Sunday, September 04, 2005


David Lee (Christine Lee’s brother) came to pick me up from the hotel in the morning and I met his new girlfriend Junghyun – David has grown up considerably since I last saw him two years ago in San Diego – he has been living in Korea – working for an English language Korean tv station - his main job is to make sure the English that is used on the show is properly formatted for grammar. He has been learning Korean and I would say he gets around quite well. His girlfriend is really sweet, kind of shy and quiet. Anyway we were to meet David’s parents at the Stilla Hotel for a Sunday brunch – this hotel is on top of a hill and the restaurant, located on the top floor has an incredible view of Seoul – and the winds from a typhoon off the coast of Japan has blown away most of the smog and so you can see quite a distance on this clear day.

It was the first time I met Mr. Lee, and the first impression was that he looks so much like Christine!! The resemblance was uncanny!! I was amazed. Both he and Christine’s mom Lucy looked great, and we had a really nice time at lunch. Mostly talked about Christine and what an amazing artist she has become. It is really great to be able to honestly brag about one of your students to their parents. No faking necessary. Christine is going to go places if she plays her cards right.

After lunch we went to a palace just as what appeared to be the changing of the guards was taking place. Stern faced guards in their monkey suits marching not unlike the Wizard of Oz guards. Come to think of it their suits looked exactly like the ones in the movie. Bright red longish waistcoats. Hats with feathers in them, and quite un-korean looking, to tell the truth. A real contrast from the folk dancers and musicians yesterday. We barely had time to go to the Museum so we went into the gift shop and browsed – Mr. Lee purchased a nice book about Seoul for me. Then we went to Insadong, and I made the mistake of commenting that I was looking for a few things – well from then on out the excursion turned into a rabid hunt for these items. What was a bit disconcerting was the fact that whenever I did find something nice for mom or for my aunt, the Lees would not let me pay for these items!!! This led to the awkward ritual of my giving said gifts to my intended recipients back home, saying, and “it was paid for by the Lees”. On the other hand it was all an incredibly generous gesture on their part and I was extremely grateful for their willingness to take me out on the town. Another reason we shopped like maniacs was because we had a small window of time to do this before the dinner show. In less than 30 minutes I had found something for mom and dad and auntie tae.

So we drove to the Sheraton for the dinner show – I was told that it was a traditional folk dance presentation. We go into a large auditorium with tables, I’ve actually never been to a dinner show my whole life so this was exciting for me too. We had drinks, and just as dinner was being served, the show began. The Korean danccrs were all very beautiful ,graceful and lithe. It was a bit like ballet – I am not sure how traditional it is but it struck me as being more modern than traditional Japanese dance. The women were all, of course, beautiful, and I would say that their hand movements were the most interesting. Fingers were so long and they moved so daintily. It was so mesmerizing that I forgot to eat and at one time, I glanced over, and both Lucy and Janghun were finished with their dinners. Then there was intermission. At this time even more people came in, some just for cocktails (no dinner) and I noticed it was mostly men. The next show apparently was an international collaboration and was most definitely contemporary dance, the costumes were beautiful – some sort of pirate theme. Mostly women dancers but also some males. Suddenly, 20 minutes into the show, the women were topless. I was shocked, not because I am some prude but that I hadn’t expected it, and especially since the Lees were bringing me to this show. I doubt if Mom and Dad would have done something like this for their daughter’s teacher. This also explains the presence of the mostly male audience up front, But the dancers were quite good and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was a really wonderful and full day.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Today, Jinwoo (Lupina) Kim (one of Professor Choi’s former students and organizers for this event and Boyoung Kim, Mr. Ahn’s assistant who works for the American Hardwood Exports Council (my hosts) took the day off to take Alessandro and I out on a tour. We all met at my hotel and then took a cab to Leeum Museum – the Samsung president’s name is Lee and he collects art and opened a museum with only his collection in it – and the museum is a combination of his name and “museum”. I don’t understand why he couldn’t just call it the Samsung Museum.

