Friday, September 30, 2011

Humble Mind

Sitting in Incheon Airport, where they still do not have a service that knocks you out and loads you on the plane only to have you awaken upon landing, so I guess I have to awaken all by myself.   And is there really a direct flight to Detroit?  And who is on that flight?  My flight has not even made it to the big board yet, so I have plenty of time to contemplate the randomness of life and death and the Motor City while sizing up the crew members of Korean Air.  I do this only because my most wonderful host, Ji-young, is at a preliminary interview with Korean Air today that consists entirely of them determining that she is pretty and thin enough to be one of their flight attendants.

I think she is, by far, but then again, I stand at a distinctly unlady-like 5'9" so what do I know?  I do know that I am going to miss Korea a lot.  While here, I read a history of North Korea, which is kind of the same as reading a history of South Korea too since their histories are intertwined.  I was completely surprised by what I learned.  I had learned none of it in school and I suspect most Americans have no idea of their role in why Korea is what it is today.  

If people had wanted to throw stones at me, I would not have blamed them.  At the Contemporary Art Museum, I saw photographs from the early 1960s where Seoul is mainly some low buildings and mud.  Although I am hardly a fan of new construction and development in most instances, I think what Korea is today is remarkable and hugely impressive.  That no one threw stones at me but instead treated me as a valued guest, well, it brings tears to my eyes.  I am sorry for what Americans did in Korea but I am even more sorry that this story simply is not told as part of our history education.  

When I was at Myogaksa, we did 108 prostrations, counting our bows with beads as we made a mala.  The nun leading the program told us it would help cultivate our "humble mind".  That notion of a humble mind came up for me again and again thereafter.  I would think about it when I was crossing the street and a car would want to cut me off - the New Yorker in me would scowl with a bit of "oh yeah, you wanna fight about it?" attitude and suddenly I would think, "humble mind!"  especially after I saw others bowing to the driver who had tried to cut them off.  

Humble mind.  I am pretty sure that one could do a lot worse in life than to fully cultivate one.  Now I humbly put my faith in the thin and pretty crew of Korean Air and their flying machine that will take me back to New York.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Special Hats and Special Socks

Back to tourist shots...

Yesterday I spent part of the day in the far southern reaches of Seoul at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, which is located in a huge park - the aptly named Grand Park.  The park also contains a theme park called Seoul Land (giggle), a zoo, a sky tram and a hobby museum.  Then I got back on the most wonderful subway system in the world (so clean! so efficient! so cheap!) and went to the northern reaches of the city where I spent hours at the Gyeongbokgung Palace.  It is impossible to take an ugly photograph there, I tell you.  I posted oodles of them on Facebook, so go on over there and friend me so you can see them!

Within the palace city limits, there also is the National Folk Museum of Korea, which I dearly wanted to see but it was closed yesterday.  I went back today, dodging school groups and the thick ranks of tourists, because I had heard that there was a very good display about Korean millinery.  I had not been misled.

Beautiful, special hats - nearly all for men.

Those great black ones are actually woven from split reeds and blackened.  I highly recommend all the small videos that are in many of the exhibition vitrines which show people demonstrating the techniques for making the items in the display.  I only wish they had been larger so I could really see what was happening.

Awesome display of shoes and boots.

One of the little videos showed how women processed flax and wove linen.  Again, I wish the screen had been larger - it was so fascinating because it did not (seem to) include any spinning of any kind beyond a bit of finger rolling.  As I stood watching, I became aware of someone else also watching.  It turned out to be an elderly woman who used hand gestures to indicate that she did this process when she was a child.  Achk!  About the millionth time I wished I could speak Korean!  Instead all I could do was make amazed noises and give her a very wide-eyed look that said (as best I could manage), Oh my goodness!  That's amazing!  It is such a complicated, time consuming process.  You must be an incredible person...or that is what I tried to convey with my eyebrows.

Are these not beautiful?  They were a prince's clothes.  As I walked around the palace, I tried to imagine it as a going concern rather than a tourist site.  What would have it been like to actually live and work within the walls of the compound?  I never imagined myself as royalty but I could imagine myself as someone who would have made clothes like these.  The care and attention to the stitches and inspiring.

