Arrival in Korea

Arrival in Korea, Gwangju. First Impressions-Malihom Artist & Exchange Programme- Korea 2012

First published 01 Sep 2012 (2197 days ago) 

Malihom Artist & Exchange Programme
30th August- 10 October 2012
2 artists from Penang on 40 day exchange programmme- Rebecca Duckett- Wilkinson & Chan Kok Hooi
Sponsored by Malihom, PGT & Gwangju Arts Council

I have no expectations of Korea & to be honest it has not been a place I have particularly wanted to visit so I have come with an open mind & no idea of what to expect at all. Before I left Penang I watched a few K-pop videos which I think are quite bizaar, especially the really violent ones which are openly played on Astro & admit to really loving the repetitive beat of the songs, you can't help but sing a long & the guys are cute not my kind of guys, way too much make up & they look too pretty to cuddle up to but seriously cute.

I'm taking 2 new pieces of artwork for the International Women's Exhibition which starts at the end of next week.

Flying in over the south of Korea, about to land, was amazing. The islands & the coastline a web of inlets, small wriggly islands, quite fantastic. Then lots of soft morning clouds in amongst the mountains, hills & valleys & meandering waterways everywhere. All this, with the clouds hanging & misting above & amongst the landscape made it look as if we were coming in to land into a great bluey ink oriental scroll painting. We descended into Incheon Airport, right over Gwangju, our destination, & all around there was the wonderful manicured cultivation, a bright clear agricultural green so well organized in sections that followed the contours of the land. Inspiration already!

Coming into Incheon airport was a surprise. Very beautiful, but oddly. Unbelievable amount of high, really high, rise blocks that did look grey & soul-less & incongruous against the beautiful backdrop of hills, layers of high-rises along the beautifully soft horizons of the hills, but in the morning mist it all looked magical & the high-rises in the distance looked like trees along the ridges very fairyland-like in a weird way. Obviously lots of industry, incredibly wide water ways & rivers, boats all busy, pylons, pylon looking things in rows in the river mouth, huge hanger type buildings & colourful- bright orang, red, blue roofs which jumped out of the landscape. It all looked like the proportion of everything was 'just out', like those miniature landscape models set up on old ping pong tables, by railway enthusiasts, Here the 'canvas' is the amazing looking, very gorgeous natural landscape. It is in my mind, the 'Ultraman' landscape I knew from watching all the 'Ultraman' programs as a kid. I've always loved the sets in the old 'Ultraman' TV series & loved it when the Raksaksa & Ultraman would fight amongst the cities & towns, throwing it around & all about. Seriously this is it!

Landed 7.45am, Incheon Airport. Very impressive, relatively small, open, light, very organized, loads of immigration counters open & manned by women! Got our finger prints & faces scanned- these photos making us all look like criminals. Everyone was so calm, & there is a hush despite people talking, No one seemed stressed out or in a particular hurry. Going up the really high & long escalators both Kok Hooi & I commented that it seemed to actually calm you down! Signs everywhere in English, collected bags very sharply then walked straight out to find the buses coming in & the ticket counters right there. Really efficient & so nice! Our ticket to Gwangju- 4 hours exactly, was 30,900won- just over RM100. The bus was spot on time & we left spot on time at 8.10am. Seat belts, basic & practical but comfortable seats, very clean & highways all the way. The infrastructure is amazing!! 

The trip was through tunnels, forests of lovely pine, planted banks along the highways, very green, incredibly neat agricultural cultivation, views of beautiful hills, waterways, shrines, craggy pines planted as features along the highway banks, more tunnels, curved tunnels, all through the hills. They have spent a fortune here for infrastructure & the maintenance is phenomenal. Everywhere is immaculate. We stopped at the 2 hour point for 15 minutes(exactly) & the highway stop was spotless, the toilets spotless, the people all very friendly & nice despite language barriers, signage all in English. Not a tourist in sight!(except for the 2 of us).

Arrived Gwangju bus station at 12 on the spot & were met by Director Moon & Chris the co-ordinator. We walked through the mall & right across to the other side of the highway, not a step anywhere & then put the luggage & ourselves into 2 cars & went off to lunch-FABULOUS!! Cross tabled on the floor & very busy little rest. Fresh fresh herbs, pickles, kim chee, delicious pork rib soup & delicious pork pieces. Wonderful chili sambal & the herbs have fragrant, wonderfully perfumed flavors. We were much revived after this!

Off to the Asian Arts centre. An old middle school now being turned into this Art centre. The typhoon that went through certainly has taken a toll. The river has over flowed & you can see the water damage on the sides. All the plastic tunnels for vegetables have had the plastic torn off. The Arts Centre is situated in the most wonderful agricultural countryside. On arrival trees are down- chestnuts- & it all looks very neglected. It is neglected & the work is no way ready at all. No way for us to stay here as workmen are going in & out with door frames. Its pretty basic. However, the trees here are old & very gorgeous. i'm such a sucker for trees! An avenue of old firs leads us up the drive, amazing magnolia trees at the entrance of the building, their flower heads just going to seed, overgrown Pride of India looking great. Its a bit of an overgrown mess but to me this is pretty attractive.

The building itself is really nice but neglected for sure & was until very recently obviously abandoned. Floors are rotten, the gorgeously practical terrazzo staircase still covered in grime & most of the rooms totally dilapidated. BUT the people are nice & the studio where 4 artists are working is really great & more than adequate. The work is nice, each artist very different. We meet Helen, one of the artist's, from Jeju Island, & she speaks great English & gets us sorted out by helping to answer our questions.

Decision is for us to move into a hotel for 3 nights then to the Centre. I'm not convinced it will be ready but will see.

We get cracking & start the flow of juices by joining in a session of Korean Brush painting on t-shirts. It certainly gets us relaxed & it's a lot of fun. The lady in charge of the session has brought a thick black water soluble permanent paint in which she has mixed in actual gold dust & when we paint onto the T-shirts, there is a very beautiful glitter. The Korean's who have joined in the session are doing mainly images based on cherry blossom & lotus. One of the resident artists, Sung Moon, is a natural at gorgeous little fish in one wriggly stroke! & everyone wants a T-shirt with these on. I do a fish on my scarf & use the shapes of the herbs I ate for lunch as designs for my 'leaf' T-shirt.

We drink 3 in 1 Korean coffee, which is good! & Aloe juice, also good! Starting to feel a bit tired by this time but the question of communications comes up & neither of us can get signal on our phones- Maxis. It seems we are blocked & can't use our phones. So off we go to try to get a local sim card.

Impossible. Helen wonderfully drives us around for 3 hours to try to get a place to sort us out. Foreigners cannot just get a sim card it seems, we need to register, out down a deposit & then ok. I thought of buying a cheap phone.documentation even worse & I need a couple of local sponsors. We eventually find a guy who will sort us out & we wait for an hour for him to finish serving another customer. We then fill out all the forms only to find that when he inputs our info, it is stated that we are in the system but can't get a phone until the next day so Saturday & sunday, everything shuts down & we need to wait until Monday to input the necessary! Its after 6 so too bad!! 

Everyone has been so nice so far & helpful. Obviously we had Helen kindly giving her time to be translator for us & this no doubt smoothed it all out. But everywhere so far, people have been great.

Chris & Director Moon meet up with us at this point & Chris drives us to our hotel downtown. Palace Hotel. What a shocker! It has been ripped down & we are left standing in front of a totally stripped out building with no street wall. We had to laugh but even Chris said 'Something is wrong!' .Yes!!!

Anyway, we didn't freak out & walked down into the rather seedy car park to find out we had to get the elevator to the 4th floor where a very seedy registrar was ready with our keys. All pretty dodgy for sure but on getting to the rooms we find a computer but no internet, it all smells of smoke & all desperately in need of an parade. Chris tells us we will move to another hotel t'm. OK!!

We walk outside into the very buzzy streets full of young people in fitted pants, cropped at the ankle bone, wearing sneakers. The girls in high heels all very fashion fashion. Good young vibe. Packed out, fab fashion everywhere for sale & Chris takes us to a Korean resto where we have a cold radish soup, Barbecue pork, fab spicy pumpkin stew, lots of pickles & delicious dried slices of octopus. We stop of at the Angle Cake House to get on the internet & a cup of green tea. Let family know all is ok & then to a desperately awaited shower & bed. At the entrance of the hotel a huge set of speakers has been set up & a sign for a club up leading people into the ruins of the building. What a relief! The rooms are pretty much buffered & so sleep should be fine.

Turn on the telly to find K-pop, Fox & a gazillion Korean channels, channels selling stuff & a really sordid porn channel- talk about ugly & spotty porn stars! YUK! Whizzed past that fast & ended up watching some FOX CSI thing for 20 mins & then was dead to the world until 7.30 this morning! Brilliant! Had a walk already & having coffee latte & a bagel & cream cheese. Where am I?