It was a brand new museum. Designed by three architects, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas. The design of the museum was an interesting combination of the very different architects’ vision – the Botta section was a little boring – reminded me of a cross between the SF MOMA and the Guggenheim in NY. The Nouvel section was interesting in that it was architectural but incorporated organic elements such as rocks, trees, etc. The Koolhaas section was closed for an installation but was very angular and a little on the cold side, reminiscent of the 60’s.

The museum collection was impressive in that it is a personal collection but as far as museums go its rather predictable collection. Went through all the levels quickly, nothing really exciting to recall at the moment. The only piece that I can recall is a Louise Bourgouis (sp) and a homeboy’s work, a Nam Jun Paik piece.

Afterwards we had lunch at a very nice little restaurant – it was not exactly a vegetarian restaurant but it struck me as being healthful with lots of tofu and kim chee. I admit that I was pretty burned out all day and straining to hear everyone talk all day was hard and I pretty much gave up at 11 AM. I was happy enough to just follow everyone around. Next, Boyoung had to go back to work and so it was the three of us – Lupina (she is Catholic and prefers to go by her given Catholic name – Catholicism makes up a small percentage of the population but the presence of nuns and churches makes it quite visible) decides that it would be ‘fun’ for us to go on the subway. I was frankly too tired to be dealing with this but whatever. To make matters worse we got lost and so we were walking all over the place. No big deal but its no fun fighting the crowds and the subway was hot, stinky and crowded, like NYC in July. It was no different than the Tokyo subways. We finally got to our destination, Namsan Folk Village and just as we arrived a dance performance was about to start. I wish I asked what kind of performance it was – I suspect it may have been a summer celebratory dance or some sort, and it definitely was a folk dance. It was a very happy and joyous dance, all the dancers looked very happy and enthusiastic, big smiles and with sincerity. The audience was also very involved and cheered the dancers – a wonderful expressive group altogether, very different from the somber serious Japanese performances I have seen. (other than Taiko) – Speaking of taiko, this group had a wonderful percussion group – small hourglass shaped drums, some cymbal-like instruments. The costumes were brightly colored. After standing and watching for a while (I was mesmerized and drawn in by the happiness that exuded from the troupe) we went to look at the folk houses – the construction of these houses are up on stilts kind of, some similarities to Japanese structures but with a stucco like substance on the outer walls – the shapes of the houses were varied with a porch around the circumference, and no sliding doors. The striking difference between these Korean houses and the Japanese structures is the presence of furniture. I saw examples of large chests, tables, chairs and stools. Japanese spaces are nearly empty and minimal by contrast. Again as mentioned before the furniture is much like the Chinese furniture that I have recently seen. Outside the buildings I saw groups of large ceramic vessels, all of a brown colored clay body and about 4’ tall – for Kim Chee. After browsing through the village, we went back out where the troupe was STILL DANCING – god they must be exhausted.

Next we went to Insadong, the equivalent of Tokyo’s Asakusa but more modernized. Apparently at one time it was more village-like and picturesque but now it seems that the buildings are all new. At that point Jinwoo, I mean, Lupina, had to head back home, she lives about and hour and a half from Seoul – and I can tell Alessandro was anxious to get back to the hotel since he was flying back to Milan the next morning. We did a little bit of shopping and then we parted ways. I knew I was going to come back here with the Lees (Christine’s parents) the next day so I just browsed a little and headed home.

