Thursday, June 10, 2021

Shin Hyun-se in the land of abundance

Jae-gyun was not joking when he said it wasn't so much construction workers that kept the motels full right now but the temporary farm workers during onion season. These orange bags are all FULL of onions that were pulled from the field.
The days when I shot the pics from the car, it was (to me) unbearably hot and sunny. Meanwhile, women probably twice my age are outside all day pulling and bagging onions. I'm whining while being driven around in an air-conditioned car.
It was amazing to see throughout the day, since I got two trips into the small town of Sinban that day, the progress of the harvest. Whenever I see people out working like this, I think, my life is SO EASY. Also, I don't appreciate enough how hard people work for the food I eat.
At my host's home, they have tons of these beautiful blueberries growing from trees that live in bags (rather than pots). She said her eyes feel not great if she skips a day eating these. Her husband had picked a ton and packaged it all to ship to their grandbaby, only to find that perishables aren't being shipped during pandemic (something about things taking longer to mail).
They had very kindly taken me to that lovely mountain town and when we were leaving a cafe where we had bought cookies made with medicinal herbs (it was my only chance to get more treats for Mr. Shin), my host Mi-sook had noticed these herbs that grow like weeds along the path. Her husband warned her not to take any but she went back into the cafe and the owner was kind enough to emerge with a paper cup and a spade to send her home with one. She knew exactly where she wanted to plant it at home and said you can't buy it so this was a big treat.
For their health, she and her husband grow a bunch of their own food and chose a life in the country instead of the city hustle.
It's incredible to see what they've done with the property they bought, how they had to move things around (the former owners had cows), what they've done besides put in lots and lots of beds (solar panels!).
Yesterday I finally confessed to my teacher that I needed to take a break because I was in so much pain. I had been crawling from the floor where I'm sleeping the few feet to the bathroom, so that was a sign that I had been overdoing it (aside from all the pain starting on Day 1). His wife was kind enough to invite me to visit the market with her, where she insisted on buying me a hair clip (even though I had one in my hair) and a frozen bottle of water for my back.
She got a few other things, including fried long peppers and octopus for all of us back in the studio. She drives and Mr. Shin doesn't, because he drinks. If only all drinkers knew to refrain from the wheel!
Back at the mill (on the very right on the other side fo the road), construction for the road that will cut right past the mill and over the stream continues. The walls will come down and hopefully the additional traffic won't make the air pollution and dust near the mill terrible but for sure it's going to get worse. Directly across the road is an area where they are drying garlic.
Lots and lots of garlic! Meanwhile, what's happening inside?
I feel like a spoiled brat because every time I'm ready to destroy my post and dump it back into the vat, I go over to teacher and say, it's time to dissolve the material (this is a bad translation but you get it). He gets up from sitting on the concrete floor cutting out the clean parts of printed hanji to recycle, and gets the electric mixer working, adds polyacrylamide (it's too warm to use hwangchokgyu; the goo turns to water at this temperature), mixes some more. At the beginning and end he also mixes by hand with a giant bamboo pole. There is a lot of bamboo in the studio and it comes from the area; even as you walk out there is a big patch across the stream (the new road is being built over it). All I have to do is rinse my screen and bring it to him right as he moves the bal teul back over the vat, so he can square up the screen.
Then I start over again. This is the new hairclip that Mr. Shin's wife bought for me at the market. Hilariously she could tell I don't have a lot of hair so that it would all go up into that clip. Brenda gave me the shirt by Yang Soonja and I got the pants from Mongsengee in Jeju.
On the floor is the first batch of fiber that I worked with for my first five and a half days or so. I'll have no paper to show for this study but have easily pulled hundreds and hundreds of sheets. Likely more big sheets than I've pulled in my entire life, which explains why Jae-gyun took me to the pharmacy yesterday after work to get cold packs to stick onto my back and two types of drugs that the pharmacist insist that I take (one is Naproxen and the other is obviously what I'm having issues with because there is a lady with low back and shoulder pain). He also stopped to get ice packs from his mom to give to me, which I am leaving in Mr. Shin's freezer in case they ever have another weakling come and injure themselves. I had tried to explain to him the theory of using frozen peas to ice your body but totally failed.
Mr. Shin and his wife sit on the floor in the back part of the studio most of the day cutting printed parts of offcuts to recycle. He's using a sickle to soak the trimmed bits in water as she dumps more cut pieces into the tub.
Here are the blades of his 30-year-old beater. He said he only needs to replace the bearings and the motor once in a while, but said I have to get the blades ground to make it work well. While I was unable to pull sheets, I took tons of measurements. His wife was smart to tell me to refrain from vat work all day. Even though I was very unhappy about doing that, it was the right choice, and I was thankful for her taking me to market. On the way, we saw women waiting at the bus stop, and she pulled over to offer them a ride if they were also going to market. Life here is really different from almost every place I've been back home.
Jae-gyun drove me around SO much. Every lunchtime, he would drive us to lunch, usually to Sinban, and he would almost always be too fast for me to stop him from paying for lunch, and for the first week he also did an extra trip back and forth so that we could have dinner as well. He has impeccable manners and every time he drops me off at the end of the work day, he puts on the emergency brake and gets out of his car to bow to me to say goodbye. It's extremely weird for me to be in a "higher" position and have someone speak up to me and do all the things I usually do for others but he refuses to not be this polite. Today was actually our farewell as he will get a Covid vaccine tomorrow, which means he gets that day and the following day off. Normally, he only gets Sundays off, works all public holidays except for Chuseok in the fall and new year's in the winter. He's on his fourth year of working that intensely and I can't fathom the stamina.
The woman who picks all of the bark works ceaselessly all day doing that or drying paper. After every bunch, she walks over a small tub to add to the big stash near the beater. Yesterday or today she got some treatment at the hospital so she took a bit of time off but very little before she was right back at work.
I had noticed a couple days ago that it felt like someone was peeing down my leg. The vinyl guard for the couching table (brilliant! I never noticed it in my 2008 photos/videos of Mr. Shin but now I think, duh!) had fallen off and I didn't want to bother anyone so I found a hammer and put it back in...incorrectly. It was too far from the corner of the couching table, which kept dripping down the side of my right leg as I stood at the vat. Mr. Shin moved it over for me yesterday.
He had Jae-gyun wrap up a little early at the vat so that they could go up the hill to harvest burdock burrs. This one is right outside where the garlic is drying and I had thought early on, Why don't they pull that weed? It's not a weed, but their scrubbers to clean the bamboo screens!
Mr. Shin's wife told me that this is burdock native to Korea, and that you harvest right before the flowers bloom. It's too early for these.
But just in time here. This was yesterday's harvest and I did not envy the men for going outside in that heat. Fortunately today it finally started to cool as the clouds rolled in to prepare for rain. After lots of icing and less vat time (I try to walk away before I feel the strain, though of course today my shoulder started to go, which hadn't been an issue up until now!), I'm slowly getting back to work.