After I thoroughly exhausted all the possibilities of the Gyeongbokgung Palace and related institutions, I went over to Insadong district, which I had heard had some good paper and antique stores.  It really was a tourist trap with tiny pockets of interesting things, like this shop that sold calligraphy supplies.  I didn't spend much time there because it was too much a scene for my taste.  However, there was a yarn store on the 3rd floor at the head of the street.

That store, I went in.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Avenue of Trees photos

A selection of the photographs taken by Park, Chongsuk, who drove me up and down the avenue repeatedly over many days.  He took these photographs while also driving the car (!) and he described the project as being like Hansel and Gretel.  I really like that description but I hope that visitors following the squares find their way to the Biennale instead of a witches stew pot.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

To Market

Can you stand some more tourist shots of Seoul?  I swear, more project pictures will come.  I will be back in Cheongju for one more round of documentation before I return to NYC.  The person who took the still photos just sent me some of his images but I haven't sorted through them yet, so perhaps tomorrow...

First - please let me assure Helen and anyone else that I also believe that sex is normal and natural and nothing to be ashamed of, even if it means I have to listen to others engaging in normal and natural exclamations in the process of participating in this un-shameful behavior at 2 am.  My "walk of shame" has more to do with the fact that the street the hotel is on looks like this:

And the fact that I already stand out like a sore thumb being rather more tall and redheaded than just about everyone else in Korea.  So, if it isn't exactly a walk of shame, then it is a walk of feeling rather uncomfortable, with the discomfort being an invention of my own mind and ego.  

Just to clarify.

Yesterday I felt that I experienced the many faces of Seoul.  After said walk of ego-driven discomfort, this is what I saw:

Not sure what you call this structure - a pavilion perhaps?  It is the gateway to a huge park that includes many of the facilities that were constructed for the 1988 Olympics.  Everything in this neighborhood is very broad and spread out and (relatively) newly constructed.

After the art fair, which was just ok (although it was fun to flash my VIP card around),  I went to the Dongdaemun Market where I had heard there were yarn and fabric stores.  I wasn't quite prepared for what I encountered, which was five floors of utter madness.  Perhaps it was because it seemed that everyone else there had a great, urgent purpose and I had none, but I felt like I was in the way no matter where I moved.  That kind of thing is very fun but also exhausting.

I did see examples of the offending yarn for sale, along with sample baby hats made with it.  

Mama, don't let your babies grow up with this yarn on their heads.  It is asking for trouble.

There were row after row of stores that looked like this, often with groups of people knitting and crocheting in them.  Yarn is sold mainly by the pack - I saw a good selection of wool along with lots of novelty yarn and crochet thread.

These are my favourite shops.  They sell bedding.  I think I love them so much because the first time I saw one, I was still very jet lagged and the temptation to just dive in and wallow in the soft, comfortable quilts was very strong.

A man carrying rolls of fabric on his back with a wooden shelf-like contraption.  Hint: do not get in his way.

Dongdaemun Market is in the older part of the city, where there are many markets everywhere.  This one was completely devoted to shoes.

After the chaos of the older city, I went back to Olympic Park and sat by the stream to watch two herons quietly fish for their dinner.  Children were playing and the sun was setting - a lovely end to a full day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What's Love Got To Do With It?

The project is up, the media promotion is over, and I have come to Seoul for a few days to be a tourist.  First stop was the Myogaksa Temple.  That is actually like saying ATM machine - "sa" in Korean means temple.  In any case, they have a two-day program for people to stay and experience life in a Korean Buddhist temple, so I did that.  The temple is right in the middle of the older part of Seoul.  It is a little oasis of quiet and beauty.

Kimchee fermenting on the rooftop.

Bell ringing at dawn.

The program is geared to people who have never encountered Buddhism so a lot of it was review for me, but it was from a distinctly Korean perspective that was very interesting.  The nun who runs the program is very lively and funny so it was as "fun and happy" as she kept telling us it would be.  The program also was in English, although about half the group was Korean.  I recommend it, especially if you are looking for an introduction to Buddhist philosophy put into action (but in a fairly gentle way).

