Saturday, February 27, 2021

Surprise family visit in Jeonju

My home base here is supposed to be Jeonju, extremely famous for food (and this bibimbap is one of their signature dishes, though I am too faint of heart to have the version with raw beef). I got here to take care of the first leg of my research as well as big administrative and logistical issues, and sorted out a few of the major things but there are still some other large hurdles to tackle.
At Veteran Kalguksu, we had lots of noodles and dumplings. We? I was shocked this morning to get a call from my cousin saying that he and his wife and child were coming to visit Jeonju and that we must eat here for lunch. What a marvelous surprise! He had never been here, and has lived in Korea most of his life. This is at least my third visit, I don't remember right now.
I love that the tree lawn has the appropriate plants to the area.
The hanok maeul is not original but built to give the feeling of the old villages.
Omokdae is higher up, so lots of stair climbing. It was fun to be with a family where one parent is super interested in history and sightseeing and another is really interested in food and drink. Also, I had a lot of compassion for the teenage child being dragged from one place to another and impressed by her stamina all day.
So many murals in this area (Jaman Mural Village), reminds me of a similar area in Chile, though there was a sign reminding people that this is also a residential neighborhood. Always good to be reminded to be respectful as this can be hard for tourists to understand.
Without the tour guide, we may never have gotten the full view from above. Look at the bird!
I can't believe flowers are already blooming. I overpacked big time, thinking of my past winters in Korea, forgetting that by the time I got out of quarantine, it would be getting to be March.
The floor here in a small building for preparing food for royal rituals at Gyeonggijeon is papered. I was pretty worn out by this point and in general am extremely tired and far behind on transcriptions, translations, and fieldwork follow-up work. I am still living between here and home, which means morning and nighttime phone calls and taking care of business even when US websites and call centers don't work overseas. Plus, my Korean phone isn't really working so it's always a race to find wifi.
Squid fritters! We walked around allllll day so this was a welcome snack.
We saw this guy after dinner in the Nambu Market. If I could only be so strong.
Now I know that the headquarters of the original choco pie is just minutes from my current hotel, so I can get a gift set tomorrow to prep for the paper mill visit. Today's weather was beautiful, crisp but sunny, perfect for a day with family! Tomorrow we go to clouds and then lots of rain when I have to travel, of course, but I did buy an umbrella so I'm prepared.

Hanji and art in Seoul

Some of the best hanji made in Korea is in the file marked 신현세전통한지: Shin Hyun-se Traditional Hanji. A senior research scientist in the forest biomaterials research center of the national institute of forest science, Dr. Oh-Kyu Lee brought me to the newish Hanji Culture and Industry Center in Seoul that KCDF started. Here you can see and handle hanji made all over Korea (sadly, less mills than when I started my research 13 years ago). Then you can find out how to order from the makers.

Of course there's also artwork and other samples of paper both on the main level and downstairs.
Dr. Lee has already opened a whole new set of roads for me and as he said so eloquently when introducing himself to me last year via email, we are both in the same boat called hanji. He gets it. Not many people here do, but it's great to have this kind of ally. I'll meet him in a couple days in Jinju and meet one more very important hanji person, and we'll all travel together to a paper mill I haven't yet visited.
Dr. Lee brought me also to 종이나무 (Jonginamoo, literal translation: paper wood), a gallery that had to move after rent got too high. Kim Jeong-soon (김정순) makes gorgeous hanji lamps and artwork, using paper from Wonju Hanji. I had seen these cloud lamps years ago and recognized the work almost immediately, so it was great to finally meet the person behind the work.

Then my artist friend Jeong-in Cha met me there to have tea.
She took me to a little gallery first, and it was so nice to be able to do things like that, stop in studios and art places and tea shops and museums and wherever. I was distracted by everything I had to pack and prepare that night but was grateful for her company over tea and then dinner. She made a call for me that reminded me of when we first met 13 years ago and she immediately made hard calls for me to help. I'm nearly drowning now in an abundance of people willing and able to help, and it's incredible to feel so many hands working behind the scenes to make this trip work for me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A bit too fast, going backwards

Velma tried to remind me to sleep and rest so that my soul can catch up to my body and get reacquainted. I've failed miserably at that, so extremely busy since leaving quarantine, so I will recap a week in Seoul in bits because I would have liked to go to bed hours ago but am not yet packed for my next trip early tomorrow morning!