I can’t remember what I did for dinner that night – OH yes I went to Lotte department store, which was only a few blocks away and had a hunch that maybe the department stores here in Seoul are like the ones in Tokyo: with huge food sections in the basement. My hunch proved to be correct and boy was I happy. Even the food is nearly the same – sushi, pickled everything, kim chee, chicken skewers etc. I got myself a huge selection of foods and a big bottle of water and hauled it back to the hotel room. I would venture to say that the Korean sushi is even better.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I was picked up in the morning again by Kyoung-Ho and at 11 I was to check out the AV situation for my lecture at 2 that day. As I had feared, there were problems with the fact that mac computers are not used in Korea and none of the gearheads were able to figure out how to get the projector to recognize the Mac. It was clear to me that these guys had never even seen a Mac and despite my telling them that the commands for a Mac is NOT the same as a pc and I was afraid he was going to fuck up my spankin new G-4. So anyway it turns out that the fucking thing didn’t work and of course I am stressed because the translator was late and I had not had a chance to go over my notes with him. In the meantime we are scrambling to find a small USB flash drive to transfer my material to the goddamned PC. Did I say was getting stressed? Having to be the first one to give the talk didn’t help a whole lot. Finally a drive was found and then the translator was some kid that was born in Korea but moved to the US as a kid, grew up there and then returned to Korea. As it turns out he was lousy at both English and Korean and it was clear that the translation was not going well. In addition, he was taking too long to translate, it was obvious that he was going from notes from my text that I sent for publication and not necessarily related to the show, god I could have strangled him. Unfortunately time ran out for Part III so I was not able to conclude my talk very effectively. I felt like a failure.

So then I had to sit through the final three talks which were all in Korean – (Alessandro’s talk was in Italian and was translated to Korean)

Then there was the question and answer period – and all the questions were for me, and the translation nightmare continued. Scott (the ‘translator’) could not clearly translate the questions, and to compound the problem, he kept whispering the questions, and I couldn’t hear the questions. Oh god it was awful. I did answer the questions, some took some time to think about, they weren’t the easiest questions to answer ‘on the fly’. As I am writing this nearly a week later, I can’t even remember the questions, I probably just wanted to delete this from memory, so to speak.

Finally the ordeal was over and we are all herded (sans the bbw) upstairs again to the same Chinese restaurant for a ‘congratulatory’ dinner. And yes the same exact menu. I wasn’t hungry – probably just due to the lecture and then the same menu was not appealing, and no, I did NOT touch the sea cucumber thing again. Icky.

I couldn’t wait to go back to the hotel and just FLOP. Thank god the day was OVER.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pomp and Circumstance

It seems that its been nonstop since checking into the hotel. after a fitful sleep I woke up at 6 (after waking up at 2, 4, 5 and finally decided 'fuckit I'm getting up') and was met at 9:30 by Kyoung-ho Ahn, the director of the American Hardwoods Export Council. He is a very friendly talkative guy (the Koreans are much more friendly, compared to the Japanese, in my book) and it was about an hour drive to Kintex, the convention center. His english was very good and we had a fun conversation, in fact so much so that he missed the turnoff to Kintex. (he had never been there before).

As soon as we enter the building (huge, about the size of the Anaheim Convention Center) we are greeted by a bevy of beautiful suited Korean women, given flowers to pin to my non-lapel and directed to a waiting room.

I was probably the only woman in the whole group and realized to my horror that the ritual of business card exchange is de rigueur here - and me with my handmade cards made of recycled gallery announcement cards with my address printed on self stick labels and slapped on the back looked SOOOOO cheesy. The humiliation of returning the favor of an offered card was repeated for the next three days.

Suddenly the bevy of beautiful women (bbw) begin to herd us all out of the room to a staging area, and there an audience is waiting. We were to stand behind a rope like barrier and take our places. To my right is the podium - the chairman of KOFURN is giving a long speech in Korean, introducing each one of us, upon which we step forward and bow, and everyone claps. As time goes on the claps become sort of weary.

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Then the BBW step forward with trays of white gloves and gold plated scissors, a very unexpected presentation, so I am awkwardly trying to put the gloves on while holding the scissors under my armpit. I received NO prompting or itinerary or schedule so I am completely winging it at this point. So I finally get the gloves on in time to take the scissors and hold it, poised to cut the ribbon (not the rope) and at the count of three we cut the ribbon.

Then the BBW begin to usher us into the convention hall, where apparently there were scheduled introductions by various booths. We went quickly from booth to booth - no scraggling behind, I was shooed ahead by a bbw to move forward. At one booth there were these heated stone beds, the bedframe was low, with a slab of granite and evidently there is a heating element under the stone and I guess a thin mattress type of thing goes over this. It must be a little on the hard side but I would guess that some houses in Korea are as cold as the ones in Japan. Just when I think its over and we are free to look around we are herded by the bbw to an escalator, all of us, to a restaurant on the top floor, hosted by the director of KOFURN.

So we are all at this long table, and again, the director begins speaking and introducing various people (I at this point realize I am the only girl at the table) and they begin to toast.

(to be continued)

I can’t remember where I last left off but I think I was talking about the Chinese lunch and there are about 5 or 6 courses served, one at a time and individually served, as opposed to the large shared platters that we are all mostly familiar with. I was pretty hungry for some reason so I ate just about everything. This particular Chinese food was not particularly remarkable and some were suspect but I felt that it was best not to ask what it was and just dive in. One dish was particularly hard to eat, in that first of all it was hard to pick it up with chopsticks, and impossible to impale. It was VERY SLIPPERY and even I got it to my mouth it nearly slithered out of my mouth. Is it still alive?? It looked like it was chopped up. Didn’t really taste that good either, and the worst texture of anything that I had to chew. Come to find out later that it was sea cucumber; I had heard some gross story about those things from Michael Hurwitz.

After lunch we went back down to the convention area and I was able to look more closely at the booths. The most interesting work was actually in the student booths; I took a bunch of pictures of some of the work, which shows the range of what was there. Hongik obviously had the most creative body of work although the most garish booth design. Apparently Professor Choi insists upon the RED theme that I thought was unattractive. I asked him a few days later why he used this theme color and he said he wanted to make sure their booth stands out. Well in that regard it is true you don’t forget their booth very easily.

Again I saw the prevalence of square/geometric shapes in nearly all the student work – a reliance on geometry as a base for design – with the exception of the Hongik work. The work from Hongik definitely utilized more creative forms and seemed to have an organic bent, even with their plywood work. In some of the other booths there were some unusual pieces, such as a figure of a girl on her back, her legs forming the chair. It was pretty weird even by my standards.

As for the other areas, there were the typical Victorian themed pieces along with the mundane office designs, and the traditional pieces; there were what seemed to be antique booths, some of which were quite nice. There were low beds or platforms similar to the Chinese furniture I had seen at the Peabody a few months ago. There were these strange beds with stone bases with these electronic consoles – apparently these stone (looked like granite slabs) surfaces are heated and have nothing more than a pad of some sort. It was explained that elderly Koreans prefer this sort of sleeping surface.

There is also the Korean Furniture Society, started and headed by Byung Hoon Choi - seems that Professor Choi is the 'Wendell Castle' of Korea. I am impressed with his efforts to bring the forefront of studio furniture to the public eye in Korea. Through the course of my trip I was able to meet several individuals who were in this exhibition.

Suddenly it was decided that we would go to Professor Choi’s studio, to my delight. Jinwoo (Lupina) Kim drove, and Alessandro, Kyoung-ho and I drove about 30 minutes further north to the studio. What appeared to be a pretty small structure was deceptive – the interior was quite spacious and the lower floor was the studio, with several works in progress and tons of wood slabs. Byung-Hoon uses both wood and stone, and a bit of steel. It appears that he has a studio guy working for him and i seems that he has quite a bit of his work made for him. His work is reminiscent of Noguchi, and it is pretty clear that he emulates Noguchi – his studio seems to have been modeled after Noguchi’s Long Island space to some degree. Upstairs was his gallery and offices, and perhaps a kitchen/living area which we did not see. I was shocked to see a piece that was similar to one I had made for the UCSF campus - I know it was completely coincidental – he had never seen my benches and I had never seen his. Strange.

The only downside to the visit was that the studio assistant has a dog that he kept chained outside the studio, it was kind of dismal – he/she was a sweet dog, looked like an akita/shiba-inu but was apparently some sort of Korean dog, I remember seeing pictures of one. But the poor thing was starved for attention and very dirty.

After the studio visit we headed home. I was exhausted.