On Saturday 8th Kok Hooi & I were taken off to the country by Park Chee Hyun & we spontaneously ended up staying the night at her house with her family & small community in Damyang- about a 45 minute drive from Asia Art Studio.
Chee Hyun took us off to a Buddhist run restaurant for vegetarian buffet lunch. This was really lovely. The selection of raw leaves, herbs & bean & acorn curds were great. Black sesame seed soup, loads of different kim chees(of course), brown rice, cooked soya in various textures & pumpkin soup. We were then picked up by her husband, a dentist, & daughter, both of whom had just come from English tuition. We then took the drive along the highways, thorugh tunnels & past some really built up, massive termite hill developments in the sort of 'new town' areas- soul-less places I do think- & into the very green, wonderful agriculturally landscaped countryside.
In this little community of 7 houses, all within very easy walking distance of each other, there is a change afoot in the Korean countryside. 3 of the houses are lived in by people & families born & brought up in the area. 2 of them grandmas(according to Chee Hyun) & 1 of them a local born farmer & very good family friend. All other 4 houses are of families such as their own who have made the deliberate move away from the urban city & environment & into the country to live an alternative lifestyle. The man from whom's trees we picked persimmons, is married to a young Cambodian woman & has a very young son, another couple(he has made his money from owning a nuts & bolts factory) has built an amazing traditional style house out of sonamu wood & red clay, & the last family is Chee Hyun's sister in law & husband, an environmental scientist. Chee Hyun's family built the house 13 years ago & now live there full time. This little community obviously get on extremely well & they all have the same view on life.
They get together every Saturday either in a restaurant or at one of their homes.
We had the best luck & ended up joining them for a wonderful fish supper at a local restaurant & then back to 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' to spend the rest of the evening around his campfire, cooking ramen, freshly picked wild mushrooms, munching on homemade Kim Chees & raw eggplant from their vegetable patch, & boiling fresh eggs out of his chicken pen.
We were still sipping on bacolli at 2am. A rice wine, 'bacolli, means 'first filter' & so, it is milky in colour because it has only gone through 1 filtration process. It is very drinkable & I think, tastes of ice cream. Mr Nuts & Bolts understood my description saying he thought it tasted of a sweet yogurt drink. It was a very special evening & we were very privileged to have been invited into this group of friends for the evening.
All the families have their collection of Kim Chee jars in the garden- full of different Kim Chees( of course), pickled roots & bean pastes. Totally delicious!
And this little display of jars in gardens is not only beautiful but really charming to see. 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' has a Kim Chee cellar set into the side of a slope- with his wine- where jars of pickled vegetables are set on stands & kept at a constant temperature. The ladies spend their time doing natural dye projects with persimmons( grown everywhere in the area), onions & various metals & make the most beautifully subtle patchworks, curtains, bedspreads & clothing from their craft. They harvest wild mushrooms, plant vegetables & herbs & keep chickens. They paint & make things with their hands, dry flowers, craft little wreaths from found branches & leaves, & their children run between houses at any time. It's truly Martha Stewart Korean style.
The nuts & bolts couple obviously spent quite a bit of money on their house. Huge granite rocks were brought into the site which was totally landscaped to set the house on a perfect level, to give them a slope into which to set their Kim Chee cellar, & higher up, another terrace for a flat garden.
The driveway is really attractive, large stones set in between grass- a patchwork. The workmanship & craft in their home is beautiful. The woodwork is stunning, all from the wonderful grained sonamu( a large fir) wood & the roof is of slate, workmanship again, stunning.
Inside they have a special room for cold days with slate floors- 3 layers of 4 cm thick slate & to the side a little room where a fire is lit when it is cold. Piping runs under the floor & the smoke warms this area, the slate holding the heat for a long time. The smoke then runs through & escapes through a very attractive tall, stone 'mushroom' chimney to the side of the house. 'Mr Nuts & Bolts', his nickname amongst his friends here is Huckleberry Finn, describes his house as a 'Smurf' house. It is far more elegant than that 'Hobbit' would be more appropriate & this is the first thing that popped into my head as soon as I spotted the house. It is round, organic, very tactile, quaint without being cute, very cosy, efficient in its use of space, traditional & the quality of the craftsmanship blows you away. Huck Fin made the decision to move out of the city because his wife was always ill & he was totally stressed out. She is now a different person in terms of health & he loves it, doing all his chopping, planting, building, growing & campfire stuff, that he has gone off 'work' completely!
Chee Hyuns sister in laws place was built 3 years ago, more an American Western vibe to it but not compromising on the traditional pine & paper & craftsmanship.
A wonderfully efficient house again inside, with very clever use of loft type windows that allow light & views into all the rooms. The pine wood here is stunning, different species giving very different grains but all with a lovely honey calm colour. Chee Hyun's house was designed by the same architect 13 years ago. Double story, efficient spaces, wood & windows, easy spaces. I love the dining areas where there is just low tables & every one sits on these smooth silky wood floors. Chee Hyun writes documentary stories about living in the countryside, & places of interest. She goes on the radio to talk about her lifestyle & those with a similar ideal. There seems to be a real move away from an urban life & stress, Koreans starting to see that life is more than just sending kids to school for 16 hours of the day (really!) & more about quality family time. I guess this is happening all over the world in various degrees. Richness & happiness is about a lifestyle, not about the money you manage to store away. Certainly this group of people seem to be having the greatest fun & life is all lived through persimmon colored glasses- it is this lovely subtle orange colour that seems to make the whole countryside around this area glow.
There is talk of building a guestroom or 2 & they asked us if we thought anyone would be interested. Of course! Certainly I feel the guests we get at Tiger Rock & China Tiger would absolutely love to experience the Korean countryside & culture. It is a real eyeopener in many ways. And there are now plans afoot for this group to come visit Penang & visit Tiger Rock!
Chee Hyun welcomed us into her home & we had warm showers( the first so far as it was only cold freezing butt firming showers at Asia Arts as the heater had konked out!) for the first time. Bliss! Clean pajama clothes & a great night's sleep. Chee Hyun made the most beautiful breakfast for us all- Weekends are home cooked breakfast days for her family.
Bone marrow soup with anchovies( good for hair & skin), smoked fish, fresh salads, pickles, home made kim chee & bean pastes. A delicious spread.
I then helped with their puppy who's face had been munched by by 'Mr Nuts & Bolts' dog. I held him as he was given his antibiotic injection- poor guy!
We were then taken off to Soswae Garden. First built by Yang San-bo in 1503-1557 of the middle Joseon Dynasty, this lovely garden harmonizes with nature in the traditional Korean style. Basically it is totally landscaped but designed to look like a natural fantasy garden.
Even the river course was changed to bring it into the gardens along cascading water falls. It has been changed over the years & just recently restored into the garden it is today.
The bamboo gardens are stunning, it is peaceful, tranquil & very enchanting despite the rain & I would love to be able to see it change through the seasons. In the winter it must be particularly magical.
In this area, under the mountains, the weekend brings in many people who walk, enjoy the country side & come to enjoy the real natural beauty of the place. Traditional houses & traditional style buildings are being built or restored a little to take advantage of the business- restaurants & shops- these visitors can bring.
We also visited an amazingly sprawling public park around the dam- unfortunately my camera battery ran out & I couldn't record any of this area. It does all look like a traditional scroll landscape painting with swirling clouds, mountains, water, cascading waterfalls, willow trees, majestic pines, herons, pretty birds & ladies with parasols.