Oh yes … the early taste of this years first pick Korean Green tea was indeed fresh and delicious. Here are some pictures from our tea farmer who cultivates wild organic tea bushes, opposed machine harvested green tea which you can see neatly trimmed. From how it was explained to me is that the leaf has more nutrients when it grows wild, as it has more time to amass all its goodness … I thanked the picker of the tea and told her how much we appreciate her picking the tea for us, and how I hoped she would continue till the fourth and last flush. Seasonal pickers tend to move on after the 3rd … a shame since it is very good in its own right.
A very long over due post … from the days when I was living in South Korea. My film days, one of the reasons it has taken me awhile to revisit my negatives. All these pictures pre-date the year 2000 … which means this is my 20 th century version. Stay tuned as I venture back back into the archives and re-edit and select … all this as I prepare to go back to South Korea for a long over due visit! stay tuned … in the mean time here is an introduction to what hopefully will grow into a book … enjoy.
What really struck me about South Korea was how industrious the people were, and how hard they worked. While living there I would photograph the world around me. Here are a couple of portraits of men working. The pipe fitter’s shop was right off the street I walked, while the shoe repair man had a small booth/box on one of the busy streets.
I would often see men pulling these carts throughout the market streets in Busan and Seoul, South Korea. This man was in the Nampodong Area in Busan.
While living in South Korea I was introduced to Master Potter Heh Bong and his family. He is a potter who lives not far from Pusan and owns an earth mine. He and a few employees process the clay which is then sold to other potters. What I love about Heh Bongs pottery is that it is well made and balanced. His pottery’s earth texture and tones are pleasing to the eye and hand.
I was very fortunate while living in South Korea to be invited as a guest to so many different celebrations and ceremonies. This one stands out in my memory. One of the most comfortable weddings I was invited to. Lots of fun…country side fun. Eventually I will post some of the other Korean weddings that I have shoot. Stay tuned.
Here is a photo shoot with actor Lee Jae Yong, taken in South Korea.
On Monday, November 15th, our neighbor, a World War Two veteran, died in hospital of a brain hemorrhage. One day, he told me how it was his job to fish out the bodies of his fallen comrades out of the water. He witnessed many horrific events and lived with these past events quietly. He was 86 when he died on November 15th 2010. A bachelor all his life, he depended on good neighbors to help him with daily tasks that he could not do by himself. He was a strong and independent man with a kind heart. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember those who helped him survive and function in his civilian years…the good neighbors who were there for him when he needed them most…but that’s a subject for another photo essay and poem. This photo essay is dedicated to all Veterans who have served our country. Lest We Forget the sacrifices that have been performed on our behalf.
Just a note the gray doll with the Poppy is a Korean Buddhist Doll. If you press it in the center it chants the 108 pre-recorded Buddhist mantras. I mention this because to most Westerners it looks like a Nazi Doll. The Swastika predates the meaning it assumed in the early 20th century with the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party. While living in South Korea I traveled to many Buddhist temples to talk with the Korean Monks. When I fist saw the symbol I was confused, and that was when I was taught the earlier meaning of the symbol. One of the explanations I received was that for Buddhism this emblem represents a perfect circle once it spins: hence enlightenment. I included this picture in the photo essay to commemorate all those who lost their lives serving in the Korean War. May peace reign.
For further reading and references concerning the swastika and its association with Eastern Religions please consult Wikipedia.
Historical use in the East
“The swastika is a historical sacred symbol in Indian religions. It rose to importance in Buddhism during the Mauryan Empire and in Hinduism with the decline of Buddhism in India during the Gupta Empire. With the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist swastika reached Tibet and China.” Quoted from Wikipedia
Audio version in-this-chicken-coop
IN THIS CHICKEN COOP
In this chicken coop
Set and stamped
Pecking at bar codes
Willingly we enter
And we con con constantly
The lowest price
Which dictates law
The selection has been made
A fat little finger with a gold diamond ring
Pointing either to the right or the left
On the shelf the result
Products strong enough to be made use of
All standing at attention
Ready for our inspection
Well placed at eye level
Yes the lucky ones
With bar codes tattooed upon their backs.
Outside the sky is blackened
By the chimneys
The feeble independents
And the cremated labeled outlaws
Are repackaged, and sold as compost
Con con consuming
While breeders record statistics
And the grease of maximum efficiency
Keeps the d-boning machine
A SOUTH KOREAN SCHOOL ASSEMBLY
I stand in the empty
By the window
Behind the flag
Ordered into formation
To the structurally elevated authority
The principals harsh face
Stares down from the podium
His mouth contorts
Shouting into the microphone
And distorts his words
On either side
From up top of mausoleums
But from here
I can see the fidgeting
Restless shifting from foot to foot
And the Ethics teacher
I ate dried squid
Feasted on it’s tentacles
Burnt them over my gas range stove
Then dipped them in mayonnaise
And I thought
As I chewed and chewed
How stupid the squid is
To jump into traps
Light being the only bait
Just like moths that burn themselves in the flame
The squid are caught and eaten
Must be retribution
For past life crimes
As I chewed and chewed
The stupid squid
Until the next morning
When I awoke
With sore gum’s
Unable to move my mouth
Then I realized
And bowed to the squid
When our eye’s first encounter traditional Korean tea sets they might think that they are defective in some way. The cups are not perfectly round. In fact they’re lopsided, and the hand painted sets seem to have been thinly and sloppily applied, with runs dried into place. But all this is done Intentionally.So what does all this mean? In many respects we have been brought up with cookie cutter standards of perfection; at the first sign of imperfection we say: “hey how about a discount!” Most of the products we buy are exactly that: products, identical and devoid of any humanness. We cannot see or feel the artists uniqueness or the energy they put into creation. If we feel anything at all it’s the fragmented process of the assembly line.
The Korean potters that I have met and spoken with have told me that it is their intention to draw our attention the imperfections so that we may reflect upon them. Life is imperfection. A bump for example, may remind us of a beauty mark; it’s a apart of us. However, for some a beauty mark is a defect, and they seek surgical solutions.
Korean potters reconnect us with our own nature through the use of simple, familiar shapes and the elements that are used; through earth, water, wind, and fire we can identify and contemplate our own humanity. For that reason potters are special artists, because they create functional art from which we can sense ourselves and our relationship with the world we live in.
Design, color, texture, and the energy I feel in a tea set reflects mood, mind and personality of the potter; but more than that the tea set represents and connects me to the universe. When I examine the delicate and intricate crack lines in the pouring bowl, or the cups, it is like looking at the lines in the palms of my hands, or like looking up at the constellation in the night sky and seeing the connections. And this reminds me of the phrase ” a butterfly in Hong Kong affects the weather in New York.”
The tea sets that these Master potters make are not destined for museums. Museums are like the catacombs. They displayed dead objects under glass for spectators who pay an admission fee. It is only by using the pottery, by holding it in our hands that we can feel it’s energy, and gain introspection into our own lives and existence.
traditional tea sets are our teachers. They are vessels that instruct us in the meditative process of drinking a single cup of green tea. Tea is not about consumption, it’s about the process; that links us to the moment, to our true being, and the universe in which we live.
We all find teachers when we need them.Lessons are all around us, but we have to know where and how to look. I used to think how the teachers in the school system failed me terribly, but really they taught me very well, only not in the way I expected. Traveling through this world I have met many true teachers living according to their truths. I have been really blessed in my journey, and have met some wonderful mentors. While living in Korea my Korean older brother Lee Jae Young introduced to his Master, a Buddhist Monk by the name of Doe Sung Se Nim. Doe Sung Se Nim is a very special man for me. Just by looking into his eyes he could confirm the truth I carried inside myself. I would travel a long way to his temple with my head full of questions, but the moment I sat before him they all evaporated. I realized there was nothing to ask. His presence comforted and explained without the use of words, and to this day his warm eyes and happy face shine still for me. Deep down inside i know the path i must take, yet I resist still: like when I would listen to the sound of his Mok Tak and chanting at 2.45am, still laying on the warm floor under the blankets in the cold mountain air,conscious, awake, but still sleepy, clutching at every minute of comfort and warmth. Every thing in its own time. Anyways, here is a portrait I took of him for our Tea Zen label. I hope his picture inspires you daily as you drink your delicious tea .
How Korean Green Tea is Processed.
It all stems from here; this leaf called Camellia Sinensis, whether you drink Green, Oolong or Black Tea. It is just that the leaves are non fermented for green tea, semi fermented for Oolong tea and 100% fermented for Black or Red tea. And once the leaves are picked it doesn’t take much time for them to begin to wither and ferment, so to make green tea they are processed quickly.
Korean green teas are usually baked, whereas Japanese green teas tend to be steamed. The tea leaves are put into a large metal cauldron and gently tossed and turned.
From there they are placed on a mat and rolled by hand. This process is repeated over and over. Approximately 3 times before the leaves are ready to be sorted and then packaged.The whole process is done by hand: picking, rolling, sorting and sifting.
Work for the Village
By using human hands the tea industry provides work for the villagers and helps to support healthy relationships amongst it’s community members. The tea industry provides and sustains a viable eco-economy and a stronger identity. Unlike factory work, the work they do is part of the natural environment that surrounds them.When harvesting tea there is a different relationship to time and the perspective of time. By following the seasons they live closer to nature and the earth. Time is not dictated by watches. There is no need. Day is day. Night is night. When it’s time to harvest they work until the job is done. It’s the task that’s important. There is not need for a punch clock to dehumanize and regulate their labor and production.
Human hands means love and sacrifice.The fact that they do this work allows us to take pleasure and enjoy the distinct flavor of hand processed teas: and our enjoyment helps to support and maintain their traditional way of life: this way we all remain connected to the earth.
It all started when I stepped off the main street. I had just moved into Pusan to start my new life as English teacher for Dong Dae Shing Dong Boy’s Middle School. Between classes I’d escape from the teacher’s room and go off exploring. I saw an interesting looking door on one of the side streets with a Jazz sign above. It piqued my curiosity. I had walked by it several times, and then one day I tried the door; it opened. The interior was dark and cool. After standing in the small room in silence for a while, I raised my voice to announce my presence. The walls absorbed them like a heavy blanket. The atmosphere was comfortable: a blend of the familiar and unfamiliar. I sat down in the dark and lit a candle. I helped myself to some cigarettes on one of the tables and smoked in silence until it time to go. The next afternoon the same thing happened, only this time after a few minutes I encountered Dong Bum, and ordered some coffee. He looked a little surprised, but made me some instant coffee. Slowly we communicated and I learned that this was his bar, and he lived upstairs. He ran the bar by night and slept by day, and they never locked the door because there was no need; a Jazz family came and went. He invited me to come in the evening. That night I met Lee Jae Yong and my Korea Journey began. He was/is an actor and teacher, a mad man and a silent Buddha, and it is to him that I bow as a teacher and cultural interpreter. The nights I spent in Jazz Bar I became acquainted with my Korean Jazz Family. That unlocked door was my gate way into Korea. And the Faces I met became the faces of my new brothers and sisters: my teachers.