Food with family, and this family saved my life during quarantine with food drops, calls, and generally making sure I knew they had my back.
Food by family (my cousin runs a takeout place in a very hip neighborhood that is brand new since my last visit). I completely overate this day but was extremely happy to finally see my family in person.
Gwangjang Market was was PACKED and full of food that I would have loved to eat but we were on an errand and were going to eat elsewhere. Little to no social distancing but a relic of the joy of the Before Times when it comes to eating at a food market.
Air quality is horrid because of the fine dust, the sky not quite clear because of that. One big palace, did a walk through to get to the other side of the compound on a day that was probably near 60 degrees F.
As I wandered through neighborhoods I could see how they had changed but also could see where I could discern the old outline that I remembered.
The big temple, Jogyesa, very close to my digs. Thanks to Youngmin for the hotel rec!
Vegan in the neighborhood, which is nearly empty in comparison to how it was, because of no tourists and so on. Still way more going on than back home, but this area has changed a lot...not for the best.
Café offerings after a fabulous dinner with an old friend and new friend the day after I escaped quarantine.
I usually see elderly folks squatting but there are always exceptions.
The underground but now released stream, where I walked to get a break from the cityscape up top on my first big day out alone, reminding my body how to walk. So much to share but must sleep! Next post will be from down south.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021


Less than 27 hours until release from quarantine! It was great, then dragged a bit around day 10, and then it suddenly picked up so that now I can't believe it's already over (because that means...yet another round of re-packing). I had considered ordering a pillow for delivery my first week but was advised against it because then I'd have to carry a pillow around the country with me for the next few months. But sleeping on a rolled-up fleece blanket was getting tiresome, so I splurged on another buckwheat husk pillow (I have three at home). I always remove a bunch because as is, they are too high for my neck, and my aunt said that they get crushed to powder over time. So the key is to every so often dump the contents of the pillow over a screen so that the powder falls away. She said in the past, people who sold those husks traveled from town to town because everyone needed to replenish. At home, I had sewn a small pillow full of them for driving lumbar support, so now I know I should replace the husks.
I stare out the window a lot and in particular at that red sculpture in between food deliveries. My wonderful family surprised me with three deliveries over the two weeks. That kind of care through home cooking and careful shopping makes a world of difference and made me feel so loved and held—especially knowing how busy they are, and aging/ailing. My aunt even hand delivered ingredients for lunar new year's rice cake soup: packets to make broth from anchovies, kelp, and other dried seafood, dumplings handmade by my cousins, rice cakes, sliced green onions of the large variety, and soup soy sauce—different from what passes as soy sauce back home at Asian restaurants.
This is the ugly view, where I wonder after rain and water pooling why architects/builders make flat roofs, and near where a persistent ringing sound emanates. I'm surprised I've been able to tolerate it since arrival, the not-so-low hum of a city, but am curious what sounds I'll hear at my next digs. Tomorrow I go to a hotel in Seoul as I take care of errands that can only be done in person, and continue to untangle what my next steps will be. At this point, I only barely know what the next week brings, and where I'll be sleeping, but I hope housing gets settled soon. Already, my initial plans to live south are starting to look untenable, but living in Seoul is not a bad back-up plan if I have to take it. In the landscapes that I don't inhabit, there's a post about my work with a hanji dress here, and a link to my last show here.

See you on the other side! I am so excited to be able to simply walk outside.

Friday, February 12, 2021


Quarantine of this strict type leaves not as many hours to while away as I expected. Days have been full, so many calls and messages from Koreans who check in and take excellent care of me. That has been massively reassuring, as the folks who sent me here don't seem very concerned. Today, a week into these digs, I finally wrapped a few gifts in slippery elm paper and paper thread.
The videophone revealed to me today a surprise food drop by my cousin! He and my aunt had already brought over precious treats (like homemade kimchi) during their last drop on Sunday, and I wasn't expecting this one. I managed to catch a glimpse of him at the end of the hallway when I opened my door to retrieve the goodies. It will be really good to see family in person when I get out, at least those for whom it is safe to visit.
I drew the weird trees outside the window today, which are pruned rather ruthlessly, and was excited in the morning to hear squawking birds. Not pretty sounds, but still, birds! I haven't heard them for a while. I caught a glimpse of large black ones streaked with white and was glad to see different animals from the people walking in the street like ants. I also made pics of the kitchen sink, which blew me away with its thoughtful engineering. Maybe some good ideas for how to set up a series of traps to keep solid waste (aka pulp) from getting down the drain, in some future fantasy paper studio.
I wash dishes 3x/day and have been eating like I'm being stuffed for slaughter. Today is the big new year, the lunar one, but I can't gather with family or eat the right foods. But these are the sacrifices we've been making for nearly a year now, so it doesn't feel too sad. I had a funny call with my aunt who made/sent a bunch of the food and it's like having a mom away from home. It's amazing how much I've already found to be grateful for while shut away, and hope I can pay it all forward when I am released from captivity.