The most rewarding part of this week is getting to know Mr. Shin's wife (no, I haven't asked for her name yet but I will before I leave! My dad recently told me that in the past, Koreans didn't even give their daughters names. Sheesh). BIG source of info, and laughs, very helpful when your teacher is extremely silent. Now that I am more conscious of Korea being a high-context culture, this relationship is really important: I showed her pictures of what I was doing back home and how I've never been able to source good parting threads. So last night, she told my teacher. This morning, he said, do you want to pull threads? I had almost no idea what he was saying (the dialect is SO STRONG. He probably thinks I'm very stupid because I rarely can understand what he says. I mean, I get the gist, but definitely miss the details).
I loved this dance they had of, should we do it here?
Or here? [She said this was a bad idea]
No, here!
Starting out was NOT comfortable for her and again I was humbled by her willingness to sacrifice for me by sitting on construction materials to start taking apart this netting.
After a while I insisted she stop and sit down on the wooden steps of this gazebo so I could finish pulling threads two by two while she organized the bunch.
We technically pulled out all the warp threads here, so I also have the weft threads to combine to take home! They don't last forever but it's so much better than what I have been doing!

What else? Today is the final day of the Jeong fundraiser. I'll be making new hanji artwork for the deluxe portfolio. Please pitch in if you can! Also, the new AAPI craft directory has gone public and has launched as part of an exhibit at the Center for Craft. I was surprised to see my image so prominently featured, another sign of the rarity of being centered and visible. While I feel truly out of the loop, I hope when I get back home that I'll feel more connected to what conversations come next. Here are some more exhibition shots.

I got a surprising but welcome call today from Kim Dae-seong, about connecting directly with my teacher for hanji to make his fans. He will visit tomorrow! It will be great to see him and to have another witness to my training (more about his father, the national ICPH for fan making, here and here—both links in English). It's hard to believe my good fortune, though I've worked hard for these pieces to fall into place.

No comments: