Friday, August 13, 2010

There is this thing about tea...

I seem to have skipped a day or two of writing, but I have spent 12 hours on a bus each day, one traveling from Gangjin to Ulsan, and the other from Ulsan to Deagu, with only a bit of time off the bus to see things. By the time I got to the hotel each night I wanted nothing to do with my computer, or sitting. We started the day in the usual breakfast place and on my way back to the motel to get check out, I stopped at the mini mart to get an iced coffee and a yogurt. There was this girl that worked there that was kind of shy. During my whole week stay she seemed to want to converse in English, and was embarrassed to do so, despite trying to start a conversation and holding back. I am presuming that I sounded the same way with her. I wondered if she would wonder where I disappeared to. I never did say goodbye.
On the way from Gangjin we visited the studio of Min Young-ki, considered a master tea-bowl artist, though not a national treasure. He served us tea and rice cakes, talked to us about the essence of his job as an artist. It has been a life long quest to create the perfect tea bowl, equivalent in status to the important archeological/historical ones. His teacher has taught him that it has to come completely from heart and soul joined, as it it was from God. He works hard at trying to arrive at that, and has not had it happen yet. He continues to practice and maybe one day...What was interesting about this is that he showed us a 500 old bowl, and passed it around for us to experience. I have held bowls that were old before, but there was something special about this one. Maybe it was the moment.
We also went to the Clay Arch museum, a museum dedicated to Architectural Ceramics. This was one of my favorite places so far. There was sculpture all around the grounds, a residency hall and dormitories, a studio for community learning, and a very nice museum. The exhibition of Nino Caruso's work was incredible.
The time on the bus on Thursday was so long and getting a bit testy that at 7PM with an hour to go a few of us decided to fix it with an impromptu happy hour on the bus. We sampled soju from North Korea (fire water) and the old standard Maple soju we had been drinking all along. We broke out dried fish and sesame cookies. We also got increasingly antsy to be off that bus despite the libations.
When we got to Ulsan and shed that damn bus, Kim and I headed out to eat. We were ravished! The only problem was that as we walked and saw all these wonderful restaurants, we couldn't read Korean, so we couldn't read the menu. We limited our choices to pictures and ended up in a Japanese place with sticky tables, almost no lighting and lots of smoke, but it had pictures and people in it. If I was of better mind I may have run for the hills, but I was tired, hungry and adventurous after having no exercise all day. So we stayed, dined on Udon, Asparagus tempura, and some sinewy gamey overcooked meat on a stick and beer (lots of it) to wash it all down. We stumbled back to the hotel, giggling like little school girls, stopping to get water and more soju (mistake) where we continued to drink well into the night.
I now have to admit, that you would not have wanted me to write that night, and yesterday, though I started this post in the evening I was in no condition to write. I woke up so hungover (Kenny think Ouzo) that I could hardly stand up without the room spinning. Not what you want to get back on a bus. I was miserable. To make matters worse, I had left the advil right were I would not forget to pack it, yes, back in NY. (The group found me some).
I continue to be amazed at how this culture is so attached to the earth. Everywhere you go you see rice, vegetable gardens, orchards and clay. Every river seems to have as many people fishing as there are cranes. The people are tied to their ceramics heritage and proud of it. They truly celebrate the earth.
We visited an Ongi village where we spent some time exploring the history of Ongi as well as watching a demonstration of how coil Ongi is made. After which we drew on some tiles that will be fire and used as part of a mosaic in the Ongi museum. Its funny to think that I have made my mark on this place, even in such a small and trivial way. After this stop we headed out to a barley restaurant. The owner was a potter and made a great deal of the service ware. This is a place your dad would have loved. As her husband is a sculpture and built the structure out of clay, furnished the place with tree slabs, and installed a sculpture garden outside. There was a cool tile installation outside on one of the facades.
To get to this place the bus had to travel down a road as wide as my driveway with steep drop-offs on both sides, it was a nail-biter to say the least, but not the only one of the day. After lunch we headed up into the mountains to see Park jong il, a potter of note. The route there was not meant for a car much less a bus. It was a concrete road that climbed a mountainside. There were places where the houses were within inches of being clipped and finally, on the last turn we were completely stuck. Park jong il and his wife came down and ferried us up by car the rest of the way. We arrived to Lotus Blossom tea and potatoes as well as a great deal of wares to look at. After buying a few teabowls I headed down the mountain on foot to the bus, which was turned around and parked off the road, ready to go. We arrived in Deagu around 8PM to rainy weather. We headed to dinner at a BBQ place before calling it a night.
Today's adventure? I am still digesting, you will hopefully have it tomorrow.

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