handling wet paper over and over so it gets wrinkled. COLD wet paper. My hands are still red. The mornings go quickly and then everything drags after that. But at least we're in a spell of relatively warm weather, which is good. I hear it will all go downhill starting this weekend. I fear that I'm staying too long here for what I have to learn, but the motel is paid for through Feb 3. If I leave early, so long pink walls early. I dreamed about GA last night, which might be my way of dealing w/internet withdrawal.

Time to get some more paper work done.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I've landed

My back is KILLING me already. Today I had to harvest dead hot pepper trees to bundle up and truck back to the mill: we'll burn them tomorrow to make ash to cook fiber in. It's insane work; I was straddling piles and laying on them to use my body weight to break them down. I didn't even try to throw them up onto the pickup truck but I DID get to ride on the back of it for a moment to help get it back up some ice on an incline. You know when you ride the train and see random people doing random things in large fields? That was me in the field today. I saw a bunch of trains pass.

There's a lot of down time and also lots of INTAKE time when people are talking at me incessantly. SO MUCH INFO and I can't get it all...I just have to remember now to bring pen and paper so I can write it down. I witnessed some amazing paper spinning techniques and even some weaving/basketry today but was so sleepy that I almost fell into the container of popped corn I've been eating today. The food is good. The people are very nice. They all are like, why are you doing this suffering?? It really makes no sense.

My motel wall has sparkly walls, one is entirely covered in huge pink flower wallpaper. A huge bug was crawling around in the bathroom today. There's no internet there. But the water pressure and hot water are GREAT, so I got my first real shower in a loooong time yesterday. It's pretty barren here and a couple of dogs always bark when I leave the motel and come back, as well as the dog at the mill. Food options, eek. But people here are WAY more concerned about eating than back home: EVERYone here was like, what did you have for dinner? How will you eat breakfast? And so on. It's nice, in that way, to be in a culture w/a long history of food prep and traditional ways of cooking and eating w/the seasons. I guess it also comes from a culture where you had to eat to survive.

Too soon to tell if I will try to go to Seoul on the weekends (more like, on Sundays). The ski pants were mighty handy today. My top layer count: 6. My bottom layer count: 4. Today was fine, but then again, today was not as cold as it will get. As weird and lonely as it is right now, and as much as I was thinking the whole time in the field, "I cannot imagine a life w/o Dr. Cristina Yang in it," I'm thankful to be back on track in terms of having some kind of PURPOSE in life. I don't feel that way yet, but I think I'm at least on the road and not lost in the forest.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

No more killing time

Which is kind of a relief. I'm good at it, but it's a waste of my talent. Last night, I was thinking about how people I admire are always learning new things and pushing themselves - there's no end to the techniques you can learn to help with your work. And I was about to get down on myself for not doing the same, when I realized that I am about to do exactly that! I hope it wakes me up from this weird in-between time.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'm doing that thing again

where I'm planning already for my departure. Not the one on Monday, but the one in July, when I leave Korea. The old unwillingness to be completely present, putting things into suitcases for "when I go home" and classing everything by its predicted importance to me in a month, two months, six. A big part of me wants to be moving constantly, but it butts up against another big part of me that just wants to stay put. I know, it's just a lull. But living abroad for a year is hard, and maintaining a rigorous research schedule for a year is even harder. I'm going to take a break from language study during my month away, though, to rest that part of my brain. It's had enough.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Potato chips

I was kidnapped on new year's eve by family friends - a mom and daughter team said I was not allowed to stay home alone watching Grey's Anatomy. They drove over, took me out for WAY too much food, and brought me to their very warm home so that I could watch GA at their house with a brief break at midnight to watch people hitting the big bell downtown. On new year's day, they continued to feed me and then packed up all sorts of things to set up house, from food to plates to dishcloths. I could barely fit into my suit to pay respects to my famous family, where I was utterly embarrassed.

One of my aunts insisted that I shake hands w/the former prez and my great aunt (she has a strong grip, something that people always say about my own), and then insisted on announcing that I was unmarried, causing him to pull out a fresh bill to give to me. He had just given my tiny nieces and nephew money, too, b/c you give money to children. In Korean tradition, if you are not married, you are still a child. It doesn't matter how old you are (and I just turned 33 on new year's day, along w/everyone else born in the year of the fire snake). Totally mortified.

I recovered by going home w/my cousin and his wife (who is newly preggers!! I'll be around for almost the entire pregnancy, minus the summer birth) and laying on the heated floor in front of the TV with chocolate. We had the traditional soup of the day for dinner. Today I picked up a bunch of things from my studio so that I can pack for the countryside. Tomorrow is laundry D-day and an art opening, the next day is lunch w/Hyesun, and then I am gone to the boonies.

I was craving potato chips for a long time and finally got them today. I'm suddenly scared that my laundry won't dry in time. I feel incredibly out of it, both by my own hand and also not, and was thinking today that I don't want to do any more moving a million times in small time frames. Though I'm very thankful for all the support I've been getting from friends and family here, I'm just tired and homesick. Homesick for a quieter life. Homesick for making art. Homesick for warmer weather and more sun. Oh, it's January.