From that little oasis, I moved on to a hotel near the big Olympic Park in the newer part of the city.  May I say right here and now that I am very grateful to the Seoul subway system for including English everywhere - it makes getting around so easy and makes the entire city feel accessible.

Well, sort of.  Once I was out of the subway, things got confusing fast.  People don't really use street names as ways of giving their address.  My host in Cheongju explained that this was a relatively new invention that most people have not adopted.  So, if you ask where such-and-such street is, most people will have no idea.  You need the name of the people or place where you are headed.

So I wandered around looking for my hotel while my bag that got heavier by the hour, for yes, it was more than an hour that I wandered.  I did ask for help but please see the above paragraph.  Finally someone looked up the phone number of the hotel and I was able to ask someone else to call them and they sent out an emissary to find me and bring me there.  

Once here, I realized that I had made the choice I tried very hard not to make when booking my hotel online.  I had booked myself into a "love hotel" aka a hotel that caters to the hourly crowd.  It is very common in Seoul apparently and, after four days of searching online for a room without success, I booked this one with a bit of apprehension.  But it is ok.  The location is good, the room is very clean, and I think they are trying not to put less long-term guests in rooms near my room so it is actually quite quiet.  

Mr. Pringles is very sexy.

The only way I would know that this isn't a tourist hotel is the lack of a bureau for clothes, the condom and the sex toy thing in the little courtesy pack in the room.  

Also the "walk of shame," as I have dubbed it.  The hotel is on a street with other hotels of the same purpose.  Every single one has a screen of sorts that allows cars to drive up to the door without people being able to see who is getting out of the car from the street.  As a pedestrian, everyone walking by can see.  I feel like holding up a sign saying, "I really didn't mean to book my stay here!  I am only a misguided tourist!"  But whatever.  I can manage for a couple of days in my love hideaway.

A rather scant breakfast after a long night of illicit love, don't you think?

Today, once I finish my walk of shame to the main road, I have VIP tickets (gift of the Biennale director) to the Korean International Art Fair.  I will hold my head high.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Please check out the short interview about the Avenue of Trees project conducted by artist, Tara Bursey, for Toronto Craft Alert.  And then check out Tara's work...I think you will like it.

Media Darling

Now this is a vending machine!

We did another documentation run today and it worked out a lot better.  I made a much better video and someone else took still shots.  I should have copies of the photos to share soon.  I will have to wait until I am back in NYC to work on the video.

After we did the whole run - a trip that takes a good 20 minutes with stop lights - we went back to the  end of the Avenue (and beginning of the piece) to meet up with another TV producer.  It was my third appearance on Korean television: this time for a morning program.  I have quickly learned to stand silently aside while everyone else works out the details and wait for someone to tell me what to say.  Usually they only want one sentence or thought, as long as it can be said in "15 seconds".  No wordy preambles here.  It is actually incredibly simple because I don't have to come up with any kind of insight about the project - I just say exactly what they tell me to say and then it is over.

Today was a little more complicated.  They wanted me to be "knitting" (I was really crocheting) and then look up, notice the camera man, wave him over and then say, "I will make a square for Good Morning Tahemingo"  I am not sure about that last word but that's what it sounded like to me and that is what I said and no one laughed or made me do it over, so it must be at least slightly correct.

We did a bunch of other shots where I pretended to adjust a square and say things like, "I want to warmly welcome the people of Cheongju to the Craft Biennale!"  And then, we found a square that was vaguely the same colour as the yarn I had been crocheting and I offered it to the camera and to "Good Morning Tahemingo and the Cheongju Craft Biennale!  I wish you every success!"

And now, the terrible confession.....the square I offered up, the one I supposedly had just finished from my previous crochet shot, was actually knit.  

I know, I know!  I am part of the problem, not the solution.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Wednesday was the opening ceremony day for the Biennale.  Before it started I added a little colour to some pigs, who I had heard were unpopular around these parts.  Poor little piggies just needed some lovin'.  Oddly enough, once I did my bit, the poor little piggies became quite the focus of attention, with people taking their picture next to them.  See what a little knitwear (or in this case, crochet wear) will do.

This was done at the request of the Biennale artistic director and I swear on a stack of Bibles, or maybe Heart Sutras, that it is the first time I have ever deliberately yarnbombed anything.  Dang it!  It was actually kind of fun.