Of course, tons of podcasts as always. I was stunned by the idea of nature returning when the tourists were barred from Hawaii, and also really intrigued by this take on Greek plays and how theatre of that time is 100% connected to coping with war.

Saturday, February 06, 2021


8:30am pickup from home, 9-something check in at Delta with two male employees bad at their jobs (one wore a mask under his nose, the other refused to read English on my visa that is in English and Korean, both of them telling me worst case scenarios of traveling during pandemic). 10:35am takeoff, landing in Detroit 25 min later to meet non-alarmist Delta gate agents. Temperature check + paperwork, oral interview, and a little after noon we get on the plane. After cleaning my area with wipes given upon boarding, I hear a big white dude crowing about how cheap his trip to Asia is and how he wants at least 3 more pillows and then yells across the aisle to converse with a random guy. Given how empty the flight is, I ask to move seats and get on the other side of the plane, wipe my new seating area, and prepare for departure after 12:30pm on Wed.
14+ hours and too many dairy/salty snacks later, land in Korea at 3:56pm on Thurs. Only about 30 min sleep though I could stretch out across three seats and watch an Evander Holyfield film that my sister edited first, a Linda Ronstadt documentary last. Because I knew there would be no bathroom for a while, I went to the first one out the gate, which meant I ended up near the end of a giant line for checkpoint #1: quarantine. That took over an hour. I wore too-warm clothes and my temperature (98.86 degrees F) was too high for them to let me go to the next checkpoint, so I had to wait to be checked twice more. 6:11pm: checkpoint #8, holding area. Eventually to checkpoint #9, a holding area that took even longer, though this time we could go to the bathroom if we needed.
8:12pm: the bus we boarded 6 min ago leaves the airport, only to arrive at the airport at 8:30pm (first I thought we had circled, but later my cousin explained that Incheon airport built another terminal that is really far away from the original site) to pick up more folks. 8:45pm: begin a sleepy bus ride to Yongin, a city 20 miles from Seoul, to arrive at the Golden Tulip hotel at 10pm. The guy in the blue baseball cap is mad that there is no proper dinner and that we aren't allowed to run across the street to the convenience store. The face shielded guy is an employee covered from head to toe in protective gear.
The suitcases are sprayed down and we sit down in the lobby to record our temperatures on the app we downloaded at the airport hours ago. Then we are allowed to check in one by one, get our covid tests, and be sent up one at a time in elevators to our rooms.
10:25pm: the first bed I've seen in over 24 hours. Of course, because of jet lag, even though I was extremely sleep deprived, I only slept about 5 fitful hours.
I wanted to cry when I opened the bag of "food" we got on the way to the elevator: all processed junk. But I was so hungry that I heated water in the electric kettle to have my cup of ramen, showered, and went to bed.
My room faced east, and the mountains reminded me of all the ones I saw when landing. 7:40am: call to my room saying the covid test was negative (that's why we had to sleep overnight, waiting for test results). The caller instructed me to leave my room at 8:10am, not earlier. I reluctantly left bed and wrapped up the hazardous waste bag of my trash to place on a small wooden platform directly outside of the door, and we were taken in small groups to the lobby and directly to our transportation. Mine was a quarantine taxi that departed at 8:16am.
9:16am: arrive at Fulbright building. I didn't stay in these apts when I was a junior researcher but had friends who did, so the layout was familiar. I can see people out and about through the huge wall of windows and finally recognized one area that was under construction all the other times I had been here.
I had asked for fresh fruits, veggies, and eggs before departure, so this was in the fridge, with more cup ramen and other dry goods on the counter.
11:11am: with help from the assistant via a phone app, I figure out where the utensils are! Then I make oatmeal (my bags were heavy because I brought the entire orchestra: oatmeal, oat bran, chia seeds, cinnamon, walnuts, dates. My fear of lacking food has only strengthened with age).
The view on one side, this is the area that had been under construction for years and leads to a subway station.

And to the right. A big building directly in the middle. Though horribly tired, I manage to stay awake until 7pm! After 1am, I wake up and call home for a while, then figure out how to turn off the heated floors and go back to bed around 3 or 4am. Up again at 8am and it's Saturday: time for oatmeal. A few hours later, I cook a small soup to go with warm rice from the cooker (I had to beg an employee downstairs to help get me groceries because of quarantine logistics), and wonder what I'm going to do with the 3 kilos of rice that was delivered. I eat a lot, but can't eat that much rice over 12 days. Now: fighting sleepiness but glad to be in one place for a bit to get my bearings.