The opening was full of spectacle - traditional dancing, rock music, speeches from dignitaries and then there was this machine.  It was part car, part musical instrument and part swing set.  A group of young men and women played it and danced around it.  I mostly watched the dignitaries in their black suits as they attempted to jive with music.  The Al Gore School of Dance for Politicians is alive and well in South Korea.

At the end of the ceremony, they released these balloon-like bird forms.  They were very beautiful in the air, swooping and diving the air currents.  I tried not to think wet blanket thoughts about plastic and litter.

Then we were allowed in to see the exhibitions in the Biennale.  It is truly incredible - an amazing assembly of masterworks of craft.  And some fun things too.  I took this photo for Finn and Lucy, who love these figures.  They are some invention coming out of hip hop culture.  People paint and decorate them and, in this case, they are beaded.

This is the installation of my piece, Memorials/The Doughboy.  I knit the cape-like piece for a WWI statue in Woodside, Queens.  The statue is a memorial to the men from Woodside who were killed in that war and is represents the foot soldiers who were also known as doughboys.  I have photographs of the statue without my piece and with my piece next to it.  That is Maegan Black from the Canadian Craft Federation in the photo.  It was very fun to connect with her here in Cheongju!

In the afternoon, we went out the Avenue of Trees to attempt to document the piece.  It was my first time experiencing it and I was very, very pleasantly surprised to see that it actually does what I had hoped, which is that the squares create a colour-changing sequence that is visible in the long distance and in one's peripheral vision.  At the same time, each square does actually have its moment.

The only problem is that it is incredibly difficult to document because the traffic is unrelenting.  I took some very fast pictures and some probably useless video before the light started to fade.  

I will try again tomorrow.  So, with apologies I have to ask you, for the time being, to believe me when I say that it works! It is beautiful and impressive and I hope it is entrancing and mystifying the drivers of Cheongju even as I am writing this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


On Tuesday, it didn't rain and I had five people assisting me.  We also had two trucks to help carry the squares and (occasionally) block traffic.

We rocked it, people!  We covered every single tree along the whole center line of the avenue and we had enough left over to do a section of the street where the Biennale venue is located.  That's right!  We did all five kms and more.

It was a hard day but a good day. 

Monday, September 19, 2011


Korean Broadcasting System is making a feature about the project.  They will return on Wednesday to shoot the whole Avenue in its completed glory.  Soon took this shot.  My role in the whole thing was actually quite minimal (thank goodness!) because they really can't have me blathering on in English that no one will understand.  I like that you get a glimpse of one of the many, many t-shirts will seemingly random English words printed on it.   (His t-shirt, not mine.  I am wearing an official 2011 Cheongju International Craft Biennale t-shirt.)

The shoot continued out at the Avenue of Trees.  Did I mention that the Avenue of Trees is basically a four-lane highway?  Because it is.  At first, we cowered on the median strip, somewhat taken aback by the speed with which cars and buses roared past, but in our good human way, we quickly adapted and soon the tons of steel barreling past were but background noise to our task at hand.

The task was a formidable one.  We had four big boxes of squares, organized so that we needed to simply take the one on top at each tree to install.  Of course, it wasn't quite that simple.  For one thing, the boxes all had to be moved along with us.  That task fell to the gentleman in the red shirt who spent hours carting the boxes down the strip.  Then Soon would add ties to the squares that needed them (ahem..that would be all the ones that I organized).  And I would install them.

We breaked for lunch and more help arrived.  Also, it started to rain a bit.  We found a little gazebo to take shelter in and have our meal.

One could not complain about the scenery.  And the sense of peacefulness that came from not being on a highway median strip.

We donned our raincoats and went back to work.  With more helpers and a truck that delivered the squares to each tree, things moved much more quickly and we managed to install about half our total.  It seems that we are covering much more ground than we originally thought - possible three kms or more.  I only saw snippets of it as I would walk up and down, so I can't say whether it looks good or not, but the snippets I saw looked pretty great....I am really looking forward to driving down the road and seeing it completed.

It was so lovely to handle each square and especially to encounter one made by someone I know.  A connection, a little piece of handmade love shared with me and with everyone.